Elon Musk vs Thomas Edison: Comparing The Two Engineering Icons

Elon Musk vs Thomas Edison

Elon Musk vs Thomas Edison: Comparing The Two Engineering Icons

Elon Musk and Thomas Edison are incredible figures that have significantly impacted the world by shaping how we live our lives. Both also started as engineers before going the entrepreneurial route and amassing large fortunes based on their most successful inventions.

Edison’s inventions include the motion picture camera and practical electric light bulbs. He also helped develop the technology that led to electric car batteries. Elon Musk, though, is a polymath that made his mark in finance, solar power, mass transportation, and the internet.

Though each has changed how we live through their amazing engineering inventions, Musk and Edison are more different than you think.

Elon Musk vs Thomas Edison: a side-by-side comparison

Elon MuskThomas Edison
Net worth          $253.4 billion$170 million
Personal lifeSpouse – Talulah Riley, Justine Musk    
Children-  Vivian Jenna Wilson,  X AE A-XII Musk,  Nevada Alexander Musk,  Exa Dark Sideræl Musk,  Griffin Musk,  Damian Musk,  Saxon Musk,  Kai Musk
Spouse – Mina Miller Edison, Mary Stillwell
Children- Charles Edison, Thomas Alva Edison Jr. Marion Estelle Edison, William Leslie Edison, Theodore Miller Edison, Madeleine Edison  
EducationUniversity of Pennsylvania, Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics
Wharton School,  Bachelor of Science degree in economics
Stanford University, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program in materials science
Self-educated; some coursework at Cooper Union
Awards  Axel Springer Award
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronauts George Low Award
National Conservation Achievement award
2007 Index Design award
Heinlein Prize for Advances in Space Commercialization
Edward Longstreth Medal Congressional Gold Medal Navy Distinguished Service Medal Franklin Medal John Fritz Medal John Scott Legacy Medal
Premium Matteucci Medal Rumford Prize
Grammy Trustees Award Technical Grammy Award
Albert Medal
Achievements  X.com online bank founded, which became PayPal
Founder and the main investor in an electric car company, Tesla
Founded SpaceX  
Launched Neuralink which specializes in  brain-machine interfaces
Invented the first electric light bulb
Invented the motion picture motion camera  
Invented the first rechargeable battery
Invented the fluoroscope
Elon Musk vs Thomas Edison
Elon Musk is a controversial figure who made his mark in the fields of finance, solar power, mass transportation, and the internet.

Elon Musk vs Thomas Edison what’s the difference

Thomas Edison and Elon Musk were from two different generations, but their lives draw a few parallels. They both married twice and had multiple children, for example. Their differences start from their areas of specialization, though, and the approaches they used.

Inventions versus companies

Thomas Edison and Elon Musk may have created significant inventions, but their success levels differed because of varied approaches to marketing. Thomas Edison’s rechargeable battery, motion picture camera, and electric light bulb were sold through his Edison Manufacturing Company in 1889.

Edison’s corporation did not encompass all the relevant patented products. Elon Musk, however, followed a corporate marketing approach for every invention he made.

Each invention was also initiated as a concept. For example, x.com was an online payment platform that would make person-to-person transactions infinitely efficient. X.com was renamed PayPal, and the company has become one of the most globally prominent payment platforms worth $94.55 billion.

The PayPal Mafia
Elon Musk’


X.com was renamed PayPal.

Musk also furthered his interest in electric vehicles and incorporated Tesla as one of the founders. Tesla is currently one of the world’s leading electric car manufacturers, with a market capitalization of $776.58 billion.

The difference in how Edison and Musk channeled their inventions to the market is probably why the former only had a net worth of $12 million when he died.


Thomas Edison had very little formal education during his formative years as he only attended school for a few months. His mother taught him how to read, write and perform arithmetic, but there was little technical tutoring.

He was very curious, though, and firmly believed in self-improvement, so much of what he learned was self-taught. Edison spent a lot of his free time reading technical books and taught himself how to work a telegraph by the time he turned 16.

Elon Musk, on the other hand, had significant formal education. At 17, he enrolled in Queen’s University in Kingston but transferred to the University of Pennsylvania after two years. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physics.

Musk also attained a Bachelor of Arts in economics from the Wharton School. He was accepted into a doctorate program in materials science at Stanford University in 1995 but dropped out after two days to join the internet boom.

Both Elon Musk and Thomas Edison were very driven during their formative years, but the paths taken were different, potentially due to the opportunities available in either case. That did not have an effect, though, on the impact each had in engineering.

Relationship with the media

These two are highly popularized in the media though each had his curated approach to addressing the press. Elon Musk may have millions of followers on social media platforms, but he has long expressed his disdain for the media. Musk recently labeled a reporter for the Associated Press a lobbyist.

