Thank Thomas Edison for Our Modern Electric System

Posted on February 11, 2015

Edison1When you go to turn on a light switch or appliance today, you should thank Thomas Alva Edison, born on February 11, 1847.

One of our greatest inventors, Edison is credited with numerous electricity-inspired inventions, from the incandescent light bulb to the phonograph and the movie projector. But perhaps even more importantly, his extensive work in electricity led him to develop a complete electrical distribution system for light and power and set up the world’s first electricity generation plant in New York City.

Edison, who started out as a telegraph operator, also invented the alkaline battery, the first electric railroad, and a host of other electricity inventions that laid the basis for the modern electric world. In 1876, he created the first industrial research laboratory, in Menlo Park, New Jersey. He continued to work into his eighties, acquiring a record 1,093 patents before his death in West Orange on October 18, 1931.

In 1875 Edison observed a phenomenon that came to be known as the “Edison effect” or electric waves in space. The effect was that, in a vacuum, electrons flow from a heated element like an incandescent lamp filament to a cooler metal plate. At the time, he saw no special value in the effect, but he patented it anyway. It wasn’t until 1904 that the Edison effect was put to use by John Fleming, resulting in the first vacuum tube. Today the effect is known as “thermionic emission.”

The Edison effect allowed for the invention of radios, televisions, computers and other wireless products.

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