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Thomas Edison

Study Questions and Essay Topics

Final Contributions

Review Quiz

Study Questions

Discuss the significance of the American tycoons (such as Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Carnegie) on Edison's approach to the marketplace.

Like these powerful men, Edison built a conglomerate of invention factories, all joined together under his name. Later in his life, all of these factories and product lines were joined under the umbrella of Thomas Edison, Inc.. By focusing on his name, celebrity, and emphasizing marketing in his distribution, Edison became an industrialist much the same as these men.

How did Edison incorporate the business ideas of the day into his invention factories at Menlo Park and West Orange?

Edison avoided making any inventions for which he could not find a market. And if it appeared that an invention would not make money, he neglected it–often until a competitor showed him how profitable it could be. In this way he mimicked the business philosophies of the day, which disdained unprofitable creativity and focused on the bottom line.

How did Edison's invention strategy change as he got older?

He focused less on inventions and more on manufacturing and marketing. With his forays into the motion picture business, for example, Edison did not even make most of the inventions that were marketed under his name. Instead, the Kinetoscope was made by an inventor at the West Orange facility, and the Vitascope, another movie projection camera that Edison marketed, was created by a realtor in Washington, D.C.

Essay Topics

How did technology affect the young Thomas Edison, even before he became an inventor?

How did Edison's behavior as a student and as a young telegraph operator foreshadow his approach to invention and the business world?

Why did Edison initially neglect one of his most important inventions, the phonograph?

How did competition among inventors (for example, the battles between Alexander Graham Bell and Edison) spur new inventions?

Why did many of Edison's young inventors in the Menlo Park and West Orange facilities leave?

Discuss the importance of failures-such as the battle over AC systems or ore-milling–in Edison's career.

Which image fits Edison better: the image of the lone inventor, or the image of the business magnate?

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