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Edison, His Life and Inventions by Frank Lewis Dyer and Thomas Commerford Martin

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PRIOR to this, no complete, authentic, and authorized
record of the work of Mr. Edison, during an active life,
has been given to the world. That life, if there is anything
in heredity, is very far from finished; and while it continues
there will be new achievement.

An insistently expressed desire on the part of the
public for a definitive biography of Edison was the
reason for the following pages. The present authors
deem themselves happy in the confidence reposed in
them, and in the constant assistance they have enjoyed
from Mr. Edison while preparing these pages,
a great many of which are altogether his own. This
co-operation in no sense relieves the authors of
responsibility as to any of the views or statements of
their own that the book contains. They have realized
the extreme reluctance of Mr. Edison to be made the
subject of any biography at all; while he has felt that,
if it must be written, it were best done by the hands
of friends and associates of long standing, whose judgment
and discretion he could trust, and whose intimate
knowledge of the facts would save him from

The authors of the book are profoundly conscious
of the fact that the extraordinary period of electrical
development embraced in it has been prolific of great
men. They have named some of them; but there
has been no idea of setting forth various achievements
or of ascribing distinctive merits. This treatment
is devoted to one man whom his fellow-citizens
have chosen to regard as in many ways representative
of the American at his finest flowering in
the field of invention during the nineteenth century.

It is designed in these pages to bring the reader face
to face with Edison; to glance at an interesting childhood
and a youthful period marked by a capacity for
doing things, and by an insatiable thirst for knowledge;
then to accompany him into the great creative
stretch of forty years, during which he has done so
much. This book shows him plunged deeply into
work for which he has always had an incredible
capacity, reveals the exercise of his unsurpassed
inventive ability, his keen reasoning powers, his
tenacious memory, his fertility of resource; follows
him through a series of innumerable experiments,
conducted methodically, reaching out like rays of
search-light into all the regions of science and nature,
and finally exhibits him emerging triumphantly from
countless difficulties bearing with him in new arts
the fruits of victorious struggle.

These volumes aim to be a biography rather than
a history of electricity, but they have had to cover so
much general ground in defining the relations and
contributions of Edison to the electrical arts, that they
serve to present a picture of the whole development
effected in the last fifty years, the most fruitful that
electricity has known. The effort has been made to
avoid technique and abstruse phrases, but some
degree of explanation has been absolutely necessary
in regard to each group of inventions. The task of
the authors has consisted largely in summarizing
fairly the methods and processes employed by Edison;
and some idea of the difficulties encountered by
them in so doing may be realized from the fact that
one brief chapter, for example,--that on ore milling--
covers nine years of most intense application and
activity on the part of the inventor. It is something
like exhibiting the geological eras of the earth in an
outline lantern slide, to reduce an elaborate series
of strenuous experiments and a vast variety of
ingenious apparatus to the space of a few hundred

A great deal of this narrative is given in Mr. Edison's
own language, from oral or written statements
made in reply to questions addressed to him with
the object of securing accuracy. A further large part
is based upon the personal contributions of many
loyal associates; and it is desired here to make grateful
acknowledgment to such collaborators as Messrs.
Samuel Insull, E. H. Johnson, F. R. Upton, R. N
Dyer, S. B. Eaton, Francis Jehl, W. S. Andrews, W.
J. Jenks, W. J. Hammer, F. J. Sprague, W. S. Mallory,
an, C. L. Clarke, and others, without whose aid
the issuance of this book would indeed have been
impossible. In particular, it is desired to acknowledge
indebtedness to Mr. W. H. Meadowcroft not only for
substantial aid in the literary part of the work, but
for indefatigable effort to group, classify, and summarize
the boundless material embodied in Edison's
note-books and memorabilia of all kinds now kept
at the Orange laboratory. Acknowledgment must
also be made of the courtesy and assistance of Mrs.
Edison, and especially of the loan of many interesting
and rare photographs from her private collection.





