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Thomas Edison: Celebrating 75 years since his death

To show how people’s hard work and talent can help everyone in the whole world to have a better life.

by Jude Scrutton

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To show how people’s hard work and talent can help everyone in the whole world to have a better life.

Preparation and materials

  • Picture of inventions that shaped our lives (see 2 below).
  • Pictures of Thomas Edison’s inventions.


  1. Ask pupils if they have heard of Thomas Edison. Take pupils’ ideas on who he might be. Then tell the students that he was a very important inventor from the last century.
  2. Show pictures of very important inventions (the wheel, sliced bread, tin can, aeroplane, motor engine, bricks and mortar, light bulb, gramophone or CD player, etc.). Discuss how these inventions have helped society as a whole. Ask the students what life would be like without them.

  3. Ask the students to think about the thought-process that an inventor must go through. Lead the students to the agreement that an inventor must have some sort of inspiration in order to think of something that will improve people’s lives; then a process of study to find out what has been learnt by others before; then an investigation to see if his or her idea can be done.

  4. Tell the assembly that Thomas Edison invented thousands of things, two of which were shown in the previous pictures. Tell the students that this evening, when the sun goes down, we will not be reaching for candles and gas lanterns because of Edison. When we listen to our favourite CD – this is thanks to Edison. This year is the 75th anniversary of his death.

  5. As a young lad, Thomas Edison wondered what would happen if he set fire to his father’s barn. His curiosity got the better of him and he did set fire to it. This was one of his earliest experiments, and it had two results: the first was a burnt-down barn; the second was a good spanking from his father. Despite Edison’s curious mind and a will to push the limits of what is known, he was sent home from school after three months. His teacher at the time was too frustrated with all of his questions! Home schooled, his mum nurtured his natural desire to learn new things.

  6. Thirty years later, the young fire-starter was the best-known scientist on earth. He was praised everywhere and called a wizard and a genius for his inventions. Far from basking in this limelight, he dismissed the notion of genius by saying:

    ‘Genius is 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration.’

    Ask the students what he meant by this. Talk about the hard work involved in inventing new things.

  7. Edison’s best invention started with his declaring that he was going to produce electric lighting. Other inventors and scientist scoffed and said it was not possible, that it went against all known rules of physics. Edison paid no attention and plunged into the problem with real energy and commitment. He knew that he could create light by passing an electric current through a very small strip of metal. The metal would soon heat up and emit a glow.

    Eagerly Edison tried many materials, including human hair, but most simply burned out too quickly. But he believed that there must be a substance that would work. He discovered that thin strips of bamboo warmed by electricity in a glass bulb gave enough light to make electric lighting possible. This was not the end. To realize his dream of houses using electric light, he had to build the infrastructure (cables, electric meters) that we use now.

  8. During his life Edison developed and patented many inventions. His inventions and hard work made everyone’s lives easier and happier. So, when you switch on your light and CD player tonight, remember his hard work and dedication. More importantly, let his belief in genius being 99 per cent perspiration be inspiration for us to try harder to achieve our goals: to not be put off by other people’s scoffing nor by not succeeding at first.

Time for reflection

Edison was not an easy person, either at school, or in his personal life. But under the spiky personality lay real genius. He was teased and mocked throughout his life.

Think about how hard Edison’s life was: would we be compassionate to a difficult genius if he or she was our friend?

Faith and belief in one’s own principles is very important, but it is also important that we listen to the views of other people that differ from our own, and do not react negatively to them but try to respond positively.


Lord, help us to have the strength and perseverance to reach our goals.

Let us remember the people who make our lives what they are today.



‘The wise may bring their learning’ (Come and Praise, 64)

Publication date: August 2010   (Vol.12 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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