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Posted at 8:32 AM ET, 02/11/2011

Thomas Edison gets Google Doodle-ed

By Melissa Bell
cezanne
Thomas Edison with an early version of the phonograph. (Christian Science Monitor.)

The light in your room, the music on the taxi radio, the movie I'll see tonight -- all products that stem from the imagination of one man: Thomas Alva Edison. On the anniversary of his 164th birthday, Google celebrates the man with a glowing Google doodle.

googledoodletae.jpg

In Edison's Oct. 18, 1931 obituary in the New York Times, Bruce Rae wrote:

Through his invention of electric light he gave the world a new brilliance; when the cylinder of his first phonograph recorded sound he put the great music of the ages within reach of every one; when he invented the motion picture it was a gift to mankind of a new theatre, a new form of amusement. His inventions gave work as well as light and recreation to millions.

Edison lived in an age of invention, with Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell and Nikola Tesla as his co-conspirators and competitors. Edison's greatest triumph is perhaps the light bulb, but he also had a hand in creating the phonograph, cement making technology, electric-power generation systems, and the battery. He also created a robust laboratory -- the Invention Factory -- where a team of scientists and engineers toiled over new creations. Over his life, Edison registered 1,093 U.S. patents.

Edison's laboratory also produced the first motion picture camera in 1887. On Jan. 7, 1894, his assistant was recorded taking a pinch of snuff and sneezing. "Fred Ott's Sneeze" was one of the first motion pictures and the first to be copyrighted by the Library of Congress.

He is not always so well loved a figure. Many view him as a ruthless, money-hungry man, powered by buying other people's ideas. One of the most troubling moments came during the famous "War of the Currents," when Edison's direct current (DC) standard for electricity distribution was challenged by George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla's alternating current (AC). Edison -- and his power plants -- stood to lose plenty of money if the distrubution switched to AC.

So, Edison set out on a public relations tour in which he traveled around the country electrocuting dogs and cats with AC to show it's inherent dangers. His coup de grace came at Coney Island where, with a 6,600 volt of electricity, he felled Topsy the elephant.

Despite his best efforts, AC became the standard we still use today.

Still, flaws and all, Edison will forever be the man who electrified our lives.

(His Google doodle, on the other hand, barely holds a flame next to Jules Verne's spectacular doodle.)

By Melissa Bell  | February 11, 2011; 8:32 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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Comments

The problem with Edison is that he never really embraced the Scientific Method. To him, technology emerged from either great moments of intuition or as a result of endless tinkering. Both of these approaches work great with relatively simple technologies, but they fail when things get too complex. This is why the Palo Alto labs never really accomplished much. Edison can be contrasted nicely with the Wright Brothers who figured out that you couldn't just sketch out an aircraft and make it fly. Nor could you just randomly tinker. You had to approach the problem systematically, understand all the parts, and see how they worked together.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 11, 2011 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Most Americans believe that Thosmas Edison invented A/C electricity, and that Marconi invented the radio.

In fact, both were invented by Serbian Nikola Tesla - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla

Posted by: dow60 | February 11, 2011 9:22 AM | Report abuse

RD_Padouk asserst:
"The problem with Edison is that he never really embraced the Scientific Method. To him, technology emerged from either great moments of intuition or as a result of endless tinkering. Both of these approaches work great with relatively simple technologies, but they fail when things get too complex. This is why the Palo Alto labs never really accomplished much. "

What?? Edison and his team basically invented the process of inventing as it is done in corporate R&D labs throughout the modern world. Edison never claimed to be a research scientist thus your charge that he did not use the "scientific method" is meaningless. Creativity and invention do not flow out of the so-called scientific method. That has a different purpose, one of testing concepts, not inventing them. No formal process can make you come up with creative new ideas.

Posted by: AnotherContrarian | February 11, 2011 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Scaring people by electrocuting animals etc? Wow, not a far cry from how Apple establishes it's business by spreading fear mongering to idiots and using exaggerating claims to get people to "switch". Too bad his own isheeple will not learn from this, and will only try to protect their Lord and savior Steve Jobs.

Posted by: jzjz | February 11, 2011 4:55 PM | Report abuse

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