inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #0 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Sat 28 Aug 99 06:35

Please welcome Paul Israel, author of EDISON: A LIFE OF INVENTION.

Paul, you have been working on Edison for years.  Please begin by telling how
you got started on this great American subject!
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #1 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Sat 28 Aug 99 07:13
I started working on Thomas Edison in 1980 without any idea that I would
still be doing so twenty years later.  I had just finished a masters program
at UC Santa Barbara in a new discipline called Public History.  The idea of
that program had grown out of the job crisis in the humanities (which still
exists and might now be called a permanent state)--there were not enough
academic jobs for people being trained in history (and other humanities
disciplines).  So the folks at UCSB had set up the first program designed to
train historians for positions outside of the academy.  I had entered the
program after graduating with a B.A, in history from Cal Poly San Luis
Obispo, where I had worked with an Dan Krieger, an historian who had become
concerned about this problem after working on a study about it for the
American Historical Association.  He had set up an internship program with
the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument (better known as Hearst
Castle) in which I was involved (I ended up working as a tour guide for a
while) and even helped him teach the internship class after I had taken it.
After graduation I had debated what to do, taking off a year, and applied at
both library science schools (I had worked in the school library) and at my
professor's urging the UCSB Public History Program.

The UCSB Public History progam required students to take a paid internship.
I ended up working with Carroll Pursell, an historian of technology who had
received a grant from the California Department of Transportation and the
Historic American Engineering Record (a federal program) to do a study of
historic bridges on the state highway system.  This was necessary as
Cultural Impact Statements were being required before you could tear down
old structures or disturb possible archaeological sites--these statements
are comparable to Environmental Impact Statements.  I ended up writing a
Master's Thesis entitled "Spanning the Golden State: A History of the
Highway Bridge in California.

Having finished with the program, however, I had no idea what to do next.
Carroll happened to be the secretary of the Society for the History of
Technology (SHOT) at that time and across his desk came a notice of a job
from a fellow named Robert Friedel.  Robert had just gotten a grant from the
National Park Service, which ran the Edison National Historic Site (Edison's
West Orange Laboratory and his home Glenmont), to study Edison's invention
of his electric lighting system--1979 was the 100th anniversary of the
invention.  Robert had applied for the grant because he had just finished up
working on an exhibit called "Lighting a Revolution" at the Smithsonian and
was looking for another job.  As it turned out he got a teaching job just
after receiving the grant and so needed someone who could work full-time
doing research at ENHS in West Orange, New Jersey, for six months.  So,
never having been east of Utah, I arrived on a cold February morning in West
Orange with my bag in one hand and my cat in the other and set to work on
Thomas Edison.  I ended up working for about eight months on the research
and also became coauthor of the study and subsequent book, Edison's Electric
Light: Biography of an Invention.

As I was finishing the research and wondering what I would do next, Reese
Jenkins, the director of the Thomas A. Edison Papers, asked if I would be
interested in working on the project, which was then a year old.  I agreed
and the rest, as they say, is history as I have now been working on the
Edison Papers for twenty years.  I ended up writing the biography after
being approached by the humanities editor at John Wiley & Sons in 1990.
After debating whether to do this--as editor I had a good idea of the
enormity of the task--I agreed and spent the next eight years working on the
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #2 of 48: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Sat 28 Aug 99 12:50

Paul, did your research give you any insight on the Edison-Tesla feud?
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #3 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Sun 29 Aug 99 15:14
What my research led me to conclude was that there wasn't much of a feud for
most of their working lives.  The so-called feud largely seems to have been
a product of Tesla's frustrations at the end of his life, which he came to
lay at Edison's feet, and of Tesla's biographers who have searched for ways
to turn their occasional disagreements into a vital feud that consumed both
men.  Tesla was certainly not the only one who thought that Edison got more
credit than he deserved as an electrical inventor.  I discuss at some length
the issue of rivals and credit, but you will not find Tesla there.  He was
not a significant rival during the period of Edison's work on electric
lighting.  Rather men such as William Sawyer, Edward Weston, Elihu Thomson,
George Westinghouse, and Frank Sprague are the names that matter.  Thomson
writing to Sprague in 1928 said, "Great as has been the work of Edison in
various fields to which he has given attention, it seems to me that the
attempt to spread his fame over fields in which he has done very little, and
sometimes done the wrong thing, is to be sincerely deprecated."  While I was
interested in looking at the debates over credit and rivals during Edison's
life I do not address the subsequent history of these.  It is only since
their deaths that Tesla has come to play a central role in popular mythology
as Edison's great rival since but there was little real rivalry between them
during Edison's lifetime.

