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Thomas Alva Edison was a notable inventor of his time and greatly affected the social, economical, and political world of the early 100’s. His impact was clearly seen through the rapid integration of the inventions that he promoted. Aside from the controversy about his methods of obtaining and promoting inventions, Edison was an impressive figure, and his advocacy of new technologies improved life in many ways. Widespread use of inventions such as the phonograph and the vitascope drastically changed social life for Americans, giving restless Americans new forms of entertainment. Edison’s discoveries, inventions, and promotions also helped to establish new businesses, and formulated the recording and movie industry. Also, Edison’s production and encouragement of the widespread use of the light bulb made it possible for businesses to run efficiently even after hours without resorting to gas lamps. Edison was also a big name among law firms and legal affairs. His had a notorious reputation for suing competitors, accusing them of patent infringement. The U.S. Patent Office and the court had much trouble sorting out the legal dilemmas of this over-zealous inventor. Edison and his fellow inventors discovered new uses for electricity and mechanics, and their discoveries paved the way for further scientific and technological advancement. In addition, Edison’s experiments lead to unexpected scientific discoveries, such as the ‘Edison Effect’, which was later used to develop the radio. Edison influenced the lifestyles of his contemporaries in many aspects, and the results of his inventions, discoveries, and promotions continue to have an impact on life even after his death.


Edison’s contributions to the social world were notable and dramatic. His phonograph was the first machine to be able to record and mimic sounds. Edison achieved immediate fame when he first released the phonograph in 1878. Unfortunately for Edison, this phonograph had little commercial value because of its crude imitations and low quality. Edison’s popularity declined continually until the release of his improved phonograph in 1888 (Wachhorst, 40, 45). This improved phonograph was marketable and had many uses. Edison suggested using the phonograph for purposes including letter writing and dictation, audio books for the blind, music reproduction, music boxes and toys, clocks that announce the time, educational uses and recording the communications on the telephone (Fiscarelli, ). From then on, many people implemented the phonograph for personal uses as suggested by Edison. Edison also took advantage of the commercial and business possibilities of the phonograph and proceeded to distribute pre-recorded music and other sounds for the phonograph as well as recordable media for the phonograph. He even marketed ‘talking dolls’ with tiny phonographs inside for kids to play with. The phonograph was highly popular, and its creation marked the advent of the recording and music industry. With the continual modifications and improvements made to the phonograph, the public implemented recorded sound into their lives more readily. The phonograph quickly integrated into the daily routines of the typical American, and its effect on society is immeasurable. Another important invention that shaped society was the kinetoscope. This machine would allow one person to be able to view motion pictures through a ‘peephole’. Most people regarded this machine as just a novelty, but it was the predecessor to projecting motion pictures machines, which allowed a wide audience to view movies. Edison was able to buy out the rights to one such machine, and renaming it the Edison Vitascope, began to advertise and mass market the machine as his own (Rutgers, -1). This way, Edison was able to promote new technologies and give the public a new pasttime. Soon, many companies began to produce projectors and movies, and within a few years, the infant industry expanded with the public’s approval and interest. Edison’s involvement in the phonograph, kinetoscope, and vitagraph greatly affected society at the time and lead to future developments in the entertainment industry.


Edison’s involvement in the inventions mentioned above naturally affected the world economically as well. His inventions allowed him to not only market his machines and their accessories, but also made it possible for others to benefit from them. His phonograph was used in businesses, serving as recording devices for various purposes. It also had the potential for giving musicians a way to distribute samples of their work. The motion pictures and recording industry opened many economical opportunities for others. Edison’s promotions and improvements on the light bulb and the electric generator also contributed to businesses and the economy. Businesses could turn to the electric light to provide lighting, allowing work to be done even at night without turning to the obsolete gas lamps (Conot, 16-164). Also, the generator made it possible for the average consumer to get electrical benefits at home, opening up a new potential new market for household appliances. Edison’s 1500 DC generators were the first step in providing electrical power to citizens. Although later replaced by the more efficient AC power, Edison’s preliminary work was a notable step in changing the economy and how businesses and homes operate. Edison and his work in electricity was the onset of a major technological revolution, and was the first big step towards modernization.


By becoming involved in the invention, development, and promotion of inventions, Edison often placed himself in many tense legal situations. Often times, he sued rivals for patent infringement when he couldn’t outperform them in sales. This was most notable in the many cases concerning motion pictures and projectors (Rutgers, 4-). His actions had palpable effects politically and legally. Not only were his rivals disrupted by this, but it made the Patent Office aware of the intense rivalry between inventors, and forced them to consider which methods are best for preserving democracy, upholding the principle of laissez faire, while still preventing a monopoly. Edison, by being overzealous in trying to use the law to his advantage, gave the country’s government institutes a preview of the intense competition in this field which would only continue to ascend in the future. This gave lawmakers a chance to prepare for such situations and allow them to define clearly its policies on such issues. In many ways, Edison, by constantly implementing and testing the law for his own benefits, helped to improve the law by forcing lawmakers to change the law to suit the rivalries of inventors and companies.


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Although Edison preferred using experiments and guess-and-check methods instead of using scientific knowledge and procedures, he still had some impact on the scientific world. The most prominent scientific discovery was a phenomenon that he noticed while experimenting with the light bulb. He called it the ‘Edison Effect’, but due to a lack to scientific understanding, he quickly lost interest in the subject. Later, this was used in the development of the radio. Besides this contribution, Edison’s inventions, although arrived at fortuitously and through endless experimenting, promoted scientific reasoning. Since he didn’t know how to explain how the invention works scientifically, he inadvertently promoted theoretical scientists to ask and hypothesize ‘why does it work?’ and ‘how could it be made better and more efficient?’ One such scientist, Nikola Tesla, was able to study Edison’s DC dynamo and improve its efficiency greatly. Later Tesla went on to make an AC dynamo, completely surpassing Edison’s method in terms of efficiency and power output (Foran, ). Edison’s lack of interest towards the scientific method nevertheless promoted science and its applications in technology in ways that he could never fully comprehend.


Edison’s life as an inventor had a dramatic impact on the world. Through inventions that he worked on, improved, and promoted, Edison shaped how people lived in many different aspects. Every American, some way or another, experienced something related to Edison. The young people learned to watch movies produced by companies owned by Edison. Music lovers became obsessed with the phonograph and implemented it in their lives. Competitors and rival inventors had to deal with the patent laws and legal trouble that Edison gave them. Entire law firms were on hold, ready to help the best paying inventor conquer all others. Scientific communities discussed nonstop the ideas behind Edison’s latest invention. Lastly, the consumers of America saw how Edison was able to expand and create new industries, and allow the world to progress faster than it ever has before.


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0 April 00 http//education.vetmed.vt.edu/Curriculum/VM8054/Labs/Lab/Notes/edison.htm


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Fiscarelli, Paul. “The Invention.” History of the Phonograph.


18 April 00 http//www.rpi.edu/~fiscap/history_files/phono.htm


Foran, Jack. “The Invention Of The Universal Electrical Power System” University at Buffalo.


17 April 00 http//ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/projects/cases/niagara.htm


Rutgers. “Early Motion Pictures Industry.” Thomas Alva Edison Papers.


1 April 00 http//edison.rutgers.edu/mopix/catalogs.htm


Wachhorst, Wyn. Thomas Alva Edison An American Myth. USA Colonial Cooperative Press Inc., 181.


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