A patent is an official document that someone can obtain that stops others from making, using, or selling their invention for a certain time period. Can the kids write a letter from Thomas Edison to the patent office requesting a patent for one of his inventions?
Thomas Edison (1847–1931) was an American businessman who is widely regarded as the greatest inventor of all time. There are over 1,000 patents (recognised inventions) in his name and he greatly influenced our lives with ideas such as electric lights for the home, sound recording and motion pictures (movies). Learn about this talented and enterprising man with the kids, and the enjoy our printable resources for children below.
- Thomas Edison had a record 1,093 US patents to his name. He was 84 when he died, which means he averaged more than 13 inventions for every year of his life!
- Thomas loved to work and to invent. Sometimes, he would spend 18 hours a day working – and just 4 hours sleeping!
- When Thomas invented the phonograph in 1877, he famously recited and recorded the nursery rhyme ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’.
Thomas Edison Quotes
“Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
“I never did a day’s work in my life, it was all fun.”
“The world owes nothing to any man, but every man owes something to the world.”
A Short Biography of Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, USA, in 1847, but spent most of his childhood in Port Huron, Michigan. He was the youngest of seven children born to Samuel and Nancy Edison. His family called him ‘Al’ (from his middle name Alva).
Thomas was an inquisitive child, but only went to school for a few months. He regularly got into trouble and his teachers thought he was dim, but his mother recognised his potential and began to teach him at home. Later, Thomas would use his reading skills to teach himself too.
At the age of 10, he set up a laboratory in his parents’ basement, where he would do chemistry experiments and make things. He was an enterprising boy, selling fruit and vegetables as a child. By 12, he was producing his own newspaper which he sold to train passengers.
Thomas was left partially deaf at the age of 12 from a bout of scarlet fever, but this didn’t deter his endeavours. He said it helped him to concentrate on his experiments and inventions without getting distracted.
When Thomas was 15, he saved a three-year-old boy from the path of a runaway train. The boy’s father was so grateful that he trained Thomas as a telegraph operator. This first job was the start of Thomas’s fascination with communications technology. Before long he had invented the ‘automatic repeater’ – a device to quickly transmit telegraph messages.
In 1868, Thomas moved to Boston to continue his work as a telegrapher. But in his spare time, he would work on his own projects, too. In the same year, aged 21, he received his first patent – for a vote counting machine – but no one was interested in his invention. He vowed from that day to only work on projects that people would want to buy.
At 22, Thomas moved to New York City, and had soon invented an improved ticker for the stock exchange (to alert traders to changing prices). He was paid US$40,000 for the invention - a huge amount of money at the time, which allowed him to become a full-time inventor.
At 24, Thomas married 16-year-old Mary Stilwell who worked at one of his telegraph companies. They went on to have three children together. In 1876, Thomas moved the family to Menlo Park, New Jersey. It was here that he built a series of research laboratories, hiring a team of creative minds to share ideas and help to make his inventions.
Within a year, Thomas had invented the phonograph – a device to record and playback sound. This was later developed to permanently record music. The phonograph used sound vibrations to move a needle and create grooves on a drum wrapped in tin foil. It made Thomas very famous.
The following year, in 1878, Thomas invented the ‘incandescent’ light bulb, a type of light bulb that was inexpensive but long-lasting, and safe to use in the home with fuses and on/off switches. His newly-formed Edison Electric Light Company also invented a way to distribute electrical power into people’s homes.
Just over a decade later, Thomas invented the kinetoscope, a moving-image projector used to record and replay images. The world of cinema had begun! He had also worked on improving Alexander Graham Bell’s recently invented telephone, including the ‘carbon transmitter’ (microphone), which meant you could speak down one part and listen through another.
Thomas’ wife Mary sadly died in 1884, aged just 29. Two years later, he married 20-year-old Mina Miller, having another three children with his second wife. He set up a new laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, and continued to invent and improve products for the rest of his life. He worked until his death in 1931 at the age of 84.
Our Thomas Edison Resources
Thomas Edison was not only a famous and prolific inventor, but he also knew how to successfully market his new products and inventions. Can the children design their own poster to advertise the light bulb, highlighting the benefits over previous types of lighting?
Thomas Edison is thought to be one of the most prolific inventors of all time, and his inventions changed the world. Can the kids design a medal to commemorate his achievements?
Just for fun, learn to draw your own cartoon picture of Thomas Edison. Follow along with our step by step instructions.
Younger children can enjoy colouring in this simple picture of Thomas Edison holding a light bulb as an introduction to topic work on inventors perhaps?
Here's a simple comprehension worksheet to test reading and understanding skills. The children need to read the text about Thomas Edison, then answer a few questions at the end.
We've got the life story of Thomas Edison, complete with interesting facts, condensed onto this useful two-page factsheet.
Our interview worksheets take a more personal approach to learning about famous people, both past and present. Can the children imagine they are interviewing Thomas Edison and write some good open questions for him to answer?
Can the kids fill the lightbulb on this worksheet with some of the things Thomas Edison invented over his lifetime? They could write them down, draw pictures or both!
The kids can use our Thomas Edison newspaper writing prompt to describe his life and achievements, and they can colour in the picture of him if they like ...
We've got two variations on our printable Thomas Edison notebooking paper - choose the most appropriate and download and print below.
Our famous people posters look great displayed in groups on a classroom wall, or you can use them in scrapbooks and project work - this one features Thomas Edison.
This poster featuring a quote by Thomas Edison is perfect for inspiring light bulb moments! Print using the borderless settings on your printer for the best results.
"Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration".The kids might have heard this famous quote attributed to Thomas Edison before, but can they write about what it Edison meant by it and rewrite the quote in their own words?
The kids can use this Thomas Edison story paper to write about the famous American inventor, then colour in the picture of him holding perhaps his best-known invention, the domestic lightbulb!
Thomas Edison's inventions changed our world forever. Write about some of them on this story paper featuring a photograph of this remarkable man.
Did you know that Thomas Edison set up his first laboratory in his parent's basement when he just 10? Ask the children to mark the other achievements in his life on this timeline worksheet.
Find out some facts about Thomas Edison, and think about what you would talk about if you were able to meet...