THE year 1847 marked a period of great territorial
acquisition by the American people, with incalculable
additions to their actual and potential wealth.
By the rational compromise with England in the dispute
over the Oregon region, President Polk had secured
during 1846, for undisturbed settlement, three
hundred thousand square miles of forest, fertile land,
and fisheries, including the whole fair Columbia Valley.
Our active "policy of the Pacific" dated from
that hour. With swift and clinching succession came
the melodramatic Mexican War, and February, 1848,
saw another vast territory south of Oregon and west
of the Rocky Mountains added by treaty to the United
States. Thus in about eighteen months there had
been pieced into the national domain for quick development
and exploitation a region as large as the
entire Union of Thirteen States at the close of the War
of Independence. Moreover, within its boundaries
was embraced all the great American gold-field, just
on the eve of discovery, for Marshall had detected the
shining particles in the mill-race at the foot of the
Sierra Nevada nine days before Mexico signed away
her rights in California and in all the vague, remote
hinterland facing Cathayward.

Equally momentous were the times in Europe, where
the attempt to secure opportunities of expansion as
well as larger liberty for the individual took quite
different form. The old absolutist system of government
was fast breaking up, and ancient thrones were
tottering. The red lava of deep revolutionary fires
oozed up through many glowing cracks in the political
crust, and all the social strata were shaken. That the
wild outbursts of insurrection midway in the fifth
decade failed and died away was not surprising, for
the superincumbent deposits of tradition and convention
were thick. But the retrospect indicates that
many reforms and political changes were accomplished,
although the process involved the exile of not a few
ardent spirits to America, to become leading statesmen,
inventors, journalists, and financiers. In 1847,
too, Russia began her tremendous march eastward into
Central Asia, just as France was solidifying her first
gains on the littoral of northern Africa. In England
the fierce fervor of the Chartist movement, with its
violent rhetoric as to the rights of man, was sobering
down and passing pervasively into numerous practical
schemes for social and political amelioration, constituting
in their entirety a most profound change
throughout every part of the national life.

Into such times Thomas Alva Edison was born, and
his relations to them and to the events of the past
sixty years are the subject of this narrative. Aside
from the personal interest that attaches to the picturesque
career, so typically American, there is a broader
aspect in which the work of the "Franklin of the
Nineteenth Century" touches the welfare and progress
of the race. It is difficult at any time to determine
the effect of any single invention, and the investigation
becomes more difficult where inventions of the
first class have been crowded upon each other in rapid
and bewildering succession. But it will be admitted
that in Edison one deals with a central figure of the
great age that saw the invention and introduction in
practical form of the telegraph, the submarine cable,
the telephone, the electric light, the electric railway,
the electric trolley-car, the storage battery, the electric
motor, the phonograph, the wireless telegraph; and
that the influence of these on the world's affairs has
not been excelled at any time by that of any other
corresponding advances in the arts and sciences.
These pages deal with Edison's share in the great
work of the last half century in abridging distance,
communicating intelligence, lessening toil, improving
illumination, recording forever the human voice; and
on behalf of inventive genius it may be urged that its
beneficent results and gifts to mankind compare with
any to be credited to statesman, warrior, or creative
writer of the same period.

Viewed from the standpoint of inventive progress,
the first half of the nineteenth century had passed
very profitably when Edison appeared--every year
marked by some notable achievement in the arts and
sciences, with promise of its early and abundant fruition
in commerce and industry. There had been
exactly four decades of steam navigation on American
waters. Railways were growing at the rate of
nearly one thousand miles annually. Gas had become
familiar as a means of illumination in large cities.
Looms and tools and printing-presses were everywhere
being liberated from the slow toil of man-power.
The first photographs had been taken. Chloroform,
nitrous oxide gas, and ether had been placed at the
service of the physician in saving life, and the revolver,
guncotton, and nitroglycerine added to the agencies
for slaughter. New metals, chemicals, and elements
had become available in large numbers, gases had
been liquefied and solidified, and the range of useful
heat and cold indefinitely extended. The safety-lamp
had been given to the miner, the caisson to the bridge-
builder, the anti-friction metal to the mechanic for
bearings. It was already known how to vulcanize
rubber, and how to galvanize iron. The application of
machinery in the harvest-field had begun with the
embryonic reaper, while both the bicycle and the
automobile were heralded in primitive prototypes. The
gigantic expansion of the iron and steel industry was
foreshadowed in the change from wood to coal in the
smelting furnaces. The sewing-machine had brought
with it, like the friction match, one of the most profound
influences in modifying domestic life, and making
it different from that of all preceding time.

