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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/503

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SKETCH OF THOMAS ALVA EDISON.

SKETCH OF THOMAS ALVA EDISON.
By G. M. SHAW.

THIS remarkable inventor, of whom the public has recently heard so much, is still a young man, having been born in 1847 at Milan, Erie County, Ohio. His mother was of Scotch parentage, but born in Massachusetts; she was finely educated, literary and ambitious, and had been a teacher in Canada. Young Edison's only schooling came from his mother, who taught him spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic. He lost his mother in 1862, but his father, a man of vigorous constitution, is still living, aged seventy-four. When he was seven years old, his parents removed to Port Huron, Michigan. The boy disliked mathematics, but was fond of reading, and, before he was twelve years old, had read the "Penny Cyclopædia," Hume's "England," and Gibbon's "Rome." He early took to the railroad, and became a newsboy on the Grand Trunk line, running into Detroit. Here he had access to a library, which he undertook to read through; but, after skimming over many hundred miscellaneous books, he adopted the plan of select reading on subjects of interest to him. Becoming interested in chemistry, he bought some chemicals, and fixed up a laboratory in one of the cars. An unfortunate combustion of phosphorus one day came near setting fire to the train, and the consequence was, that the conductor kicked the whole thing out. He had obtained the exclusive right to sell papers on the road, and employed four assistants; but, not satisfied with this, he bought a lot of second-hand type, and printed on the cars a little paper of his own, called the Grand Trunk Herald. Getting acquainted with the telegraph-operators along the road, he took a notion to become an operator himself. In his lack of means and opportunities, he resorted to the expedient of making his own apparatus at home. A piece of stove-wire, insulated by bottles, was made to do service as the line-wire. The wire for his electro-magnets he wound with rags, and in a similar way persevered until he had the crude elements of a telegraph; but the electricity being wanting, and as he could not buy a battery, he tried rubbing the fur of cats' backs, but says that electricity from this source was a failure for telegraphic purposes.

About two months afterward, as a train was switching on to a side-track at Mount Clemens Station, the station-agent's little boy, two years old, crept on to the track ahead of the cars. Edison saw the danger, sprang to the ground, and barely succeeded in saving the youngster. Its father, the station-master, being a poor man, could not show his gratitude by a money reward, but offered to teach young Edison telegraph-operating. He gladly seized the chance, and for five months we see him going back to Mount Clemens, at the close of his day's work, to labor nights in learning to be an operator. At the end