Thomas trivia: Celebrating the Wizard of power generation on his birthday

By Rod Walton, content director for Power Engineering and POWERGEN+

One of electric power generation’s founding fathers–or certainly one of its most interesting champions– turns a relatively youthful 173 today.

Thomas Edison is long gone, of course, but his impact on the industry holds strong almost 90 years after his death. For one thing, consider how many utilities in the U.S. still bear his name—Southern California Edison, ConEdison, ComEd, DTE (formerly Detroit Edison) and more.

Edison’s reputation has wavered over time in the electric industry, considering how he lost the “Current War” over alternating vs. direct for long-distance power transmission. Yet the Wizard of Menlo Park is still a reigning figure in the public imagination.

So, to honor Edison on the anniversary of his Feb. 11, 1847 birthday, we at Power Engineering thought it’d be appropriate to include a little Wizardry and trivia from the giant himself.

  1. – At age 10, Edison built his first laboratory in the basement of his family home.
  2. – He was partially deaf, but eventually produced the phonograph, his favorite invention. Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles and Taylor Swift owe him a debt of gratitude. Vinyl, by the way, is making a comeback.
  3. – The first commercial power plant, Pearl Street Station in New York (at left), was built by the Edison Illuminating Company and started operations in 1882.
  4. – General Electric (GE) was formed up on the merger of Edison’s company with the Thomson-Houston Co. in 1892.
  5. – Edison is known for his latter-day home Menlo Park in New Jersey and for living in New York, but he was born in Ohio and lived in Michigan and Kentucky before heading east.
  6. – He once invented a device intended to kill cockroaches with electricity. Apparently it never took off like motion pictures and light bulbs.
  7. – A tireless thinker and tinkerer, he usually got by on only three to four hours of sleep per night.
  8. – He nicknamed two of his children Doth and Dash, inspired by his love of the telegraph machine.
  9. – The site of Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory is now a New York state park.
  10. – He once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This came before Edison’s breakthrough on inventing the electric light bulb.

(Rod Walton is content director for Power Engineering, POWERGEN International and the free and online POWERGEN+ series which resumes next week with sessions on the Future of the Utility Workforce. He can be reached at 918-831-9177 and

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