“Mrs. Edison, could I speak with you for a moment?” the teacher asked. Nancy Edison nodded. She knew her 7-year-old son Tom had been having problems at school, but she didn't expect to hear what the teacher said next. “Thomas has been disruptive in school, as usual. I think, judging by his behavior and by the size of his head, he's retarded. He can't learn.”
Retarded? Tom was smart enough, his mom knew. And if the teacher couldn't teach him, she would. She promptly withdrew him from school and began homeschooling him. She taught him the “three R's” and the Bible, while his dad, Samuel, got him interested in the classics, paying him 10 cents for every book he finished. They also showed him the local library, where he started reading every single book from the bottom shelf upwards until his parents persuaded him to be more selective. When his parents couldn't think of anything else to interest him, they hired a tutor to teach him advanced math and science.
At age 12, Thomas Edison already had two businesses of his own, one of which was selling candy and newspapers on a train. At 14, he printed his own newspaper, also on the train. He made as much as $10 a day, a lot of money back in 1860. He also kept his science experiments on the train, which backfired when his chemicals caught the train on fire. Edison was 16 when he made his first invention - an improvement on the telegraph. His second, an automatic vote recorder, was promptly rejected because it totaled the votes too fast. He soon ran into another setback... The telegraph office where he was working fired him for working on too many inventions! But he kept inventing. He was working on the telephone, but his friend Alexander Graham Bell patented it first. Ironically, Bell's research had brought him close to inventing the phonograph, but Edison ended up inventing it first. In 1877, he recorded the human voice for the first time—his own, reciting “Mary had a little lamb.”
The next competition he entered was the race to invent a working electric light bulb. After testing hundreds of materials, and experiencing many frustrations, he was finally successful. The light bulb was followed by moving pictures, alkaline batteries, a self-starter car battery, and many other inventions. By the time he died at age 84, the inventor who had been called “retarded” as a boy held a world record of 1,093 patents. His most important, however, was the light bulb. When he died in 1931, all over the country, people dimmed their lights in honor of him.