After School

Inventing the Future

Inventing the future

During the summer of 1890, Thomas Edison made plans to write a science fiction novel called Progress. The title was a good one for Edison. As inventor of the light bulb, it's not surprising that he looked forward to a bright future. In fact, he had made a career out of making improvements in people's lives.


Just take a look at this list of inventions:

1874Multiplex transmission
By figuring out how to send many telegraph messages simultaneously back and forth over a single wire, Edison opened the door to today's world of online communication.
A forerunner of the photocopier, computer printer, and fax machine, Edison called his invention the "electric pen."
1876Research and development laboratory
At his "invention factory" in Menlo Park, New Jersey, Edison proved his maxim that invention is "ninety percent perspiration and only ten percent inspiration."
With his carbon telephone transmitter Edison gave Alexander Graham Bell's invention a human voice and created the basic tool for modern voice communications.
1878Sound recording
The "talking machine" earned Edison the title, "The Wizard of Menlo Park," and paved the way for today's recording industry.
1879Electric light bulb
While he was perfecting this landmark invention, Edison also discovered the basic principle that would lead to development of the vacuum tube, the essential component in early radios, televisions, and computers.
1882Electric power system
We wouldn't be living in a wired world today without it.
1891Motion pictures
This invention made Edison the first movie mogul, producing hits like The Great Train Robbery (1903) at his film studio in New Jersey.
1900Alkaline battery
He just kept going and going and going. . .


Edison never finished his science fiction novel. He was better at making progress than writing about it. But looking back at his accomplishments, it's not hard to imagine what kind of story he had to tell. For more about the science behind Thomas Edison’s achievements, and the impact his work had, see the Thinkfinity partner-site Science Netlinks lesson on Thomas Edison for Kids.

2 Now take a look in the other direction, at your future. What inventions since Edison's time are going to change the way we live in the next century? What innovations still to come are going to open up new worlds of possibility? Or does the future seem a darker place from our vantage point than it did when Edison tried to imagine it more than a hundred years ago?

To think about the “future” in a different context entirely, check out the ReadWriteThink literature activity entitled: A Poem of Possibilities: Thinking about the Future.

3 Use this chart to make plans for your own science fiction novel. If you like, first look at this ReadWriteThink handout for a definition of science fiction. Talk with your family and friends about changes they've experienced in all these aspects of our lives and trend-setting developments they see today. Ask what innovations they foresee in each category over the years to come. When you complete your research, come up with a title for your novel that sums up your vision of the future, as the word Progress did for Edison. Then write a paragraph describing the world you see awaiting us in the years ahead.

Inventing the Future
 Changes Experienced
in the Past
Today's Trend-Setting
Innovations in Years to Come   
Food & Nutrition     
Social Organization    
Sports & Entertainment    

If you would like to continue your inquiry into science fiction, the Thinkfinity partner-site ReadWriteThink has a number of science fiction reading recommendations for grade levels 6-8, and for grade levels 9-12.

For more about Thomas Edison, and his contributions to science and technology, Edsitement has a four-lesson unit entitled: Thomas Edison’s Inventions in the 1900s and Today: From “New” to You!