Thomas Edison

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Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.

Thomas Alva Edison (11 February 184718 October 1931) was an American inventor and businessman who developed many devices which greatly influenced life worldwide into the twenty-first century.

Quotes[edit]

Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.
Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up
I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power!
Discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I'll show you a failure.
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
I find out what the world needs. Then, I go ahead and invent it.
We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything.
Hell, there are no rules here — we're trying to accomplish something.
Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.


  • To Monsieur Eiffel the Engineer, the brave builder of so gigantic and original a specimen of modern Engineering from one who has the greatest respect and admiration for all Engineers including the Great Engineer the Bon Dieu.
    • When Thomas Edison visited The Eiffel Tower, he signed the guestbook with this message, as quoted in The Tallest Tower by Joseph Harriss, p. 95
  • Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
    • This is presented as a statement of 1877, as quoted in From Telegraph to Light Bulb with Thomas Edison (2007) by Deborah Hedstrom, p. 22
  • During all those years of experimentation and research, I never once made a discovery. All my work was deductive, and the results I achieved were those of invention, pure and simple. I would construct a theory and work on its lines until I found it was untenable. Then it would be discarded at once and another theory evolved. This was the only possible way for me to work out the problem. … I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed 3,000 different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently likely to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory. My chief difficulty was in constructing the carbon filament. . . . Every quarter of the globe was ransacked by my agents, and all sorts of the queerest materials used, until finally the shred of bamboo, now utilized by us, was settled upon.
    • On his years of research in developing the electric light bulb, as quoted in "Talks with Edison" by George Parsons Lathrop in Harpers magazine, Vol. 80 (February 1890), p. 425
  • The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.
    • This has been reprinted many times with slight variations on the wording; it is part of a much larger quote directly from Edison published in 1903:
Nineteen hundred and three will bring great advances in surgery, in the study of bacteria, in the knowledge of the cause and prevention of disease. Medicine is played out. Every new discovery of bacteria shows us all the more convincingly that we have been wrong and that the million tons of stuff we have taken was all useless.
The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.
They may even discover the germ of old age. I don't predict it, but it might be by the sacrifice of animal life human life could be prolonged.
Surgery, diet, antiseptics — these three are the vital things of the future in preserving the health of humanity. There were never so many able, active minds at work on the problems of diseases as now, and all their discoveries are tending to the simple truth — that you can't improve on nature.
  • As quoted in "Wizard Edison" in The Newark Advocate (2 January 1903), p. 1 according to research by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson at snopes.com
  • Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.
    • Spoken statement (c. 1903); published in Harper's Monthly (September 1932)
    • Variants:
    • None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.
      • Statement in a press conference (1929), as quoted in Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel & Charles Lindbergh (1987) by James D. Newton, p. 24.
    • Variant forms without early citation: "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Accordingly, a 'genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework."
      "Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."
  • I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come indirectly through accident, except the phonograph. No, when I have, fully decided that a result is worth getting, I go about it, and make trial after trial, until it comes.
  • Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.
    • As quoted in Thomas Alva Edison : Sixty Years of an Inventor's Life (1908) by Francis Arthur Jones, p. 14
  • If our nation can issue a dollar bond, it can issue a dollar bill. The element that makes the bond good, makes the bill good, also. The difference between the bond and the bill is the bond lets money brokers collect twice the amount of the bond and an additional 20%, whereas the currency pays nobody but those who contribute directly in some useful way. … It is absurd to say our country can issue $30 million in bonds and not $30 million in currency. Both are promises to pay, but one promise fattens the usurers and the other helps the people.
  • My mind is incapable of conceiving such a thing as a soul. I may be in error, and man may have a soul; but I simply do not believe it. What a soul may be is beyond my understanding.
    • "Do We Live Again?" an interview with Edison, as quoted in Mr. Edison's New Argument from Design" in The Illustrated London News (3 May 1924)
