Commentary: We can still learn from Thomas Edison today


Summer is here, and the kids are out of school! Is this a cause for crisis, as many parents feel?

Or is it a time to relax, play, create, work, daydream and learn new things? Is it a time to climb the mountains or surf at the each? Is it a time to be energized and to benefit from self-discovery?

We forget that schools aren’t the only place where we can learn about the world around us.

Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific creative geniuses of our time, had less than a year of formal education. His teacher told his mother that he was too dumb and would never amount to anything.


Fortunately, she didn’t pay too much attention to the words of his teacher. Instead she was happy to take the young Edison out of school and teach him at home. As a result, Edison was allowed to learn at his own pace about things that were of interest to him. His attention became focused and productive.

Eventually he became a prolific inventor. The phonograph, the electric light bulb and motion pictures were only a few of the more than 3,000 patented items on which he worked!

When talking about electricity, he said, “We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.”

Eventually, he built a modern and impressive research laboratory in Menlo Park, N.J., because his mind was so full of useful ideas. He hired many talented people to work for him on his projects. His goal was to produce one major invention every six months!

His attitude was that “if I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward.”

Edison was also an entrepreneur who founded 14 companies, including General Electric, which is one of the largest publicly traded companies in the world today. All of this from a man with little to no formal education! So let us have hope that, even though public education is wonderful, we can be inspired to learn from life on our own as well.

What can such a prolific and talented man teach us?

One of Edison’s favorite quotes was from Sir Joshua Reynolds: “There is no expedient to which man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.”

Another truth he shared with interviewers who thought that everything came easily for him is: “Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.”

Inventing takes a lot of hard work, and we need to be aware and willing to work hard to achieve positive results in our lives. We can be inspired by the accomplishments and attitudes of Thomas A. Edison.


SHERRY NORD MARRON, who has a doctorate in American Studies, is a former adjunct professor at Orange Coast College and the University of Connecticut.