Edison, the Man

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Edison, the Man
Edison, the Man FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed by Clarence Brown
Produced by John W. Considine Jr.
Written by Talbot Jennings
Bradbury Foote
Dore Schary
Hugo Butler
Starring Spencer Tracy
Rita Johnson
Music by Herbert Stothart
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Edited by Fredrick Y. Smith
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • May 10, 1940 (1940-05-10)
Running time
107 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $893,000[1]
Box office $1,787,000[1]

Edison, the Man is a 1940 biographical film depicting the life of inventor Thomas Edison, who was played by Spencer Tracy. Hugo Butler and Dore Schary were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story for their work on this film. However, much of the film's script fictionalizes or exaggerates the real events of Edison's life.[2]


In 1869, anxious to be more than a tramp telegraph operator, Edison (Spencer Tracy) travels to New York at the prompting of an old friend, Bunt Cavatt (Lynne Overman). He goes to work for Mr. Els (Henry Travers). He tries to persuade financier Mr. Taggart (Gene Lockhart) to fund the development of his inventions, but Taggart has no interest in financing “green electrical workers”. However, General Powell (Charles Coburn), the president of Western Union, does.

Edison eventually sells an invention to Taggart and Powell for $40,000, enabling him to get married and open his own “invention factory” at Menlo Park. In the next few years, he perfects the phonograph with his devoted staff.

Trouble arises when Bunt brags to reporters that Edison has invented the electric light. Since he hasn't yet, he is condemned by the scientific community (encouraged by Taggart, whose gas stocks are threatened by the announcement). Edison “leaves science behind”, and with a Herculean trial-and-error effort, finally succeeds in inventing a practical electric light. His subsequent plans to light New York are again hindered by Taggart, who arranges it so that Edison is only given six months to complete the entire task. Nevertheless, Edison finishes the job just in time.


Lobby card for Edison, the Man (1940)


“I’m an inventor. I can’t be told what to do. I’ve got to do the things I want to do. I work with ideas, visionary things. Nobody—not even I—knows how useful they’re going to be or how profitable until I had a chance to work them out in my own way.”

“You think you’re nothing but wood and metal and glass. But you’re not: you’re dreams and hard work and heart. You’d better not disappoint us.”

“It’s not the money wrapped up in the laboratory, it’s the lives wrapped up in the laboratory. It’s come to mean everything that I ever set out to do. It means a weekly paycheck for all my men. It means home, shelter, clothing, and food for lots of families.”

“He hasn’t got a darn thing but I like to hear him talk that way.”

Box office[edit]

According to MGM records the film earned $1,152,000 in the US and Canada and $635,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $143,000.[1]


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ Edison, the Man - Classic Film Guide

External links[edit]