1,093 patents between 1868 and 1931: 17 inventions each year for 63 years!
“ Edison invented technology that transformed the world”
Or did he? Did he really ‘invent’ it? Perhaps more importantly, he did innovate this technology
Inventions don’t change the world
“ Edison welcomed failure . He embraced it. He was rarely able to predict everything that would go wrong with a design he had sketched until that design had been prototyped by his machinists and shop men and had, in some way or other, come up short. As he made the rounds of his shop ﬂoor, his men would tell him what had gone wrong, and Edison would immediately set about searching for solutions. The inventor extended his embrace of problems to products that had already been marketed and sold. He always carefully analyzed customer complaints and used them as the basis for incremental improvements . These innovations on the original inventions were often in themselves patentable , and thus Thomas Edison racked up his world-record number of U.S. patents .” Alan Axelrod
So who invented the incandescent lamp?
Robert Friedel and Paul Israel list 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Thomas Edison…
Edison's version was able to outstrip the others due to:
an effective incandescent material,
a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve
a high resistance lamp that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable
“ Edison was not the only electric light experimenter to realize that the glowing ﬁlament of the electric lamp had to burn in a vacuum to avoid the rapidly destructive effects of oxidation. He emulated others in using a pump to evacuate the bulb, but he decided that the better the vacuum the longer the ﬁlament would burn.
Unlike most of his competitors, he had a laboratory workshop so well equipped and so well staffed that he could afford to take the time to develop superb vacuum pump technology that far surpassed the prevailing state of the art. This represented no original principle or profound advance on existing principles, but it did give him the winning edge for developing a commercially viable electric light.” Alan Axelrod
And who invented the phonograph?
Édouard-Léon Scott patented in 1857 the phonautograph: sound was encoded in images (waves)
Charles Cros presented a theory in 1877 of a model phonograph, but did not build one
Edison 1877: worked on playing back recorded telegraph messages and to automate speech sounds by telephone
Lessons to be learned for designers
What is creativity?
Invent or innovate?
Hard work, including teamwork
Feasibility / applications
Ideas vs patents vs licencing
Effort culture in Mexico
Edison was a big-time “noño” or nerd
Word used to demerit or denigrate hard work
May capture obsession?
Is there a widely-used antonym?
Why do we think that succeeding with minimum effort is good?