Saturday, May 10, 2014

Paper: Thomas Alva Edition: A Great American

My flash drive's still lost. I'm still publishing my papers online for the sake of academic integrity. (Luckily, I had backed up these papers on another flash drive.)

This one's also for a history class, written several years ago while I was a student at Bronx Community College.

Thomas Alva Edison: A Great American
The individual with the most patents in history goes to one Thomas Edison with 1,093 US patents and many others worldwide. Edison is also the only inventor “to earn U.S. patents every year for 65 straight years,” according to a Cobblestone article entitled “A lifetime of Invention” by Karen Bradley Cain. Edison’s greatest contributions were his many practical inventions that improved many lives across the globe and his establishment of new intuitions that benefited humankind.
            In 1874, Edison improved the typewriter, the first working one invented by Christopher Sholes in 1868, by changing the metal parts for wood, and corrected the alignment of the letters and distribution of the ink. Until Edison’s improvement, it was faster to write by hand.
            In 1876, Edison improved the telephone by adding a carbon transmitter, an important step in making the telephone practical. Before the improvement, people had to shout on the telephone.
            Edison broke ground in the field of electric powered trains. According to a Cobblestone article, “A Lifetime of Invention,” “Exploring new uses for his electric motor, Edison started a small passenger railway near Menlo Pak, New Jersey, 1880. His electric locomotive was the first of its kind in this country, and it became the foundation for streetcar and subway systems.”
            Edison began working on the improvement of motion pictures in the late-1880s. Based on the inventions of George Eastman, he developed a camera. In 1914, he connected the phonograph and camera to make talking pictures. Edison put it aside after it showed some faults. Others later corrected the faults. Edison used them as a means of education. He predicted that some day they would replace others methods of teaching.
            In 1891, Edison built the Kinetoscope, an “early film projector based largely on other inventor’s designs. Although the device could show only short, primitive films, Edison experimented with synchronizing audio with film in 1894,” says Bob Crepeau in Thomas Edison: The Wizard of Menlo Park.
            In 1768, an electric vote-recorder machine was young Edison’s first invention that he tried to sell. It was a “machine that allowed lawmakers to press a “yes” or “no” button from their seats, saving the time of individual voice voting and tallying” (“Lifetime of Invention”). It recorded the votes of legislatures on a big board. He took his invention to Washington, D.C. and tried to sell it to Congress. A committee gave him a hearing but the chairman explained that the invention was unwanted. “It takes 45 minutes to call the roll,” he said to Edison. “In that time, we can trade votes. You machine would make that impossible.” That is when Edison is said to have famously stated, “I will never again invent anything which nobody wants.”
            Edison did a lot of work with telegraph systems. Edison received over 100 patents for his work on the telegraph during the 1870s, including “improving the speed and increasing the number of telegrams that could be sent over one wire at the same time” (“Lifetime of Invention”).
            Edison aided in the development of the mimeograph, a “duplicating machine used by schools and businesses” (“Lifetime of Invention”). He patented his first copying system in 1876: “He invented and then used an eclectic pen to make tiny holes in wax-coated paper. . . . His invention led to the development of the mimeograph (“Lifetime of Invention”).
            Edison’s favorite invention, created in 1877, is the phonograph (or, record player), which was also his most original invention. The idea came to him as he was trying to find a way to record telegraph messages automatically. This would be onto a paper disk set on a revolving plate, like today’s record players. From his telegraph experiments, Edison had learned how to make a diaphragm (or vibrating disk) that responds to the vibrations of sounds. He made a sketch and gave it to John Kruesi, his shop foreman. Kruesi was confused for it called for something neither chemical nor electrical, but mechanical. Nonetheless, he built the cylinder gadget and brought it to Edison. He wrapped tin foil around it and recited “Mary had a little lamb” into the mouthpiece of the device. After a false start, it repeated Edison’s words. It is said that Edison himself was surprised.
            The invention of the electric light was not as original. Many had been working on the idea for years. Paul Jablochkov, a Russian electrical engineer, had lighted up Paris in 1867 with arc lights. Edison, however, sought to light up homes and offices and to create an alternative to gas, the chief means of lighting at that time. He spent two years searching for the proper filament (or wire) that would light well. In his search for a perfect filament material, he sent to an agent into the jungles of the Amazon, and another the deep forests of Japan. The story of his discovery is interesting, to say the least. Edison was playing with a mixture of lampblack and tar. When it was rolled, it resembled a wire. Edison put this into a bulb and drew out the air. Edison next ran a current through it. It glowed for a short while and then burned out. He concluded to try a carbonized thread after he believed that burned out because the bulb contained air. He succeeded in 1879; it lasted from October 19 to the 21, after Edison increased the voltage. Edison soon became known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park.”
            Edison took this invention and capitalized on it. His intention was to replace gas and arc lights, the older method of lighting cities. Edward Robb Ellis in The Epic of New York states that “In the early part of the 1880’s New York streets flickered under the glow of gaslights more picturesque than efficient” (363). Later a scientist named Charles Francis Brush invented the arc light, which illuminated Cleveland’s Public Square by 1879; in the first ones were installed in New York in December of that same year (363). Edison also wanted to light up homes and offices and proliferate his invention for the good of man. He light up New York City on September 4, 1882, after the Edison Electric Illuminating Company was incorporated. It was adopted slowly in the coming decades (368).
            After x-rays had been discovered in 1895 b German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen, Edison invented the fluoroscope, “whereby doctors using x-rays could see internal body structures on a fluorescent, or glowing, screen” (“Lifetime of Invention”).
             Edison also helped in the establishment of many key American institutions. The first commercial research laboratory was created when Edison hired a dozen men with specialized knowledge and skills and gave them materials and equipment to work on. This scientific contribution is the backbone of modern science.
            In 1915, during World War I, Edison became chairman of the U.S. Navy Consulting Board. He “worked on many projects. . . . Edison became discouraged, though, when the Navy failed to follow up on his ideas (“Lifetime of Invention”). Edison urged Congress to create Washington, D. C.’s Naval Research Laboratory, the first institution for military research (“Lifetime of Invention”).  
            Edison received many honors in his lifetime for his contributions to society, both before and after his death. At the time of his death, “his many inventions had spawned business interests worth more than $25,000,000,000 (Ellis 365). He was even appointed to the Legion of Honor by the French. In 1920, also, the U.S. gave him the Distinguished Service Medal for his work with World War I. Congress awarded Edison a gold medal in 1928 for the development and application of inventions that have revolutionized civilization in the last century.  In 1960, Edison was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, a national landmark on the Bronx Community College campus. It is a colonnaded promenade featuring the busts of many famous Americans with inscribed quotes, dedicated for their greatness. Edison’s inscription reads “I trust you for progress . . . Be as brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward.”

Works Cited

Cain, Karen Bradley. “A Lifetime of Invention.” Cobblestone Dec, 2005; 2-5
Ellis, Edward Robb. The Epic of New York City: A Narrative History. New York: Kodansha International, 1997.

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