| Great Inventors and Their Inventions|
|by Frank P. Bachman|
|Twelve stories of great inventions, grouped under inventions of steam and electric power, inventions of manufacture and production, and in ventions of printing and communication. The final chapter introduces the famous inventors of the early twentieth century. The story of each invention is interwoven with that of the life of its inventor. Through these stories the reader learns how big things are brought about, and on the traits of mind and heart which make for success. Ages 10-14 |
THOMAS A. EDISON
 EDISON, "The Wizard of Menlo Park," as he is called, is our best-known living inventor. As a boy, his curiosity and
daring led him into unusual adventures, and of his boyhood days many and interesting stories are told: How he
pulled an old duck off her nest and sat on the eggs himself to see if he could hatch them; how he set fire to a
barn, and was publicly whipped for it in the village square; how he tried to read all the books in the public
library, and actually read all on a seven-foot shelf; how he set fire, when a newsboy, to a car, and was boxed
on the ear by the train conductor, making him deaf for life; how he saved the life of an operator's son, and
was taught telegraphy by the operator. These stories may be read in any life of Edison.
Edison has taken out about fourteen hundred patents in the United States alone. He has not made all of these
inventions himself. He worked like other inventors in his early days, doing all the work himself on whatever he
had in hand, but for many years he has conducted a great factory, in which hundreds of men are employed, all
busy on inventions. Just as other men conduct factories to
 manufacture, for example, automobiles, Edison conducts his factory to work out inventions. Most of the
inventions attributed to him are, therefore, the product of his factory, rather than of himself alone.
OPERATOR TEACHING YOUNG EDISON TELEGRAPHY.
The first patent taken out by Edison was in 1869, on a vote-recording machine. The machine was designed to
secure privacy in voting, and to prevent fraud in public elections. The politicians did not want any such
machine to come into general use, and the voters were not ready for it, so his first invention proved a flat
failure. Edison, however, gained a valuable lesson from this experience. He resolved never to make an invention
which was not wanted, and which could not be made a commercial success. From that day to this, before he
undertakes an invention, he studies with great care the possible demand for it, the cost of making the
invention, and the probable profits from its manufacture and sale.
 To this method of work is due much of his commercial success. But no small part of it is due to his industry
and to his courage. He works as hard as any of the men he employs, often toiling for long periods, eighteen out
of the twenty-four hours of the day. Then, too, it requires courage to invest great sums of money in new and
untried things. The fine courage which sustained him during all these years was well illustrated when a great
fire destroyed a number of his factory buildings. His answer to the wild flames as they leaped upon and ate up
building after building was, "We will begin rebuilding to-morrow."
Of all Edison's inventions, in some ways the most valuable are his electric light, his phonograph, and his
EDISON'S FAMOUS HORSESHOE PAPER-FILAMENT LAMP, 1870.
When Edison first exhibited his talking machine, in 1877, people hearing it repeat "Mary had a little lamb"
 deemed it a greater invention even than the telephone, and crowds filled great halls to hear the wonderful
machine. The story went about at the time, that Edison gained the idea of the phonograph from accidentally
pricking his finger. This is, of course, not true. The talking machine was the product of careful thought and
PHONOGRAPH DEVELOPED FROM THE FIRST INSTRUMENT.
Edison first began to think of reproducing sounds mechanically, from reflecting on the record made on a disk by
a needle attached to a telegraph key. From working with a phonautograph, the instrument used by Bell to record
sound waves on a smoked paper, he conceived the idea of recording sounds on tin foil or on a wax disk, and then
sending the needle back over the grooves to reproduce the sounds.
A phonograph is really only a phonautograph developed. The sounds to be reproduced are first recorded in
grooves on a wax disk, by means of a phonautograph with a needle attached to the diaphragm. To reproduce the
sounds thus recorded, the needle of the phonautograph is sent
 back over the grooves in the disk, and the sounds produced by the vibrating diaphragm are magnified by a
horn-like arrangement. The phonograph is therefore a very simple mechanical contrivance to reproduce sound. It
is, nevertheless, one of the most popular of modern inventions, as it has brought the music of the masters
within the reach of the home, at small cost.
A MOVING-PICTURE MACHINE.
The moving picture, on the other hand, has done in part for the eye what the phonograph has done for the ear.
As with some other great inventions, a popular toy was the forerunner of the moving picture. Some twenty years
or more ago, it was possible to buy pictures of boys, in different positions, on a strip of paper stretched
over a circular framework. By turning the crank the pictures were whirled around, making the boys appear to be
 The first real moving pictures were of animals taken in motion. In working with these animal pictures, it was
discovered that if they were passed before the eye at the rate of sixteen a second, instead of seeing sixteen
pictures of the same animal in different positions, the animal appears to be moving. The moving picture is
therefore nothing more than a number of pictures of the same object, animal, or person, in different positions,
passed rapidly before the eye. The common rate of taking the pictures and of exhibiting them is sixteen per
second. Edison took advantage of this peculiarity of our sight. He perfected the process of taking pictures of
objects in motion, discovered the best materials for films, and worked out
 other practical details essential to good moving pictures. Few towns are now too small to have their "movies."
Probably no invention is more popular, and surely none contributes more to the amusement of the public.
FIRST MOTION PICTURE OF AN OPENING FLOWER.
Edison, however, is to be thought of not only as an inventor, but also as a business man. Around and about his
many inventions have grown great business enterprises, of which he is part owner. In these different
enterprises are invested a total of almost seven billions of dollars, and in them are employed three quarters
of a million men. To have set in motion such gigantic business enterprises, to say nothing of his great
contributions to the comfort, pleasure, and amusement of nations, is in itself enough to rank Edison among the
most distinguished of Americans.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics