Thomas Edison's Obsession Led To Some Quirky Nicknames For His Children

Thomas Edison is best known for his inventions. Be it the lightbulb, the phonograph, or the automatic telegraph, Edison made some huge discoveries in his lifetime that transformed the face of technology (via History). These inventions won Edison acclaim and his place in the history books. Even today, there are many museum exhibits dedicated to Edison's work, including the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park (via Menlo Park), and Edison was famous during his lifetime (via the Edison Innovation Foundation). Edison's inventions didn't just boost his reputation, either: Edison earned a hefty amount from sales of his devices, and when he died he had a net worth of $12 million, or about $170 million in modern money (via Celebrity Net Worth).

If all that didn't make Edison interesting enough, he had plenty of weird, entertaining quirks that paint the picture of a singular man. Edison, for instance, not only invented the tattoo gun (via Neatorama); he also had a tattoo on his left arm, the exact meaning of which remains a mystery even now, according to Art Sheep.

And another strange detail: Edison had something of an obsession with Morse Code. And that informed the unique nicknames Edison gave to his children.

Edison mastered Morse Code as a teenager

Morse Code is a communication system which allows letters, punctuation, and numerals to be encoded into dots and dashes (via Britannica). For instance, the letter "A" in Morse code can be encoded by a dot and a dash; the letter B by a dash and three dots; and the letter C by a dash, a dot, a dash, and another dot (via Southwestern College). This assignment of dots and dashes might seem random, but the simpler codes were assigned to the most common letters (via Interesting Engineering). Looking at the above examples, we can see that the vowel, A, has the shortest string of characters.

Edison was very familiar with Morse Code from a young age, becoming a telegraph operator in 1863 when he was 16 (via another article at Britannica). At that time, Morse Code was used to encode messages over telegraph, according to History. Later in life, Edison would actually go on to create the automatic telegraph, which increased the speed of telegraph transmissions from 25-40 letters per minute to 1,000 letters per minute by automating parts of the system.

Edison was so interested in Morse Code, he may have even gotten a tattoo from it. Remember that mysterious symbol on his left arm? It was composed of dots, and some people speculate that it might have contained a hidden message (via Art Sheep).

How Edison brought Morse Code into his personal life

Edison brought Morse Code into his personal life, too, using the code to nickname his children. Additionally, he used it to propose to his second wife. Edison was married twice in his life, first to Mary Stilwell in 1871, according to the Edison Innovation Foundation. Mary was Edison's employee, and was only 16 years old to Edison's 24 when they married, according to Neatorama. Together, they had three children before Mary died: Marion, Thomas Jr., and William.

When Marion was little, she was nicknamed "Dot" by her father because of his love for Morse Code, according to the Edison Innovation Foundation. When Thomas Jr. came around a couple years later, he got nicknamed "Dash." Still, naming his kids after symbols wasn't enough for Edison, because when his wife died and it came time for Edison to remarry — this time, proposing to a 20-year-old woman named Mina Miller — Edison brought Morse Code into the equation again. Edison had taught Mina Morse Code so they could secretly discuss things in public, per Public People, so when he proposed to her, halfway through a car ride, he asked using dots and dashes as well.

But why did Edison love Morse Code so much? It's not totally clear, but some people have speculated it has something to do with Edison's partial deafness: Edison didn't need to be able to hear well to communicate with Morse Code (via Art Sheep).