Education of an Inventor

yearofinnovation education

Explore Edison’s boyhood in Milan and Port Huron, his years as an itinerant telegrapher in the 1860s and his first experiences as an inventor in Boston, New York and Newark, where he introduced improved stock tickers, new telegraph systems and the electric pen, his first invention sold directly to consumers. Thanks to Rutgers Public History intern Ammi Gonzales for her help editing links and PDF files for this essay.

  • The Boyhood Years

    Edison's exposure to formal education in boyhood was limited, but he did attend the private school of the Rev. George Engle in 1854, and later, from 1859-1860, the publicly supported Port Huron Union School in Michigan. In 1885, Engle, who was retired without salary, wrote Edison to ask for...
  • Learning to do Business: Early Entrepreneuship

    While working on the railroad, the enterprising young Edison opened two side businesses in Port Huron—a periodical stand and a vegetable stand, both of which could be supplied by the railway. Edison hired boys to work these stands. To increase his profits, he also employed another boy to sell...
  • Itinerant Telegrapher

    Edison became aware of the importance of telegraph technology through his work as a newsboy on the railroad. The railroads used the telegraph to regulate traffic on their lines, but railway telegraphs also helped to disseminate the news of the day all across the country. Edison served an...
  • Boston Inventor and Businessman: 1868-1869

    In April 1868, Edison moved to Boston where he took a job as an operator in the city's main Western Union office. He worked nights as a press-wire operator, taking news copy from the Associated Press off the telegraph wire. A portion of a press-wire report in Edison's hand from this period is now...
  • New York: 1869-1870

    In the spring of 1869, Edison decided to move from Boston to New York in order to test another invention, his double transmitter for sending two messages over one wire. During the tests, which were only partially successful, Edison found it necessary to modify his instruments, but was delayed "on account of...
  • Newark, NJ 1870-1875

    In February 1870, Edison signed his first contract to do inventive work for Gold & Stock. In addition to his salary, two investors in the Gold & Stock supported Edison's work on his autographic telegraph and provided him with the seed money to rent a room and furnish it with all necessary tools...
  • British Telegraphy and the Creation of Edison's First Laboratory, 1873

    The Automatic Telegraph Co. sent Edison to Great Britain in Spring 1873 to learn more about British automatic telegraph designs—notably the Wheatstone telegraph— and to test his own system with an eye to opening a new foreign market. Although he was able to successfully demonstrate his automatic...
  • Becoming a Full-Time Inventor

    In the spring of 1875, Edison decided to expand his laboratory facilities and devote his full time to invention. He took over most of the Ward Street building for the laboratory while Joseph Murray, who had replaced William Unger as his manufacturing partner, continued to manufacture telegraph...