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Thomas Edison and Northeast Ohio


Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison

(University of Texas at Austin/public domain photo) Thomas Edison's Birthplace

Thomas Edison's Birthplace

(Courtesy of Ohio Dept. of Travel and Tourism) Edison's lab at Menlo Park

Edison's lab at Menlo Park

(© Andrew Balek/cc license)

Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the incandescent light bulb, the first photograph, and over 1000 other inventions, was born right here in Northeast Ohio, in Milan, in north central part of the state.

Although his family moved away from Ohio when he was seven years old, his influence can still be felt in the region in his birthplace (now a historic site), at Cleveland's Nela Park (a part of Edison's General Electric Company), and at Akron's National Inventors Hall of Fame (of which he was a charter inductee).

Edison's Early Years:

Edison was born in 1847 in Milan, the youngest of seven children. An inquisitive and restless child, Edison was too much for the schoolteacher at the one-room schoolhouse and his mother homeschooled the boy, aided by tutors in math and science. The Edisons moved to Port Huron, Michigan after the railroad was rerouted to bypass Milan, when Edison was seven.

Edison the Inventor:

Edison began tinkering with inventions while working for Western Union in Louisville, Kentucky. He was fired for spending too much time on side projects. Shortly thereafter, Edison perfected his first invention, an automated stock ticker.

Later, Edison moved to New Jersey, where he set up a research lab in Menlo Park, the first facility of its kind.

Important Edison Patents:

Among Thomas Edison's 1093 US Patents were:

  • Incandescent light bulb
  • Printing telegraph
  • Cylinder phonograph
  • Kinetoscope
  • Kinetograph
  • Disc phonograph
  • Motion picture camera


Personal Life:

Edison was married twice--to Mary Stilwell in 1871 (she died in 1884) and to Akron native, Mina Miller. He had six children, three with each wife. He had homes in West Orange, New Jersey and in Fort Myers, Florida.

Edison and Northeast Ohio:

Edison's General Electric Company acquired the Cleveland-based National Electric Lamp Company (NELA) in 1911, which it made the company's lighting division. GE built a sprawling campus in a former vineyard on the east side of Cleveland, today's NELA Park. It is credited with being the first industrial park. Today, GE is the world's second largest corporation and its Cleveland lighting division continues to be a vital part of the company.

Thomas Edison maintained close friendships with other Midwest inventors, including Akron's Harvey Firestone and Dearborn's Henry Ford.

Final Days:

Edison died at his New Jersey home on October 18, 1931 at the age of 84. He had been in poor health for the previous two years. He last breath was reportedly saved in a test tube and is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Visiting Edison's Birthplace:

The house where Thomas Edison was born, and lived until he was seven years old, still stands in its original location and has been restored and converted into a museum for Edison artifacts, inventions, and memorabilia.

The Thomas Edison House is open from February through November and is easily reached from Exit 118 off of the Ohio Turnpike. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $2 for children 6-12. Hours vary throughout the year.

(created 2-4-08)

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