Genius or Idiot?

The setting is in Port Huron, Michigan in 1854.  A school teacher, G.B. Engle, grew frustrated with one of his students and called a little seven-year old boy “addled”.  For those of you who do not want to consult a dictionary now, this word means mentally ill.  The young boy stormed home and told his mother, a young lady named Nancy, who returned to school the next day with her son in search of an apology. 

For a boy who enjoyed playing outside and exploring the world all day, sitting in a one-room school house was pure torture.  What made matters worse was that Engle and his wife made their students memorize their lessons and repeat them out loud.  When a child forgot part of a lesson, punishment ensued, often a whipping. 

The young boy did not get along with his teacher.  His mind was filled with questions and not with the memorized lessons.  Fear did not motivate him to learn.  The boy also suffered with dyslexia, which was not diagnosed or treated at this time.  So mother and son, marched to the school to get their apology.

“My son is not backward!” declared the Nancy, adding, “and I believe I ought to know. I taught children once myself!” Despite her efforts, neither the teacher nor his wife, would change their opinion of young boy. But the lady was equally strong in her opinion. Finally, she realized what she had to do. 

“All right, the Nancy said, “I am herby taking my son out of your school.” The young boy could hardly believe his ears! “I’ll instruct him at home myself,” he heard her say.

The young boy looked up at his mother, this wonderful woman who believed in him. He promised himself that he would make his mother proud of him.  The boy grew up, by learning at home and with little formal schooling as we commonly think of today.  Much of his education came from R.G. Parker’s School of Natural Philosophy, and the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.

The boy also had developed hearing problems at an early age.  This may have come from a bout with scarlet fever and reoccurring ear infections.  His hearing may have been damaged when his chemical laboratory he had in a boxcar caught fire.  

The boy sold candy, newspapers, and vegetables on the train from Port Huron to Detroit.  When he was not supplementing his income, he was studying qualitative analysis and chemistry.  He began a streak of entrepreneurship when he obtained an exclusive right to sell newspapers and began publishing his own. 

At the age of 19, the boy, now a young man, moved to Louisville, Kentucky to work for Western Union on the Associated Press news wire.  He requested the night shift to give him time for his passions, reading and experimenting.  Eventually, this curiosity cost him his job as one night while working on a lead acid battery, he spilled sulfuric acid on the floor. It ran down to his boss’ desk below.  The next day he was fired. 

He made friends with another telegrapher named Franklin Pope.  Pope allowed the impoverished young man to live in his basement.  It was there that his passion for inventing flourished.  He created several inventions to improve the telegraph, including a stock ticker.  He obtained his first patent with an electric vote recorder in 1869. 

He eventually left the telegraph business and opened up his own laboratory in New Jersey.  Many of his inventions are still those we use today.  His accomplishments total 1,093 US Patents with his name.   He founded 14 different companies. One of them is one of the largest publically traded companies in the world, General Electric.

All this was started because a young mother, Nancy Edison, believed in her youngest son, a boy who suffered from partial deafness and dyslexia, who could not sit still in a school room, and who was labeled with mental problems.  His name was Thomas, Thomas Edison.

Later in life, Edison said, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me: and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”

How would the world have been different if Nancy had labeled her son a failure just as his teacher did?   Do you have anyone in your family or friends who could accomplish great things in life if they only had you to believe in them, and then get them to believe in themselves?