Thomas Edison - the Light Bulb
Frameworks for America's Past
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Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison invented
the electric light bulb

  The drawing below is part of Thomas Edison's patent for the electric light bulb, dated 1880.  A patent is an official government document that recognizes an invention.

   Other inventors at that time were also trying to create light bulbs, but they all burned out so quickly that they were useless. 

   Edison created a design that glowed for hundreds of hours without burning out.  That is why he gets the credit for inventing the light bulb.

Other Edison inventions and improvements

Electric generators

Edison made big improvements to the design of electric generators and power stations.  Generators create the electric current needed to power light bulbs and electric motors.     Edison's company designed and built electric power generating stations to supply customers with electricity at an affordable price. 

The phonograph
(record player)

    Edison invented the first phonograph in 1877.  Early phonographs were used to both record and play back sound.  By the early 1900s, however, they were commonly made just to play records sold by music companies.

   Notice that the records in this photo from 1908 are a flat disc shape.  Before that time most records were cylinders, about size and shape of the cardboard tube in a roll of toilet paper.

   A phonograph like this one needs to be cranked up before it can play a record.  Electric phonographs did not become common until the 1930s.

   Edison lived in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where he built a workshop and laboratory for inventions.  He is often called "The Wizard of Menlo Park."  He did not work alone, however.  He hired mechanics and assistants to help develop and build new inventions.

Motion pictures

In the 1890s and early 1900s Edison's company was one of many that were developing and improving the first motion picture film systems (movies).  The photo below shows an advertisement for the Vitascope, an early motion picture system that Edison's company manufactured in 1896.  

The patent drawing image is from the National Archives. 
The photo of Thomas Edison, the record player, and the Vitascope
advertisement are from the Library of Congress. 
The photo of the generator is by David Burns, from the display
at the Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Some photos have been edited or resized for this page.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 2009, 2012 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.  As a guide to the Virginia Standards of Learning, some pages necessarily include phrases or sentences from that document, which is available online from the Virginia Department of Education.  The author's copyright extends to the original text and graphics, unique design and layout, and related material.