Twenty Hours a Day
The Wizzard of Menlo Park, as he was dubbed, reports on his routines in an interview given to Orison Swett for How They Succeed. He was 52 years old at that time:
O.S.: “Do you have regular hours, Mr. Edison?” I asked.
T.E.: “Oh,” he said, “I do not work hard now. I come to the laboratory about eight o’clock every day and go home to tea at six, and then I study or work on some problem until eleven, which is my hour for bed.”
O.S.: “Fourteen of fifteen hours a day can scarcely be called loafing,” I suggested.
T.E.: “Well,” he replied, “for fifteen years I have worked on an average of twenty hours a day.”
O.S.: When he was forty-seven years old, he estimated his true age at eighty-two, since working only eight hours a day would have taken till that time. Mr. Edison has sometimes worked sixty consecutive hours upon one problem. Then after a long sleep, he was perfectly refreshed and ready for another.
His formal education was minimal, but he kept a large library:
“He did not take to novels or wild Western adventures, but read works on mechanics, chemistry, and electricity; and he mastered them too. But in addition to his reading, which he could only indulge in at odd hours, he carefully cultivated his wonderful powers of observation, till at length, when he was not actually asleep, it may be said he was learning all the time.”
Edison was a Master of Laser-Focus
O.S.: “You lay down rather severe rules for one who wishes to succeed in life,” I ventured, “working eighteen hours a day.”
T.E.: “Not at all,” he said. “You do something all day long, don’t you? Everyone does. If you get up at seven o’clock and go to bed at eleven, you have put in sixteen good hours, and it is certain with most men, that they have been doing something all the time. They have been either walking, or reading, or writing, or thinking. The only trouble is that they do it about a great many things and I do it about one. If they took the time in question and applied it inane direction, to one object, they would succeed. Success is sure to follow such application. The trouble lies in the fact that people do not have an object-one thing to which they stick, letting all else go. Success is the product of the severest kind of mental and physical application.”
Only 600 Hundred Inventions by age 52
O.S.: “How many inventions have you patented?”
T.E.: “Only six hundred,” he answered, “but I have made application for some three hundred more.”
O.S.: “And do you expect to retire soon, after all this?
T.E.: “I hope not,” he said, almost pathetically. “I hope I will be able to work right on to the close. I shouldn’t care to loaf.”
Thomas Edison kept a diary while on vacation during the summer of 1885. Edison was 38 at the time and the vacation was his first sustained break from work in 26 years. The diary is almost completely unscientific, much of it whimsical or describing the mundane in purposely verbose language. At this time in his life he is a widower with three children, and looking for a wife. He has already invented the phonograph (though not yet developed it commercially) and his light and power distribution system.. He provides details on sleep, food, daily walks and recreational exercise as well as some of his most inner thoughts.
To read the entries in an understandable format, go here.
Edison had some very peculiar sleeping habits.
In the image above, taken in 1921, he is depicted napping at the Ford Edison Camp. President Warren Harding and Harvey Firestone in the background. Credits Brian Bennett
For more images on his sleeping habits, including the bed in his office, see a lengthy piece by Maria Popova