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How Thomas Edison Transformed Technological Innovation
Friday, September 6, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.
Thomas Edison with the second model of his phonograph, 1878, by Mathew Brady
The conventional story of Thomas Edison reads more like myth than history: With only three months of formal education, a hardworking, self-taught young man overcomes the odds and becomes one of the greatest inventors in history. But there’s far more to the tale.
Paul Israel, director and general editor of the Edison Papers at Rutgers University, reveals not only a man of inventive genius but an innovator who transformed the concept of invention and played a key role in developing some of the most important technologies of the modern era. He explores the central role Edison played in transforming invention from the shop-based practice of lone inventors relying on funding from local capitalists to organized team efforts in corporate-sponsored research and development laboratories. He also examines the ways in which Edison pioneered innovative methods of bringing his inventions to the marketplace.
Israel is the author of Edison: A Life of Invention.
Despite the many enduring inventions we owe to Thomas Edison, not all of his innovations were technological or commercial successes. One of his flops was a talking doll, introduced in 1890, that incorporated his recorded-sound technology into a decidedly non-cuddly product that was quickly pulled from the market. A rare surviving model is on view at the American History Museum, and Smithsonian.com reported on the reasons behind its failure. Listening to its strange voice offers a major clue to why this doll remained unloved by turn-of-the-century tots.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
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