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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index E > Thomas Edison Quotes

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Thomas Edison
(11 Feb 1847 - 18 Oct 1931)

American inventor who was known internationally as “the Wizard of Menlo Park,” for the huge number of innovations coming from there, the world's first industrial research laboratory.


Science Quotes by Thomas Edison (17 quotes)


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Genius is not inspired. Inspiration is perspiration.
— Thomas Edison
As quoted in 'The Anecdotal Side of Edison', Ladies Home Journal (Apr 1898), 8.
Science quotes on:  |  Genius (90)  |  Inspiration (29)

Genius is two percent inspiration, ninety-eight percent perspiration.
— Thomas Edison
Francis Arthur Jones, The Life of Thomas Alva Edison: Sixty Years of an Inventor's Life (1932), 371.
Science quotes on:  |  Genius (90)  |  Motto (13)

I am afraid of radium and polonium ... I don't want to monkey with them.
— Thomas Edison
Quoted in 'Edison Fears Hidden Perils of the X-Rays', New York World (3 Aug 1903), 1.
Science quotes on:  |  Experiment (361)  |  Fear (52)  |  Monkey (25)  |  Polonium (5)  |  Radium (13)

I have a peculiar theory about radium, and I believe it is the correct one. I believe that there is some mysterious ray pervading the universe that is fluorescing to it. In other words, that all its energy is not self-constructed but that there is a mysterious something in the atmosphere that scientists have not found that is drawing out those infinitesimal atoms and distributing them forcefully and indestructibly.
— Thomas Edison
Quoted in 'Edison Fears Hidden Perils of the X-Rays', New York World (3 Aug 1903), 1.
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I told [Kruesi] I was going to record talking, and then have the machine talk back. He thought it absurd. However, it was finished, the foil was put on; I then shouted “Mary had a little lamb,” etc. I adjusted the reproducer, and the machine reproduced it perfectly.
On first words spoken on a phonograph.
— Thomas Edison
Byron M. Vanderbilt, Thomas Edison, Chemist (1971), 99.
Science quotes on:  |  Invention (168)  |  Phonograph (4)

I was always afraid of things that worked the first time. Long experience proved that there were great drawbacks found generally before they could be got commercial; but here was something there was no doubt of.
[Recalling astonishment when his tin-foil cylinder phonograph first played back his voice recording of “Mary had a little lamb.”]
— Thomas Edison
Quoted in Frank Lewis Dyer, Thomas Commerford Martin, Edison: His Life and Inventions (1910), 208.
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It has been just so in all my inventions. The first step is an intuition—and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise. This thing that gives out and then that—“Bugs”as such little faults and difficulties are called show themselves and months of anxious watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success—or failure—is certainly reached.
[Describing his invention of a storage battery that involved 10,296 experiments. Note Edison's use of the term “Bug” in the engineering research field for a mechanical defect greatly predates the use of the term as applied by Admiral Grace Murray Hopper to a computing defect upon finding a moth in the electronic mainframe.]
— Thomas Edison
Letter to Theodore Puskas (18 Nov 1878). In The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), 226.
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It is very different to make a practical system and to introduce it. A few experiments in the laboratory would prove the practicability of system long before it could be brought into general use. You can take a pipe and put a little coal in it, close it up, heat it and light the gas that comes out of the stem, but that is not introducing gas lighting. I'll bet that if it were discovered to-morrow in New York that gas could be made out of coal it would be at least five years before the system would be in general use.
— Thomas Edison
From the New York Herald (30 Jan 1879), as cited in Leslie Tomory, 'Building the First Gas Network, 1812-1820', Technology and Culture (Jan 2011), 52, No. 1, 75-102.
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Oh these mathematicians make me tired! When you ask them to work out a sum they take a piece of paper, cover it with rows of A's, B's, and X's and Y's ... scatter a mess of flyspecks over them, and then give you an answer that's all wrong!
— Thomas Edison
Matthew Josephson, Edison (1959), 283.
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Problems in human engineering will receive during the coming years the same genius and attention which the nineteenth century gave to the more material forms of engineering.
We have laid good foundations for industrial prosperity, now we want to assure the happiness and growth of the workers through vocational education, vocational guidance, and wisely managed employment departments. A great field for industrial experimentation and statemanship is opening up.
— Thomas Edison
Letter printed in Engineering Magazine (Jan 1917), cover. Quoted in an article by Meyer Bloomfield, 'Relation of Foremen to the Working Force', reproduced in Daniel Bloomfield, Selected Articles on Employment Management (1919), 301.
Science quotes on:  |  Attention (35)  |  Engineering (59)  |  Genius (90)  |  Human (154)

