There are many posts and articles surrounding Thomas Edison. This one is no different. I just realized today that Thomas Edison has not been a subject in the annals of The Zephyr Lounge yet.
Thomas Edison is considered one of the greatest minds in the history of the United States. Called “The Wizard of Menlo Park”, Edison is credited with many inventions that are still relevant today including the incandescent lamp and the movie camera. But, as some of us know, some of us theorize, and some of us refute, Edison was a fraud. Edison didn’t invent near as much as many believe, in fact, he’s like the P.T. Barnum of the scientific community.
Note: That analogy is only in tactic alone. I actually respect the hell out P.T. Barnum and he never really made strides to hide the fact he was bullshitting the public. Edison did.
So, how much did Edison actually steal? Well, a lot, actually. This entry into The Zephyr Lounge will profile many of Edison’s “inventions”, and the men who actually invented them.
1. The Electric Bulb/Incandescent Lamp
The incandescent lamp is considered the magnum opus of Edison’s inventions. Imagine, being able to route electricity into your home for light, instead of having to use the potentially dangerous combination of fire and kerosene. It’s remarkable, right? Thomas Edison has just given the world one of the most significant advancements since the wheel. Well, not really…
The incandescent lamp actually has origins over 70 years earlier in the form of a powerful electric lamp created by Humphrey Davy. He demonstrated his invention to the Royal Society, but the invention has several downsides, including the brightness of the light and the device’s need for tremendous sources of power. Later on, the idea was expanded upon by British inventor Frederick DeMoleyns, who in 1841, patented a bulb that would keep incandescent burners away from oxygen, thus making them safer by relieving a lot of the potential for combustion. In 1845, an American named J.W. Starr received a patent for a similar bulb that used a vacuum to remove oxygen from the incandescence.
2. The Electric Chair
Edison is also credited with what has proven to be one of the most inhumane methods of execution society has ever fallen behind. While it’s been nice to see his name attached to something that heinous, my research has proven that Edison was actually not the man who devised this awful method of life taking.
It was actually a dentist, believe it or not.
Note: I am not officially more afraid of dentists than I was before writing this.
Alfred P. Southwick, mouth tormentor, actually devised the idea for the electric chair when he saw a drunk man accidentally kill himself by touching exposed power lines. He and the tag team of Harold P. Brown (an Edison employee) and Arthur Kennelly brought the horror into existence, and for reasons of Edison’s self-preservation, decided that the electric chair should use an alternating current (AC), as compared to a direct current (DC), since the AC current was becoming a rival to the DC. Edison wanted to prove that the AC was dangerous, as well as eliminate a rival — one George Westinghouse, who was one of the biggest proponents of the AC.
What better way to show how dangerous Westinghouse’s AC was then by executing someone with it. Edison claimed that the death would be sudden and swift, giving no real chance to save the life. William Kremmler was on death row at Auburn Prison in New York and on August 6, 1890, he was volunteered to be the first man executed by the electric chair, something Edison had hyped in the media as “Westinghousing”. It took 8 minutes for Kremmler to die, and over the course of that time, he had to be shocked twice, caught fire, and had blood vessels rupture inside his body. He died in agony. George Westinghouse commented that “they would have done better using an axe”, and a spectating reported commented that it was “an awful spectacle, for worse than hanging.”
A tidbit of information: The electric chair is still a legal form of execution in nine U.S. States.
3. The Movie Camera
Edison is credited with the invention of motion pictures. In 1891, Edison patented the Kinetographic camera, and created a series of experiments with the device called Monkeyshines. However, Edison was about three years too late…
In 1888, French photographer Louis Le Prince had a device of his own, the LePrince Cine Camera-Projector and had used this device to film the infamous Roundhay Garden Scene and Leeds Bridge Scene using paper film from Eastman. The Roundhay Garden Scene is considered by many to be the first piece of cinematography ever filmed and a very short clip of it still exists today. Unfortunately, in 1890, LePrince mysteriously disappeared on his way to London to patent his newest device, and in 1891, Edison’s Kinetographic camera appears.
