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Thomas Edison: Telephone, Electricity and Phonograph, 1915

A Studious Youth

Thomas Alva Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, on February 11, 1847, the seventh and last child of Samuel and Nancy Edison. Samuel was a militant freethinker who had been banished from Canada; Nancy was a former teacher. Thomas received most of his education from his mother and the books in his father's library. His later commercial acumen probably came from the example of his father's many and varied business ventures.

At the age of thirteen, at the beginning of his problems with gradual hearing loss, Edison began working as a traveling candy salesman on the new railroad system in the Midwest. Capitalizing on all learning opportunities around him, he ran his chemical experiments during train trips and began to study the burgeoning field of telegraphy. Within five years he had become an expert telegrapher and part of an itinerant group moving between Midwestern cities. All the while Edison studied the technical aspects of telegraphy in his own workshop.