Even in 1847 few of these things had lost their
novelty, most of them were in the earlier stages of
development. But it is when we turn to electricity
that the rich virgin condition of an illimitable new
kingdom of discovery is seen. Perhaps the word
"utilization" or "application" is better than discovery,
for then, as now, an endless wealth of phenomena
noted by experimenters from Gilbert to
Franklin and Faraday awaited the invention that
could alone render them useful to mankind. The
eighteenth century, keenly curious and ceaselessly active
in this fascinating field of investigation, had not,
after all, left much of a legacy in either principles or
appliances. The lodestone and the compass; the
frictional machine; the Leyden jar; the nature of conductors
and insulators; the identity of electricity and
the thunder-storm flash; the use of lightning-rods;
the physiological effects of an electrical shock--these
constituted the bulk of the bequest to which philosophers
were the only heirs. Pregnant with possibilities
were many of the observations that had been
recorded. But these few appliances made up the
meagre kit of tools with which the nineteenth century
entered upon its task of acquiring the arts and conveniences
now such an intimate part of "human nature's
daily food" that the average American to-day
pays more for his electrical service than he does for

With the first year of the new century came Volta's
invention of the chemical battery as a means of producing
electricity. A well-known Italian picture represents
Volta exhibiting his apparatus before the
young conqueror Napoleon, then ravishing from the
Peninsula its treasure of ancient art and founding an
ephemeral empire. At such a moment this gift of de-
spoiled Italy to the world was a noble revenge, setting
in motion incalculable beneficent forces and agencies.
For the first time man had command of a steady supply
of electricity without toil or effort. The useful
results obtainable previously from the current of a
frictional machine were not much greater than those
to be derived from the flight of a rocket. While the
frictional appliance is still employed in medicine, it
ranks with the flint axe and the tinder-box in industrial
obsolescence. No art or trade could be founded
on it; no diminution of daily work or increase of daily
comfort could be secured with it. But the little battery
with its metal plates in a weak solution proved
a perennial reservoir of electrical energy, safe and
controllable, from which supplies could be drawn at will.
That which was wild had become domesticated; regular
crops took the place of haphazard gleanings from
brake or prairie; the possibility of electrical starvation
was forever left behind.

Immediately new processes of inestimable value
revealed themselves; new methods were suggested.
Almost all the electrical arts now employed made
their beginnings in the next twenty-five years, and
while the more extensive of them depend to-day on
the dynamo for electrical energy, some of the most
important still remain in loyal allegiance to the older
source. The battery itself soon underwent modifications,
and new types were evolved--the storage,
the double-fluid, and the dry. Various analogies
next pointed to the use of heat, and the thermoelectric
cell emerged, embodying the application of
flame to the junction of two different metals. Davy,
of the safety-lamp, threw a volume of current across
the gap between two sticks of charcoal, and the voltaic
arc, forerunner of electric lighting, shed its bright
beams upon a dazzled world. The decomposition of
water by electrolytic action was recognized and made
the basis of communicating at a distance even
before the days of the electromagnet. The ties
that bind electricity and magnetism in twinship of
relation and interaction were detected, and Faraday's
work in induction gave the world at once the
dynamo and the motor. "Hitch your wagon to a
star," said Emerson. To all the coal-fields and all
the waterfalls Faraday had directly hitched the wheels
of industry. Not only was it now possible to convert
mechanical energy into electricity cheaply and in
illimitable quantities, but electricity at once showed
its ubiquitous availability as a motive power. Boats
were propelled by it, cars were hauled, and even papers
printed. Electroplating became an art, and telegraphy
sprang into active being on both sides of the

At the time Edison was born, in 1847, telegraphy,
upon which he was to leave so indelible an imprint,
had barely struggled into acceptance by the public.
In England, Wheatstone and Cooke had introduced a
ponderous magnetic needle telegraph. In America, in
1840, Morse had taken out his first patent on an electromagnetic
telegraph, the principle of which is dominating
in the art to this day. Four years later the
memorable message "What hath God wrought!" was
sent by young Miss Ellsworth over his circuits, and
incredulous Washington was advised by wire of the
action of the Democratic Convention in Baltimore in
nominating Polk. By 1847 circuits had been strung
between Washington and New York, under private
enterprise, the Government having declined to buy
the Morse system for $100,000. Everything was crude
and primitive. The poles were two hundred feet apart
and could barely hold up a wash-line. The slim, bare,
copper wire snapped on the least provocation, and the
circuit was "down" for thirty-six days in the first six
months. The little glass-knob insulators made seductive
targets for ignorant sportsmen. Attempts to insulate
the line wire were limited to coating it with tar
or smearing it with wax for the benefit of all the bees
in the neighborhood. The farthest western reach of
the telegraph lines in 1847 was Pittsburg, with three-
ply iron wire mounted on square glass insulators with
a little wooden pentroof for protection. In that office,
where Andrew Carnegie was a messenger boy, the
magnets in use to receive the signals sent with the aid
of powerful nitric-acid batteries weighed as much as
seventy-five pounds apiece. But the business was
fortunately small at the outset, until the new device,
patronized chiefly by lottery-men, had proved its
utility. Then came the great outburst of activity.
Within a score of years telegraph wires covered the
whole occupied country with a network, and the first
great electrical industry was a pronounced success,
yielding to its pioneers the first great harvest of
electrical fortunes. It had been a sharp struggle for bare
existence, during which such a man as the founder of
Cornell University had been glad to get breakfast in
New York with a quarter-dollar picked up on Broadway.