The most famous "rivalry" between Edison and Tesla according to modern myth
is the controversy over the use of AC rather than DC for electrical systems.
 Edison was the principle proponent of DC current against those, especially
George Westinghouse, who advocated AC but Tesla was a minor player whose
most important work--the electric motor--as well as his other inventions
were owned by Westinghouse.  In the newspapers and journals of the time, as
well as in correspondence, advertising and other records,  it is
Westinghouse who is Edison's great foe;  Tesla's name only appears
occasionally and almost always in connection with his motor.  This was an
extremely complex controversy, which I deal at length with in my book, but
Tesla was certainly not seen by Edison nor anyone else at the time as his
rival in this episode, rather it was Westinghouse.

In the 1890s the New York tabloids sometimes juxtaposed their answers to
questions or asked them about each other, but there was little real
controversy.  It is interesting that the most well-researched of the Tesla
biographies (Marc Seifer's The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla) even has to
resort to the assertion that because Edison told one interviewer in 1898
that he disagreed with Tesla's view that wireless telephony would soon
supplant wireless telegraphy that Edison thereby was "leading the charge
against his [Tesla's] credibility."  In fact, most of those who thought
about the issue at the time saw wireless telegraphy as the more promising
commercial technology.  It is notable that during the 1910s they seem to
have had a very cordial professional relationship with Tesla speaking well
of Edison in the autobiographical articles that he wrote for the journal
Electrical Experimenter in 1919; this series was reprinted as Nikola Tesla,
My Inventions (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1982).   And in 1912 Edison wrote
Tesla a nice note commiserating with Tesla over Westinghouse's suit against
Tesla, which prompted Tesla to reply with a nice letter of his own.  Edison
was not noted for writing such letters to those he considered rivals.  There
certainly seems little evidence of a fierce rivalry or feud between them at
this point.

Even the event that supposedly set Tesla against Edison is more shrouded in
myth than documentation.  This concerns the brief period when Tesla worked
for Edison at the Edison Machine Works in New York in 1884.  Tesla gave
differing accounts of this disagreement but the most authoritative appears
to be the one that appeared in his autobiographical articles.   Although the
popular story has Edison himself personally cheating Tesla, in his account
Tesla describes how it was the manager of the Machine Works, not Edison
(whom he mentions favorably) who offered him $50,000 for redesigning the DC
apparatus that the Edison Company was using and then reneged on the offer
after he successfully altered the apparatus.  I'm very dubious from what I
know of the company and the manager that such an offer would have been made
or at least in any serious way that would have led Tesla to believe that he
would receive such an amount.  Furthermore, no major change in the apparatus
appeared at that time.  Another historian of technology who is currently
working on a biography of Tesla believes that what happened was that Tesla
was asked to work on an arc-light system for the Edison Company, which did
not have such a system.  According to patent interference testimony that
Tesla gave in 1901, the failure of the company to both adopt and pay him for
this arc-light system was the actual reason he left Edison's employ.  He
apparently was then swindled by some other men who set up a company to
exploit the system.
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #4 of 48: Steven Solomon (ssol) Mon 30 Aug 99 06:48
So, those stories of Tesla and/or Edison running across the
countryside, publicly frying puppies with the supposed rival's "unsafe"
AC or DC (pick one) technology are modern legend and nothing more? Or
was the more mysterious Tesla substituted for the prosaic Westinghouse?
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #5 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Mon 30 Aug 99 07:58
There were indeed electrocutions of animals, primarily dogs, that took place
at Edison's West Orange Laboratory.  This was a convergence of the interest
of a newly formed New York State commission to investigate more humane
methods of execution, Edison's own view that AC was highly dangerous, and
the promotional activities of a fellow named Harold P. Brown, who actually
led the attack on Westinghouse and convinced Edison to let him use his
laboratory for the animal electrocution experiments.  This battle of the
systems was hardly Edison's finest hour and led to the development of the
electric chair and Edison's testimony was probably crucial in the failed
appeal by the first person to be electrocuted, something he later regretted.
This is a relatively short answer to a much more complex event that I
discuss at greater length in the book.

