Thomas Edison (1847-1931)

Prolific American inventor.

With very little formal schooling and hampered by being partially deaf, Edison worked as a telegraph operator during the 1860s before dedicating himself to invention and business. In 1877 he produced the phonograph, astounding the public and bringing him worldwide fame.

Much of Edison's work involved power and electricity. He invented the incandescent lightbulb (1879) and in 1882 supervised the installation of the world's first permanent commercial central power system in lower Manhattan. He also patented the alkaline storage battery, the radio and the Kinetoscope, a peephole viewer which was installed in penny arcades and which allowed people to view short, simple films. Although many of his inventions were not unique, Edison often outdistanced his competitors with his skills in securing patents and marketing.

Many believe that Edison's greatest inventions were the research laboratories he set up, first at Menlo Park and later at West Orange, New Jersey. These were the first institutions dedicated to producing constant technological innovation and improvement.

Edison continued to work into his eighties although in old age he did not replicate the success of his youth. With 1093 patents to his name at his death, he held a world record for invention.