THOMAS ALVA EDISON was born at Milan
Ohio, February 11, 1847. The State that rivals
Virginia as a "Mother of Presidents" has evidently
other titles to distinction of the same nature. For
picturesque detail it would not be easy to find any
story excelling that of the Edison family before it
reached the Western Reserve. The story epitomizes
American idealism, restlessness, freedom of individual
opinion, and ready adjustment to the surrounding
conditions of pioneer life. The ancestral Edisons
who came over from Holland, as nearly as can be
determined, in 1730, were descendants of extensive
millers on the Zuyder Zee, and took up patents
of land along the Passaic River, New Jersey,
close to the home that Mr. Edison established in
the Orange Mountains a hundred and sixty years
later. They landed at Elizabethport, New Jersey,
and first settled near Caldwell in that State, where
some graves of the family may still be found. President
Cleveland was born in that quiet hamlet. It is
a curious fact that in the Edison family the
pronunciation of the name has always been with the
long "e" sound, as it would naturally be in the
Dutch language. The family prospered and must
have enjoyed public confidence, for we find the name
of Thomas Edison, as a bank official on Manhattan
Island, signed to Continental currency in 1778.
According to the family records this Edison, great-
grandfather of Thomas Alva, reached the extreme
old age of 104 years. But all was not well, and, as
has happened so often before, the politics of father
and son were violently different. The Loyalist movement
that took to Nova Scotia so many Americans
after the War of Independence carried with it John,
the son of this stalwart Continental. Thus it came
about that Samuel Edison, son of John, was born at
Digby, Nova Scotia, in 1804. Seven years later John
Edison who, as a Loyalist or United Empire emigrant,
had become entitled under the laws of Canada to a
grant of six hundred acres of land, moved westward
to take possession of this property. He made his
way through the State of New York in wagons drawn
by oxen to the remote and primitive township of
Bayfield, in Upper Canada, on Lake Huron. Although
the journey occurred in balmy June, it was necessarily
attended with difficulty and privation; but the new
home was situated in good farming country, and once
again this interesting nomadic family settled down.

John Edison moved from Bayfield to Vienna, Ontario,
on the northern bank of Lake Erie. Mr. Edison
supplies an interesting reminiscence of the old man
and his environment in those early Canadian days.
"When I was five years old I was taken by my father
and mother on a visit to Vienna. We were driven
by carriage from Milan, Ohio, to a railroad, then to a
port on Lake Erie, thence by a canal-boat in a tow
of several to Port Burwell, in Canada, across the lake,
and from there we drove to Vienna, a short distance
away. I remember my grandfather perfectly as he
appeared, at 102 years of age, when he died. In the
middle of the day he sat under a large tree in front
of the house facing a well-travelled road. His head
was covered completely with a large quantity of very
white hair, and he chewed tobacco incessantly, nodding
to friends as they passed by. He used a very
large cane, and walked from the chair to the house,
resenting any assistance. I viewed him from a distance,
and could never get very close to him. I remember
some large pipes, and especially a molasses
jug, a trunk, and several other things that came from

John Edison was long-lived, like his father, and
reached the ripe old age of 102, leaving his son
Samuel charged with the care of the family destinies,
but with no great burden of wealth. Little is known
of the early manhood of this father of T. A. Edison
until we find him keeping a hotel at Vienna, marrying
a school-teacher there (Miss Nancy Elliott, in 1828),
and taking a lively share in the troublous politics of
the time. He was six feet in height, of great bodily
vigor, and of such personal dominance of character
that he became a captain of the insurgent forces
rallying under the banners of Papineau and Mackenzie.
The opening years of Queen Victoria's reign
witnessed a belated effort in Canada to emphasize
the principle that there should not be taxation without
representation; and this descendant of those
who had left the United States from disapproval of
such a doctrine, flung himself headlong into its