As to the substitution of Tesla for Westinghouse, this seems to be more the
result of a cult of Tesla that has built up since his death.  A subject that
is very interesting from a cultural standpoint and deserves serious academic
examination.  I find it remarkable that since writing the Edison biography
questions about Tesla have been the most frequently asked.
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #6 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Wed 1 Sep 99 07:41
    <scribbled by tnf Wed 1 Sep 99 07:41>
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #7 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Wed 1 Sep 99 07:41

(correcting for too many typos)

Tell us about the Edison Papers project, Paul.  Are you putting them on the
Net, or what?
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #8 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Wed 1 Sep 99 08:32
The Edison Papers is a rather massive undertaking.  The main collection of
Edison's papers are at the Edison National Historic Site in West Orange, New
Jersey, which is operated by the National Park Service (an organization that
is ill-suited to run historical museums and archives).  There are an
estimated 5 million pages of material.  When the Edison Papers was begun in
1979 the estimate was 1-1.5 million.  After the Edison Papers completed the
first ever inventory of the collection that was finally revised to the
current figure.  There are also materials in other archives and in personal
collections.  Most of these are relatively small collections but there are a
few large ones.  The most notable is the collection at the Henry Ford Museum
and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.

The Edison Papers editing project has three main goals.  We are producing a
microfilm edition of the papers that will encompass about 10% of the
collection at the Edison National Historic Site- about 500,000 pages.  At
the moment we have published three parts of the microfilm edition (covering
the nineteenth century) and are about to publish a fourth (covering the
first decade of the twentieth).  The microfilm edition is massive and is
really designed for purchase by research libraries, though one copy of the
film circulates through interlibrary loans.

While the microfilm edition has a limited market, we are planning on making
this collection of material more widely accessible through our website
(  The index and guide to the microfilm edition are
online now and we are presently linking images scanned from the microfilm.
We hope to have these available for viewing within the year.  The online
edition of the papers will also include images of documents that we have
obtained from other collections, such as those at the Henry Ford Museum. The
website currently  has some other material such as a chronology of Edison's
life, a list of his patents (which hopefully will soon have links to the
patents themselves), short descriptions of the various Edison businesses,
some maps and images, and the essays that accompany a microfilm edition of
early motion picture catalogs, which the project published several years ago
in conjunction with a leading film historian.

Finally, there is the book edition of which I am the managing editor.  We
will publish between 15 and 20 volumes of transcribed and annotated
documents that will provide both a biographical sketch of Edison's life and
career and a gateway to the larger collection of materials.  In the future
this will become part of the website with links to the documents we publish
and the many more that we cite in annotation.  So far we have published four
volumes, covering Edison's life through 1878, and are working on a fifth.
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #9 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Wed 1 Sep 99 08:39
I might also mention that one of the interesting challenges that we faced in
doing a book edition of Edison's papers  was figuring out how to present the
actual inventions.  Things like stock tickers, phonographs, telephones, and
electric lights.  We are treating these like documents by providing virtual
artifacts in the form of photographs and drawings combined with introductory
essays that describe their development and use.  We also provide some essays
to discuss various kinds of technologies that Edison worked.  And we have
introductory essays to the chronological chapters (covering 1-3 months) into
which we divide the documents in each volume.  These essays give an overview
of his life and work and when read together provide a biographical sketch.
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #10 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Wed 1 Sep 99 12:06
Possible stupid question alert: Who's gonna want to read those millions of

