Economic Spotter: Inventors and Entrepreneurs in the Industrial Age


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lightbulbYou are an economic spotter! An economic spotter is able to spot economics concepts at work in historical settings. This lesson's setting is Menlo Park, New Jersey, where inventions, entrepreneurship, and industry will be combined in an electrical burst that will change the entire world! Here, let me light the way...


You will be given a list of character traits and a list of quotations from Thomas Edison. As you read the quotations, you will check off which character traits you think he has.

Then you will focus on your own character traits; after comparing your traits to Edison's, you will write a paragraph on why you would make a good entrepreneur or why you would not.


It would surprise most children to know that one of the country's most famous inventors was called "dull" by his elementary school teachers. Maybe the teachers needed to shine a different kind of light on Thomas Edison to see his brightness!

EdisonPrint out the worksheet "Thomas Alva Edison an Entrepreneur or Inventor?". Use the worksheet to record your observations as to whether Thomas Edison was an entrepreneur, inventor or both as you continue the lesson.

Go to the time machine at the U.S. Mint website to read the story about Thomas Edison and the last part of his journey to develop an electric light bulb. (This link requires the use of Internet Explorer, if you are not using Internet Explorer use this activity.) You will be in the "Industry and Expansion" section of the time machine. Be sure and take the "Test of Time" when you finish the site!

An invention is a new product. Thomas Edison was a great inventor. He patented more than 1,000 inventions. He received more patents than any other one person in the history of the United States. A patent is a document that says no one else may make, use, or sell a given product except the inventor. Sometimes inventors sell their patents.

Now, click on  the following link for a time line of Edison's life.

Edison realized that the use of electric light bulbs would require a system of delivering electricity to places where people wanted electric light bulbs, like houses, stores, factories, etc. So Edison developed a system for generating electricity and sending it to other places.

Innovation is the introduction of an invention into a use that has economic value. Although the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, Bell's telephone only operated over distances of about 3 miles. Edison took that invention, improved it and discovered a way to transmit speech across great distances. What a great innovation!

Do you think Edison saw that his electric light bulb had economic value? You bet he did! He had been working over a year on this invention. He spent all that time, used up all that energy, and sacrificed all that it cost so that he could finally invent a light bulb that would stay lit for a long period of time. But he didn't stop there. He planned how to sell it to people, to business owners, to whole cities. He was an entrepreneur. He was willing to take the risk to put it on the market. lightswitch

An entrepreneur is someone who is willing to take risks in order to develop new products and start new businesses. Entrepreneurs recognize opportunities, enjoy being their own boss, and accept challenges. You can only imagine how much time, money, and energy Thomas Edison spent in developing his system for getting the electric light bulb to light whole cities. He had to develop an underground power station that could supply power to 2,000 homes. Why would he spend so much time, money, and energy to do that?

Eventually Edison's Electric Lighting Company led to the development of utility companies we have today. His invention of the phonograph led to the music recording business. Edison's invention of a camera that recorded pictures in motion led to the motion pictures we view today when we go to the movies. Edison made a lot of money from the profits of the industries that his inventions started.

Not all of Edison's inventions made money. Read about some of his failures like a motion picture with sound! Eventually someone took his idea, improved on it, marketed it, and now we go to movies that have sound.


Thomas Edison was a great inventor and a great entrepreneur. You don't have to be an inventor to be an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur takes the risk to bring a product to market with the hope of making a profit. Entrepreneurs have certain characteristics that make them willing to take the risks.


Print off lists of character traits to complete the following activity.

Read the quotes from Thomas Edison, as you read the quotes, check off what character traits you think he has.

Then mark your own character traits; after comparing your traits to Edison's, write a paragraph on whether you think you would make a good entrepreneur or not.