Thomas Edison Jr. Used His Family Name To Sell 'Miracle' Quack Inventions

Thomas Edison Jr. Used His Family Name To Sell 'Miracle' Quack Inventions

To some, Thomas Edison is the father of modern invention. To others, he's the guy who royally screwed over Nikola Tesla. But to his first-born son, Thomas Edison Jr., he was simply the dad who would rather sleep in his laboratory than be at home with his family. Surprising to probably no one, Edison — who they called the "Wizard" back then — was no Dad of the Year, and his indifference toward his kids as well as his uncontrollable impulse to self-aggrandize and embellish many a story and accomplishment would lead to his eldest following in his footsteps in a most disastrous way.

Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

“And for my next trick, I will make my hairline disappear, just like my dad!"

Thomas Jr.'s mother died when he was still very young, and his dad soon sent him off to boarding school, where he had more correspondence with his stepmom than his father. When he was 17, he quit school and went to work for his dad's mining company, presumably to be closer to his old man, but he hardly ever saw him. The resentment started growing inside the teenage boy, not only because he was the son of a man who couldn't give two shits about him, but also because he was the son of freaking Edison — a position in life that will naturally come with all sorts of expectations from the outside world. Would young Junior follow in the footsteps of his dad and become another great inventor? The answer to that is both yes and no, and you're probably seeing where all of this is going.

To mask his sensitivity and deep insecurities, Thomas Jr. took a cue from his father and turned to bravado and self-aggrandizing, and also alcohol. In New York, he soaked up the attention of journalists and reporters and made them believe that he'd be the next best American inventor, even claiming to have fashioned a light bulb better than that of his dad. The man who simply did not have his father's brains (in science) soon got involved with shady enterprises selling all kinds of snake oil products because having a guy carrying the Edison name be the head of your company sure sounded like a good idea at the time. The Thomas A. Edison, Jr. Chemical Co. sold "Wizard Ink" tablets that not only capitalized on Thomas Senior's "Wizard" moniker but were also nothing more than a mediocre writing tool with questionable testing methods behind it. 

Edison Tinfoil

Edison Tinfoil

Ah yes, the scientific proof of “the government uses it.”

But mediocre inventions were nothing new, not even back then, and few people beside Wizard Edison batted an eye over Junior's "just add some water" ink. It wasn't until the release of the Magno-Electric Vitalizer invention in 1904 that things really started turning bad for the young Edison. Jumping on the "Woah, electromagnetism!" bandwagon, his company claimed to have invented a machine that could cure everything from paralysis, kidney disease, deafness, and menstrual cramps. Heck, they even claimed that the device could literally make a person smarter.

Denver Public Library

Probably because people who fall for miracle cure-all inventions could actually do with more smarts. It’s the perfect grift.

Of course, the magical device and all its associated claims were complete bunk, and a year later, the U.S. Postal Service charged Junior's company with postal fraud. By then, Thomas Sr. was so fed up with his son that he begged him to take a weekly allowance — an amount that would be more than $1000 today, mind you — and ordered him to stop using the Edison name and go live on a mushroom farm, as one does. Not that it seemed to help at all. Junior changed his name and did his father's bidding, but his deep depression and alcohol abuse soon led to a stint in a sanitorium. And even though Thomas Jr. still tried to come up with a great invention that could finally pull him out of his father's shadow, he just couldn't hack it.

Maybe he should've experimented with those mushrooms instead.

Zanandi is on Twitter and, incidentally, wrote a comic about mushrooms for Trailer Park Boys that you can order here. 

Top Image: Denver Public Library


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