Wizard of Menlo Park

Sign found in the Deschutes Historical Museum, Bend, Oregon

Fifteen-year-old Thomas Edison sat in the composing room at the Detroit Free Press, reading the day’s news before buying his papers to sell on the train back to his hometown of Port Huron. It was a little after 10 am, and the crisp April morning started like many others since he started selling candy and newspapers on the train between Detroit and Port Huron three years before. He had made it a custom to read the news before he bought his papers because slow news days left him with extra papers and no profit.

Edison’s eyes widened as he read about the account of the Union Victory at Shiloh Tennessee. He knew the Civil War was important news, and a battle with 24,000 casualties would be great for paper sales. He ran to the Detroit Telegrapher and paid for a telegraph to be sent to all the railways along the way to post an announcement about the battle on the station blackboards. Then he rushed to the Detroit Free Press and wanted to buy 1,000 papers. He didn’t have enough money to buy all the papers outright, and the newspaper wouldn’t give it to him on credit. Edison asked Wilbur Storey, the paper’s managing editor, to help him get the papers. Storey admired the boldness and pluck of this boy and gave him the 1,000 papers he wanted.

Edison’s plan worked. He easily sold all of his papers. In fact, he was able to increase his prices as he went. The first copies sold for pennies. The last few copies sold for 25 cents each. The money he earned through this job allowed him to buy the chemicals and supplies he needed to conduct experiments. He was naturally curious and always tried to figure out how things worked. His mother encouraged his zeal to learn, though he didn’t go to much formal schooling. He used this gift of observing the situation around him and thinking of the next step throughout his life to invent.

For example, at the ripe old age of 31, after creating a variety of inventions for the telegraph, the first sound recording, and a version of the typewriter, he was invited to observe a factory where they made arc lamps. Until then, he didn’t get too excited about electric light. But once he walked around the factory, he saw possibilities and said, “I believe I can beat you making the electric light. I do not think you are working in the right direction.”

We have all heard about all the different ways he discovered not to make the light, but he wasn’t just thinking of the light. He saw a need to bring electricity to everyone’s homes. He saw an electric company, and out of it eventually came General Electric in New York City to produce the electricity to power these lights Edison would soon make.

For you:

Edison had more than 1,000 patents to his name before he died. He invented to help solve problems. He didn’t want to redo the work, he wanted to improve upon it. By doing that, he created and produced many machines and systems that we use frequently today. His early years of working with telegraphs and newspapers helped him use publicity to gain public interest and financial support for his inventions.

As you look at your goals and dreams, are you looking ahead at what could be or are you looking to do what has already been done? No one can tell you what is best for your situation. Consider what you want to achieve and challenge yourself to look at it from a new perspective. Give yourself the freedom to be different and address the problem rather than the status quo.


I started writing short stories in elementary school, starting with a short story about twin track athletes. In college, I wrote for the college newspaper and studied communications. My first job out of college was with a magazine as an assistant editor, where I started a comic strip called City Boy. My first published work, was a short essay entitled, Dream with Me, published in “The Art of Service” booklet put out by the Thayne Center for Service and Learning. I also published a three part series for families called “Family Parables – Wise Man Foolish Man.” This set is designed to be used by families to create discussion and learning as a family. I soon will publish my first novel, Love Like Alzheimer’s, a story of a family that is learning to love deeper as their beloved grandmother struggles with Alzheimer’s disease.

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