In 1862, Edison rescued a three year old from a track where a boxcar was about to roll into him. The grateful father, J.U. MacKenzie, taught Edison railroad telegraphy as a reward. That winter, he took a job as a telegraph operator in Port Huron. In the meantime, he continued his scientific experiments on the side. Between 1863 and 1867, Edison migrated from city to city in the United States taking available telegraph jobs.In 1868 Edison moved to Boston where he worked in the Western Union office and worked even more on his inventions. In January 1869 Edison resigned his job, intending to devote himself fulltime to inventing things. His first invention to receive a patent was the electric vote recorder, in June 1869. Daunted by politicians reluctance to use the machine, he decided that in the future he would not waste time inventing things that no one wanted.Edison moved to New York City in the middle of 1869. A friend, Franklin L. Pope, allowed Edison to sleep in a room at Samuel Laws Gold Indicator Company where he was employed. When Edison managed to fix a broken machine there, he was hired to manage and improve the printer machines.
During the next period of his life, Edison became involved in multiple projects and partnerships dealing with the telegraph. In October 1869, Edison formed with Franklin L. Pope and James Ashley the organization Pope, Edison and Co. They advertised themselves as electrical engineers and constructors of electrical devices. Edison received several patents for improvements to the telegraph. The partnership merged with the Gold and Stock Telegraph Co. in 1870. Edison also established the Newark Telegraph Works in Newark, NJ, with William Unger to manufacture stock printers. He formed the American Telegraph Works to work on developing an automatic telegraph later in the year. In 1874 he began to work on a multiplex telegraphic system for Western Union, ultimately developing a quadruplex telegraph, which could send two messages simultaneously in both directions. When Edison sold his patent rights to the quadruplex to the rival Atlantic & Pacific Telegraph Co., a series of court battles followed in which Western Union won. Besides other telegraph inventions, he also developed an electric pen in 1875.His personal life during this period also brought much change. Edisons mother died in 1871, and later that year, he married a former employee, Mary Stilwell, on Christmas Day. While Edison clearly loved his wife, their relationship was fraught with difficulties, primarily his preoccupation with work and her constant illnesses. Edison would often sleep in the lab and spent much of his time with his male colleagues. Nevertheless, their first child, Marion, was born in February 1873, followed by a son, Thomas, Jr., born on January 1876. Edison nicknamed the two Dot and Dash, referring to telegraphic terms. A third child, William Leslie was born in October 1878.
Edison opened a new laboratory in Menlo Park, NJ, in 1876. This site later become known as an invention factory, since they worked on several different inventions at any given time there. Edison would conduct numerous experiments to find answers to problems. He said, I never quit until I get what Im after. Negative results are just what Im after. They are just as valuable to me as positive results. Edison liked to work long hours and expected much from his employees.In 1877, Edison worked on a telephone transmitter that greatly improved on Alexander Graham Bells work with the telephone. His transmitter made it possible for voices to be transmitted at higer volume and with greater clarity over standard telephone lines.Edisons experiments with the telephone and the telegraph led to his invention of the phonograph in 1877. It occurred to him that sound could be recorded as indentations on a rapidly moving piece of paper. He eventually formulated a machine with a tinfoil coated cylinder and a diaphragm and needle. When Edison spoke the words Mary had a little lamb into the mouthpiece, to his amazement the machine played the phrase back to him. The Edison Speaking Phonograph Company was established early in 1878 to market the machine, but the initial novelty value of the phonograph wore off, and Edison turned his attention elsewhere.Edison focused on the electric light system in 1878, setting aside the phonograph for almost a decade. With the backing of financiers, The Edison Electric Light Co. was formed on November 15 to carry out experiments with electric lights and to control any patents resulting from them. In return for handing over his patents to the company, Edison received a large share of stock. Work continued into 1879, as the lab attempted not only to devise an incandescent bulb, but an entire electrical lighting system that could be supported in a city. A filament of carbonized thread proved to be the key to a long lasting light bulb. Lamps were put in the laboratory, and many journeyed out to Menlo Park to see the new discovery. A special public exhibition at the lab was given for a multitude of amazed visitors on New Years Eve.Edison set up an electric light factory in East Newark in 1881, and then the following year moved his family and himself to New York and set up a laboratory there.
In order to prove its viability, the first commercial electric light system was installed on Pearl Street in the financial district of Lower Manhattan in 1882, bordering City Hall and two newspapers. Initially, only four hundred lamps were lit, a year later, there were 513 customers using 10,300 lamps. Edison formed several companies to manufacture and operate the apparatus needed for the electrical lighting system the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York, the Edison Machine Works, the Edison Electric Tube Company, and the Edison Lamp Works. This lighting system was also taken abroad to the Paris Lighting Exposition in 1881, the Crystal Palace in London in 1882, the coronation of the czar in Moscow, and led to the establishment of companies in several European countries.The success of Edisons lighting system could not deter his competitors from developing their own, different methods. One result was a battle between the proponents of DC current, led by Edison, and AC current, led by George Westinghouse. Both sides attacked the limitations of each system. Edison, in particular, pointed to the use of AC current for electrocution as proof of its danger. DC current could not travel over as long a system as AC, but the AC generators were not as efficient as the ones for DC. By 1889, the invention of a device that combined an AC induction motor with a DC dynamo offered the best performance of all, and AC current became dominant. The Edison General Electric Co. merged with Thomson Houston in 1892 to become General Electric Co., effectively removing Edison further from the electrical field of business.