In a recent issue of Time Magazine, the cover had the image of Thomas Alva Edison holding a light bulb with the byline “How One Powerful Idea Changed America”. Now I am not a big fan of Time, but I am a big fan of Edison so I could not resist.
As a boy, my Father took me to the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. It was a fascinating place of wonder to me. The Museum houses an amazing collection and historical record of innovation and advancement in the areas of science and technology. Inventions that changed and shaped our nations with buildings full of trains, planes, cars, machines, equipment and early electronic devices with all of their buttons and wires. I was in heaven; I have always liked things with buttons.
Greenfield Village is a collection of historic buildings or reproductions in some cases that have been assembled into a village of their own. A couple of things I saw in Greenfield Village have always stood out in my mind. The first being the Lincoln chair. President Abraham Lincoln was sitting in this rocking chair during the production of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre when he was assassinated on
April 14, 1865. It was a sobering connection to this historic event that impacted our nation. Secondly was Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory. This “invention factory” was the first industrial research laboratory and the first “think tank” where Edison assembled workers who were experts in their fields from all over the world.
Edison was born in my home state of Ohio in 1847 and by the time he was twenty-two he had patented his first invention. He lived to be eighty-four and patented 1,093 inventions by the time he died in 1931. It was on December 31, 1879 that he demonstrated his most famous invention: the first practical incandescent electric lamp. He was not the only one that had this idea; there were many experimenting along the same line at the same time. His simple socket design and the carbon filament in a vacuum to keep it from burning up are what made his version successful. It was not Edison the inventor that captured my attention and my imagination; it was Edison the innovator that impressed me. As wonderful as all of his inventions are, what made him great to me is that did not stop there, He used his experiments, his inventions and his mind to change the way a nation and then a world lived.
He was an early example in my young life of how a man could play a role in shaping the world in which we live. He was a part of a long list of Americans that had the drive, determination and will to forever change the world we live in for the better. He not only focused on the bulb, but on the power generation and on a business model that would supply both to the masses. Those early concepts are still touching our lives today, amazing!
Edison was truly unique in that he did not just impact the world once but over and over again. He is the father of recorded and transmitted sound and images. Our phones, videos and much of the way we communicate all began in the mind of Edison. Many of his concepts were ahead of their time; many are still relevant today, over a hundred years later.
This is the kind of life I hope to live, a life as I have said before that takes what is around me and uses it to shape the world. My goal is to have that same entrepreneurial spirit that Edison had, the mindset that is the focus of my blog. The Time article points out the decline of Americans with this mindset. Where once as a nation we were the undisputed leader of innovation, we are now ranked eighth. Again I point out that the entrepreneurial spirit we once had is slowly being replaced with a sense of entitlement. Where once there was a line of men like Franklin, Edison, McCormick, Morse, Bell, the Wright brothers and Ford there are few standing in their place today.
All is not lost; there are still some innovators out there. I am so drawn to the commercial space industry due to the fact that there are some Edison’s among them. Men like Burt Rutan and Elon Musk and companies like Virgin Galactic and Space X. Like Edison, they are attempting to build innovations and industries that will change the world. Risk takers and world shapers, they are my kind of people.