"Tommy Boy: The Bright Sheep of the Family" - An unMetered Story
Ever heard of Tommy Boy? You probably have, but we're not talking about the movie with Chris Farley. Take a listen to how Tommy Boy changed the electricity industry back in the '60s and '70s.
Let me tell you about Tommy Boy. Tommy Boy was born in Ohio and moved to Michigan in the ‘60s, an area of the country we often associate with manufacturing and industry leaders in a time of experimentation and exploration. Now when I mentioned Tommy Boy, you might automatically visualize Chris Farley and David Spade driving the country in a dilapidated and ridiculous car selling brake pads in the most unorthodox manner. Tommy Boy was unorthodox, but he was far from comical in his approach to changing the world.
Tommy Boy was homeschooled by his mother at the age of 11 because after a few, short weeks at school his teacher deemed him “too difficult” because of his hyperactivity and proclivity to getting distracted. This shouldn't come as a surprise that a prepubescent child had an issue with sitting still and not exploring the world around him
This explorative interest in the world around him led him to sell papers on the local railroad and to create his own paper about local events at the age of 12. One day while doing a self-designed chemical experiment, Tommy Boy set his lab on fire resulting in him getting a beating from the train conductor because his lab happened to be in the railroad’s baggage car. Tommy Boy would say this beating is when his ears were damaged and began to lose hearing, despite his medical history of Scarlett Fever and ear infections as a young boy.
Either way, Tommy Boy was banished from riding the train while selling his paper and was forced to sell papers at the railroad station. It was here a grateful man taught him how to operate the Code system after Tommy Boy had saved the man’s child from being run over by a train. At the age of 15, Tommy Boy left home and toured the Midwest working as a substitute Code operator for men gone away to war. While he was an operator by career, he self-taught himself on a variety of subjects, and during his spare time experimented and tested his academic theories. His loss of hearing forced him to leave the business seven years later when the Code began requiring the use of a sounding key, which left Tommy Boy at a disadvantage and unemployed.
Upon returning home to find his father unemployed and his mother fighting mental illness, Tommy Boy decided to move to Boston, the epicenter of science and culture in America in at the time, to send money back to his destitute family in Michigan. He began working for the Western Union Company, and it was here that he developed his first patent, an electronic voting recorder. It was a device to tally votes in legislature quickly, but lawmakers had no interest in it.
A year later at the age of 22, Tommy Boy decided to move to pursue his dream of being an inventor. It was in New York City that he developed his first invention, a Universal Stock Printer, which was sold for $40,000. Tommy Boy quit his day job and devoted his full attention to inventing.
In the early ‘70s, Tommy Boy had earned a reputation for being one of the premier inventors in America. He had established a small laboratory and manufacturing facility in New Jersey and worked as a freelancer for many of the known titans of industry. While he took several contracts for Western Union Telegraph, he took just as many from their competitors. One of those inventions resulted in the first technology to record and replay sound.
Tommy Boy’s most notable invention happened after he bought patents from Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans in the late ‘70s. The patents he bought allowed him to improve upon their concepts and invent the first incandescent light bulb in 1879.
And that’s the unMetered Story about Tommy Boy, better known as Thomas Edison, the famous American inventor and business leader. Edison went on to create the many devices that used electricity besides the lightbulb before he died in 1931.
5 years later in 1936, Middle Tennessee Electric was founded to run electricity to rural Tennesseans. This service allowed farmers to use Edison’s light bulb in their homes, barns, and shops to improve their quality of life and local communities.