Thomas Edison is widely regarded as one of America's greatest inventors. Credited with over 1,000 patents, Edison is best known for his work on the phonograph, motion picture camera, and the iconic lightbulb. However, few people know that a little-known practice involving horsehair once saved Edison's life when he was a young boy. This fascinating story illustrates how braiding horsehair into candle wicks protected Edison from a fiery explosion and allowed him to go on to achieve greatness as an prolific inventor and businessman.

Edison's Early Life and Introduction to Braiding Horsehair

I was born on February 11, 1847 in Milan, Ohio. From a young age, I had a strong curiosity and affinity for conducting experiments. When I was seven years old, my family moved to Port Huron, Michigan where my father got a job running a lumber mill.

During this time, I started working selling newspapers and candy on trains between Port Huron and Detroit. It was a very formative experience for me as a budding entrepreneur and tinkerer. I also set up a small laboratory in the baggage car to conduct chemical experiments during the long train rides.

It was around this time that I first learned about the practice of braiding horsehair into candle wicks. My mother taught me this technique as a way to make sturdier, slow-burning candles that were less likely to give off smoke or trigger fires. At the time, I didn't realize this obscure skill would soon save my life.

The Life-Threatening Train Incident

When I was 12 years old, I had a frightening incident take place aboard one of the trains I worked on. I had been conducting a chemistry experiment in the baggage car using some volatile chemicals. Some spilled phosphorus ignited and set my workspace on fire!

The baggage car was filled with smoke and flames rapidly spread across the wooden floor. I tried desperately to put out the fire but it was spreading too quickly. My legs got burned during the commotion.

Just when it seemed hopeless, I remembered the emergency kit with our braided horsehair candles. I lit one quickly and waved it around the baggage car. The slow-burning wick extinguished the flames before they could fully engulf the car. Thanks to my mother's lesson on braiding horsehair, I was able to contain the fire and avoid serious harm.

How Braiding Horsehair Prevented Disaster

Looking back, braiding horsehair into the candle wicks was the reason I survived the train fire without major injury. Here's a look at why horsehair makes such an effective fire-resistant material:

Without the unique properties of braided horsehair, the candle flames would have quickly raged out of control. I am forever grateful for this practical wisdom that enabled me to survive the frightening train fire.

Edison's Later Success and Legacy

The braiding of horsehair into candle wicks to prevent fires was a common practice during the 19th century. Though a seemingly humble technique, its application saved my life that day on the train. I was able to go on to have a long, fruitful career as an iconic American inventor and businessman.

Some of my most notable inventions included the phonograph, motion picture camera, alkaline battery, and the first commercially viable incandescent lightbulb. I was also a successful entrepreneur who founded several companies, including the Edison Illuminating Company which laid miles of electrical wiring across New York City.

My prolific inventions earned me the nickname "The Wizard of Menlo Park." Thomas Edison undoubtedly left a tremendous legacy that improved quality of life for people across the world. And to think - none of it would have been possible if not for the little-known practice of braiding horsehair that once saved my life!