The Daily Mashup: Thomas Edison to Tom Hanks

22 Jun

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Thomas Edison is one of the most famous American inventors, recognized for developing many world-changing devices, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and of course, the light bulb. February 11th, Thomas Edison’s birthday, is National Inventor’s Day, designated by the US Congress. Thomas “Tom” Hanks is one of the most respected and well-liked American actors, known for his roles in films such as Forrest GumpSaving Private Ryan, Sleepless in Seattle, Cast Away, The Da Vinci Code, and Captain Phillips. He has won numerous awards during his career, including multiple Golden Globes to Academy Awards to the Kennedy Center Honors Medallion. As of 2014, Hanks’ films have grossed over $8.4 billion worldwide, making him one of the highest-grossing actors in film history.

Here are a few similarities:

These guys both know what it’s like to grow up with a big family. Edison and Hanks were one of seven. Edison, although he was his mother’s favorite son, grew up in a crowded home with six other siblings. Edison was the youngest and also the smartest of the bunch, eager to learn even with his undiagnosed ADHD. Hanks grew up as one of four, with three brothers and one sister. His parents got divorced when he was only four years old. When he was in high school, his father remarried and he gained three new step-siblings, bringing the total to seven.

These two are obviously very successful individuals, but it turns out they weren’t so successful socially. Thomas Edison and Tom Hanks were not popular in school. Edison’s head was oddly larger than average and he donned a noticeably broad forehead. As a young student, his moderately unusual demeanor and appearance as well as his wandering mind made him somewhat of an outcast. At age seven, after only three months of schooling, Edison’s teacher lost his patience with the persistent questioning and self-centered nature of the boy. Edison was home-schooled for the rest of his education by his mother. When Hanks is asked about his early childhood, he doesn’t remember it too fondly. He was unpopular with teachers and students. He didn’t have too many friends and he told Rolling Stone in an interview: “I was a geek, a spaz. I was horribly, painfully, terribly shy. At the same time, I was the guy who’d yell out funny captions during filmstrips. But I didn’t get into trouble. I was always a real good kid and pretty responsible.” It looks like if we went to school with either of these guys when we were young, we probably would’ve avoided them.

Before Edison and Hanks were famous, they both sold food as a kid to earn money. Edison worked on a train in Michigan running from the city of Port Huron to Detroit as a young boy. He sold candy and newspapers to passengers, and occasionally vegetables to supplement his income. As a teenager in California, Hanks worked at the Oakland Coliseum and sold concessions at A’s and Raiders games.

Believe it or not, both Edison and Hanks had dreams of becoming an actor and a love for Shakespeare. Edison’s father urged Edison to read all of the classics, giving him 10 cents for every one he completed. Because of this, Edison gained a great appreciation for literature, especially Shakespeare. His fondness for Shakespeare’s plays even lead him to briefly consider becoming an actor. However, his high-pitched voice and his extreme shyness before every audience led him to give up the idea. Hanks became a fan of acting at a young age attending many different plays. As he grew older, he liked to make a lot of noise and be flamboyant so he turned to acting as a career. Hanks studied theater at Chabot College for two years then at California State University. Hanks has acted in multiple Shakespeare plays, such as his first professional performance in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and he was a member of Riverside Shakespeare Company.

New York City is the place where Edison and Hanks started moving up in their careers. After inventing the phonograph, Edison looked toward electricity and the light bulb. He formed the Edison Electric Light Company, now known as General Electric (GE), in New York City. It was after creating this company that he successfully invented an electric lamp and made the first public demonstration of his incandescent light bulb on December 31, 1879, in Menlo Park. During this time he is quoted saying: “We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.” At age 23, Hanks moved to NYC where he made his film debut, funnily enough, in a slasher movie entitled He Knows You’re Alone. After moving to New York in 1979, he also got roles in television shows, a game show, and other small movies. It wasn’t until 1988 with his starring role in Big that Hanks solidified his career as a major Hollywood talent.

Edison and Hanks both had two wives. When Edison was 24, he married 16-year-old Mary Stilwell. She was an employee in one of his shops. They had three children together before she died at age 29 from a brain tumor. He remarried at age 39 to 20-year-old Mina Miller. They also had three children together. They remained married until Edison’s death in 1931. Hanks got married to American actress Samantha Lewes when he was 22. The marriage lasted nine years and they had two children together, Colin and Elizabeth. One year after their separation, Hanks married actress Rita Wilson, whom he met filming Volunteers, a movie they costarred in together. Hanks and Rita have been married 27 years and have two sons, Chet and Truman Theodore.

These men may not have lived in the same time period, but they both have been involved in filmmaking. One of Edison’s inventions is in fact a motion picture camera or the “Kinetograph.” He made an electromechanical design and a peep-hole viewer, or a “Kinetoscope” which allowed people to watch short, simple films. It made its first debut in 1891. By 1896, New York City was projecting motion pictures in public screenings. Hanks may not have actually invented the technology to make films, but he has played a part in creating the films themselves. He made his directing debut with his 1996 film That Thing You Do! Next, he executive produced, co-wrote, and co-directed the HBO docudrama From the Earth to the Moon. Him and his wife Rita produced the hit film My Big Fat Greek Wedding. He is most known for his involvement with legendary Stephen Spielberg to create one of the finest war films ever made, Saving Private Ryan. 

One fun little fact is that these men are connected by President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was president during Thomas Edison’s lifetime, being elected in 1861 when Edison was 14 years old. Tom Hanks is actually a fourth cousin, four generations removed, of Abraham Lincoln, of all people. What a cool relative to have!


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By Molly Mae Force, Cool Girls Reporter. Connect with me on LinkedIn:

Look out for my upcoming book: Mashup Madness: History Made Fun Through Past and Present Icons


Want more Mashup blog posts? Check these out:

Sandra Day O’Connor to Sandra Bullock

Tina Turner to Tina Fey

Thomas Edison to Tom Hanks

Harry Truman to Harry Styles

Anne Frank to Anne Hathaway

Leonardo da Vinci to Leonardo DiCaprio

Marilyn Monroe to Meryl Streep

George Washington to George Clooney

Scarlett O’Hara to Scarlett Johansson

Ben Franklin to Ben & Jerry

Mr. Darcy to Mr. Grey


Check out our Master Mashup series for more cool coincidences among famous people and characters through time:

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