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Thomas Edison (1847-1931) was America's most famous inventor and at one time, surely the most famous American in the world. Singly or jointly, Edison holds 1,093 patents and was responsible for introducing the phonograph, early motion picture cameras and projectors, the first commercial electric power system, and—most famously—the electric light bulb to American life. When the eminent inventor died in 1931, electric lights across the nation were dimmed for a moment to mark his passing.

Dubbed the "Wizard of Menlo Park" (New Jersey) in reference to the research laboratory he established there in 1876, Edison's career as an inventor stretched from lone tinkerer to head of an industrial laboratory and major corporation (Edison General Electric, later GE). His story largely mirrors the development of nineteenth-century innovation as a business. After his first patented invention, an electric vote counting system, failed to attract interest, he vowed never again to invent something without first finding a market for it.

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