Could Edison have actually had LePrince murdered? It’s possible, and is one of the ideas debated between people regarding LePrince’s death. However, it can’t be confirmed one way or another, but it is interesting that LePrince’s son, Adolphe, who testified against Mutoscope in a 1900 lawsuit against Edison (known as “Equity 6928”), was found dead on Fire Island of a gunshot wound. His murder, like his father’s disappearance, has never been solved.
4. The Power Generator
This is the first item on this list that Edison stole from inventing wunderkind Nikola Tesla. In the early 1880’s, Tesla invented the AC generator, which allowed electricty to be transmitted over greater distances than were possible on Edison’s DC power. Of course, as most of us know, Edison had this thing about not wanting competition, but Edison’s DC power had to have a system of generation every few miles and Tesla’s lightning-magic definitely made Edison’s contraptions look amateurish.
This would be one of the biggest aspects of Edison and Tesla’s bitter rivalry.
5. X-Ray Photographs (Flouroscope)
Yet another invention Edison weaseled from Nikola Tesla. In 1887, Tesla was among the first to experiment with x-ray via the Cathode Ray Tube. It wasn’t until eight years later that Edison jumped on board, patenting the flouroscope. Of course, Edison dropped his research in 1903 after one of his glassblowers, Clarence Madison Daily, who had a habit of testing x-ray tubes on his hands, developed cancer and had to have both of his arms amputated in a futile attempt to save his life.
6. The Storage Battery
Any of us born before the mid-1990’s knows how important the alkaline battery was. GameBoy dying? Put in two AA batteries. Remote control starting to become unresponsive? Put in two AAA batteries. RC Car freaking out? Well, just use two D batteries, or if the product required it, a 9-Volt. Whatever. Just hit up the local grocery store or neighborhood pharmacy if you’re out. They’re relatively inexpensive.
This is the invention that netted Edison the most money, but Edison is not the inventor of the alkaline storage battery. By the time he perfected his design, electric-powered cars had become eclipsed by gas-powered cars, because they could travel greater distances. Edison’s alkaline batteries did become popular in train lights and other small sources, such as flashlights.
Of course, today, the replaceable alkaline battery is being phased out for internal lithium ion batteries, that only require a wall charger and the ability to step away from your electronic device for a few hours.
7. The Record Player
The record player was one of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind. Because of this contraption, music was now available for home listening, but as you should clearly have assumed by now, Edison is not the man who gave the world this technology.
Edison invented the phonograph. But the phonograph is the old record player, you may be saying. Wrong. The phonograph was actually a dictation machine, later modified for use in musical devices. The original “record player” was the gramophone, invented by Emile Berliner in 1888.
8. Wax Paper
Wax paper was actually invented by Gustave Le Gray in 1851. It was used for hand-coloration and allowed the color from the back of a photograph to be seen from the front. Wax paper revolutionized photography and also became a commercially successful household product.
9. The Telegraph
The first non-electric telegraph was invented in 1794 by Clause Chappe and was a visual system, using a semaphore, flag based alphabet and was dependent on a line of sight for communication. Of course, in 1809, Samuel Soemmering created the first electric telegraph in Bavaria. He used 35 wires with gold electrodes in water and at the receiving end, 2000 feet of the message was read by the amount of gas caused by electrolysis. In 1828, the first telegraph in the United States was invented by Harrison Dyer, which sent chemical sparks through treated paper to burn dots and dashes.
There were several more modifications made to the telegraph before Edison even began inventing, including modifications made by Samuel Morse, the man who’s telegraph was the conduit for Morse Code.
Okay, I understand that inventing is a chess game with other inventors and a lot of Edison’s patents were of things that he “improved upon”. To look at it that way, sure, Edison is legitimate. But here’s where the purpose of this piece lies — we credit Edison with inventing these, and many other, things that he did not invent. He only improved upon, and because of the prolific Edison name, the actual inventors who created these marvelous technologies are lost to history.
When I was in school, no one told me that inventions such as the record player, x-ray, and the incandescent lamp were actually invented by other people. I’m not the only one either. I ran a poll and all of them stated that when it comes to American inventions, Thomas Edison pretty much made them all. That’s why he has a goddamned stamp.
So, let it be clear and let it be known, Edison is not the prolific inventor he is made out to be. Why is he a fraud though? I’m glad you asked. He did market himself as the inventor of these scientific and technological wonders after all.