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The Papers of Thomas A. Edison

The Making of an Inventor, February 1847-June 1874

Thomas A. Edison edited by Reese V. Jenkins et al.

Publication Year: 1989

The Making of an Inventor, volume 1 of the monumental The Papers of Thomas A. Edison, takes us through Edison's life from early childhood to age twenty-six, when his work in telegraphy laid the groundwork for some of his best-known inventions. An 1868 telegraph design by the twenty-one-year-old Edison, for instance, reveals the now-familiar drum and stylus that reappeared in the phonograph of 1877 and in his earliest motion picture design.

The Making of an Inventor contains 90 percent of all known documents relating to Edison's boyhood and early career, including every entry from his Newark lab notebooks. Illustrated with nearly 600 of the inventor's own drawings and sketches, it provides a comprehensive account of the origins of Edison's creative genius.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: The Papers of Thomas A. Edison


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p. C-C

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

Calendar of Documents

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pp. xi-xx

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pp. xxi-xxvii

Publication of The Papers of Thomas A. Edison represents the effort of a team of historical editors to bring to the public and the scholarly community an intimate view of the personal, entrepreneurial, and creative activities of America's greatest inventor. Out of a documentary record comprising over three...

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pp. xxviii-xxxvi

Why should humanists, scientists, engineers, policymakers, students, and lay people want to examine or study Edison's personal and business correspondence, legal agreements, laboratory notebook entries, and patent materials? Since he has been the subject of dozens of biographies, what more need be...

Chronology of Thomas A. Edison, 1847–1873

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pp. xxxvin-xlii

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Thomas A. Edison and His Papers

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pp. xliii-l

The extensive collection of papers preserved in the archive at the Edison National Historic Site—close to three and a half million pages in all—is the product of Thomas Alva Edison's sixty-year career as inventor, manufacturer, and businessman. For years the sheer size and organizational complexity of the...

Editorial Policy

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pp. li-lix

Editorial Symbols

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p. lx-lx

List of Abbreviations

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pp. lxi-2

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1 Edison's Boyhood and Itinerant Years: February 1847–March 1868 (Docs. 1–26)

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pp. 3-50

On the fourth of July 1839 the citizens of Milan, Ohio, jubilantly celebrated the opening of a three-mile canal connecting their small village to the navigable portion of the Huron River. As fireworks crackled and a flurry of cannon bursts reverberated across the waterfront, the people of Milan toasted the...

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2 The Nascent Inventor: March–December 1868 (Docs. 27–50)

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pp. 51-101

In early 1868 Edison moved from Port Huron to Boston, a city of some 200,000 inhabitants and a bustling center of telegraphy. 1 During the next year the city provided ample resources for Edison's transition from operator to inventor, manufacturer, and entrepreneur, and special opportunities for his participation...

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3 From Operator to Inventor-Entrepreneur: January–June 1869 (Docs. 51–69)

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pp. 102-124

The first half of 1869 marked a turning point in Edison's career. After working for five years as an itinerant telegraph operator, he left Western Union to "devote his time to bringing out his inventions."1 During this period he engaged in three new business-technology ventures. One employed his first...

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4 Establishing Connections in New York: July–December 1869 (Docs. 70–88)

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pp. 125-145

While the first months of 1869 saw Edison drawing upon local Boston associates to aid him in his developing inventorentrepreneurial activities, the second half of the year witnessed him successfully connecting with senior telegraph men of national reputation in his new business home in New York....

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5 New Alliances: January–June 1870 (Docs. 89–101)

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pp. 146-175

The first half of 1870 saw an important shift in Edison's business and personal relations as his work in printing telegraphy became closely tied to the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company and its officers. At the beginning of the year, he was working with Franklin Pope and James Ashley in connection...

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6 Expansion and Diversification: July–December 1870 (Docs. 102–135)

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pp. 176-223

During the second half of 1870, Edison strengthened his relationship with Marshall LefFerts and the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company, an association that he maintained for some years, and intensified his efforts to design, develop, and manufacture...

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7 New Resources: January–June 1871 (Docs. 135A–274)

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pp. 224-300

Edison's work in printing telegraphy was crowned with success during the first half of 1871. He was manufacturing cotton instruments at the American Telegraph Works for the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company, and at the end of May he signed a lucrative five-year contract with Gold and Stock...

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8 Innumerable Machines in the Mind: July–December 1871 (Docs. 175–214)

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pp. 301-377

During the second half of 1871, increased stability and security marked Edison's life. He met and married Mary Stilwell of Newark; his association with Gold and Stock grew closer; and Edison and Unger became prime contractors for that company. New-found financial security allowed Edison to buy...

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9 An Inventive Flurry: January–June 1872 (Docs. 215–263)

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pp. 378-491

The year 1872 was a remarkably creative one for Edison. He executed thirty-nine successful patent applications, nearly twice as many as in all of his previous career. In only two other periods would he exceed his 1872 patent productivity level: the years 1880-83, when he developed his incandescent...

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10 The Ascendancy of Manufacturing: July–December 1872 (Docs. 264–279)

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pp. 492-512

Compared to the first half of 1872, the remainder of the year witnessed an increase in Edison's devotion to manufacturing and an accompanying diminution in the number of his notebook entries and patent applications. He continued to develop new ideas for printing and automatic telegraphs, turned his..

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11 Multiple Efforts: January–April 1873 (Docs. 280–317)

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pp. 513-590

The first four months of 1873 witnessed another eruption of inventive activity by Edison. In terms of successful patent applications and technical notes, his productivity rate equaled that of the first half of 1872, but whereas printing telegraphy spearheaded his 1872 outburst, duplex telegraphy led the early...

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12 The English Venture: May–June 1873 (Docs. 318–340)

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pp. 591-626

Edison departed for England on '23 April and returned to the United States on 25 June. This two-month trip was his first overseas and it provided him with an international perspective at an early point in his career. The purpose of the trip was to demonstrate the automatic telegraph system of the Automatic...

Appendix 1. Edison's Autobiographical Notes

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pp. 627-666

Appendix 2. Bibliographic Essay: Edison's Boyhood and Itinerant Years

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pp. 667-673

Appendix 3. The American Patent System

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pp. 674-677

Appendix 4. Edison's U.S. Patents, 1868–1873

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pp. 678-680


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pp. 681-689


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p. 690-690


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pp. 691-708

E-ISBN-13: 9781421412900
E-ISBN-10: 142141290X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801831003
Print-ISBN-10: 0801831008

Page Count: 776
Publication Year: 1989

Volume Title: The Making of an Inventor, February 1847-June 1873
Series Title: The Papers of Thomas A. Edison
Published in cooperation with Rutgers University's Thomas A. Edison Papers project, the fifteen volumes of The Papers of Thomas A. Edison are intended to allow readers from all walks of life to rediscover Edison, his career, his work habits, his creative strategies, and even the processes of invention and innovation he experienced. The transcriptions, explanatory annotations, chapter headnotes, and detailed indexes are designed as much to satisfy the most demanding scholarly inquiries as to offer new opportunities for lifelong learning. Six of the anticipated fifteen volumes have been published. Volume 7 is scheduled for publication in Fall 2015.

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Subject Headings

  • Edison, Thomas A. -- (Thomas Alva), -- 1847-1931.
  • Edison, Thomas A. (Thomas Alva), 1847-1931 -- Archives.
  • Inventors -- United States -- Biography.
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