Over the course of his life, Thomas Alva Edison amassed a record-breaking 1,093 patents for his revolutionary inventions. With so many patents to his name, it is easy to forget just how many life-changing inventions can be attributed to Thomas Edison. So, if you’ve always wondered just how much of an impact Thomas Edison had on our modern day society, then listed below are 10 of Edison’s best inventions!
10 – Electric pen
If you have a tattoo, then you may not know it but you have Thomas Edison to thank for it! After all, Edison invented the electric pen – also known as the pneumatic stencil pen – in 1876. This device is widely regarded to be the ancestor of the tattoo gun. Edison’s electric pen consists of a rod that is tipped with the steel needle which would perforate paper for printing purposes. The original intention of the electric pen was to rapidly copy documents.
However, this mechanism was a source of inspiration for tattoo artist Samuel O’Reilly who was awarded the very first patent for a tattoo machine in 1891. O’Reilly stated that his design was based upon Edison’s electric pen which was first patented 15 years prior. This electric pen turned tattoo machine remains one of the most popular designs of tattoo guns which is still in widespread use today.
9 – Alkaline storage batteries
In 1899 Edison started to develop an alkaline storage battery that was intended to power electric cars. Edison personally believed that most cars would eventually be powered by electricity; especially given that roughly 28% of the roughly 4,000 cars produced in America in 1900 ran on electricity. Consequently, Edison endeavoured to create a battery that would run for 100 miles without needing to be recharged.
After 10 years of research, trial and error, Edison abandoned his work into electric cars due to the abundance of gasoline powered cars that now dominated the automotive market. However, Edison did manage to create alkaline storage batteries which became his most profitable inventions due to their long life. As a matter of fact, Edison’s batteries were used in railroad signals, mining headlamps and marine buoys. Furthermore, Edison’s friend Henry Ford decided to use Edison’s batteries in all of his Ford Model T automobiles.
8 – Power steering pump
In 1902 Edison invented the power steering pump; an ingenious device which transformed automotive steering systems. After all, prior to the invention of the power steering pump, automobiles had to rely upon manual hand pumps to move a vehicle’s hydraulic fluid. Unfortunately, these hand pumps were often difficult to operate, frequently caused costly leaks and required continuous maintenance at irregular intervals.
On the other hand, Edison’s power steering pump system consisted of a motor which drove a centrifugal pump that was connected to a reservoir via a hose. This innovative pump system enabled fluid to move freely from the reservoir to the vehicle’s wheels without the need for a manual hand pump. In this manner, Edison’s power steering pump saved automobile owners and manufacturers time, money and effort by streamlining automotive steering systems.
7 – Carbon microphone
In 1876 Edison registered a patent for the carbon microphone; a device which converts sound to an electric audio signal inside of a telephone. Also known as the ‘carbon button microphone’, ‘button microphone’ or ‘carbon transmitter’, the carbon microphone served as the only practical means of obtaining high-level audio signals before vacuum tube amplifiers were invented in the 1920s.
In this manner, carbon microphones were often used as amplifiers in early telephone repeaters. Thanks to Edison’s carbon microphone, long distance phone calls were made possible in the era before vacuum tube amplifiers. Moreover, early AM radio transmitters also relied upon carbon microphones for voice modulation of the radio signal. Carbon microphones were also used for low-end public addresses, military and amateur radio applications for many decades even after vacuum tube amplifiers were invented.
6 – Electric power distribution
Although Edison is most famous for creating the electric light bulb, it is arguable that his invention of electric power distribution is just as, if not more, impressive. After all, it is one thing to power a single house with electricity; it is another feat entirely to power an entire street, city or state! After he invented a commercially viable electric light bulb in 1879, Edison developed an electric ‘utility’ system which could distribute electricity to multiple homes within an electric ‘grid’.
To meet this lofty objective, Edison founded the Edison Illuminating Company in 1880 and patented a system for widespread electric power distribution. Subsequently, the first investor-owned electric utility was established in 1882 on Pearl Street, New York City. When it was first switched on in September 1882, this Pearl Street electric power distribution system provided 110 volts of direct current to 59 customers’ houses in lower Manhattan as well as powering rows of electric street lamps. Consequently, Edison’s invention of a fully functioning electric power distribution system paved the way for modern day power grids which provide entire cities, states and nations with electricity 24/7.
5 – Quadruplex telegraph
In 1874 Edison invented the quadruplex telegraph; a device which was capable of sending multiple telegraph messages simultaneously in each direction. Edison began to contemplate the design for this device whilst he was working as a telegraph operator in Port Huron as a teenager. As a matter of fact, whilst young Thomas Edison worked on improving the automatic telegraph between 1870 and 1874, he devised several adjustments for the traditional telegraph system. Some of these improvements included; switching the recording system from ink to a chemical base, changing the existing telegraph needle to a metal stylus, and developing an updated perforator.
