Thomas Edison: The wizard of Menlo Park

Wow — never has a book changed my opinion of a person as drastically as this one did! I had always known Edison as the man that invented the light bulb, but even that turned out to be false (he lengthened the usable time of the light bulb from hours to days, but didn’t invent it).

His most notable attributes include:

Notable notes

No one of the time would have predicted that it would be an inventor, of all occupations, who would become the cynosure of the age. Note: parallel with Musk today

(Edison’s capacity for extended bursts of work would be his principal vanity his entire life.)

The vote recorder was a bust, and the lesson Edison drew from the experience was that invention should not be pursued as an exercise in technical cleverness, but should be shaped by commercial needs.

He did care, at least most of the time. Note: It’s easy to not care about the public when they don’t care.. its different when they do

The grand goal was nothing other than enjoying the autonomy of entrepreneur and forestalling a return to the servitude of employee.

Ten days after his spoof appeared, Croffut published a serious profile of Edison that differed from the New York Sun’s only in its ingenuity in finding new ways to extol Edison’s genius. Note: seems to have got to his head

Edison’s own point of view was unabashedly commercial, but by temperament, he tended to flit from project to project. Note: he was like me in the early days!

Edison had not plotted a course to obtain attention; the attention had come to him. True, when it arrived, he had swung the door open to receive it. The problem, he was now discovering, was that once open, it could not be shut, even if he sincerely wanted to do so,

Many ideas, until practically realized, will seem grandiose; but the inventor’s own interest in a given idea often disappears as quickly as the inspiration arrived.

The grander the scale of Edison’s ambitions, and the greater the skepticism that he had had to overcome, the happier he had been.

Managing his company did not engage him half as much as creating it, but he could not bring himself to let go of the captain’s chair.

Mina described her auxiliary role without a hint of complaint: “We have always put his work first, all of us. And we have tried to organize our home and our home life to give results just as much as the laboratory.”

Edison’s adventure in mining began when he anticipated losing the battle of the currents. He was weighed down with self-doubt, telling an assistant that he had come to the realization that others on his staff knew more about electricity than he did. He went even further, morosely saying that he had never really known anything. But that did not matter because “I’m going to do something now so different and so much bigger than anything I’ve ever done before people will forget that my name ever was connected with anything electrical.”

To Edison, unhappiness could be vanquished by sheer force of will.

Edison, distracted in the pursuit of his own fancies, was slow to observe the limitless business opportunities made possible by the commercialization of fun.

Edison could not take the pulse of a public from which he was isolated. Note: cant serve a customer you don’t see

One cannot help but admire the obstinate way in which Edison refused to let go of his failing mining project. He jeopardized his own role in the commercialization of fun because he was having a great deal of fun himself, pursuing at his ore mill his own bliss, in his own way. Note: best way to put it. he was stubborn and put his own interest ahead of his customers

Edison did too, showing a willingness to use his name to market a better invention than he had been able to produce. Note: its clear what motivated him then: fame

Tom Sr. supplied an affidavit that said Junior had no regular occupation, had never produced a single practical invention, and—this must have hurt—was “incapable of making any invention or discovery of merit.”

“I’ll protect my name if it costs me every dollar in the world I possess.”

At the very moment Edison was rather too optimistic about the prospects for the electric car, he was insufficiently appreciative of the commercial potential of the music business. As always, it was technical problems that interested him more than commercial ones, and it was the challenges in the laboratory that kept him absorbed in batteries, to the exclusion of other possible business opportunities.

An adapter permitted Victor records to be played on an Edison Disc Phonograph, but Edison forbade the sale of an attachment that permitted his records to be played on the machines of the competition. Note: Sounds alot like steve jobs

Here his own companies used his fame as the Wizard to market his inventions, prominently displaying his name and driving off anyone who threatened to infringe the trademark. But he could not abide others—in this case, his own recording artists—using fame, even though much more modest, for their own commercial interests.

No critic at the time apparently commented on the outlandishness of Edison’s carelessly announced ambition to radically remake American education—and in his spare time. The side projects multiplied, each initial announcement bringing reporters running and forcing Edison to dilute his attention.

Brand protection also required that Edison remain personally involved in everything, trying to live up to the legend. He did not regard this as a burden. On the contrary, it was the very thing that gave his life meaning. As long as he was the one who made the decisions, he was happy, no matter what consequences followed for his businesses.

In asking Edison to serve as a quotable authority on the subject, Ford reveals his understanding of how celebrity—his, Edison’s, anybody’s—confers, in the eyes of the not-famous, expertise on all manner of subjects. Note: a logical fallacy, but an effective one all the same Edison’s legacy was enhanced more by mistaken associations between his name and competitors’ products than by the sales of his own.

Edison had never been comfortable sharing control, however, and his tight grip on the rudder did not weaken as he grew older. Even at the entry level, new employees were selected for docility.

Edison’s rubber research was not successful, and he apparently covered up the failure in order to keep his external funding intact. An employee of the Fort Myers laboratory claimed that the goldenrod mixture, which Edison showed Ford to be able to demonstrate that the research had achieved success, had surreptitiously been enriched with real rubber—from condoms purchased in bulk for this purpose. Note: What?!

He made sure the press understood that no one worked longer hours than he did, no one needed less sleep than he did, no one was more passionately devoted to invention than he was. He was a prickly person who was used to getting his own way, insufferably opinionated and a carrier of the hateful prejudices of his day. Still, the reader who sees that Edison could neither enjoy his celebrity nor shed it may be inclined to view Edison more sympathetically.