Thomas Edison Inventions: What Did He Invent?

By: Gerlinda Grimes  | 
vintage-style led filament bulb lamps
Thomas Edison is often credited with inventing the light bulb, but he was just one of multiple contributors to the technological breakthrough. Javier Ghersi / Getty Images

Today, young kids dream of becoming rock stars and movie celebrities. But before Thomas Alva Edison, people had no way of recording sound, much less capturing moving pictures. With 1,093 patents for inventions that range from light bulbs to cement, Edison was one of the world's most prolific tinkerers.

Let's take a look at some of the Thomas Edison inventions that still inspire dreamers today.


The Phonograph (1877)

Edison earned his nickname "The Wizard of Menlo Park" in 1877 when he invented the world's first method of recording and playing back sound. His work on the telegraph and telephone helped make the phonograph possible.

He hypothesized that you could record messages using the same principles behind the telegraph. He enlisted his mechanic, John Kruesi, to build a machine based off of a sketch.


Thirty hours later, Edison tested the phonograph with a nursery rhyme, "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and the machine successfully played the words back to him.

He took the phonograph to New York City to show it to the staff of Scientific American. By the end of 1877, the magazine reported, "Mr. Thomas A. Edison recently came into this office, placed a little machine on our desk, turned a crank, and the machine inquired as to our health, asked how we liked the phonograph, informed us that it was very well, and bid us a cordial good night."

Edison's phonograph machine on display.
Tricia Shay Photography/Workbook Stock/Getty Images


The Carbon Microphone (1877 to 1878)

We may know Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone, but it was Edison who invented a microphone that turned the telephone from a promising gadget into an indispensable machine with real, practical applications.

This invention has some controversial roots. Both Edison and German inventor Emile Berliner filed a patent for the carbon microphone. Bell, who realized the potential of the invention, bought the patent from Berliner.


However, this started a legal battle between Berline and Edison. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of Edison: "The [carbon microphone] is, beyond controversy, the invention of Edison."

The Incandescent Light Bulb (1879)

Without a doubt, the light bulb is Edison's most famous invention. Scientists and inventors had been racing against each other for years trying to invent artificial light. While there's some debate around the details of who invented the light bulb, Edison cinched the win by creating an incandescent bulb with a carbon filament that could be practically reproduced.


The Brockton Breakthrough (1883)

Once the world had light, it needed a way to power that light. In the tiny town of Brockton, Massachusetts, Edison set out to construct one of the world's first three-wire electrical power plants as a way to show the world that electric power was safer and more efficient than gas power.


The Kinetoscope, Kinetograph and Kinetophone (1888-1890s)

Edison and his assistant, William Dickson, first invented the Kinetoscope, a boxlike contraption that enabled a single viewer to watch a motion picture short through a peephole.

People could record films with a motion picture camera called the Kinetograph — and later, the Kinetophone attempted to add sound to moving pictures.


Nickel-iron Batteries (1901)

Before the popularization of steam- and gasoline-powered engines, batteries powered some of the world's first automobiles. Edison's nickel-iron batteries were an improvement, both in terms of ecological impact and charging time, over the more commonly used lead-acid batteries of the day.


Thomas Edison and the Menlo Park Laboratory

While not an invention in itself, Menlo Park in New Jersey is part of Edison's legacy. At Menlo Park Laboratory, the first industrial research laboratory, Edison helped shape the process of modern invention.

At this lab, Edison developed the phonograph and the incandescent light bulbs. After he established the Edison Electric Light Company, he started experimenting with electricity in other applications at his lab.


Eventually, when his operations grew bigger, Edison moved to New York City and opened a new facility in West Orange, New Jersey.

Companies Started by Thomas Edison

Aside from the Edison laboratory, he started several companies that helped put his inventions into use, including the Edison Storage Battery Company and Edison Portland Cement Company.

To run the electric lighting system, he founded a few companies, such as the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York and the Edison Lamp Works.


Frequently Answered Questions

What did Thomas Edison invent that's the most famous?
The light bulb is Edison's most famous invention.
What are three inventions of Thomas Edison?
The three most famous inventions of Thomas Edison are the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb and a camera for motion pictures.
What was Edison's first invention?
The first invention that Thomas Edison patented was the electric vote recorder.

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Related Articles

  • "The Thomas Edison Papers." Dec. 20, 2010. (Jan. 3, 2011)
  • Stross, Randall. "Edison the Inventor, Edison the Showman." New York Times. March 11, 2007. (Jan. 3, 2011), Randall. "The Wizard of Menlo Park." Three Rivers Press. 2007.