Samuel and Nancy Elliott Edison

Samuel and Nancy Elliott Edison
Samuel and Nancy Elliott Edison.

NPS Photo

Samuel Ogden Edison, Junior, was born on August 16, 1804 in Digby, Nova Scotia, Canada. His grandfather John Edeson (which they pronounced Ae-di-son) was a Loyalist during the American Revolution and left New Jersey for Nova Scotia in 1784. Throughout his life Samuel changed work several times, from splitting shingles for roofs to tailoring to keeping a tavern. Sometime after his marriage, Samuel moved the family to Vienna, Ontario, where four of his seven children were born.

Ironically, Samuel Edison was not as loyal to the British crown as his grandfather. In 1837, he joined the Mackenzie Rebellion, a revolt inspired by democratic activist William Mackenzie in the south of Ontario. When the rebellion failed Samuel escaped to the United States, where he lived for the rest of his life. His wife and children later followed him to Milan, Ohio (pronounced MY-lan), where they had three more children including Thomas Alva Edison, their seventh and last child. (The other children were: Marion, William Pitt, Harriet Ann, Carlile, Samuel and Eliza. Carlile, Samuel and Eliza all died in childhood.)

American-born Nancy Mathews Elliott married Samuel on September 12, 1828. Her father had been a Revolutionary War hero. Unlike her husband, she was a devout Presbyterian with some formal education. She put that education to good use. When "Al" left school, she taught him at home. Thomas Edison later remembered, "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."

Nancy suffered from symptoms of mental illness late in life. She died in 1871, when her son was 24. Samuel lived long enough to watch his youngest son succeed. He supervised the building of the Menlo Park laboratory. Three weeks after Nancy Edison's death, he started a new relationship with his 16-year-old housekeeper, Mary Sharlow. During their twenty years together they had three daughters. Samuel died in 1896 at the age of 92. "I am a master of smoking, drinking and gambling, " he claimed. "I have smoked and drank whisky moderately when I needed it, and have known to let it alone."

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Last updated: February 26, 2015

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