The injurious agent in cigarettes comes principally from the burning paper wrapper. The substance thereby formed is called “acrolein.” It has a violent action on the nerve centers, producing degeneration of the cells of the brain, which is quite rapid among boys. Unlike most narcotics, this degeneration is permanent and uncontrollable. I employ no person who smokes cigarettes.
[From the Laboratory of Thomas A. Edison, Orange, N.J., April 26, 1914.]
— Thomas Edison
Quoted in Henry Ford, The Case Against the Little White Slaver (1914), Vol. 1, 5.
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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.
— Thomas Edison
As stated by Joseph Harriss in The Tallest Tower (2004), 95. The author wrote that Edison was displaying his phonograph at the Paris World's Fair for which the Eiffel Tower was built as a centrepiece. On one of his visits to ascend the tower, Edison presented to Eiffel a phograph and a recording of “The Marseillaise.” On that occasion, Edison signed the guest book with the quoted remark.
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Two per cent. is genius, and ninety-eight per cent. is hard work.
— Thomas Edison
As quoted in 'The Anecdotal Side of Edison', Ladies Home Journal (Apr 1898), 8.
Science quotes on:  |  Genius (90)  |  Percentage (2)  |  Work (188)

Until man duplicates a blade of grass, nature can laugh at his so-called scientific knowledge.
— Thomas Edison
Seen in several books, attributed without citation, for example, in Ann Wimore, The Wheatgrass Book (1985). If you know a primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Natures 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.
— Thomas Edison
Edison in conversation Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone (1931), quoted as a recollection of the author, in James Newton, Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel & Charles Lindbergh (1987), 31. The quote is not cited from a print source. However, in the introduction the author said he “kept a diary in which I noted times and places, key phrases, and vivid impressions.” He also “relied on publications by and about my friends, which jogged my memory.” Webmaster has found no earlier record of this quote, and thus suggests the author may have the gist of what Edison said, but is not quoting the exact words uttered by Edison, although quote marks are used to state what Edison said.
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What we call man is a mechanism made up of … uncrystallized matter … all the colloid matter of his mechanism is concentrated in a countless number of small cells. … [T]hese cells [are] dwelling places, communes, a walled town within which are many citizens. ... [T]hese are the units of life and when they pass out into space man as we think we know him is dead, a mere machine from which the crew have left,so to speak. ... [T]hese units are endowed with great intelligence. They have memories, they must be divided into countless thousands of groups, most are workers, there are directing groups. Some are chemists, they manufacture the most complicated chemicals that are secreted by the glands.
— Thomas Edison
Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison (1948), 203-44. In Mark Seltzer, Serial Killers (1998), 215-6.
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X-rays ... I am afraid of them. I stopped experimenting with them two years ago, when I came near to losing my eyesight and Dally, my assistant practically lost the use of both of his arms.
— Thomas Edison
Quoted in 'Edison Fears Hidden Perils of the X-Rays', New York World (3 Aug 1903), 1.
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Quotes by others about Thomas Edison (11)

The attitude which the man in the street unconsciously adopts towards science is capricious and varied. At one moment he scorns the scientist for a highbrow, at another anathematizes him for blasphemously undermining his religion; but at the mention of a name like Edison he falls into a coma of veneration. When he stops to think, he does recognize, however, that the whole atmosphere of the world in which he lives is tinged by science, as is shown most immediately and strikingly by our modern conveniences and material resources. A little deeper thinking shows him that the influence of science goes much farther and colors the entire mental outlook of modern civilised man on the world about him.
Reflections of a Physicist (1950), 81.
Science quotes on:  |  Civilization (84)  |  Men Of Science (90)  |  Religion (116)

When I examine the conclusion [on experiments with the electric light bulb experiments published in the Herald] which everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize as a conspicuous failure, trumpeted as a wonderful success, I [conclude]... that the writer ... must either be very ignorant, and the victim of deceit, or a conscious accomplice in what is nothing less than a fraud upon the public.
Letter to the Sanitary Engineer (22 Dec 1880). Quoted in Charles Bazermanl, The Languages of Edison's Light (2002), 186.
Science quotes on:  |  Failure (55)  |  Sucess (2)

