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What Was Thomas Edison Really Good At?

Well, the big weekend is finally here.
Not Super Bowl Weekend. Thomas Edison weekend.
Feb. 11 marks the 176th birthday of the world’s most famous … improver?
“Edison didn’t invent the light bulb. He never said he did,” says Kathleen Carlucci, director at Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park, NJ.
Instead, Carlucci explained, Edison improved on the work of British chemists Warren de La Rue and Joseph Swan when it came to artificial light. He set out to advance the work of Alexander Graham Bell, and the result was the phonograph. Out of all that came the microphone. Imagine having the Super Bowl without light, recordings or a microphone!
At all points during one of her expertly-guided museum tours, Carlucci takes care to note Edison’s formative experiences.
For instance, when he was a young boy working on the railroad, he noticed how often the passengers complained of hunger. He went home, had his mother make some sandwiches, then sold them. He didn’t invent hospitality, but he surely improved travel for those passengers. Not all his improvements received raves. He flopped with a legislative vote-counting machine that worked faster than others did. The politicians complained that they didn’t want a faster machine. They preferred to filibuster and to practice other legal gymnastics. Even in that defeat, Edison learned a lesson: Make it practical! Make it something people wanted to use. And so he did, winning so many patents he was the most famous man in the world. In the end, Edison improved on the whole world of inventing. Or he invented a way to improve. Gathering some sharp minds under the same roof, he set a goal of producing “a minor invention every 10 days, and a big thing every six months or so.” With that he had invented research and development. “Menlo Park,” said Carlucci, “is the birthplace of an approach to invention.” So on Thomas Edison weekend, you might ask yourself, “Do I have an approach to improvement?” * What do I need to improve at? * Where am I now and where do I want to be? * And how am I going to get from where I am to where I want to be? Start your own personal research and development department. Invite people who can give you ideas, and listen to them. Look around, and see what can be improved, either within you or in your world. You may wind up leaving an imprint on the language. Did you ever hear the expression,”Put a sock in it”? It comes from Edison’s “talking machine.” If it ever got too loud, you would throw a sock into the megaphone to mute the sound.That’s what passed for volume control in those days. Until visiting the Edison Museum. I had never made the connection, but then the light bulb went on.


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