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#267 Thomas Edison
September 15th, 2022 | E267

What I learned from reading Edison: A Biography by Matthew Josephson.


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He had known how to gather interest, faith, and hope in the success of his projects.

I think of this episode as part 5 in a 5 part series that started on episode 263:

#263 Land's Polaroid: A Company and the Man Who Invented It by Peter C. Wensberg.

#264 Instant: The Story of Polaroid by Christopher Bonanos. 

#265 Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli

#266 My Life and Work by Henry Ford.

Follow your natural drift. —Charlie Munger

Warren Buffett: “Bill Gates Sr. posed the question to the table: What factor did people feel was the most important in getting to where they’d gotten in life? And I said, ‘Focus.’ And Bill said the same thing.” —Focus and Finding Your Favorite Problems by Frederik Gieschen

Focus! A simple thing to say and a nearly impossible thing to do over the long term.

We have a picture of the boy receiving blow after blow and learning that there was inexplicable cruelty and pain in this world.

He is working from the time the sun rises till 10 or 11 at night. He is 11 years old.

He reads the entire library. Every book. All of them.

At this point in history the telegraph is the leading edge of communication technology in the world.

My refuge was a Detroit public library. I started with the first book on the bottom shelf and went through the lot one by one. I did not read a few books. I read the library.

Runnin' Down a Dream: How to Succeed and Thrive in a Career You Love by Bill Gurley

Blake Robbins Notes on Runnin’ Down a Dream: How to Succeed and Thrive in a Career You Love

Greatness isn't random. It is earned. If you're going to research something, this is your lucky day. Information is freely available on the internet — that's the good news. The bad news is that you now have zero excuse for not being the most knowledgeable in any subject you want because it's right there at your fingertips.

Why his work on the telegraph was so important to everything that happened later in his life: The germs of many ideas and stratagems perfected by him in later years were implanted in his mind when he worked at the telegraph. He described this phase of his life afterward, his mind was in a tumult, besieged by all sorts of ideas and schemes. All the future potentialities of electricity obsessed him night and day. It was then that he dared to hope that he would become an inventor.

Edison’s insane schedule: Though he had worked up to an early hour of the morning at the telegraph office, Edison began reading the Experimental Researches In Electricity (Faraday’s book) when he returned to his room at 4 A.M. and continued throughout the day that followed, so that he went back to his telegraph without having slept. He was filled with determination to learn all he could.

All the Thomas Edison episodes:

The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented The Modern World by Randall Stross (Founders #3)

Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World by Jill Jonnes. (Founders #83)

The Vagabonds: The Story of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison's Ten-Year Road Tripby Jeff Guinn. (Founders #190)

Having one's own shop, working on projects of one’s own choosing, making enough money today so one could do the same tomorrow: These were the modest goals of Thomas Edison when he struck out on his own as full-time inventor and manufacturer. The grand goal was nothing other than enjoying the autonomy of entrepreneur and forestalling a return to the servitude of employee. —The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented The Modern World by Randall Stross

 Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons by Edward J. Renehan Jr. (Founders #258)

It's this idea where you can identify an opportunity because you have deep knowledge about one industry and you see that there is an industry developing  parallel to the industry that you know about. Jay Gould saw the importance of the telegraph industry in part because telegraph lines were laid next to railraod tracks.

Edison describes the fights between the robber barons as strange financial warfare.

You should build a company that you actually enjoy working in.

Don’t make this mistake:

John Ott who served under Edison for half a century, at the end of his life described the "sacrifices" some of Edison's old co-workers had made, and he commented on their reasons for so doing.

"My children grew up without knowing their father," he said. "When I did get home at night, which was seldom, they were in bed."

"Why did you do it?" he was asked.

"Because Edison made your work interesting. He made me feel that I was making something with him. I wasn't just a workman. And then in those days, we all hoped to get rich with him.”

Don’t try to sell a new technology to an exisiting monopoly. Western Union was a telegraphy monopoly: He approached Western union people with the idea of reproducing and recording the human voice, but they saw no conceivable use for it!

Against The Odds: An Autobiography by James Dyson (Founders #200)

Passion is infectious. No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet by Molly Knight Raskin. (Founders #24)

For more detail on the War of the Currents listen to episode 83 Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World by Jill Jonnes.

From the book Empire of Light: And so it was that J. Pierpont, Morgan, whose house had been the first in New York to be wired for electricity by Edison but a decade earlier, now erased Edison's name out of corporate existence without even the courtesy of a telegram or a phone call to the great inventor.

Edison biographer Matthew Josephson wrote, "To Morgan it made little difference so long as it all resulted in a big trustification for which he would be the banker."

Edison had been, in the vocabulary of the times, Morganized.

One of Thomas Edison’s favorite books: Toilers of The Sea by Victor Hugo

“The trouble with other inventors is that they try a few things and quit. I never quit until I get what I want.” —Thomas Edison

“Remember, nothing that's good works by itself. You've gotta make the damn thing work.” —Thomas Edison

The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana Kingby Rich Cohen. (Founders #255)

He (Steve Jobs) was always easy to understand.

He would either approve a demo, or he would request to see something different next time.

Whenever Steve reviewed a demo, he would say, often with highly detailed specificity, what he wanted to happen next.

He was always trying to ensure the products were as intuitive and straightforward as possible, and he was willing to invest his own time, effort, and influence to see that they were.

Through looking at demos, asking for specific changes, then reviewing the changed work again later on and giving a final approval before we could ship, Steve could make a product turn out like he wanted.

Creative Selection: Inside Apple's Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs by Ken Kocienda (Bonus episode between Founders #110 and #111)

Charles Kettering is the 20th Century’s Ben Franklin. — Professional Amateur: The Biography of Charles Franklin Kettering by Thomas Boyd (Founders #125)

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