Elon Musk vs Thomas Edison
Thomas A. Edison (1847-1931), in his West Orange, New Jersey, laboratory, ca. 1901. Edison believed in the development of the electric vehicle.

That sums up how he perceives the mainstream media as a platform for wealthy interests. The resulting image paints an individual who does not care about how the broader population perceives him. Edison was the opposite, working hard to cultivate the public’s perceptions.

A contemporary newspaper cartoon in 1877 showed Thomas Edison holding an incandescent lamp dressed in a wizard-like hat. He was also portrayed with a cape that had images of his inventions. These illustrations were made to show Edison was not only an inventor but a pioneer of American individualism and ingenuity.

Edison then was as much a politician and public figure as he was an inventor. These extracurriculars do not appeal to Musk, though. Despite his wealth, Elon Musk is a maverick who prefers to operate on the peripheries.

Elon Musk vs Thomas Edison Must know Facts


Thomas Edison and Elon Musk have received significant acclaim for their accomplishments, as evident from their received awards. Edison’s list includes the Edward Longstreth Medal, Congressional Gold Medal, Navy Distinguished Service Medal, and Franklin Medal, among others.

He was awarded a total of 11 awards during his lifetime. Edison’s contributions to engineering were so significant that the Edison Awards were set up in his honor for innovators who have made game-changing products.

Elon Musk also has a long list of honors, including the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronauts George Low Award, National Conservation Achievement award, 2007 Index Design award, Axel Springer Award, and Heinlein Prize for Advances in Space Commercialization. Thus far, Musk has been awarded eight awards in different fields though this may increase to match Edison’s count.

Both had an interest in electric vehicles

Despite the generation gap, both Thomas Edison and Elon Musk believed in the potential of electric vehicles. It is particularly interesting considering Edison’s interest came at the same time the internal combustion engine was also being invented.

He believed that electric vehicles were the superior approach to automotive technology, so Edison worked to build an electric vehicle battery. He also collaborated with Henry Ford on options for a low-cost electric car in 1914.

a red tesla plugged into a fast charger
Tesla cars can be fast-charged at the network within an hour.

The technology took a back seat for a century before Elon Musk popularized the idea and founded Tesla, the first mainstream electric car company. Then as now, electric cars are perceived as the future of automotive technology.


The two inventors were also believers in collaborators as they encouraged the development of ideas within project teams for overall success. Edison worked with Charles Batchelor and John Kruesi on significant projects like the phonograph and telephone.

Similarly, Musk has worked with crucial tech industry figures like Sam Altman, Marc Tarpenning, and JB Straubel to make Tesla products. Thomas Edison also hired the most talented individuals for their teams. He had a team of ‘Muckers’ devise the light bulb, while Elon Musk hired companies of people to develop his SpaceX and Tesla projects.

Elon Musk vs Thomas Edison Summary

The two engineering icons are revered and seen as once-in-a-lifetime geniuses within their respective fields. Both had more similarities than differences, though, as they were significantly driven by world-changing concepts and gained significant notoriety.

They had a different upbringing, though, as Elon Musk was educated in a formal setting, gaining multiple degrees, while Edison was self-taught. Musk is also opposed to mainstream media and thinks of himself as an outlier, but Thomas Edison valued the public’s perception. It was so much so that Edison sought to guide the public into relating him with the capitalist vision of the American nation.

Up Next…

  • SpaceX: the Complete History: First, there was PayPal, then Tesla, now there’s SpaceX, Musk’s greatest endeavor yet. Read all about it!
  • Meet Nikola Tesla – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions: Elon Musk admired Nikola Tesla so much that he named his electic car and company for him. Read about the genius rival of Thomas Edison.
  • 2023 Electric Cars: 7 Incredible New EVs Launching Soon: In the market for an electric car? Check out these new EVs before they hit the lot!

Frequently Asked Questions

Did Henry Ford and Thomas Edison work on a project together?

In the first days of the Model A, Henry Ford gave the first example of this invention to Thomas Edison, so they were close friends. Edison also talked with Ford about a collaboration that would involve his electric car battery in a Model Ford car.

Is Elon Musk like Thomas Edison?

Elon Musk and Thomas Edison have many similarities due to their contributions to engineering, which brought them popularity. Musk also claimed that Edison and Tesla were role models, but he preferred Edison.

Was Elon Musk born rich?

Elon Musk has garnered a significant amount of wealth from his companies though there are several reports suggesting the billionaire was born into a wealthy family. His father was also an engineer and part owner of a Zambian emerald mine.

To top