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The Commentaries of Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931.)

Barrie Blake-Coleman

"Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."

(Edison's version of Charles Batchelor's motto 'Perseverentia Omnia Vincit or Perseverance Conquers All).

"Genius - genius hell! I failed my way to success."

(Attributed: Hughes.)

"Nothing that's any good works by itself.  You've got to make the damn thing work!"

(Attributed: Rosanoff.)

"Negative results are just what I want - they are just as valuable as positive ones.  I can never find the thing that does work best until I know everything that won't do it!"


"Godlike genius - Godlike nothing!

Sticking to it is the genius."

(Attributed: Hughes.)

"It is easy enough to invent things and set the newspapers talking but the trouble comes when you try to perfect your inventions so as  to give them a commercial value."

(New York Herald. Article in 'Phonograph', 1929).

"Nothing succeeds like success"

(After Dickson)

"Anything that won't sell I don't want to invent - a sale is proof of utility and utility is success."

(Brooklyn Citizen. November 4th 1884).

"Tell them they can hire a

mathematician but they can't hire me."

(On it being reported to Edison that certain academics at Princeton had begrudged him his honorary doctorate, disparaging Edison for 'having no mathematics.'

- after Hughes.)

"It is unreasonable for men today to be afraid - that they cannot find out any more - that all has been found."

(Laboratory Notebook. 1878. 12.20.3).

"When I start an experiment I don't  read the books, I don't want to know what has been done"

Ed. El. Light Co. vs U.S. El. Light Co. N.Y Circuit Court 4 p. 2602. 1884.

"My business is thinking."

(Diary and Sundry Observations.)

The Edison inventive era lasted for nearly 65 years.  Jehl spoke of Edison as "In reality a collective noun and the work of many men".  Edison, a blend of brilliance and the uncouth, accumulated two fortunes and a prolific 1093 patents in his life (many genuinely and solely the result of his own ingenuity) and as an innovator and entrepreneur his life's achievements remain unsurpassed even today.  He is credited with inventing the phonograph, the first commercial electric light, carbon microphone, duplex telegraphy, central power stations, sound on film and numerous other well known devices.  He effectively created General Electric Co, RCA, and others.  'Consolidated  Edison' is still listed on the N.Y stock exchange.  He was also renowned for his penetrating ripostes and observations.

"No one in the World knows where he came from, why he's here, or where he's going. Religion is a hopeless piece of insanity."

(Reported after Edison visited a Budapest monastery

in 1911.)

"We don't know one millionth of one per cent of anything."

(Interview 1929)

"The English are not an inventive

people, they don't eat enough (apple) pie."

(Golden Book April 1931.)

"Reason, Justice and Equity never had weight enough on the face of the Earth to govern the counsels of man."

(Golden Book, April 1931.)

"There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labour of thinking."

(Sign on Laboratory Walls- 1878.)

"My mind is incapable of conceiving such a thing as soul, I may be in error, and man may have a soul, but I simply don't believe it"

(Golden Book.)

"I am long on ideas but short on time, I expect to live to be only one hundred."

(Golden Book.)

"There is no substitute for hard work."

(Golden Book.)

"To my mind the old masters are not art, their value lies in their scarcity."

(Golden Book.)

"I may not know what does work but I know a thousand things that won't."

(On being challenged that his trial and error method had failed yet again - a possible miss-quote adfter Rosanoff).

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Thomas Edison

"Everybody steals in commerce and industry. I’ve stolen a lot myself. But I knew how to steal. They don’t know how to steal—that’s all that’s the matter with them”


Cited by Rosanoff

"Many of life's failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up."

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