Wednesday, May 09, 2007 05/09/07-Edison, Fame and Hustling:

In today's excerpt--Thomas Alva Edison (1847- 1931):

"Edison's fame came suddenly, while he was still young. Between the ages of thirty and thirty-five, he became the first hybrid celebrity-inventor, ... one of the most famous people in the world. ...

"When he stood on the threshold of fame, he could not have predicted what would follow--and he did not shy away. He directed assistants to maintain newspaper clippings about him, a practice he would maintain his entire life. The existence of those scrapbooks suggests that Edison gave up an appealing attribute of his young adulthood: his utter indifference to the expectations of others. After 'Edison' became a household name, he would pretend that nothing had changed, that he was as indifferent as ever. But this stance was unconvincing. He did care, at least most of the time. When he tried to burnish this public image with exaggerated claims of progress in his laboratory, for example, he demonstrated a hunger for credit unknown in his earliest tinkering. The mature Edison, post-fame, is most appealing whenever he returned to acting spontaneously, without weighing what action would serve to enhance his public image.

"One occasion when Edison cast off the expectations of others in his middle age was when he met Henry Stanley, of 'Dr. Livingston, I presume' fame, and Stanley's wife, who had come to visit him at his laboratory. Edison provided a demonstration of the phonograph, which Stanley had never heard before. Stanley asked, in a low voice and slow cadence, 'Mr. Edison, if it were possible for you to hear the voice of any man whose name is known in the history of the world, whose voice would you prefer to hear?'

" 'Napoleon's,' replied Edison without hesitation.

" 'No, no,' Stanley said piously, 'I should like to hear the voice of our Saviour.'

" 'Well,' explained Edison, 'you know, I like a hustler.' "

Randall Stross, The Wizard of Menlo Park, Crown, 2007, p. 10.


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