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What Would Thomas Edison Do? At GE, It's a Guiding Business Question

At General Electric, a founder's business chops are as important a legacy as his technological wizardry.

It’s easy to forget the impact Thomas Edison had on the way we think about the technology business—this is the guy who took electricity commercial, after all.

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Feast Your Eyes: Thomas Edison's Edicraft Toaster Before the George Foreman Grill Came Thomas Edison's Edicraft Toaster

If kitchen gadgets are a sign of economic and technological innovation, what can we learn from Thomas Edison's toasters?



Thomas Alva Edison, who was born 164 years ago today, is immortalized for inventing the carbon-filament light bulb although he may be more of a genius for demonstrating how electricity could be widely produced and distributed. In the early part of the 20th century, electricity revolutionized the home kitchen—not just with light, but with electric refrigerators, percolators, toasters, hot plates, waffle irons, stoves, and ranges.

According to Witold Rybczynski's Home: A Short History of the Idea, 60 percent of households in the United States in 1927 had electricity. This is around the time Edison's company introduced a line of luxury appliances, including the Edicraft Automatic Toasters. The novelty was that, rather than springing toasted bread out of slots and into the air, the heating coils fell away from the toasted bread (kept in a cage in the center) when finished. Keep in mind this was close to the onset of the Depression and a slew of other, less expensive toasters were being invented. Nobody was impressed and soon Edison went on to other things, like trying to squeeze synthetic rubber from goldenrod plants.

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California Dims the Incandescent Bulb

Californians are kissing goodbye to the standard 100-watt incandescent light bulb, a tired technology that's barely improved since Edison's time.

As of this past Saturday, January 1, 2011, standard 100-watt incandescent light bulbs are being phased off of California store shelves. Bulbs that were manufactured before January 1 or already on store shelves can still be legally sold and purchased, but no more of the low-tech, energy sucking bulbs can be brought to market in California.

The California Energy Commission is quick to claim that this is not a "ban" on incandescent bulbs, but rather a new energy efficiency standard. In fact, it's the same standard that was passed by Congress and signed into federal law by George W. Bush, which will go into effect on January 1, 2012. As is so often the case, California legislators decided to get ahead of the rest of the nation.

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