Thursday, 11 February 2016

Thomas Edison on Invention

Abraham Archibald Anderson - Thomas Alva Edison - Google Art Project
Painting of Edison by Abraham Archibald Anderson
Thomas Edison was born on February 11th 1847. Edison is well known in his native US and beyond as an inventor.

We think it's important for kids to learn about famous technologists. It's useful to understand how technology got to where it is today and kids can often be inspired through stories and quotes.

In this article we'll provide some pointers for discussing Thomas Edison with your children.

It's often claimed that Edison invented the electric light-bulb, he actually took an idea that others were working on and tweaked it until it was a viable product that people could use in their homes. Sometime this information is used in a negative fashion suggesting that Edison was inferior to pure inventors such as his one-time employee Nikola Tesla. But it's a comparison between different skill-sets, both of which are valuable.

So what should modern kids know about Edison?

Edison Quotes


The famous invention-related quotes attributed to him are a good starting point:

  • "None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration."

  • "To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk."

  • "I find out what the world needs. Then, I go ahead and invent it."

  • "I never did a day's work in my life, it was all fun."

  • "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

  • "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."

  • "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."


Edison and Design Thinking

This video is good explanation for younger children of Edison's approach to invention. He often used the work of others as a starting point but kept working at it.


Edison's approach has a lot in common with Design Thinking - an approach to innovation which favours trying things out on potential users. See our articles on Bloxels and The Extraordinaires for ideas on developing Design Thinking in children. 

Edison and Teamwork

There's a common perception of celebrated inventors working on their own. Edison often had a huge team working on his inventions trying out different approaches and putting in a volume of work that couldn't be achieved by one person.


Edison was Hard of Hearing

Edison often described himself as deaf. He was very hard of hearing. He sometimes said that his deafness helped him to concentrate. 

He taught his second wife to tap Morse Code so that they could communicate without others hearing them!

More about Thomas Edison


Young Tom Edison is an old biopic telling a fictionalised version of Edison's childhood, he's played by Mickey Rooney. The movie was made in 1940 so don't expect a modern movie!

I'll be trying this movie out on my kids to see what they make of it.


There are lots of books about Thomas Edison for kids but this one is a bit different.

'The Inventor's Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford' tells the story of the real-life friendship and collaboration between the two famous businessmen and inventors.



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