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Q: Verify story about Thomas Edison ( Answered,   4 Comments )
Subject: Verify story about Thomas Edison
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: barryba-ga
List Price: $7.50
Posted: 27 Aug 2004 06:55 PDT
Expires: 26 Sep 2004 06:55 PDT
Question ID: 393367
I am looking to verify the following story:
I remember once reading that Tom Edison had been working as a clerk at
a telegraph station. Rather than sit there and read each telegraph as
it came in, he inveted a machine that would record it for him. When
the owner of the compay found out he was fired. Young Thomas then sold
that invention to the head of ITT. The owner of ITT asked him how much
do you want for your inventioin. Tom said, 1000 dollars the deal was
struck. The owner of the company then said. You are a fool, I would
have given you 10 times that amount for it. To which Tom answered, and
I would have take 1/10 of the amount you gave me.
Subject: Re: Verify story about Thomas Edison
Answered By: tar_heel_v-ga on 27 Aug 2004 08:01 PDT

Thanks for an interesting question, though I think you may be mistaken
in your story.

Thomas Edison started working the telegraph industry in 1862 after
rescuing a child who was about to be run over by a boxcar.  The boy's
father, in an act of gratitude, taught Edison railroad telegraphy. 
Edison took a job as a telegraph operator in Port Huron and then,
between 1863 and 1867, moved from city to city taking jobs as a
telegraph operator.

In 1868, Edison moved to Boston and began working with Western Union,
all the while, still working on his inventions.  He resigned from
Western Union, while about to be fired for "concentrating on his
primary responsibilities and doing too much moonlighting" in 1869 in
order to dedicate himself fulltime to his inventions.  During this
time, Edison received his first patent on an electric vote recorder. 
Politicians refused to use the machine and Edison decided then not to
waste time on inventions that nobody wanted.  In 1869, Edison, along
with Franklin Pope and James Ashley formed Pope, Edison and Co.  In
1870, he started American Telegraph works to develop an automatic
telegraph.  At this point, Edison also sold his first invention for
cash, a Universal Stock Ticker.  This was an outcome of his work
towards the automatic telegraph printer.  This may be where your story
comes from as Edison had intended to sell the rights for the device
for about $4,000.  The head of Gold and Stock Telegraph, General
Lefferts, when Edison told him to make an offer, stated "How does
$40,000 strike you?".  Later, Edison was reported to say that he
almost fainted.

In summary, your story can't be correct because:

Edison was never fired from a job as a telegraph operator.  He was
almost fired several times.  A good example was that when Edison moved
to Toronto, he had a job to send a report every hour by telegraph.  He
invented a machine that would do that for him, as he felt it was a
waste of time.  His boss found him asleep and almost fired him.

ITT was not founded until 1920 and at this time, Edison was working
for the US government.

Thanks again for your question.  If you need any additional
clarification, please let me know.



Search Strategy

thomas edison ITT
International Telephone and Telegraph
Thomas Edison Telegraph
quadraplex telegraph
edison stock ticker


The Life of Thomas Edison - Working on the Telegraph

International Telephone and Telegraph Corp. (ITT

Lemelson - Edison

Biography Of Thomas Alva Edison

Stock Ticker History

Thomas Alva Edison
Google Cached Version:

About Thomas Edison

Request for Answer Clarification by barryba-ga on 27 Aug 2004 15:45 PDT
Was there a conversation afterwards where, the head of the company
said he could have asked for much more money and gotten it. To which
Edison responded I would have sold it for far less?

Clarification of Answer by tar_heel_v-ga on 28 Aug 2004 07:08 PDT
There is no record of such a conversation.  I seriously doubt that
owner would have offered $400,000 being that in 1870, $400,000 would
be the equivilant of $8,000,000 today.

From all the research I have done, I think the commentors hit it on
the head that this was artistic license taken by the film makers.
In Edison's own words:

"...One day I exhibited and worked a successful device whereby if a
ticker should get out of unison in a broker's office and commence to
print wild figures, it could be brought to unison from the central
station, which saved the labor of many men and much trouble to the
broker. He called me into his office, and said: `Now, young man, I
want to close up the matter of your inventions. How much do you think
you should receive?' I had made up my mind that, taking into
consideration the time and killing pace I was working at, I should be
entitled to $5000, but could get along with $3000. When the
psychological moment arrived, I hadn't the nerve to name such a large
sum, so I said: `Well, General, suppose you make me an offer.' Then he
said: `How would $40,000 strike you?' This caused me to come as near
fainting as I ever got. I was afraid he would hear my heart beat. I
managed to say that I thought it was fair. `All right, I will have a
contract drawn; come around in three days and sign it, and I will give
you the money.' I arrived on time, but had been doing some
considerable thinking on the subject. The sum seemed to be very large
for the amount of work, for at that time I determined the value by the
time and trouble, and not by what the invention was worth to others. I
thought there was something unreal about it. However, the contract was
handed to me. I signed without reading it."

Edison, His Life and Inventions - CHAPTER VII
Subject: Re: Verify story about Thomas Edison
From: bowler-ga on 27 Aug 2004 08:51 PDT
This story is a scene from an old movie about Edison's life.  I can't
remember which of these movies it was but you find many historical
inaccuracies in biographical movies in general especially some of the
older ones:

Edison, the Man (1940)

Young Thomas Edison (1940)
Subject: Re: Verify story about Thomas Edison
From: till-ga on 27 Aug 2004 10:56 PDT
This comment is correct. Itīs a film with Spencer Tracy in the role of
Edison and a very nice movie about this great man.

Subject: Re: Verify story about Thomas Edison
From: bowler-ga on 27 Aug 2004 13:15 PDT
" sort of reminds me of the story about the young Thomas Edison.
His first big invention was the stock ticker and he went in to meet a
bunch of potential
buyers who offered him 5000 dollars for it. He immediately said "yes."
Afterward, while they were lighting up cigars, one of the buyers said, "You
know, we were prepared to go as high as 10,000 dollars." To which he
replied, "I would have sold it to you for fifty."
Subject: Re: Verify story about Thomas Edison
From: tar_heel_v-ga on 27 Aug 2004 13:54 PDT
He sold the ticker for $40,000.

Seems this story has all kinds of variations on the truth :)

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