Scientific and technological progress is one of the most important and far reaching of humanity’s effort streams throughout history. One of the hallmarks of any great society is what new or improved knowledge of the world and how it works that the society can contribute. A strong and vibrant culture celebrates the spirit of invention and innovation. Closely allied with this concept is the spirit of entrepreneurship, considered one of the greatest qualities of the American culture.
Americans laud the success of the inventor and salesman alike; while the greatest self-promoters are more fully remembered, the greatest minds are never truly forgotten. It is in the American society that the ideals of invention and innovation exist interdependently with the ideals of self-reliance and salesmanship in a unique balance.
Thomas Edison is widely regarded as one of the most influential inventors and innovators of the Twentieth Century. Edison’s efforts ushered in a new era of technology; a world in which electricity would be harnessed and made to bow before man’s will. Walter Lippman wrote, “It is impossible to measure the importance of Edison by adding up the specific inventions with which his name is associated” (qtd. in Baldwin 409). Edison’s decades long career was a synergistic melding of his success as an inventor and his prowess as a promoter and businessman. He exemplified the ideals of intelligence married to hard work and perseverance. He forever changed the landscape of American invention and the limits of technological change (Baldwin 409).
Edison’s vision of invention as a process shaped much of his business approach. For Edison it was never enough to simply develop and perfect a concept or idea; he constantly drove himself and his ‘boys’ to create working prototypes. Rather than concern himself with producing patents for their own sake, he strove to ensure that he could present prospective investors with tangible proof that his ideas worked and could be produced. In this manner, he established himself as the archetypal genius tinkerer rather than an educated engineer or knowledgeable scientist. Edison did not value ideas for their own sake, as ideas for inventions can be easy enough to acquire; he knew that the real work came from “…the long laborious trouble of working them out and producing apparatus that is commercial” (Millard 43).
This process of working things out led Edison to establish one of the earliest successful industrial research centers in America at his West Orange laboratory in New Jersey. It was here that Edison and company pioneered many of the technologies associated with his name. Inventions such as the motion picture camera and the phonograph were developed here; from their humble technological beginnings, these devices have given rise to the motion picture and musical entertainment industries and are ubiquitous in their modern applications. Edison realized that the key to being a successful inventor is not in...