What Are Thomas Edison's Failed Experiments?

by Robert Paxton
Unlike the phonograph, not all of Edison's inventions were successful.

Unlike the phonograph, not all of Edison's inventions were successful.

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Thomas Edison was a famous inventor of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Among the 1,093 patents he held upon his death are descriptions of the lightbulb and the phonograph. However, his apparent genius blinds some people to his many failures. This great inventor failed many times. In fact, some of his greatest inventions were preceded by multiple failures to create an effective device. Edison considered failure a necessary step on the road to success.

The Electric Lightbulb

Most people think of the lightbulb as Edison's great success. It was a success, but he claimed to have failed thousands of times before getting it right. During the years 1878 to 1880, Edison and associates formulated 3,000 theories aimed at creating an efficient electric light before getting it right. This success story, like others in Edison's life, is founded on failure.

Building With Cement

Thomas Edison came up with a theory that everything could be built with cement. He founded the Portland Cement Company with the goal of constructing a variety of things from cement. He wanted to build cabinets, pianos and homes from this material. At that time, cement was very expensive. Because of the costliness, the idea never took hold with the public.


Another failed experiment of Edison's was the kinetophone. Moving pictures had been invented by 1895, but there was no sound available at showings. Edison thought to solve this problem by showing film images inside a cabinet. The viewer placed his head in the cabinet and listened to sound coming from two ear tubes. The idea never interested the public or businesses, and Edison abandoned the idea of sound in motion pictures in 1915.

Iron-Ore Extractor

Edison sought to improve iron-ore extraction efficiency so that low-grade, unusable ores could be used in steel mills. He sold his stock in General Electric to fund this venture. After working on the idea through the 1880s and 1890s, he ended the attempt to make an iron-ore extractor in frustration. He lost all the money he had invested in the effort.

About the Author

Robert Paxton has been writing professionally since 2002 when he published his first novel. He has also published short stories and poems and writes ad copy for various websites. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 1995 with a bachelor's degree in creative writing. Paxton is a trained Montessori instructor who has taught at both the elementary and the secondary levels.

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