Edison Essay, Research Paper
On February 11, 1847 Thomas Alva Edison was born to Samuel and Nancy Edison in the tiny back room of their quaint brick house. The family lived in the canal village of Milan, Ohio, where Samuel was a successful wooden shingle manufacturer and Nancy was a retired school teacher. Known as “Al” in his youth, Edison was the youngest of four children. His mother had given birth to six before Al, three of which were sickly and died in infancy. This, coupled with the fact that he was the “very image of his mother”, made Nancy Edison fiercely protective of her frail, final child (North 13).
Although he was also a fragile infant, Al grew into a rambunctious and curious little boy. He was always busy experimenting in and exploring the enticing world around him. “His early experiments included sitting for hours on a nest of goose eggs to see if he could make them hatch. With scrap lumber from one of the sawmills he constructed little plank roads and villages. While trying to dig out a nest of bumblebees he was bunted by an angry ram. Life was continuously exciting” (North 18). He loved to take risks, and was fearless against the prospect of his own mortality.
In addition to his explorative antics, little Al asked endless questions of anyone who would listen. When he was three years old, covered wagons traveled through Milan on their way to the gold rush in California. Al would ask of the travelers: Where are you from? Where are you going? Why? What for? According to Edison, as he reflected back on those childhood days, “This was my first impression of a great world beyond. I had a great longing to climb those prairie schooners – just to see where they were going. Gold didn’t mean a thing on earth to me – in fact it hasn’t meant much to me all my life. But I did want to know where those wagons went when they disappeared down the road” (Miller 35). This image was to become a metaphor for his life.
Al asked questions of the townspeople, as well. He would venture down to the shipyards and examine every tool that the workmen used, harassing them until they provided him with an adequate answer for the tools use. He would ask his neighbors and parents more general questions such as: Where does the wind come from? How high up are the stars? What is the moon made of? Usually, they didn’t know the answers to these probing questions, to which he would reply “Well, why don’t you know?” He formed the reputation of being a “queer” nuisance with “brain fever” due to his inquisitive nature and his abnormally large head (North 19). Some even went so far as to say he was “mentally unbalanced, and likely to be a lifelong burden on his parents” (Miller 35).
Because Milan did not have a railroad, business in the small village began to slacken. Samuel Edison, wise enough to recognize this decline, decided to move his family to another more promising location. In 1854, Al, his brother William Pitt, his sister Tannie and his parents relocated to Port Huron, Michigan. Marion, Al’s oldest sister, had married a wealthy farmer and did not move with the family. Samuel would soon become a successful dealer in feed and grain, as well as engaging in the lumber business (Bryan 7).
Port Huron was a prosperous frontier town located on Lake Huron and across the St. Clair River from Sarnia, Canada. The Edison’s new home, called the “House in the Grove,” sat on ten acres of forest land that overlooked the St. Clair River. It was a grand colonial house with four fireplaces, a wide center hall and six big bedrooms upstairs. Windows were plentiful, and spacious porches extended along the front and rear of the house. There was also a cellar, which was soon transformed into Al’s first experimental laboratory. Compared to the original little brick house, this was a mansion.
A year after the family was established in their new town, Al was sent to a small tuition school taught by the Reverend Engle and his wife. Al’s experience in this little school was brief and unpleasant. The Engle’s taught using rote memorization, but young Al wanted to understand what he was learning. He began with his relentless questioning, but the Engle’s had no patience for his curiosity. Reverend Engle would punish the boy and send him home in tears. Word got back to Al’s mother that the Reverend called her son “addled.” Furious by this, she stormed up to the school and gave the Reverend a piece of her mind. “This boy is brighter than you are,” she exclaimed, and of course she was correct. Three months after he had started, Nancy took him out of school and taught him herself (Adler 15).
With his mother’s encouragement and teaching talent, Al finally began to progress with his education. Nancy had the patience to teach her inquisitive son, and would carefully and thoroughly answer any question that he had. According to Edison later in life, “my mother was the making of me” (Miller 48). In addition to his mother’s help, his father aided the learning process. Samuel paid Al twenty-five cents for each book he read from the extensive family library. By the age of twelve, Al was reading college-level history, while other boys his age were struggling with spelling. Al and his mother were successful in tackling most books, but when they ran upon Newton’s ‘Principia’ it proved to be very difficult. “Edison was never proficient in mathematics. In after years, his researchers frequently involved elaborate calculations; and for these he was forced to depend mainly on the labors of associates” (Bryan 9).
Away from his mother’s teachings, Al began to establish his magical laboratory in the basement. With the money he had earned for reading, Al bought and collected over two hundred chemicals, placing them into any spare receptacle. He labeled each old medicine bottle, glass jar and liquor bottle ‘POISON’, with a skull and cross bones, to ensure that no one would tamper with them. Although he was not very good at math, science remained his favorite subject. Al would sit for hours in his makeshift lab, reenacting experiments that were performed in Richard Green Parker’s School Compendium of Natural and Experimental Philosophy. He was skeptical as to the validity of the results until he tested each one for himself. This creative skepticism remained an outstanding characteristic throughout his life.