Thomas A. Edison, The Yearly Years

Often in America, the children of humble parents have become distinguished men. Some have gained respect by their wise management of public affairs; some are honored because they led our armies to victory; and some are admired by reason of the beautiful stories and poems which they have written.

A few men have earned the gratitude of the people by adding to the comfort and happiness of everyday life through their wonderful inventions.

Of these last, Thomas Alva Edison is one of the best-known examples. This great inventor may well be called a “self-made" man. His parents were humble people with only a few acquaintances and friends.

The father was a hardy laboring man, who came from a family that worked hard and lived long. Mr. Edison made shingles with which to roof houses.

He made good shingles, too. At that time, this work was not done by machinery, but by hand. Mr. Edison employed several workmen to help him. He was industrious and thrifty.

When Thomas Edison was born, on the eleventh of February, eighteen forty-seven, the shingle- maker lived in Milan, a village in Erie county, Ohio. His home was a modest brick cottage on Choate Avenue. The house was built on a bluff overlooking the valley where the Huron River Bows, with the canal beside it.

In harvest time the little village was a busy place. All day huge farm wagons drawn by four or six horses rumbled along the dusty roads, carrying grain to the canal. For the farmers from far and near brought their grain to Milan to send it by canal to Lake Erie.

Often as many as six hundred wagonloads of grain came to the village in a single day. The narrow canal was crowded with barges and sailing vessels, which were being loaded with it.

Little Thomas Edison was not content to watch this busy scene from his home on the hill. At a very early age he went with the older boys to have a closer view.

He soon learned to go about the village and when he was no older than many children who are never allowed outside of the nurse's sight, he trotted about alone and felt very much at his ease among the farmers and rough workmen.

Thomas was a serious looking child. He had a large head covered with a wayward shock of hair, which would not curl nor even part straight. He had a broad, smooth forehead, which was drawn into wrinkles when anything puzzled him. His big eyes looked out from beneath heavy brows with wonder in childhood with keenness when he grew older.

Whenever his brow scowled, his thin lips were pressed tightly together. Even when the child smiled, his chin looked very square and firm. The strangers who noticed him said, not, “What a pretty child," but, “What a smart-looking boy!"

The father believed that the best thing he could do for his son was to train him to be industrious.

The mother had been a school teacher. She considered an education an important part of a boy's preparation for life. Both parents began early to do what seemed to them their duty towards their son. His father required him to use his hands. His mother taught him to use his head.

He was an eager pupil. An old man in Milan remembers seeing Edison, when he was a youngster in dresses, sitting upon the ground in front of a store, trying to copy the store sign on. a board with a piece of chalk. He went to school very little.

He could learn much faster at home, where he did not have to go through the formality of raising his hand every time he wanted to ask a question; he wanted to ask a great many.

When Edison was still a mere child, a railroad was built through Milan. Then the farmers used the railroad instead of the canal for shipping their grain. For that reason there was less business in Milan than before the road was built.

Many families that had done work in connection with the canal moved away. The place became so dull that Mr. Edison found it hard to make a living there.

Accordingly, when Thomas was seven years old, Mr. Edison moved his family to Port Huron, Michigan. Mr. Edison once said that his son had had no childhood. 

We have seen that as a child, he was a little "sobersides," too busy getting acquainted with the world around him to care for play. As he grew older, his face lost its solemn look.

He became an active fun-loving boy. But he differed from other boys in that he found his “fun" In doing things which most boys would have called work.

Frances M. Perry, “The Story of Thomas A. Edison: The Early Years.” In Four American Inventors: A Book for Young Americans, New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago: American Book Company, 1901, Pages 205-208

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