"Edison’s Miracle of Light" offers teachers and students a personality-driven entrée into the study of economics, technology, literature, media, public relations, and celebrity. You can either use part or all of the film and the following suggestions to supplement your classroom activities.

Before Viewing

1. What role does electricity play in the economics of modern life? Discuss with students uses of electricity they take for granted, and how these uses affect economies locally and globally. Consider the following in your discussion: How long has electricity been understood and used? What parts of this country first had use of it? What parts of the world first had use of it? Do all parts of the world enjoy electricity now? How might the lack of electricity affect the economic potential of particular countries? How might such a lack affect dealings between countries?

2. How do inventors alert the public to new products and services? Discuss with your class the concept of public relations. Offer examples (television commercials, Internet events, etc.), and ask students to offer some as well. What is the goal of public relations? Who do such actions serve best? Are such actions honest? Why or why not? What public relations events to students respond to positively? Negatively? What do they like and dislike about such events?

After Viewing

1. Discuss with students the role of electricity in the economics of the United States. How did lack of it keep some parts of the United States from developing? Where and when was the last place power lines were installed? What lasting effects has this lag caused? What role does electrical power play in the U.S.’s global role?

2. How did Thomas Edison use public relations? Discuss with your class Edison’s techniques for keeping himself and his products in the public eye. What were his motives? What were his methods? Was he honest? How did the public profit or not from his actions? How did Edison?

3. Ask your students to list some of the machines they use everyday (computers, CD players, televisions). Discuss some of the processes by which such machines arrive in the user’s hand–invention, patent, production, marketing, sale. Then ask students to research and draw up an outline of the development of one machine. Have them consider the following: What does this machine do? What did the developers perceive as the need for this machine? How did they get started financially? Did somebody hire them to do it? Did their ideas build on earlier ideas? Who did the actual development of the machine? Who got credit for it? Who profited from it? What were the reasons for building it? Who decided how much it would cost? Who uses it? What does related marketing tell you about this machine? Is it accurate? Do students believe this machine is useful? How?

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Share Your Story

The late 1800s and early 1900s were exciting years in American innovation and technology. What do you think is the most significant or impactful invention in American history during that time?