Less obnoxious question:  What are we gonna learn from your Edison biography
that counters the popular, mythologized image of T.A.E.?
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #11 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Wed 1 Sep 99 13:33
The first question is actually a very good one, though it will "only" be
about half a million pages that will be online.  For the most part the
Edison Papers online edition will be for people doing research.  However,
especially once the book edition is there as a gateway, we hope that this
will be a place where school kids and others can come to learn about Edison
and invention and business.  The chapter introductions will provide a nice
biographical sketch and particular sets of documents from the volumes can
readily be put together for teaching purposes.  We also have plans to work
with secondary teachers to develop teaching materials using the papers.

The second question, of course, goes to the heart of why I wrote this book
It's interesting how strongly the myths about Edison persist.  For example,
in a very favorable review of the book that appeared in the journal Science,
Bettyann Kevles still ended up describing Edison as a tinkerer and his
laboratory as an overgrown workshop.  Yet, in the book I discuss at some
length how Edison combined a nineteenth-century tradition of machine shop
invention with scientific laboratory research to construct a new institution
- the industrial research laboratory.  The first and best know of these
laboratories, the Menlo Park laboratory that he built in 1876, was certainly
seen as a new kind of site for invention by his contemporaries who tried to
emulate his example.  During the last quarter of the nineteenth century
Edison continued to have the finest and best-equipped private research
laboratories in the United States.  And with them he pioneered the use of
research teams that combined skilled mechanics able to construct and modify
new technologies with laboratory researchers using the best electrical and
chemical apparatus available to investigate and test the materials and
mechanical and electrical elements that went into his inventions.

The research that went on in Edison's laboratories was certainly much more
than mere tinkering.  Throughout the book I discuss at length how the
research undertaken by Edison both drew on the best scientific knowledge of
the day and often moved beyond that knowledge to provide new understanding
of materials or electromagnetic effects that proved essential to his
inventive work.  Moreover, from 1874 until near the end of his career Edison
periodically undertook basic research designed to discover unknown natural
forces; while these might ultimately be useful to the development of new
technologies, the creation of new knowledge was the primary goal.  The
laboratory records that I draw on extensively show us a very different
Edison than the commonly held image of a self-taught tinkerer.
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #12 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Sat 4 Sep 99 10:14

>Edison and invention and business

Can you talk to us about Edison the businessman, please?  I grew up with the
mythologized image of the tinkerer, but it's clear he was an industrialist as

>from 1874 until near the end of his career Edison periodically undertook
>basic research designed to discover unknown natural forces

What did he come up with?
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #13 of 48: Phantom Engineer (jera) Mon 6 Sep 99 07:23
Are there myths other than the "Edison the tinkerer" figure that you talk
about or debunk in the book?
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #14 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Tue 7 Sep 99 08:03
Let me begin by discussing Edison as a businessman.  It is difficult to come
to any single conclusion about Edison as a businessman.  Much research still
needs to be done about the operations of his various companies and of the
industries in which they were situated.  One of the key things that needs to
be done in analyzing Edison's effectiveness as a businessman is to
understand his goals.  Peter Drucker, the dean of management gurus says of
Edison: "His real ambition, however, was to be a business builder and to
become a tycoon.  Yet he so totally mismanaged the businesses he started
that he had to be removed from every one of them to save it.  Much, if not
most high tech is still managed, or more accurately mismanaged Edison's
way."  In fact, Edison was little interested in the day to day management of
a business.  He wished to remain in the laboratory and his true business was
the innovation of new products and at this he was highly successful.  His
businesses did thrive under other managers after Edison had managed them as
startup companies.

Edison saw his role primarily as that of  inventor and entrepreneur.  Once a
company had passed the startup stage he was more than happy to let others
manage the business, though his continued to be the primary voice on
technical issues.  However, he was not as successful at managing changing
markets as at innovating new technology.  For example, he opposed AC,
adopted disk phonographs in place of cylinders very late, and had to go
outside to acquire a projector for motion pictures.  In each case he made
his stand on strictly technical grounds when other issues were becoming more
important in the marketplace.

