Thomas Alva Edison, one of the most prolific inventors in history, produced more than 1,000 inventions in his workshop in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Edison strove to create devices that could be the most useful to a majority of people. His inventions with the most impact contributed to mass communication, particularly telecommunications, electricity and the motion picture industry.
With his extensive work in telegraphy and the telephony Thomas Edison contributed greatly to mass communications.
Telegraphy Automatic telegraphs transmit messages at higher speeds than those sent and received by Morse telegraph operators. In 1874, improving upon several of his previous inventions, Edison invents the quadruplex telegraph for Western Union, which transmits four messages simultaneously.
Telephony Before 1877, telephones used magnets, which produced weak currents that limited the distance over which it could be used, to transmit sound. Edison’s invention of the carbon transmitter for the telephone greatly improved the distance over which a telephone could be used. His basic design continued to be used until the arrival of digital telephones in the 1980s.
In 1877 while working on the telephone transmitter, Edison noticed that the tape on the machine gave off a noise that sounded like words. This helped him to consider the possibility of recording and playing back telephone messages. Within six months, Edison had developed a basic working design. Initially the phonograph was treated as a machine for dictation. It was not until 1890 that it was used to record music.
A crucial development in Edison’s career was the concept and implementation of electric-power generation and distribution to homes, businesses, and factories.
After a year of research and tests, Edison conducts his first successful experiments with the light bulb in October 1879 using a carbon filament that would burn in a vacuum in a glass bulb for 40 hours.
Power System Edison knew that without a method to deliver electricity, his light bulb would be ineffective. He modeled his system after the gas systems of the time. Edison designed a system of conductors, meters, lamp fixtures, sockets, fuses and current-switches.
Electric Generator In 1879 Edison’s research leads him to an important discovery in improving the design of generators. His invention led to generators that had more efficient power output than those in existence at the time.
Motion Picture Camera
Edison began working on motion pictures in the late 1880s. A member of his experimental staff, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, played a key role in the development of the Kinetograph (a motion picture camera) and the Kinetoscope (motion picture viewer). In 1893, Edison demonstrates his system for making and showing motion pictures. In less than a decade, motion pictures become a popular and successful industry.