Thomas Edison is well known as one of America’s greatest inventors. But how did he get his start? My new book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (July 2016 release date), takes a look at how Edison fell into a career of invention, feuded with other inventors like Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, and changed the world. From the prologue:
One misty morning in 1862, as the Civil War raged throughout the nation, the teenage Tom Edison saved a life, and in doing so set the stage for a career of invention that would change the lives of millions. Lingering at the train station in Mount Clemens, Michigan, Edison was gazing over the freight cars being moved around the rail yard. Suddenly, he noticed Jimmie MacKenzie, the stationmaster’s young son, playing on the tracks and oblivious to a rail car speedily approaching. Recognizing the danger, Edison “made a dash for the child, whom he picked up and lifted to safety without a second to spare, as the wheel of the car struck his heel.” Falling hard along the gravel embankment, both Edison and Jimmie cut their faces and hands, but were otherwise unharmed. It was the scare of their young lives. In return for his heroic act, the stationmaster offered to teach Edison the art and science of telegraphy, and Edison accepted. This decision would change his life—and ours.
There was another profound impact from his train days – deafness.
He recounted being roughly lifted onto the train by his ears, at which point he heard a “pop!” After that, his hearing steadily degenerated. Another report suggests a baggage master on the train “boxed his ears.” Or perhaps it was a history of illness as a child or a congenital disease? Although the cause is unknown, Thomas Edison became progressively hard of hearing during his lifetime, which impacted both his inventive ability (he claimed the affliction helped him concentrate better) and his attitude (he would “not hear critiques at convenient times”). His hearing impairment played a recurring, and sometimes ironic, role during his long career.
These two fundamental events as a young man helped shape his personality and his career path. Suddenly the idea of toiling away all night and day in the lab doesn’t seem so surprising. That said, there are many things you don’t know about Thomas Edison.
Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World is due out in July 2016 from Fall River Press, Sterling Publishing. The Nook e-book version is already available for pre-order on the Barnes and Noble website. The hardcover book will be available for pre-order shortly. Please help spread the word and watch for more previews here.
And if you’re interested in Nikola Tesla, check out this comparison: Edison vs Tesla: Two Very Different Men of Invention.
David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.