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Thomas Edison: Telephone, Electricity and Phonograph, 1915

Setback and Ambition

In 1884, Edison's wife Mary, who had been ailing for some time, died in the twelfth year of their marriage. Her death caused a cutback in Thomas Edison's work, but with his 1886 marriage to Mina Miller, his ambition was renewed. He closed the Menlo Park laboratory, replacing it with a larger, better version in West Orange, New Jersey. Research and development on electric lighting continued for the next few years and this time was marked by the conflict between the adoption of Edison's DC (direct current) electrical current and Tesla's AC (alternating current) systems for power distribution system. The AC system reduced power loss and improved transmission distance since the power voltage could be stepped up at the source to improve transmission and then stepped back down to usable levels at the delivery destination. Eventually, despite Edison's pro-DC efforts, the AC system was adopted universally.

Soon after, in 1892, Edison merged his various electric companies into the General Electric Company and moved on to a variety of other interests, primarily the possibilities of the sound recording machine he had made many years earlier. Building on the work of Bell and Tainter, Edison built improved wax cylinders and electrically driven phonographs, more expensive than the hand-cranked versions but providing better sound quality. For the phonograph's commercial success, Edison was now competing with the Victor Talking Machine Company's disc phonograph. In this new era of scientific discoveries moving into the field of entertainment, Victor won; Edison's venture finally closed in 1929.