Thomas Alva Edison was born in Milan, Ohio in 1847, and grew up in Michigan. He was the seventh and last child of Samuel and Nancy Edison.
For a short time, Thomas attended public school, though his mind often wandered. His teacher was even overheard referring to him as "addled", because he seemed to be confused in his thinking and not teachable. This marked the end of his official schooling days. He would spend the rest of his youth taught at home by his mother. Thomas was curious about many things, and his mother encouraged him to pursue his interests. He made working models of a steam engine and steam-powered sawmill and also experimented with chemicals. Edison later recalled, "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."
At the age of twelve Thomas got a job selling newspapers and candy on the Grand Trunk Railroad to Detroit. By the age of fifteen he was printing his own newspaper, called the Grand Trunk Herald, which he printed on an old printing press on the train and sold it along with the other newspapers. These first experiences working at a job and starting his own business were the beginning of a very successful life as a businessman and inventor. He would eventually launch 14 companies, including General Electric, which remains one of the most successful companies in the world.
In 1869 when Edison was about 22 years old, he was working as a telegraph operator. When one of the machines broke, he fixed it and then improved it. This improvement was so successful that Edison made enough money to open his own workshop to manufacture these machines. It was also in this year that Edison received his first patent for the electric vote recorder, which was granted on June 1, 1869.
After many failed experiments, Edison found success in October 22, 1878 when his carbon filament light bulb burned for 13.5 hours. He had invented the first commercially practical incandescent light bulb. His success led him to form the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City in 1878. By the end of the 1880's he had developed a 16 watt light bulb that could last as long as 1,500 hours. A decade later, hundreds of cities and towns around the world would have Edison power stations to light their cities.
Thomas Alva Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, died in West Orange, New Jersey in 1931, at the age of 84. He is considered by many to be the greatest inventor in all of history. Throughout his life he acquired patents on 1,093 inventions, and was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production to the process of invention.