Thomas Edison: A Look Back at the Early Life of the Prolific Inventor

Herbie J Pilato

According to Mary Bellis and, "Thomas Alva Edison was born to Sam and Nancy on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio, the son of a Canadian refugee and his schoolteacher wife. Edison's mother Nancy Elliott was originally from New York until her family moved to Vienna, Canada, where she met Sam Edison, Jr., whom she later married. Sam was the descendant of British loyalists who fled to Canada at the end of the American Revolution, but when he became involved in an unsuccessful revolt in Ontario in the 1830s he was forced to flee to the United States. They made their home in Ohio in 1839. The family moved to Port Huron, Michigan, in 1854, where Sam worked in the lumber business."

"Known as 'Al' in his youth," Bellis continues to report, "...Edison was the youngest of seven children, four of whom survived to adulthood, and all of them were in their teens when Edison was born. Edison tended to be in poor health when he was young and was a poor student. When a schoolmaster called Edison 'addled,' or slow, his furious mother took him out of the school and proceeded to teach him at home."

Edison said many years later, "My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt I had someone to live for, someone I must not disappoint."

"At an early age," Bellis documents, "...he showed a fascination for mechanical things and chemical experiments. In 1859 at the age of 12, Edison took a job selling newspapers and candy on the Grand Trunk Railroad to Detroit. He started two businesses in Port Huron, a newsstand and a fresh produce stand, and finagled free or very low-cost trade and transport in the train. In the baggage car, he set up a laboratory for his chemistry experiments and a printing press, where he started the 'Grand Trunk Herald,' the first newspaper published on a train. An accidental fire forced him to stop his experiments on board."

As Bellis concluded about Edison's early life, "Around the age of 12," he "...lost almost all of his hearing. There are several theories as to what caused this. Some attribute it to the aftereffects of scarlet fever, which he had as a child. Others blame it on a train conductor boxing his ears after Edison caused a fire in the baggage car, an incident Edison claimed never happened. Edison himself blamed it on an incident in which he was grabbed by his ears and lifted to a train. He did not let his disability discourage him, however, and often treated it as an asset since it made it easier for him to concentrate on his experiments and research. Undoubtedly, though, his deafness made him more solitary and shy in dealing with others."

To learn more about Thomas Edison, click here.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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