Thomas Edison Died…and Lives

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison died on October 18, 1931. The Daily News covered his death, and the current New York Daily News reprinted that article this past weekend. Edison had lived a long and fruitful life, and most Americans (and other nations) remember his contributions. He became so famous that he’s even remembered for contributions he didn’t actually make.

The scene opening the News article is also covered in my new book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World, now in post-writing production with the publisher and due out in 2016. The signal was called “sixing” because each operator was required to send the Morse code for the number six each hour. Here’s a teeny snippet from my book on the topic:

“He constructed a small wheel with notches on the rim, and attached it to a clock in such a manner that the night-watchman could start it when the line was quiet, and each hour the wheel revolved and sent in the dots required for “sixing.”

Edison quit his job at Western Union to start his own invention business when he was only 22 years old. His first successes were improvements to telegraph systems.


Last night I also talked about telegraphs. Abraham Lincoln was the first president to use the telegraph for war purposes, and he employed it mightily. The “instant” communication was one of the technology reasons the North was able to win the Civil War. My presentation also looked at other aspects of science and technology that fascinated Lincoln.

There’s another connection – Lincoln’s main science adviser was Joseph Henry, Secretary of the newly built Smithsonian Institution. An eminent scientist, Henry had devised the electromagnetic relay that made the telegraph possible. Edison had been a telegraph operator during the Civil War (though safely ensconced in northern Michigan far away from the action). Henry also discovered the electromagnetic principle of self-inductance that was the basis for much later work on electricity by both Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

Thomas Edison died 84 years ago (the age he was at his death), but his influence lives on today.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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