Published with Permission
Written by Katharine Trauger


“Hello Mother!—Oh, is supper ready?”

“It’s seven o’clock in the morning, Son, not evening.”

Thus goes life for you, Nancy, as you attempt to raise a boy who will become one of the most well-known and thanked men on earth.

Dealing with the unpredictable begins before your son is born. You and your husband, Samuel, live in Canada, in the early 1800’s, when politics force you to move to Ohio. There Samuel begins to eke out your existence as a shingle maker.

Ten years later, you give birth to a baby you do not, at first, realize will become a world changer. 

There are clues, though. His habits—inspecting and sniffing and tasting—entertain you as you watch how he learns about his world. And the questions! You use your education as a professional teacher as you smile and provide more answers.

How you love your handsome son with the deep-set, friendly eyes!

You move to Michigan when he is seven, and decide on public education there. Shortly, the school sends him home, deeming him uneducable: He asks too many questions before he can understand, and his head is too large, so he probably has brain trouble.

You realize actually the public has no patience for your son’s high intelligence. From now on, it is your job to provide his needs.

You begin with curriculum that will challenge him. In five years he completes Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Hume’s History of England, Sears’s History of the World, Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, and the Dictionary of Sciences. All the while, you have his chemistry lab in your basement.

By now, your husband is a wealthy marketer, but your son wants his own money for more chemicals and equipment. Beginning as a newsboy for a railway in Michigan, he continues his education at libraries, between trips. Soon he has a chemistry lab on one of the rail cars, and publishes his own newspaper there on a discarded press. Acting in every newspaper role, he sets, prints, edits, and publicizes it, and it becomes popular for its national and international news during America’s Civil War.

He accesses this breaking news because he also frequents telegraph offices.

The story of his Weekly Herald appears in London as the first newspaper ever printed on a moving train.

During this time, a conductor “helps” him into a rail car by pulling on his ears. The snap he hears that day is the beginning of almost total hearing loss for your young son. He counts this loss an accident and a blessing, because the quiet helps him concentrate on his work. Such optimism is one key to your son’s future success. The end of this fantastic episode comes soon, though, when working with phosphorous, he ignites his lab and press room: the rail car.

Once more expelled, he spends idle time at the rail yards and is able to risk his own life to save an infant in the path of a moving train. The family thanks him by providing telegraphy training for him.

By age sixteen, your son works in Canada as a telegrapher and in his spare time, disassembles an old telegraph set until he learns how it works. From there, he discovers how to slow it down, making his keying skills adequate for his new job.

His boss reprimands him for playing with this “toy”, and he faces more employer disparagement for spending his thought and money on invention instead of his job or clothes.

His powerful imagination, though, is one key to his success.

Your son wanders for five years, working alternately as a telegrapher and as an inventor. By age 21, he arrives in Boston, where he obtains a patent for his vote counter, which the filibustering legislators of his day refuse to appreciate.

He repairs a rudimentary stock ticker for a stock brokerage and invents a better one. When he receives a check for $40,000 for sale of this invention, he thinks it a practical joke.

Of course, he sinks it all into a lab and factory with 300 employees. At this time, he marries one of his factory workers, and they nickname their first two children “Dot” and “Dash” to honor the foundation of his career.

At age 29, he takes a short break. Before long, though, he is back at it and by age 35, he spends a year applying for and receiving 75 patents. He makes friends with several other great inventors and often contributes from his well of expertise to solve the impediments to their successes, as they each help the other become still more famous.

Such confidence is one key to your son’s success.

When he is 37, his wife dies, but he remarries two years later. His new wife and his six children accept his shabby clothes, stained hands, and erratic schedule. One photo of him captures his rumpled weariness after five solid days and nights perfecting an invention. He generates more than 40,000 pages of notes on his research for one invention. Often, an idea leads to a need for improvements on another, causing simultaneous work in several fields, such as iron, glass, rubber, and cement.

When he is 40, he opens his “invention factory”. When part of it burns to the ground and he calmly says, “All of our mistakes have been destroyed . . . we can start our experiments with a clean slate.”

Your son’s patience is one key to his success.

He accumulates honors until he can jokingly say, “I count my medals by the quart.”

On the fiftieth anniversary of his most famous invention, one of his wealthy inventor friends moves the railroad station where he lost his first job into a museum built to honor him.

Who is your famous son?

Answer: Thomas Alva Edison, originator of 1093 patented inventions, among them, the electric light bulb, the motion picture camera, the motion picture projector with sound, and the phonograph; child who failed school at age 7; and home scholar.

Another question: How did Edison feel about being home schooled?

Answer: He said, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”

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