EDISON, NJ – PBS will air a special on Thomas Edison, Edison Township’s namesake, chronicling his life and inventions in the first of series on the American Experience.

Edison explores the complex alchemy that accounts for the enduring celebrity of America’s most famous inventor, offering new perspectives on the man and his milieu, and illuminating not only the true nature of invention, but its role in turn-of-the-century America’s rush into the future. Edison premieres on American Experience Tuesday, January 27, 2015, 9 to 11 p.m. on PBS.

“Thomas Edison was born into a world that wasn’t industrialized,” says inventor and entrepreneur Nathan Myhrvold. “Indoor lighting was candles or kerosene lamp. We couldn’t record voices or sounds or motion. What Edison left by the end of his life was a world that was well on its way to becoming the world we know today.”

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Born in 1847, Edison had a precocious curiosity and a natural scientific acuity. By fifteen, he was working as a telegraph operator, and at twenty-two, he moved to New York to pursue a career as an inventor, a business lucrative enough to finance his dream laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

Born on the threshold of America’s burgeoning industrial empire, Edison’s curiosity led him to its cutting edge––and to the fascination with telegraphy that set him on his course through life. With just three months of formal schooling, he took on one seemingly impossible technical challenge after another, and through intuition, persistence, and a unique team approach to innovation, invariably solved it, catapulting himself to worldwide fame by the age of thirty-one.

Driven and intensely competitive, Edison was often neglectful in his private life and could be ruthless in business. His first wife died of a morphine overdose at the age of twenty-nine; his closest friendship ended with a bitter and irrevocable rupture. Later, challenged by competition in the industry he’d founded, Edison launched an ugly propaganda campaign against his rivals, and used his credibility as an electrical expert to help ensure that high-voltage electrocution became a form of capital punishment.

The phonograph made Edison an overnight sensation, but he was restless, an inveterate tinkerer, and soon on to the next big thing: devising a way to bring electric light indoors. Although arc lighting for outdoor spaces was already available, no one had been able to create a long-lasting light bulb and the electrical power system necessary to make it viable.

Thomas Alva Edison was one of the most famous men in the world. The holder of more patents than any other inventor in history, Edison had amassed a fortune and achieved glory as the genius behind such revolutionary inventions as sound recording, motion pictures, and electric light.

When Edison died on October 18, 1931, he lay in state for two days in the library of his West Orange complex, as thousands lined up to pay their final respects. On the third night, at the request of President Herbert Hoover, radio listeners across the country switched off their lights as a reminder of what life would have been like without Edison.

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