It has been said of Earl Durham, who pacified
Canada at this time and established the present system
of government, that he made a country and marred
a career. But the immediate measures of repression
enforced before a liberal policy was adopted were
sharp and severe, and Samuel Edison also found his
own career marred on Canadian soil as one result of
the Durham administration. Exile to Bermuda with
other insurgents was not so attractive as the perils of
a flight to the United States. A very hurried
departure was effected in secret from the scene of
trouble, and there are romantic traditions of his
thrilling journey of one hundred and eighty-two
miles toward safety, made almost entirely without
food or sleep, through a wild country infested with
Indians of unfriendly disposition. Thus was the
Edison family repatriated by a picturesque political
episode, and the great inventor given a birthplace on
American soil, just as was Benjamin Franklin when
his father came from England to Boston. Samuel
Edison left behind him, however, in Canada, several
brothers, all of whom lived to the age of ninety or
more, and from whom there are descendants in the

After some desultory wanderings for a year or two
along the shores of Lake Erie, among the prosperous
towns then springing up, the family, with its Canadian
home forfeited, and in quest of another resting-place,
came to Milan, Ohio, in 1842. That pretty little
village offered at the moment many attractions as a
possible Chicago. The railroad system of Ohio was
still in the future, but the Western Reserve had
already become a vast wheat-field, and huge quantities
of grain from the central and northern counties
sought shipment to Eastern ports. The Huron
River, emptying into Lake Erie, was navigable within
a few miles of the village, and provided an admirable
outlet. Large granaries were established, and proved
so successful that local capital was tempted into the
project of making a tow-path canal from Lockwood
Landing all the way to Milan itself. The quaint old
Moravian mission and quondam Indian settlement of
one hundred inhabitants found itself of a sudden
one of the great grain ports of the world, and bidding
fair to rival Russian Odessa. A number of grain
warehouses, or primitive elevators, were built along
the bank of the canal, and the produce of the region
poured in immediately, arriving in wagons drawn by
four or six horses with loads of a hundred bushels.
No fewer than six hundred wagons came clattering in,
and as many as twenty sail vessels were loaded with
thirty-five thousand bushels of grain, during a single
day. The canal was capable of being navigated by
craft of from two hundred to two hundred and fifty
tons burden, and the demand for such vessels soon
led to the development of a brisk ship-building industry,
for which the abundant forests of the region
supplied the necessary lumber. An evidence of the
activity in this direction is furnished by the fact
that six revenue cutters were launched at this port
in these brisk days of its prime.

Samuel Edison, versatile, buoyant of temper, and
ever optimistic, would thus appear to have pitched
his tent with shrewd judgment. There was plenty
of occupation ready to his hand, and more than one
enterprise received his attention; but he devoted
his energies chiefly to the making of shingles, for
which there was a large demand locally and along
the lake. Canadian lumber was used principally in
this industry. The wood was imported in "bolts"
or pieces three feet long. A bolt made two shingles;
it was sawn asunder by hand, then split and shaved.
None but first-class timber was used, and such shingles
outlasted far those made by machinery with their
cross-grain cut. A house in Milan, on which some
of those shingles were put in 1844, was still in excellent
condition forty-two years later. Samuel Edison
did well at this occupation, and employed several
men, but there were other outlets from time to time
for his business activity and speculative disposition.

