Thomas Edison’s Attempt To Use Science To Talk To Ghosts Chronicled In New Book

Thomas Edison was a skeptic when it came to the 1920s fad of attempting to communicate with the dead. However, towards the end of his life he became convinced that communicating with those that had passed may be possible with the application of science, and furthermore, it could be a business opportunity in the making. Edison’s rivalry with inventor Nikola Tesla, whom claimed to have already picked up ghostly radio signals, further motivated what was to become his final project, the quest to build a “Spirit Phone.”

Portrait of Edison by Abraham Archibald Anderson (1890), National Portrait Gallery
Portrait of Edison by Abraham Archibald Anderson (1890), National Portrait Gallery

Just in time for Halloween, Edison vs Tesla: The Battle Over Their Last Invention chronicles the fascinating story of how and why Edison, a spirit communication skeptic and one of the most famous inventors in history, came to believe communicating with the dead was possible. Like the other monumental technical challenges Edison took on, he believed science was the key to unlocking this mystery, and, if successful, he could once again bring a technology believed to be impossible to the masses. A product he believed could also turn a profit.

If he was right, and he could build a spirit phone, no doubt we would all be using them on a regular basis to talk to our passed loved ones, and maybe even pay for some consultation time with passed geniuses like Edison and Einstein. In fact, his phone would have been improved upon over the years, and maybe by now we would have been able to FaceTime with Edison or even follow Elvis on Snapchat.

Alas, Edison’s phone was never built and he passed away with his final project never being finished. The question is, why did he think he could do it in the first place? Co-authors William J. Birnes and Joel Martin go into detail on this topic in the book.

At first a skeptic, Edison later came to believe that perhaps humans did have an unseen component that lives beyond death. That perhaps our personalities could continue, and even be reincarnated, due to a yet undiscovered, as the book puts it, “collection of entangled electrons representing what remained of the departed.”

It would seem one of the major influencers of Edison’s new found openness to spirit communication was a man Edison had working for him by the name of Bert Reese. Reese believed himself to be a medium and Edison had been present during his séances. Edison made comments in support of Reese’s alleged abilities. This seemed to set Edison’s mind on the science of what he had witnessed.

However, as the book title suggests, one of Edison’s biggest influences to build a spirit phone was his rivalry with his former associate, Tesla. Their rivalry is famous as is Tesla’s eccentricity. The credit for the invention of the technology to transmit and receive radio waves is embroiled in a mashup of inventions and patents by Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi, but both believed they had picked up strange signals. Tesla believed them to possibly be a greeting from another world and/or communication from the undead.

As the book states, “The device Edison was developing might have been named a spirit phone, but it was more of a type of radar, a sensor device that would recognize the presence of a disembodied spirit, register it on a meter, and record its presence.”

Edison relied heavily on the theories of Einstein, among others, in particular Einstein’s quantum entanglement theory, which — especially appropriate for this project — Einstein also referred to as “spooky action at a distance.”

According to the book, Edison did finish a prototype of his device and invited mediums over to attempt to attract ghosts so he could detect them on his device, but nothing was found. Whether he had bad mediums, his device did not work, or ghosts do not exist is yet to be determined.

The authors of Edison vs Tesla: The Battle Over Their Last Invention seem to be convinced there was something to the science of Edison’s spirit phone. Beyond chronicling Edison’s pursuit to discover the science of the undead, they review studies attempting to communicate with the dead and discover other latent supernatural human abilities.

The book also chronicles Edison’s history and his technological discoveries that lead him to, and served as a basis for, his attempt to build a spirit phone.

If you are hoping to make this Halloween special by communing with the dead, or if you are just interested in the topic, you should definitely read up on Edison’s spirit phone, and this book is a great way to do that. With any luck, one of you will be able to figure out how to make it work. Then you can sell the technology to Apple so it can be included in the next iPhone.

Edison vs Tesla: The Battle Over Their Last Invention can be found on

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