Mr. Thomas A. Edison recently came into this office, placed a little machine on our desk, turned a crank, and the machine enquired as to our health, asked how we liked the phonograph, informed us that it was well, and bid us a cordial good night. These remarks were not only perfectly audible to ourselves, but to a dozen or more persons gathered around.
Scientific American (22 Dec 1877). Quoted in By John Henry Pepper, The Boy's Playbook of Science, Revised (1881), 251.
Science quotes on:  |  Invention (168)  |  Phonograph (4)

If Thomas Edison had gone to business school, we would all be reading by larger candles.
What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School (1984).
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Mr Edison gave America just what was needed at that moment in history. They say that when people think of me, they think of my assembly line. Mr. Edison, you built an assembly line which brought together the genius of invention, science and industry.
Henry Ford in conversation Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone (1931), quoted as a recollection of the author, in James Newton, Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel & Charles Lindbergh (1987), 31. The quote is not cited from a print source. However, in the introduction the author said he “kept a diary in which I noted times and places, key phrases, and vivid impressions.” He also “relied on publications by and about my friends, which jogged my memory.&rdquo. Webmaster has found no earlier record of this quote, and thus suggests the author may have the gist of what Ford said, but is not quoting the exact words uttered by Ford, although quote marks are used to state Ford's remark.
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Is science visionary? Is it not the hardest-headed intellectual discipline we know? How, then, does science look at this universe? Always as a bundle of possibilities. Habitually the scientist looks at this universe and every area in it as a bundle of possibilities, with no telling what might come if we fulfilled the conditions. Thomas Edison was no dreamer. He was a seer. The possibilities that he brought out were factually there. They were there before he saw them. They would have been there if he never had seen them. Always the possibilities are part of the actualities in any given situation.
In 'Don't Lose Faith in Human Possibilities', collected in Living Under Tension: Sermons On Christianity Today (1941), 15.
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If he [Thomas Edison] had a needle to find in a haystack, he would not stop to reason where it was most likely to be, but would proceed at once with the feverish diligence of a bee, to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. … [J]ust a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety percent of his labor.
As quoted in 'Tesla Says Edison Was an Empiricist', The New York Times (19 Oct 1931), 25. In 1884, Tesla had moved to America to assist Edison in the designing of motors and generators.
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Edison was by far the most successful and, probably, the last exponent of the purely empirical method of investigation. Everything he achieved was the result of persistent trials and experiments often performed at random but always attesting extraordinary vigor and resource. Starting from a few known elements, he would make their combinations and permutations, tabulate them and run through the whole list, completing test after test with incredible rapidity until he obtained a clue. His mind was dominated by one idea, to leave no stone unturned, to exhaust every possibility.
As quoted in 'Tesla Says Edison Was an Empiricist', The New York Times (19 Oct 1931), 25.
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I came from Paris in the Spring of 1884, and was brought in intimate contact with him [Thomas Edison]. We experimented day and night, holidays not excepted. His existence was made up of alternate periods of work and sleep in the laboratory. He had no hobby, cared for no sport or amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene. There can be no doubt that, if he had not married later a woman of exceptional intelligence, who made it the one object of her life to preserve him, he would have died many years ago from consequences of sheer neglect. So great and uncontrollable was his passion for work.
As quoted in 'Tesla Says Edison Was an Empiricist', The New York Times (19 Oct 1931), 25.
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His [Thomas Edison] method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 per cent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor's instinct and practical American sense. In view of this, the truly prodigious amount of his actual accomplishments is little short of a miracle.
As quoted in 'Tesla Says Edison Was an Empiricist', The New York Times (19 Oct 1931), 25. In 1884, Tesla had moved to America to assist Edison in the designing of motors and generators.
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The recurrence of a phenomenon like Edison is not very likely. The profound change of conditions and the ever increasing necessity of theoretical training would seem to make it impossible. He will occupy a unique and exalted position in the history of his native land, which might well be proud of his great genius and undying achievements in the interest of humanity.
As quoted in 'Tesla Says Edison Was an Empiricist', The New York Times (19 Oct 1931), 25. In 1884, Tesla had moved to America to assist Edison in the designing of motors and generators.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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