Thomas Edison had always had ear problems, but at 15 while trying to jump on a moving train, a conductor grabbed Edison’s ears to help pull him up. Edison said he felt something snap inside his head, and soon he began to lose much of his hearing. While surgery could have cured his hearing problem, Edison refused. He is quoted as saying that his deafness helped him concentrate and encouraged him to read more. He was one of the first people to use the Detroit Free Library. He read all kinds of books, but his favorites were those relating to science and inventions.
Edison created what became known as an invention factory, where he and his workers invented, built, and shipped products. He often required everyone working for him to stay night and day until an invention was completed.
Edison spent all his time thinking about his work until he became distracted by one of his workers, the 15-year old Mary Stilwell (1855-1884). Mary was very shy and since Edison was basically deaf they had rarely spoken to each other. Then one day he asked her what she thought of him and if she would marry him. During their courtship, the couple had little to no time alone. Usually they were under the watchful eye of Mary’s parents. Edison is said to have taught Mary Morse code so he could tap secret messages into the palm of her hand. In a short time Edison asked Mary’s father for permission to marry her. They were married on Christmas Day of 1871. About an hour after the ceremony, Edison remembered something he needed to do at his factory and rushed off. He says he returned by dinner time, but others say he got so involved in his work that he had to be reminded to go home. Edison would at times get so involved in his work that he did not go home for several days. This behavior continued throughout the marriage.
Edison’s work even influenced the nicknames of his children. His daughter Marion, born in 1873, was nicknamed “Dot” and his son Thomas Jr., born in 1876, was nicknamed “Dash,” both after the dots and dashes used in Morse code. William Leslie, born in 1878, did not have a nickname.