A “Lightbulb” Moment
"Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have." — Thomas Edison
Considered one of the most prolific inventors in history, Thomas Edison held over a thousand U.S. patents in his name (click here for a full list of all 1,093 patents). Incredibly, when awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1928, Edison’s work was valued at nearly $16 billion.
So how could the man who invented the phonograph, incandescent light bulb, motion picture camera, the stock ticker and the alkaline battery amongst others, possibly have died a comparatively poor man? When he died in 1931, his estate was worth about $12 million, but most of this was buildings and equipment in his labs and factories.
In the January 1932 issue of Modern Mechanix, Remsen Crawford, biographer and personal friend, reported that Edison had revealed that his many patents never made a fortune for him, rather his income was primarily derived from his activities as manufacturer. Edison went on to explain that U.S. government patent protection expires after 17 years, but in the case of such great inventions, someone always steps forward to challenge the real inventor’s right to his patent. Edison spent a lot of money in court trying to establish his claims to his inventions. In fact, Edison indicated that he spent more defending his patents in court than he had ever derived from them on a royalty basis.
As so eloquently summed up by his good friend Henry Ford: "He was not a money-maker…his own portion was a mere nothing compared with the wealth he created for the world."
David M. Smith