  • We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature's inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.
    • In conversation with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone (1931); as quoted in Uncommon Friends : Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel & Charles Lindbergh (1987) by James Newton, p. 31
  • I believe in the existence of a Supreme Intelligence pervading the Universe.
    • As quoted in Thomas A. Edison, Benefactor of Mankind : The Romantic Life Story of the World's Greatest Inventor (1931) by Francis Trevelyan Miller, Ch. 25 : Edison's Views on Life — His Philosophy and Religion, p. 293
  • We really haven't got any great amount of data on the subject, and without data how can we reach any definite conclusions? All we have — everything — favors the idea of what religionists call the "Hereafter." Science, if it ever learns the facts, probably will find another more definitely descriptive term.
    • As quoted in Thomas A. Edison, Benefactor of Mankind : The Romantic Life Story of the World's Greatest Inventor (1931) by Francis Trevelyan Miller, Ch. 25 : Edison's Views on Life — His Philosophy and Religion, p. 295
  • It is very beautiful over there!
    • These have sometimes been reported as his last words, but were actually spoken several days before his death, as he awoke from a nap, gazing upwards, as reported by his physician Dr. Hubert S. Howe, in Thomas A. Edison, Benefactor of Mankind : The Romantic Life Story of the World's Greatest Inventor (1931) by Francis Trevelyan Miller, Ch. 25 : Edison's Views on Life — His Philosophy and Religion, p. 295
  • We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything.
    • As quoted in Golden Book (April 1931), according to Stevenson's Book of Quotations (Cassell 3rd edition 1938) by Burton Egbert Stevenson
  • There is a great directing head of people and things — a Supreme Being who looks after the destinies of the world.
    I am convinced that the body is made up of entities that are intelligent and are directed by this Higher Power. When one cuts his finger, I believe it is the intelligence of these entities which heals the wound. When one is sick, it is the intelligence of these entities which brings convalescence. You know that there are living cells in the body so tiny that the microscope cannot find them at all. The entities that give life and soul to the human body are finer still and lie infinitely beyond the reach of our finest scientific instruments. When these entities leave the body, the body is like a ship without a rudder — deserted, motionless and dead.
  • Restlessness is discontent — and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man — and I will show you a failure.
    • The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison (1948), p. 110
  • Through all the years of experimenting and research, I never once made a discovery. I start where the last man left off. … All my work was deductive, and the results I achieved were those of invention pure and simple.
    • As quoted in Makers of the Modern World : The Lives of Ninety-two Writers, Artists, Scientists, Statesmen, Inventors, Philosophers, Composers, and Other Creators who Formed the Pattern of Our Century (1955) by Louis Untermeyer, p. 227
  • So far as the religion of the day is concerned, it is a damned fake … Religion is all bunk.
  • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
    • As quoted in An Enemy Called Average (1990) by John L. Mason, p. 55
  • If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.
    • As quoted in Motivating Humans : Goals, Emotions, and Personal Agency Beliefs (1992) by Martin E. Ford, p. 17
  • To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
    • As quoted in Behavior-Based Robotics (1998) by Ronald C. Arkin. p. 8
  • Everyone steals in commerce and industry. I've stolen a lot, myself. But I know how to steal! They don't know how to steal!
    • As quoted in Tesla : The Modern Sorcerer (1999) by Daniel Blair Stewart, p. 411
    • Variant: Everyone steals in commerce and industry. I have stolen a lot myself. But at least I know how to steal.
  • I find out what the world needs. Then, I go ahead and invent it.
    • As quoted in American Greats (1999) Edited by Robert A. Wilson and Stanley Marcus, p. 70
  • Hell, there are no rules here — we're trying to accomplish something.
    • As quoted in How to Think Like Einstein : Simple Ways to Break the Rules and Discover Your Hidden Genius (2000) by Scott Thorpe, p. 124
  • Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.
    • As quoted in Artifacts : An Archaeologist's Year in Silicon Valley (2001) by Christine Finn. p. 90
  • I never did a day's work in my life, it was all fun.
    • As quoted in Edison & Ford Quote Book (2003) edited by Edison & Ford Winter Estates
  • I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious ideas of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God.
    • As quoted in Jesus : Myth Or Reality? (2006) by Ian Curtis, p. 289
  • I do not believe in the God of the theologians; but that there is a Supreme Intelligence I do not doubt
    • The Freethinker (1970), G.W. Foote & Company, Volume 90, p. 147
  • I owe my success to the fact that I never had a clock in my workroom. Seventy-five of us worked twenty hours every day and slept only four hours — and thrived on it.
    • Diary entry, as quoted in Defending and Parenting Children Who Learn Differently : Lessons from Edison's Mother (2007) by Scott Teel, p. 12

