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Edison in Fargo

Thomas Alva Edison was an inventive genius.  Edison once said that he and his workers tried to make “a minor invention every 10 days and a big thing every six months or so.” Averaging one patent every week, Edison accumulated a total of 1,093 patents, making him the number-one inventor in American history.

It was on this date in 1908 that the Grand Forks Herald reported on Thomas Edison’s first visit to North Dakota. The 61-year-old inventor stopped in Fargo while en route to the Pacific Coast, traveling with his wife and family on the North Coast Limited. He talked to a reporter and observed that Fargo was a “busy little city,” and he was pleased that North Dakotans would likely vote for William Howard Taft in the upcoming presidential election.

At that time, inventor Edison was busy promoting his new pre-formed concrete houses, costing just $1,200 to build.

The Fargo reporter noted that Edison had a “modest but striking appearance” and was “easily recognized from his pictures” because of his white hair, bushy eyebrows, and wise eyes.  Edison wore an “ordinary black suit,” white shirt and black tie, with a straw hat.

Edison was a recognizable figure, in fact, he was a pivotal figure. Among his biggest inventions were the light bulb, the electric locomotive with speeds to 40 mph, an improved typewriter, the alkaline storage battery, the Ediphone dictating machine, the Edison movie camera and projector, and the phonograph (which was his favorite invention). He also invented a talking doll that recited nursery rhymes.

Tom Edison had industrial laboratories, first in Menlo Park, New Jersey, then in West Orange, New Jersey. He often worked 20 hours per day, taking catnaps on a cot. Edison would lock in workers until the job was done.

The electrical “Wizard of Menlo Park,” was born in Ohio in 1847 and lived to be 84 years old, dying in 1931. In 1928 Edison received a Congressional Gold Medal, with the profound inscription “He illuminated the path of progress by his inventions.”

One of Tom Edison’s greatest quotes can still inspire us, for he oftentimes said: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources:

“Thomas A. Edison, the Wizard of Electricity, Visited N.D. for the First Time,” Grand Forks Herald, August 29, 1908, p. 4.

“Thomas A. Edison Visits Fargo,” Fargo Forum, August 28, 1908, p. 10.

“Thomas Edison,” Bismarck Tribune, August 30, 1908, p. 4.

“Wizard Edison Visits St. Paul,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 27, 1908, p. 2.

Charles P. Stack, “Edison Was ‘Servant of U.S,’ Mankind’s Benefactor,” Bismarck Tribune, October 19, 1931, p. 6.

“Edison Talks About Concrete,” Wenatchee [WA] Daily World, September 8, 1908, p. 1.

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