Lowell Edwards came from a family of pioneers and entrepreneurs. His grandfather, Jesse Edwards, was a prosperous farmer in Indiana who moved his family to the frontier in 1879. The Edwards family established a farm a few miles from Oregon City. This settlement grew into the town of Newberg, Oregon. Jesse’s son, Clarence J. Edwards, married Abbie Laura Miles in 1893 and on January 18, 1898, their second son, Miles Lowell Edwards (who would be known as “Lowell”) was born. In 1904, Clarence purchased an electricity generator, powered it with a steam engine, and illuminated the streets of Newberg for the first time. In 1913, Clarence sold his business for a profit and moved the family to Tillamook, where he invested in another electrical power generation plant and made it profitable. Lowell helped in the family business, climbing poles, stringing wire and getting a practical education in electrical matters. Lowell Edwards built a wireless radio, the first in Tillamook County. He was encouraged to be self-reliant: One Christmas he asked his parents for a bike. On Christmas morning, Lowell found a box under the tree which contained some, but not all, the components of a dismantled, used bike. His father predicted Lowell would enjoy riding a bike that he had assembled.
Edwards graduated from Tillamook High School and then studied for two years at Pacific University. In 1920, Edwards entered Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis. Edwards studied to be an electrical engineer and graduated in 1924. He applied for and received an apprenticeship at the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York. He spent three formative years at the Research Laboratory conducting research and using a variety of tools and processes to manufacture invention prototypes.
The Young Engineer
In 1927, Edwards returned to Tillamook, Oregon. He married Margaret Watt, and they established a home that included, as it would his entire life, a workshop. As an inventor, Edwards was a tenacious problem-solver. Margaret observed that Edwards, when working on a challenging problem, would awaken at night with an insight or solution, and go immediately to his workshop to record and test his idea. In an interview with the Santa Ana Register in 1958, Edwards was asked why he preferred a home workshop to a sophisticated hospital or industrial laboratory. He simply replied, “Well, I guess inventors are a queer breed.” For Edwards, invention was more than generating ideas; he was a hands-on worker, whose skills in his shop were a critical adjunct that enabled him to build and refine his own prototypes.