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Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)

The Edison Electric Pen

When your writing needs punch!
It may resemble a fancy eggbeater, but this is one of the electric pens that Thomas Edison made at his Menlo Park, NJ, factory in the 1870s. The pen contained no ink. Powered by two wet cell batteries, it acted more like a sewing machine than a writing implement, punching holes in a piece of paper to make a stencil. Its tiny motor, the first commercially marketed electric motor, drove a stylus up and down at 8,000 punctures per minute. To "write," the user simply guided the pen over the paper, which was then set in a frame and inked by a roller. The ink was squeezed through the perforated paper, leaving a copy of the document on the blank sheet underneath. A year after licensing the electric pen, Edison produced the phonograph and became world famous. Two years later, he gave the world light. By 1881, the same Menlo Park factory that had churned out electric pens had been retooled and was making hundreds of electric light bulbs per day.

Patented in 1876, approximately 60,000 pens sold.
Cost, $30-$35 for pen, press, inking roller, ink bottle, and battery
Overall length, 5-3/4"
Thomas Alva Edison, born February 11, 1847, Milan, OH; died October 18, 1931, West Orange, NJ
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Learn more!
· "A Wizard's Scribe" by Bruce Watson, "Smithsonian" magazine, August 1998
· Document describing Method of Operation of the Edison Electrical Pen & Duplicating Press, undated
· Excerpt from Edison's Specification for Letters Patent No. 180,857, dated August 8, 1876; application filed March 13, 1876
· Thomas Alva Edison, 1847-1931: Celebrating Thomas Alva Edison's Birthday at the Lemelson Center

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