inventor in American history also had the most failures. This story
reminded me about the fact that Babe Ruth, the man who held the
records for most home runs in a season and in a career, also held
the record for the most strikeouts.
Even a young Elvis Presley
appeared to have some shortcomings. After a performance early in his
career at the Grand Ole Opry, someone told the King, "You ain't goin'
Thomas Edison -- the man who
invented the incandescent light bulb, as well as the phonograph, the
motion picture camera, a stock ticker, a vote recorder and the
electric motor -- had many failures.
Edison tried -- and failed --
to use cement to build small things such as cabinets and
pianos. Concrete was just too expensive at the time.
He was also one of many
inventors who tried -- and failed -- to combine sound and motion to
make talking movies. Actually, he was in good company, because
nearly everyone else who tried also failed, and there were quite a
few who tried.
One of Edison's greatest
failures was being unable to create a practical way to mine iron
ore. He lost every penny that he invested in the project.
His electric vote recorder,
which worked but was a commercial failure, taught him a valuable
business lesson. It led him to conclude, "I only want to invent
things that will sell."
Oh, and that light bulb came
about only after he endured thousands of failed attempts.
How did all the failure affect
Apparently, it made him
stronger. He once remarked that he hadn't failed 10,000 times but
rather that he discovered 10,000 ways that will not work! Talk about
making lemonade when handed a bunch of lemons. He saw that each
failed attempt brought him a little closer to the solution that he
was searching for.
[to top of
second column in this article]
In fact, Edison wasn't even the
first inventor to invent a light bulb when he developed his
incandescent bulb in 1878. A British inventor named Joseph Swan
developed a different version a year earlier. But Edison established
the framework to light entire cities.
Despite the title of this
story, I'm not trying to convince you that Edison was a failure. You
see, the man who is regarded as the most successful inventor in
American history is the same man who had the most failures as an
inventor. Like Babe Ruth and Elvis Presley after him, Edison didn't
let the failures slow him down.
His reputation as the greatest
inventor of all time comes not just from having the most patents --
he received 1,093 -- but also for having the most impact on society
with his inventions. Just about every person living in a civilized
society has benefited from at least one of his inventions.
This is even more impressive
when you consider that Edison was nearly deaf and that his formal
schooling didn't go beyond the third grade. One of young Thomas
Edison's teachers even remarked that he was "too stupid to learn."
Where Edison failed on a small
scale, he was usually able to succeed on a larger scale. Most
successful inventors create new products, but Edison created an
entire industry -- the electric industry. His light bulb, along with
the power grid that he built to allow his light bulbs to keep entire
cities bright at night, led to the creation of what is known today
as General Electric.
while Edison failed on a small scale with making certain products
out of cement, he succeeded on a very large scale with cement. It
was his company, the Edison Portland Cement Company, that built
Yankee Stadium -- forever known as "The House That Ruth Built."
Invention Mysteries is written each
week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at
Paul Niemann 2004