Thomas Edison and How Inventors View Failure as Steps Towards Their Success

Great inventors have often dealt with great failures. Inventing is synonymous with failure as it is a process that involves designing and creating something new. This process involves a lot of trial and error, and requires diligent pursuit. Inventor Thomas Alva Edison, born February 11, 1847, in Ohio, mastered this diligent pursuit in the face of failure. As a young boy, Edison caught scarlet fever, as well as an ear infection, which left him with hearing difficulties in both ears. This injury, as well as another ear injury he later faced in life, ultimately shifted the career path Edison decided to take.

Edison, as well as his family, moved to Port Huron, Michigan, in 1854, where Edison attended public school for a mere 12 weeks. Edison was a hyperactive child, and was considered “difficult” by his teacher. Edison’s mother decided to pull him out of school and began homeschooling him herself. He later credited his mother for helping him become the successful man that he became: “it’s because of his mother, and how wholeheartedly she believed in him, that he didn’t want to disappoint her”. Edison, at age 11, showed a “voracious appetite for knowledge, reading books on a wide range of subjects.” Additionally, the absence of formal school training allowed Edison to understand that he could learn away from academic institutions and still create a career for himself. He developed a self-educating process that he would stick by and would serve him throughout his life.

While Edison worked for a railroad company he helped save a 3-year-old from being run over by an errant train. The father of the child rewarded Edison by offering to teach him how to operate a telegraph. Edison traveled throughout the Midwest, for the next five years, as an itinerant telegrapher. It was during this occupation that Edison studied and experimented with telegraph, and became familiar with electrical science.

At age 19, in 1866, Edison moved to Louisville, Kentucky, working for The Associated Press. At first, Edison did well at his telegraph job because the Morse code was on a piece of paper. However, receivers began being equipped with a sounding key, this is where Edison’s partial deafness became a handicap. This of course impacted Edison’s career and left him with fewer employment opportunities. In 1869, Edison developed his first invention: “an improved stock ticker, the Universal Stock Printer, which synchronized several stock tickers’ transactions.” He sold it to The Gold and Stock Telegraph Company for $40,000. This success prompted Edison to devote himself full-time to inventing.

On a few occasions, Edison demonstrated his ability to turn failure into success: “he built a magnetic iron-ore processing plant in northern New Jersey that proved to be a commercial failure. Later, he was able to salvage the process into a better method for producing cement.” Edison illustrated his ability to improve and tinker with what he created. He, as most inventors do, looked at the blueprint of what he had and thought of different ways to improve it.

After Edison’s death, many communities and corporations throughout the world dimmed their lights or briefly turned off their electrical power to commemorate Edison’s life and legacy. Edison’s career was the “quintessential rags-to-riches success story that made him a folk hero in America. An uninhibited egoist, he could be a tyrant to employees and ruthless to competitors.” After his death, Edison was respected as one of the most well-known Americans in the world. Much of his story centers around the fact that he did not quit in the face of failure. He understood the ups and downs that came with the process of inventing. After having gone through 9,000 failed attempts at trying to construct an electric light bulb, he was asked by a newspaper reporter if he felt like a failure and if he should give up. Edison replied with: “why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitely over 9,000 ways an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” Edison was at the forefront of America’s first technological revolution, and he is credited for being the first person to set the stage for the modern electric world. Thomas Edison did not allow his failures to negatively impact him because he saw each failure as a step towards his success.

Author: Idil Dahir

Idil Dahir is a freelance writer and editor living in Toronto, Ontario. She is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto in which she completed a specialist program in English. Idil enjoys everything from Films, TV Shows, Sports, Novels, and Comic Books. She is currently working on her career in film and TV production as well as her freelance work. If you would like to contact Idil you can reach her at: