How Much Money Thomas Edison Was Worth When He Died

Thomas Edison is one of the most prolific inventors who ever lived, if not the most prolific one. According to the New Yorker, the man has no less than 1,093 patents to his name, as opposed to the average person's nice, round figure of zero. What's more, he amassed them all while almost totally deaf, thanks to a bout of scarlet fever he suffered as a child — though Biography notes he later enjoyed telling people a rather more dramatic version where his "ears were injured in a train incident." 

Sure, his actions were sometimes less than ethical: He may or may not have been involved with electrocuting an elephant once, and he notoriously screwed Nikola Tesla over by promising young Tesla $50,000 to develop alternating current and then claiming his words had merely been "American humor" when Tesla did just that. He has also been accused of "borrowing" ideas. His hit record was also far from perfect: For every light bulb, there were plenty of doomed large-scale mining enterprises and mad scientist creations such as concrete furniture and "ink for the blind." Still, from a purely cynical business standpoint, all of that was just a businessman being a businessman. Which begs the question: How much did this prolific entrepreneur and inventor make over his lifetime? Surely, his vast number of businesses and enterprises made him a top contender among the era's equivalent of the Forbes list of billionaires?

Thomas Edison was worth $170 million in today's money when he died

Thomas Edison was extremely wealthy when he died, but perhaps not quite as rich as you'd think. According to Forbes, Edison's estate at the time of his death in 1931 was worth $12 million, which Celebrity Net Worth estimates at $170 million in today's money. While not exactly Bill Gates-level wealth, this would nevertheless have been more than enough to put him on the Forbes 400 list, had it been a thing at the time. 

Big money as $170 million is, it may seem rather unimpressive compared to today, when nearly all major business people seem to be real-life billionaires several times over. Still, it's worth noting that pioneers rarely get to fully enjoy the fruits of their labor. Nikola Tesla held over 700 patents and died nearly broke, thanks to his complete lack of business acumen. Besides, Edison may have made tons of money, but he also lost "several fortunes" on some of his enterprises, particularly the aforementioned mining business.