One of the original inventor/entrepreneurs was Thomas Edison, who developed electric light, the phonograph and the first motion picture camera. His life and accomplishments are captured in vivid detail in The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. Author Randall E. Stross, a business professor and columnist for The New York Times, writes a lively narrative illustrating how Edison used his talent as an inventor to become a successful businessman.
Raised in a household of modest means, Edison displayed an entrepreneurial bent early, when at age 12, he took a job as a newsboy on a train. He soon was selling fresh produce to hungry passengers, and by age 15, publishing a newspaper. Young Edison also worked as a telegraph operator and held a steady job with Western Union in his late teens. But Edison possessed an inquisitive mind and tinkered in his chemistry lab in his spare time. By age 21, he had created inventions to improve telegraph technology, stock price tickers and fire alarms. He also invented a vote recorder he planned to sell to federal and state legislatures. But when it was a financial failure, Stross writes that Edison learned a valuable lesson: that invention should not be pursued as an exercise in technical cleverness, but should be shaped by commercial needs. Thus, the genesis of the inventor/entrepreneur, which Edison represented in the fullest, as he not only knew how to invent widely popular consumer products (ultimately holding 1,093 patents), but also was a gifted self-promoter. Edison . . . became the first hybrid celebrity-inventor, Stross writes. He became one of the most famous people in the world, and once fame arrived . . . he sought to use it for his own ends.