Young Tom Edison

Young Tom Edison is a 1940 biographical film about the early life of inventor Thomas Edison directed by Norman Taurog and starring Mickey Rooney. The film was the first of a complementary pair of Edison biopics that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released in 1940. Edison, the Man starring Spencer Tracy soon followed to complete the two-part story of Edison's life.[1]

Young Tom Edison
Film poster
Directed byNorman Taurog
Produced byJohn W. Considine, Jr.
Written byHugo Butler
Bradbury Foote
Dore Schary
StarringMickey Rooney
Fay Bainter
George Bancroft
Music byEdward Ward
CinematographySidney Wagner
Edited byElmo Veron
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • March 15, 1940 (1940-03-15)
Running time
86 minutes
CountryUnited States

The film had a special preview on February 10, 1940 in Port Huron, Michigan, the place where Thomas Edison spent his childhood.[2]


The film follows the imaginative boy Tom as he continually gets into mischief and causes accidents locally with his chemical experiments. The townspeople regard him as a troublemaker. As the Civil War breaks out, Tom starts a business enterprise peddling food and snacks on board trains, and later composing and handing out news sheets to passengers. In a stroke of inspiration, Tom at night cleverly focuses light from multiple lamps onto a large mirror, enabling a surgeon to successfully operate on his mother. The story ends with Tom desperately signaling in Morse Code with a train whistle, alerting the engineer of another train filled with passengers to stop before it plunges into a river. These two acts finally vindicate Tom who is now a hero.



Upon the film's release Rooney had his picture on the cover of the March 18, 1940 issue of Time. An accompanying article called Rooney "a rope-haired, kazoo-voiced kid with a comic-strip face, who until this week had never appeared in a picture without mugging or overacting it."[3] The magazine said the film featured Rooney's "most sober and restrained performance to date, [of someone] who (like himself) began at the bottom of the American heap, (like himself) had to struggle, (like himself) won, but a boy whose main activity (unlike Mickey's) was investigating, inventing, thinking."[1]

Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times wrote:"Mr. Rooney's portrait defers to its subject only to the extent of being a trifle less Rooneyish than his Andy Hardy, the implication being that, if young Tom Edison was not Mickey Rooneyish, the fault was with Edison, not M. Rooney. And, for all we know, that may be the wisest attitude to take ... One thing is clear: Spencer Tracy as Edison the Man has a tough assignment ahead."[4] A review in Variety called it "one of the finest biographies, from entertainment standpoint, ever filmed," and complimented Rooney for playing down his "past thespic effervescence."[1] Harrison's Reports wrote: "Here is a picture that should prove not only inspiring to the youth of the country but vastly entertaining to both young and old."[5] Film Daily wrote: "Mickey does fine work in the title role and demonstrates he can handle serious, dramatic moments as well as he does his popular comedy roles."[6] John Mosher of The New Yorker called the film "a particularly routine piece" but "a pleasant, innocent item, on the wholesome side, and to be admired, we older types can only hope, by the young element."[7]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. "Young Tom Edison (1940)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved November 27, 2015.
  2. "All Aboard! (Advertisement)". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 5 February 8, 1940.
  3. "Cinema: Success Story". Time. March 18, 1940. Retrieved 2013-09-16. Hollywood's No. 1 box office bait in 1939 was not Clark Gable, Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power, but a rope-haired, kazoo-voiced kid with a comic-strip face, who until this week had never appeared in a picture without mugging or overacting it. His name (assumed) was Mickey Rooney, and to a large part of the more articulate U. S. cinemaudience, his name was becoming a frequently used synonym for brat.
  4. Nugent, Frank S. (March 15, 1940). "Movie Review - Young Tom Edison". The New York Times. Retrieved November 27, 2015.
  5. "'Young Tom Edison' with Mickey Rooney". Harrison's Reports: 34. March 2, 1940.
  6. "Reviews of the New Films". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 4 February 13, 1940.
  7. Mosher, John (March 23, 1940). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 78.
  8. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
  9. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
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