Thomas Edison: Inventor or Patent Thief?
Most inventions are created from a multitude of ideas and a number of men, and one man simply cannot be credited for the inventions such as the phonograph, the kinetoscope, or the light bulb. Unfortunately, it is usually the corrupt businessman who exploits such creations and claims them as his own who receives the lion’s share. Thomas Alva Edison was an ideal example of such a person. Edison hardly played any role in the actual production of anything revolutionary, but by patenting other people’s products and commercializing them, he was able to gain a great deal of success. Edison did not even have any form of scientific or engineering education, and only received three months of any kind of formal education in his life. (Gehring 1) However, throughout his life, he managed to become the holder of 1,093 U.S. patents, along with various others internationally. However, almost every one of these products had been a revision or improvement of an earlier invention or patent. (Gehring 1) In essence, Edison was nothing but a fraudulent entrepreneur who thrived off of the work of his associates and others.
Most people would say that Edison was the inventor of the light bulb. The fact that this misconception runs so rampant, even in today’s society, is alarming. The story of the light bulb predates Edison by over 70 years, beginning with Englishman Humphrey Davey’s electric lamp in 1806. (Krystek 1) Davy’s device was blindingly bright, and it could not be put to practical use in the common household. However, this did lead to the invention of arc lamps soon after, which were used in lighthouses, public assembly areas, and searchlights. (Krystek 1) In 1841, an inventor named Frederick DeMoleyns patented the first incandescent light bulb, and J.W. Starr followed in 1845. (Krystek 1) Joseph Swan had even been installing incandescent bulbs in homes in England years before Edison even got his working. (Nakagawa 1) Swan’s house was the first home to be powered by electric light in 1879, and the lecture theatre in the Lit and Phil library in England was the first public room to be lit by electric light during a lecture by Sir Joseph Swan in 1880. (Reynolds 1) Edison received his first patent for the light bulb in late 1879, after Swan had already been putting his light bulbs to domestic use. (Reynolds 1) When Swan eventually sued Edison for patent theft and won, Edison was forced to employ him as a partner in his British company, where he proceeded to slightly improve Swan’s light bulbs and claim them completely as his own. (Nakagawa 1) Not only was Edison not the first person to invent the light bulb, he was nowhere near the first to even patent it.
The phonograph is another invention that Edison is renowned for having invented entirely on his own. Unfortunately, Edison applied ideas from numerous other previous inventions in order to construct his finished product. In 1856, years before the phonograph was created, an inventor from France named Leon Scot introduced the “Phonoautograph”, a device that could record sounds, but not reproduce them. (Morton 1) Later, in early 1858, Edison’s associate, John Krusei, manufactured a device with all of the principles of the Phonoautograph with the addition of sound reproduction. (Morton 2) With a few minor alterations, Edison “invented” what he called the phonograph, and claimed it as his own. This is not the only instance of Edison benefitting from his assistants’ ideas, either. In 1897, W.K.L. Dickson invented the first motion picture viewer for Edison. (Billington 1) Edison initially viewed it as nothing more than a trivial gadget, but soon realized that it could potentially boost sales for his phonograph. (Morton 1) On August 31, 1897, Edison patented the invention, calling it the kinetoscope, and giving Dickson little to no credit for the production of it. (Morton 1) Edison certainly had rivals during his journey to “success”. Serbian-American...
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