The Philosophy of Paine (1925)[edit]

Essay in The Diary and Sundry Observations (1948) edited by Dagobert D. Runes - Full essay online
I consider Paine our greatest political thinker. As we have not advanced, and perhaps never shall advance, beyond the Declaration and Constitution, so Paine has had no successors who extended his principles.
  • Tom Paine has almost no influence on present-day thinking in the United States because he is unknown to the average citizen. Perhaps I might say right here that this is a national loss and a deplorable lack of understanding concerning the man who first proposed and first wrote those impressive words, 'the United States of America.' But it is hardly strange. Paine's teachings have been debarred from schools everywhere and his views of life misrepresented until his memory is hidden in shadows, or he is looked upon as of unsound mind.
    We never had a sounder intelligence in this Republic. He was the equal of Washington in making American liberty possible. Where Washington performed Paine devised and wrote. The deeds of one in the Weld were matched by the deeds of the other with his pen.
In Common Sense Paine flared forth with a document so powerful that the Revolution became inevitable. Washington recognized the difference, and in his calm way said that matters never could be the same again.
  • I consider Paine our greatest political thinker. As we have not advanced, and perhaps never shall advance, beyond the Declaration and Constitution, so Paine has had no successors who extended his principles. Although the present generation knows little of Paine's writings,and although he has almost no influence upon contemporary thought, Americans of the future will justly appraise his work. I am certain of it.
    Truth is governed by natural laws and cannot be denied. Paine spoke truth with a peculiarly clear and forceful ring. Therefore time must balance the scales.
  • Looking back to those times we cannot, without much reading, clearly gauge the sentiment of the Colonies. Perhaps the larger number of responsible men still hoped for peace with England. They did not even venture to express the matter that way. Few men, indeed, had thought in terms of war.
    Then Paine wrote 'Common Sense,' an anonymous tract which immediately stirred the fires of liberty.
    It flashed from hand to hand throughout the Colonies. One copy reached the New York Assembly, in session at Albany, and a night meeting was voted to answer this unknown writer with his clarion call to liberty. The Assembly met, but could find no suitable answer. Tom Paine had inscribed a document which never has been answered adversely, and never can be, so long as man esteems his priceless possession.
    In 'Common Sense' Paine flared forth with a document so powerful that the Revolution became inevitable. Washington recognized the difference, and in his calm way said that matters never could be the same again.. It must be remembered that 'Common Sense' preceded the declaration and affirmed the very principles that went into the national doctrine of liberty. But that affirmation was made with more vigor, more of the fire of the patriot and was exactly suited to the hour. It is probable that we should have had the Revolution without Tom Paine. Certainly it could not be forestalled, once he had spoken.
  • Many a person who could not comprehend Rousseau, and would be puzzled by Montesquieu, could understand Paine as an open book. He wrote with a clarity, a sharpness of outline and exactness of speech that even a schoolboy should be able to grasp. There is nothing false, little that is subtle, and an impressive lack of the negative in Paine. He literally cried to his reader for a comprehending hour, and then filled that hour with such sagacious reasoning as we find surpassed nowhere else in American letters — seldom in any school of writing.
  • He has been called an atheist, but atheist he was not. Paine believed in a supreme intelligence, as representing the idea which other men often express by the name of deity.
    His Bible was the open face of nature, the broad skies, the green hills. He disbelieved the ancient myths and miracles taught by established creeds. But the attacks on those creeds — or on persons devoted to them — have served to darken his memory, casting a shadow across the closing years of his life.
    When Theodore Roosevelt termed Tom Paine a "dirty little atheist" he surely spoke from lack of understanding. It was a stricture, an inaccurate charge of the sort that has dimmed the greatness of this eminent American. But the true measure of his stature will yet be appreciated. The torch which he handed on will not be extinguished.
  • The memory of Tom Paine will outlive all this. No man who helped to lay the foundations of our liberty — who stepped forth as the champion of so difficult a cause — can be permanently obscured by such attacks. Tom Paine should be read by his countrymen. I commend his fame to their hands.


Disputed[edit]

  • Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.
    • As quoted inThe A-V Magazine Vol. 89, No. 1 (January 1981), p. 18, and The Extended Circle : A Dictionary of Humane Thought (1985) by Jon Wynne-Tyson, p. 75; this has been cited to "Harper's Magazine (1890)" but no occurence prior to the 1981 appearance has been located.
  • I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
    • As quoted in an ad for GPU Nuclear Corporation, in Black Enterprise Vol. 16, No. 11 (June 1986), p. 79


Misattributed[edit]

  • There is time for everything.
    • This expression greatly predates any use of it by Edison. George Head used it in A Home Tour Through the Manufacturing Districts of England in the Summer of 1835 (1836), p. 198, in which he states: If time be judiciously employed, there is time for everything.
    • There is also an entry in the Bible (Ecclesiastes 3:1) that says There is [a] time for everything, however this varies a lot between the different translations
  • I am much less interested in what is called God's word than in God's deeds. All bibles are man-made.
    • John Burroughs, in "Religious Contrasts : Letters of Pantheist and a Churchman", in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 128, No. 4 (October 1921), p. 520
  • There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.
    • Sir Joshua Reynolds. Edison liked the quote and posted it around his factory.
If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. ~ Nikola Tesla

Quotes about Edison[edit]

  • To my simple mind it is not obvious that a successful electrician is an authority on the immortal soul, any more than that a successful military strategist has an ear for music, or an admirable French cook a grasp of the higher mathematics.
    • G. K. Chesterton, on the interview with Edison "Do We Live Again?" in which he stated "My mind is incapable of conceiving such a thing as a soul."
  • He felt there was a central processing core of life that went on and on. That was his conclusion. We talked of it many times together . . . Call it religion or what you like, Mr. Edison believed that the universe was alive and that it was responsive to man's deep necessity. It was an intelligent and hopeful religion if there ever was one. Mr. Edison went away expecting light, not darkness.
    • Henry Ford, as quoted in Thomas A. Edison, Benefactor of Mankind : The Romantic Life Story of the World's Greatest Inventor (1931) by Francis Trevelyan Miller, p. 294
  • If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. … I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety percent of his labor.
    • Nikola Tesla, as quoted in The New York Times (19 October 1931)
  • He never was an atheist. Although he subscribed to no orthodox creed, no one who knew him could have doubted his belief in and reverence for a Supreme Intelligence, and his whole life, in which the ideal of honest, loving service to his fellowman was predominant, indicated faithfully those two commandments wherein lies "all the law and all the prophets."

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Albion, Michele Werhwein, The Quotable Edison, University Press of Florida, 2011

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