Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) was an inventor and businessman who developed many important devices. "The Wizard of Menlo Park" was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production to the process of invention. In 1880 Edison founded the journal Science, which in 1900 became the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Edison is considered one of the most prolific inventors, holding a record 1,093 patents in his name. Most of these inventions were not completely original but improvements of earlier patents, and were actually works of his numerous employees. Edison was frequently criticized for not sharing the credit. Nevertheless, Edison received patents worldwide, including the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Edison started the Motion Picture Patents Company, which was a conglomerate of nine major film studios (commonly known as the Edison Trust).
Thomas Alva Edison's ancestors, the Dutch Edesons, emigrated to New Jersey in 1730. John Edeson remained loyal to England when the colonies revolted (see United Empire Loyalists). That got him arrested and nearly hanged. He and his family fled to Nova Scotia, Canada, settling on land the colonial government gave those who had been loyal to Britain. In 1811, three generations of Edisons took up farming near Vienna, Ontario. Among them was Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. (1804-1896), an erstwhile shingle maker, tailor, and tavern keeper from Marshalltown, Nova Scotia. He married Nancy Matthews Elliott, of Chenango County, New York. In 1837, Samuel Edison was a rebel in the MacKenzie Rebellion that sought land reform and autonomy from Great Britain. The revolt failed and, like his grandfather before him, Samuel Edison was forced to flee for his life. Unlike his grandfather, he went south across the American border instead of north. He settled first in Port Huron, Michigan, temporarily leaving his wife Nancy and children behind.
Thomas Edison was born in 1847 in Milan, Ohio to Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. and Nancy Matthews Elliott (1810-1871). Thomas was their seventh child. When he was seven years old the family moved to Port Huron, Michigan.
Edison had a late start in his schooling due to childhood illness. His mind often wandered and shortly into his schooling, his teacher Alexander Crawford, was overheard calling him "addled". This ended Edison's three-months of formal schooling. His mother had been a school teacher in Canada and happily took over the job of schooling her son in his academics. She encouraged and taught him to read and experiment. He recalled later, "My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.". Many of his lessons came from reading R.G. Parker's School of natural philosophy'.
Edison's life in Port Huron was bittersweet. Partially deaf since adolescence, he became a telegraph operator after he saved Jimmie MacKenzie from being struck by a runaway train. Little Jimmie's father, station agent J.U. MacKenzie of Mount Clemens, Michigan was so grateful that he took Edison under his wing and trained him as a telegraph operator. Edison's deafness aided him as it blocked out noises and prevented Edison from hearing the telegrapher sitting next to him. One of his mentors during those early years was a fellow telegrapher and inventor named Franklin Leonard Pope, who allowed the then impoverished youth to live and work in the basement of his Elizabeth, New Jersey home.
Some of his earliest inventions related to electrical telegraphy, including a stock ticker. Edison applied for his first patent, the electric vote recorder, on October 28, 1868.
On December 25, 1871 he married Mary Stilwell (1855-1884), and they had three children:
Marion Estelle Edison (1873-1965) who married Karl Oscar Oeser
Thomas Alva Edison II (1875-1935) who married Marie Louise Toohey and later married Beatrice Heyzer
William Leslie Edison (1878-1935) who married Blanche Travers