With 1,093 patents to his name, Thomas Edison remains the most prolific inventor in American history.
His best-known invention was the first commercially viable incandescent light bulb. But much of what afforded Edison's light bulb its success was his brilliance in creating equally viable electrical systems - the widespread systems on which electricity is distributed throughout our communities.
Like his good friend Henry Ford, Edison had an uncanny knack for recognizing a consumer need, then creating a product to satisfy that need. It was a gift that revealed itself in his youth. Years later, he would take the same approach when founded his state-of-the-art research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey.
Often called an "invention factory," the Menlo Park laboratory was an audacious undertaking. Edison's goal was to create at least one small invention every week and a large, society-changing one every six months.
It was a point of view he developed early in his career. Edison's very first patent was for a vote recording machine. It was a clever device that would radically reduce the time it took to tabulate votes. More important, it was accurate and promised to eliminate the possibility of vote fraud.
But as Edison soon learned, 19th century politicians weren't enthusiastic about a machine that would ensure honest ballot-counting. As a result, there was absolutely no market for his brilliant invention.
"So, he learned a very early lesson from…