Famous Thomas Edison Quotes

oted inventor Thomas Edison at the lightbulb's golden jubilee anniversary banquet in his honor, Orange, New Jersey, October 16, 1929
oted inventor Thomas Edison at the lightbulb's golden jubilee anniversary banquet in his honor, Orange, New Jersey, October 16, 1929. Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor born on February 11, 1847. Considered one of the best known inventors in American history, his ingenuity brought us the modern day light bulb, electrical power systems, the phonograph, motion picture cameras and projectors, and more.

Much of his success and brilliance can be attributed to his unique outlook and personal philosophy, which he extolled throughout his life. Here is a short collection of some of his most notable quotes.  

On Failure

While Edison has always been thought of as an extremely successful inventor, he has always reminded us that failure and dealing with failure in a positive way has always been a reality for all inventors. For example, Edison literally had thousands of failures before he invented a light bulb that succeeded. So to him, how an inventor deals with the inevitable failures that happen along the way can make or break their path to success. 

  • "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
  • "I have not failed. I've just found ten thousand ways that won't work."
  • "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to try just one more time."
  • "Negative results are just what I want. They're just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don't."
  • "Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless."
  • "Failure is really a matter of conceit. People don't work hard because, in their conceit, they imagine they'll succeed without ever making an effort. Most people believe that they'll wake up some day and find themselves rich. Actually, they've got it half right, because eventually they do wake up."
  • "Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure."

On the Value of Hard Work

During his lifetime, Edison patented 1,093 inventions. It takes a strong work ethic to be as prolific as he was and often it mean't putting in 20 hour days. However, Edison enjoyed every minute of his own hard work and once said "I never did a day's work in my life, it was all fun." 

  • "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."
  • "The first requisite for success is the ability to apply your physical and mental energies to one problem incessantly without growing weary."
  • "We often miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work."
  • "If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves."
  • "The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense."
  • "Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing."
  • “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

On Success

Much of who Edison was as a person can be attributed to his relationship with his mother. As a child, Edison was considered slow by his teachers, but his mother was very diligent education and would home-school him when his public school teachers had given up. She taught her son more than just facts and numbers. She taught him how to learn and how to be a critical, independent and creative thinker.

  • "There are no rules here, we're trying to accomplish something."
  • "When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this, you haven't."
  • "What you are will show in what you do."
  • “Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”
  • “I have friends in overalls whose friendship I would not swap for the favor of the kings of the world.”
  • “Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have.”

Advice for Future Generations

Interestingly enough, Edison had a vision for how he foresaw a prosperous future. The quotes in this section are practical, profound and even prophetic.

  • "We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature's inexhaustible sources of energy--sun, wind and tide. I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."
  • "The most necessary task of civilization is to teach people how to think. It should be the primary purpose of our public schools. The mind of a child is naturally active, it develops through exercise. Give a child plenty of exercise, for body and brain. The trouble with our way of educating is that it does not give elasticity to the mind. It casts the brain into a mold. It insists that the child must accept. It does not encourage original thought or reasoning, and it lays more stress on memory than observation."
  • "The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease."
  • "Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages."
  • “I am proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill.”
  • "There will one day spring from the brain of science a machine or force so fearful in its potentialities, so absolutely terrifying, that even man, the fighter, who will dare torture and death in order to inflict torture and death, will be appalled, and so abandon war forever."
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Bellis, Mary. "Famous Thomas Edison Quotes." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/edison-quotes-1991614. Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 26). Famous Thomas Edison Quotes. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/edison-quotes-1991614 Bellis, Mary. "Famous Thomas Edison Quotes." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/edison-quotes-1991614 (accessed March 22, 2023).