In essence, Edison’s quadruplex telegraph system consisted of an electrical telegraph which enabled up to four separate signals to be transmitted and received on a single wire at the same time. Edison devised this system by having one telegraph message consist of an electric signal or varying strength, while the second message consisted of a signal with varying polarity. Although the telegraph is now regarded as an outdated mode of communication, at the time Edison’s quadruplex telegraph rapidly accelerated the communication process and enabled far more messages to be sent across the country with ease.
4 – Vitascope theatre
Edison first built the Vitascope Theatre in New York City in 1891. This ground-breaking cinematic venue showed short films to audiences that were seated in individual booths via the Vitascope. In essence, the Vitascope is a large electrically-powered projector which used light to cast images. These images were originally captured by a Kinetoscope (also invented by Edison!) and printed on gelatine film. Using an intermittent mechanism, the film negatives could produce up to 50 frames per second.
Audiences paid 25 cents per viewing at the Vitascope Theatre and the films cost 15 cents each. Each booth at the Vitascope Theatre contained a viewing lens at the front, a peephole behind the lens, and a speaker system playing music to accompany these short films. In this manner, the Vitascope Theatre enabled audience members to view events that happened long ago or in faraway locations that they never would have previously had a chance to experience. Consequently, the Vitascope Theatre provided life-changing, thought-provoking experiences to visitors and it paved the way for modern movie theatres.
3 – Kinetoscope
In 1894 Edison invented the kinetoscope; a machine which enabled viewers to watch a movie on a large screen. As a matter of fact, the kinetoscope is regarded by many to be the forerunner of the motion-picture film projector. Within a kinetoscope, a strip of film is passed rapidly between a lens and an electric light bulb while the viewer looks at the film through a peephole.
In this manner, users of the kinetoscope were able to view moving pictures on a screen for the first time. When the sequence of moving pictures had ended, users were able to push rewind buttons on the kinetoscope in order to watch the entire process again; thereby providing a lasting experience that they could share with their friends and family. Consequently, Edison’s invention of the kinetoscope is regarded by many to be a precursor for the motion-picture film projector and thus the motion picture industry as a whole.
2 – Phonograph
In 1877 Edison invented the phonograph; a device which records sound and replays it for the user. The most important aspect of Edison’s phonograph is that, at the time of its inception, this was the very first device to ever capture and repeat sound. Every single auditory device that we currently use can be traced back to Edison’s phonograph. After all, every single listening device, music player or sound system in our modern society would not exist if Edison had not paved the way with his phonograph!
The phonograph works by wrapping a piece of tinfoil around a metal cylinder. From here, the machine surrounding this cylinder has two needles (one for recording sound and one for playing back this sound). The user of the phonograph would speak into a mouthpiece connected to this device whilst turning a handle to rotate the metal cylinder. This process would cause the vibrations from the user’s voice to make the recording needle vibrate and create indentations on the tinfoil.
Furthermore, the needle on the other side of the phonograph meant that you could play back the indentations which had just been recorded. Subsequently, the user could speak into the mouthpiece, record their speech and then have it repeated back to them through the same mouthpiece into which they had spoken. This invention took the world by storm, turned Thomas Edison into a household name and brought recorded sound into people’s homes for the first time in human history.
1 – Electric light bulb
If you asked random people on the street to name some of Thomas Edison’s best inventions it is highly likely that they would all mention the electric light bulb. After all, the electric light bulb is arguably Edison’s greatest accomplishment given that it revolutionised the way in which we all live. First patented in 1879, Edison invented the first ever practical incandescent electric light bulb after many years of research and countless failed prototypes.
Ultimately, Edison and his Menlo Park laboratory team created a fully functioning electric light bulb using carbonized bamboo fibres which were coated in tungsten metal. By doing so, Edison devised an electric light bulb which could illuminate a room all night long without the filament burning out. Although this is a feat which is taken for granted in our modern society, having an electrically powered source of light in the 1870s revolutionised society as we now know it.
After all, before Edison invented the electric light bulb, households were dependent upon candles and oil lamps. Both of these light sources provided less light than Edison’s incandescent electric light bulb and they were also much more hazardous; with houses often burning down due to a misplaced candle or knocked over oil lamp. Consequently, it is impossible to overstate the importance of Edison’s electric light bulb. It reduced the dangers associated with household lighting. It enabled people to maximise their time given that they could now work long into the night. Most of all, Edison’s invention of the electric light bulb brought a cleaner, safer, longer-lasting light source into the home for the first time in human history.