Thomas Edison and His Notebooks - Senstone

Thomas Edison and His Notebooks

1 Apr, 2024

Thomas Edison’s notebooks are legendary for several reasons. For example, there are 3,500 of them and… But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

 

The Man Who Changed the World



Thomas Alva Edison was one of the most prolific and influential inventors in history, credited with many groundbreaking inventions, including but not limited to:

  • incandescent light bulb

  • phonograph (audio recorder & player)

  • kinetoscope (motion picture camera)

  • alkaline battery for electric cars

  • fuel cell technology



Edison founded the Edison Electric Light Company (later General Electric) to commercialize his discoveries and establish a market for electric lighting. Throughout his career, he held over 1,000 patents.



In addition, Edison’s legacy includes the establishment of research laboratories, such as the famous Edison Laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. He remains an iconic figure in the world of entrepreneurship – and one of the most talented people in history.

 

Thomas Edison Loved Taking Notes

 

Thomas Edison was known to be an avid note-taker, often carrying pocket notebooks (yes, multiple) to write down ideas. In the 1970s it took a team of historians a full year just to find all of his New Jersey notes, and they had to go “from building to building”.



The total volume of Thomas Edison’s notes?



3,500 notebooks, around 285 pages each.



5 million words. Thousands of sketches.



Thomas Edison’s notebooks were filled with a variety of content, including diagrams, calculations, lists, sketches, observations, and even (bad) attempts at poetry. He would often refer back to these notebooks when working on new projects or troubleshooting existing ones. (A productivity technique that Richard Branson swears by.)



thomas-edison-notebooks-page
A spread from one of the Edison’s notebooks



The collection is currently housed in the archives of the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey.



What We Can Learn From Thomas Edison’s Notebooks



Although Thomas Edison was a messy writer, there was a method to his madness. Having this much material to work with, we can see pattern in the way he created and organized his notes, and we can learn from his mistakes.



#1. Write down everything.

Thomas Edison knew the importance of notes. He would write down everything, from to-do lists to ideas to observations about the world around him. And when words did not cut it, he would doodle and sketch.



#2. Always have a backup plan.

Backing up is easy when you have internet access, but Thomas Edison had to rely on copies. Sometimes he would write down an idea three or four times across different notebooks.



#3. Always have a recording device at hand.

Edison would have notebooks lying on benches and tables in the laboratory, grabbing the one that was closer. He would carry a dog-eared notebook in his pocket. These days we can use AI-powered wearables to take notes on the run, but Edison had to make do.



#4. Even the greats struggle to stay organized.

Edison would often lose track of his notes. He made several attempts at indexing his notebooks – to no avail. At the same time, he made his office staff reference the notebooks in lab journals. When that failed, he had researchers keep their own notes in the same fashion.



In conclusion, there is no doubt that Edison’s dedication to note-taking played a crucial role in his success. It helped him through patent struggles. It fueled his productivity. By meticulously recording thoughts and projects, he was able to organize his ideas, track his experiments, and make new discoveries. His notebooks serve as valuable resources for research – and a good example for entrepreneurs.

 

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