© 2019

Thomas Edison: Success and Innovation through Failure


Part of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 52)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-vii
  2. Ian Wills
    Pages 1-8
  3. Edison and Failure

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 9-9
    2. Ian Wills
      Pages 49-59
    3. Ian Wills
      Pages 61-79
    4. Ian Wills
      Pages 81-96
    5. Ian Wills
      Pages 97-102
  4. Edison, Science and Invention

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 103-103
    2. Ian Wills
      Pages 105-140
    3. Ian Wills
      Pages 141-168
  5. Edison’s World

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 169-169
    2. Ian Wills
      Pages 171-201
    3. Ian Wills
      Pages 203-222
  6. Reversing Edison

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 223-223
    2. Ian Wills
      Pages 225-242
    3. Ian Wills
      Pages 243-247
  7. Back Matter
    Pages 249-257

About this book


This book develops a systematic approach to the role of failure in innovation, using the laboratory notebooks of America's most successful inventor, Thomas Edison. It argues that Edison's active pursuit of failure and innovative uses of failure as a tool were crucial to his success. From this the author argues that not only should we expect innovations to fail but that there are good reasons to want them to fail. Using Edison's laboratory notebooks, written as he worked and before he knew the outcome we see the many false starts, wrong directions and failures that he worked through on his way to producing revolutionary inventions. While Edison's strengths in exploiting failure made him the icon of American inventors, they could also be liabilities when he moved from one field to another. Not only is this book of value to readers with an interest in the history of technology and American invention, its insights are important to those who seek to innovate and to those who employ and finance them.


Thomas Edison's life Edison and the telephone carbon telephone the carbon microphone Edison and failure engineering and philosophy history of science history of technology Edison and innovation the life of Thomas Edison

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.School of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

About the authors

Ian turned to the history and philosophy of science after a career in engineering. His PhD dissertation focused on the history and philosophy of technology using Thomas Edison’s laboratory notebooks to understand the processes by which novel artefacts are created.

Subsequent work included industrial heritage in Australia; the science of F W Taylor's Scientific Management; and the Great Strike of 1917.  His current interests include Australia's failed attempt to build nuclear weapons; the history of manufacturing in Australia; and manufacturing’s interaction with Australian history more broadly.

Bibliographic information