Edison was better suited to the producer economy that he grew up in than the
consumer economy that he was helping to create.  For example, when the
phonograph was an exciting new technology just being introduced into the
home the Edison company was dominant.  But consumers were less interested in
the best quality recordings and more interested in purchasing the recordings
of stars in a format that was both more easily stored and that contained
more minutes of music.  The decline of the Edison phonograph business was
marked by Edison's failure to quickly move to disk, to develop a disk that
was incompatible with others, and perhaps most importantly by his decision
(at a time he had retired from invention) to become the arbiter of
recordings.  It was Edison who chose the recording artists and much of the
music that was recorded for the company at a time he was growing ever harder
of hearing.

Nonetheless, Edison was a moderately successful industrialist established
companies that were leaders at least for a time in their industries.  But
his primary goal was innovation and thus he sunk much of the money that he
made in one business into developing another technology and introducing it
into the market.
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #15 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Tue 7 Sep 99 08:06
Edison's search for new forces was not unique in the nineteenth century.
The first evidence of his interest in new forces occurred in April 1874 when
he noticed what he called the "electromotograph" (a phenomenon in which
electrochemical reactions reduced friction).  The following November, having
decided that the electromotograph was an interesting and potentially useful
phenomenon but not a new force, he conducted a series of experiments
specifically designed to find such a force.  These experiments were
apparently prompted by his reading a discussion of the "odic" force of
German chemist Karl Reichenbach.  In the 1860s, Reichenbach claimed he had
discovered a heretofore unknown force that explained various spiritualist or
occult phenomenon.  Though Reichenbach's results were not generally accepted
by the scientific community, the subject of spiritualist phenomenon did
interest several prominent British scientists, some of whom also thought
unknown forces might provide an answer.  William Crookes, in particular,
conducted experiments along this line in the hope of discovering a psychic

Edison's most famous experiments related to new forces were his
investigations of what he termed "etheric force."  Edison had noticed a
sparking phenomenon during experiments on acoustic telegraph experiments in
November 1875 when he was using a rapidly vibrating levers to send different
tones or frequencies over a line in order to send multiple telegraph
messages.  This involved him in a scientific controversy about the nature of
his discovery.  The consensus was that this was a form of induction rather
than a new force, though Edison continued to believe that he had discovered
a new force.  In fact, it wasn't until Heinrich Hertz's experiments on radio
waves that anyone had the theoretical framework to understand that Edison
had in fact detected radio waves.

Finally, in 1885 Edison began to search for "a new mode of motion or energy
and also to the conversion of heat directly into electricity."  He called
this potential new force the "XYZ force."  He told a newspaper repotrer at
the time that "he does not pretend to know what it is.  But he says that
there are he says there are many phenomena which are not explained by any
force yet recognized, and it is these which he is going to investigate."
Edison continued to experiment to find the XYZ force well into the twentieth
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #16 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Tue 7 Sep 99 08:09
As to other myths that I address in one way or another I would have to say
that what I've tried to do is show the ways in which Edison was typical as
well as the ways in which he was exceptional.  For example, most other
Edison biographies, especially those written for kids, tend to treat him as
an exceptional child - a rather strange notion if you're trying to use the
biography to inspire children to see him as a role model.  I've tried
instead to place his boyhood in context so that what seems exceptional to us
can be understood as more typical of the times.  To understand that lack of
formal education was more common but that reading was an important means of
gaining knowledge.  Furthermore, that those young men who gravitated to
technical professions often showed an interest in technology as young men.
And that the pranks and trouble that Edison got into as a child were
certainly anything but exceptional.  By using reminiscences of those who
knew him as a boy I have been able to also show him engaging with other
children rather than being the loner that he is often presented as.  In
addition, while his mother teaching him to read was very important, what he
read was equally so.   And here his father, a freethinker, exerted
considerable over his later views on religion and other subjects.

