Thomas Edison, born Feb 11 1847, is arguably one of the world’s greatest inventors with over 1000 patents, contributing the phonograph, camera and lightbulb and thereby significantly changing the modern world.
He helped developed the process and structure for mass production, meaning for the first time inventions could be accessed by many in a short period of time. But not all of his inventions had immediate success. Sometimes a visionary is a little too ahead of their time, here are a few such inventions:
The electric pen
Companies are always looking for a way to increase production – its called efficiency. That’s why Edison invented the electric pen. Powered by a small electric motor and battery, the pen moved a needle that moved up and down as you wrote. Instead of pressing out ink, like a modern tattoo gun, it would make little holes that one would then use to ‘print’ multiple copies through. The pen was too heavy and the battery too unsafe for it to take off commercially.
The voice recorder
As the inventor of the phonograph and telephone, Edison realised he could possibly record by using the mechanics that converted speech in a phone and the reverse of broadcast in a phonograph. It worked. One would crank a handle, speak into the machine and a sharp points would carve grooves into tinfoil. Then when the crank was reversed it would then replay what was spoken. Unfortunately the foil was too flimsy a material and could only be used once of twice and didn’t store well. A decade later he revised the medium to wax cylinders and the invention became a hit.
The Edison Home Service Club
Long before Blockbuster or Netflix or Spotify, Edison invented a music service that would send out 20 records a month to his subscribers. Customers would keep the ones they wanted and send the others back. Other record companies sold via catalogue to the mass market, aiming to lower costs by selling more to a wider audience. This idea, although common now, was new in late 1800s, and Edison thought it wouldn’t work as he preferred the personal touch of his club.
The at-home movie projector
As the inventor of the motion picture camera, it is only natural that he would want people to be able to watch movies too, so he invented a projector for home, school and small venue use. There were two problems, one, it was far too expensive, and two, he couldn’t provide enough movies people wanted to watch. People wanted long feature films whereas Edison produced short or educational films.
As you can see, Edison was on the right track, just a hundred years too early.