Book: The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World

The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World by Randall E. Stross

To say Thomas Edison is an iconic figure is an understatement. His image is so deeply entrenched within culture that its hard to separate what is truth and what is fiction and what constitutes a fact.

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The image of genius who just cant stop innovating was appealing and convenient for journalists of the era. Multiple headlines were screaming describing amazing pace of spitting out new machines and businesses.

While Thomas Edison was without a doubt a great innovator, he was a lousy businessman. He had a knack for getting public excited but he often under-delivered on his promises of bringing ideas to market and changing lives with them.

He was a resident of Menlo Park only for a short time ( 7 years? )and most of hes subsequent career he wanted to come back to that isolated place where he could innovate with peace

(all this reminds me of skunkworks approach that 10x the output by isolating employees and providing singular focus)

All in all, his life seemed pretty drab.

All the successes had were like startup unicorns that flare out when he failed to make his products commercially available. He really just wanted to be left in peace in his laboratory.

General Electric is a company that was founded by his efforts and continues to flourish to this day, but it shunned his name from the title in 1892.

Tesla vs Edison

Oatmeal sells this great print

The epic „Battle of currents” between Tesla and Edison is a very compelling story. Two wizards of the modern age fighting for the future of all electricity is a compelling story.

Yes, it may have gone too far and yes, Edison has electrocuted an elephant. There were also a stories of current „leaking” into the ground and electrocuting a bit people standing above the lines.

But he was really just trying to innovate and hew as convinced about superiority of
direct current.

My highlights

  • In his spare time, Edison spent time with a small chemistry laboratory that he set up in the baggage car. Flammable chemicals did not travel as well as the printing press. When a bottle of phosphorus fell and set the car on fire, the conductor ejected Edison, his chemical laboratory, and his printing press.
  • The vote recorder was a bust, and the lesson Edison drew from the experience was that invention should not be pursued as an exercise in technical cleverness, but should be shaped by commercial needs.
  • Edison was disinclined to drink with his fellows because it would pull him off track, interfering with the greater pleasures: tinkering, learning, problem solving
  • The isolation of the Menlo Park setting infused the laboratory with a feeling of unbounded creative freedom
  • which also meant that little interest could be mustered for fixing problems with older products like the electric pen.
  • The fault, Edison was told by another manager, was with the customers’ “prejudice and stupidity.”
  • This was a short-lived idea—only a month later, Edison wrote in a laboratory notebook in an agitated hand: “My wife Dearly Beloved Cannot invent worth a Damn!!”

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