I also do the same thing with his years as an itinerant telegraph operator,
during which he learned to become an inventor.  While the majority of
telegraphers did not follow the same kind of path that Edison did, many
successful inventors and telegraph managers certainly did.  Technical
expertise was a path to success and I've tried to show how the ways in which
Edison learned the technology and how to improve it were typical of other
ambitious operators.

Even as an inventor, Edison was often typical rather than exceptional.  What
finally set him apart was his innovation of the industrial research
laboratory and his ability to see invention as part of an innovation
process.  Unlike most of his fellow inventors, Edison had a good grasp of
how to bring his inventions to market.
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #17 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Tue 7 Sep 99 09:57

>It was Edison who chose the recording artists and much of the music that was
>recorded for the company at a time he was growing ever harder of hearing.

-- and so, Edison prefigured the modern record company executive :^)
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #18 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Tue 7 Sep 99 10:00

>XYZ force

Is this "new force" thing a misnomer?  Wasn't he looking to recognize natural
forces, or did he think new physical/electrical/whatever forces were coming
into being because of technology, etc?
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #19 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Tue 7 Sep 99 10:03

>I've tried instead to place his boyhood in context so that what seems excep-
>tional to us can be understood as more typical of the times.

Thank you!  That's very important!  So often we're given to believe that
famous, brilliant people were born with a golden aura...
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #20 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Tue 7 Sep 99 10:05

These days, so much of corporate life -- which is, of course, the mainstream
of life on Earth -- seems driven by profit ONLY.  The people who invent stuff
are often bought out by people who market stuff, and entire industries have
been taken out of the hands of the people who love that stuff and delivered
unto those who would only profit.  I find it reassuring, somehow, that Edison
was more interested in developing new stuff than in concentrating on the
bottom line.
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #21 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Tue 7 Sep 99 10:51
Edison believed that there were natural forces that had not yet been
discovered and that there were relationships between natural forces that
were not well understood that might lead to technological innovations.
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #22 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Tue 7 Sep 99 11:01
The fact that Edison was not obsessed with the bottom line and truly loved
what he did are among the things I most like about him.
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #23 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Tue 7 Sep 99 11:15
Okay, what DON'T you like about him?
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #24 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Tue 7 Sep 99 12:09
Should have guessed that question would be next.  One of the things that I
most dislike about Edison is probably a product of the very great love he
did have for his work.  He was not the best husband or parent as a
consequence of the time he spent at his laboratory or away from home
working.  Both wives had difficulty adjusting to his long hours away from
home, the second wife dealt more successfully than the first with this
issue.  Although Edison wrote to his second wife at one point when he was
away from that "You & the children and the Laboratory is all my life I have
nothing else," the laboratory (and the project of the moment) clearly
continued to come first.

The children from his first marriage were particularly screwed up by the
death of their mother and the changes wrought by his second marriage.
Edison's first wife was working class and he had come from the lower middle
and neither had much formal education.  His second wife was the daughter of
an upper middle class agricultural machinery manufacturer who was a
cofounder of the Chautauqua Institute and her father encourage a college
education not just for men but for women.  Edison's children suddenly found
themselves with changed expectations as a consequence of their father's
success and his remarriage.  They ended up being sent to exclusive private
schools that emphasized traditional classical curriculums while their father
argued that such schools were outmoded.  The sons tried to follow in his
footsteps but he did little to provide mentoring for them.  They also grew
up somewhat spoiled by being the children of the great inventor and also
found it difficult to forge independent lives.  The children of the second
marriage were better prepared by their mother from early life for dealing
both with their class expectations and their father's celebrity.  The sons
from that second marriage also ended up at MIT, the sort of modern
engineering school Edison admired.  The differences in the educational
experiences of the sons were also a product of changing times.  The first
two sons grew up when the transition to more formal technical education was
just beginning to occur while the second two sons grew up in a period when
university education was becoming the norm.
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #25 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Tue 7 Sep 99 13:13

What else do you think modern America could/should learn from the example of


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