Edison's mother was an attractive and highly
educated woman, whose influence upon his disposition
and intellect has been profound and lasting.
She was born in Chenango County, New York, in 1810,
and was the daughter of the Rev. John Elliott, a
Baptist minister and descendant of an old Revolutionary
soldier, Capt. Ebenezer Elliott, of Scotch
descent. The old captain was a fine and picturesque
type. He fought all through the long War of Independence
--seven years--and then appears to have
settled down at Stonington, Connecticut. There, at
any rate, he found his wife, "grandmother Elliott,"
who was Mercy Peckham, daughter of a Scotch
Quaker. Then came the residence in New York
State, with final removal to Vienna, for the old
soldier, while drawing his pension at Buffalo, lived
in the little Canadian town, and there died, over
100 years old. The family was evidently one of considerable
culture and deep religious feeling, for two
of Mrs. Edison's uncles and two brothers were also
in the same Baptist ministry. As a young woman
she became a teacher in the public high school at
Vienna, and thus met her husband, who was residing
there. The family never consisted of more than three
children, two boys and a girl. A trace of the Canadian
environment is seen in the fact that Edison's
elder brother was named William Pitt, after the
great English statesman. Both his brother and the
sister exhibited considerable ability. William Pitt
Edison as a youth was so clever with his pencil that
it was proposed to send him to Paris as an art student.
In later life he was manager of the local
street railway lines at Port Huron, Michigan, in
which he was heavily interested. He also owned a
good farm near that town, and during the ill-health
at the close of his life, when compelled to spend much
of the time indoors, he devoted himself almost entirely
to sketching. It has been noted by intimate
observers of Thomas A. Edison that in discussing
any project or new idea his first impulse is to take
up any piece of paper available and make drawings
of it. His voluminous note-books are a mass of
sketches. Mrs-Tannie Edison Bailey, the sister, had,
on the other hand, a great deal of literary ability,
and spent much of her time in writing.

The great inventor, whose iron endurance and
stern will have enabled him to wear down all his
associates by work sustained through arduous days
and sleepless nights, was not at all strong as a child,
and was of fragile appearance. He had an abnormally
large but well-shaped head, and it is said that
the local doctors feared he might have brain trouble.
In fact, on account of his assumed delicacy, he was
not allowed to go to school for some years, and even
when he did attend for a short time the results were
not encouraging--his mother being hotly indignant
upon hearing that the teacher had spoken of him to
an inspector as "addled." The youth was, indeed,
fortunate far beyond the ordinary in having a
mother at once loving, well-informed, and ambitious,
capable herself, from her experience as a teacher, of
undertaking and giving him an education better than
could be secured in the local schools of the day.
Certain it is that under this simple regime studious
habits were formed and a taste for literature developed
that have lasted to this day. If ever there was a
man who tore the heart out of books it is Edison,
and what has once been read by him is never forgotten
if useful or worthy of submission to the test
of experiment.

But even thus early the stronger love of mechanical
processes and of probing natural forces manifested
itself. Edison has said that he never saw a statement
in any book as to such things that he did
not involuntarily challenge, and wish to demonstrate
as either right or wrong. As a mere child the busy
scenes of the canal and the grain warehouses were of
consuming interest, but the work in the ship-building
yards had an irresistible fascination. His questions
were so ceaseless and innumerable that the penetrating
curiosity of an unusually strong mind was regarded
as deficiency in powers of comprehension, and
the father himself, a man of no mean ingenuity and
ability, reports that the child, although capable of
reducing him to exhaustion by endless inquiries, was
often spoken of as rather wanting in ordinary acumen.
This apparent dulness is, however, a quite common
incident to youthful genius.

The constructive tendencies of this child of whom
his father said once that he had never had any boyhood
days in the ordinary sense, were early noted in
his fondness for building little plank roads out of the
debris of the yards and mills. His extraordinarily
retentive memory was shown in his easy acquisition
of all the songs of the lumber gangs and canal men
before he was five years old. One incident tells how
he was found one day in the village square copying
laboriously the signs of the stores. A highly characteristic
event at the age of six is described by his
sister. He had noted a goose sitting on her eggs
and the result. One day soon after, he was missing.
By-and-by, after an anxious search, his father found
him sitting in a nest he had made in the barn, filled
with goose-eggs and hens' eggs he had collected, trying
to hatch them out.

One of Mr. Edison's most vivid recollections goes
back to 1850, when as a child three of four years old
he saw camped in front of his home six covered
wagons, "prairie schooners," and witnessed their
departure for California. The great excitement over
the gold discoveries was thus felt in Milan, and these
wagons, laden with all the worldly possessions of
their owners, were watched out of sight on their long
journey by this fascinated urchin, whose own discoveries
in later years were to tempt many other
argonauts into the auriferous realms of electricity.

Another vivid memory of this period concerns his
first realization of the grim mystery of death. He
went off one day with the son of the wealthiest man
in the town to bathe in the creek. Soon after they
entered the water the other boy disappeared. Young
Edison waited around the spot for half an hour or
more, and then, as it was growing dark, went home
puzzled and lonely, but silent as to the occurrence.
About two hours afterward, when the missing boy
was being searched for, a man came to the Edison
home to make anxious inquiry of the companion with
whom he had last been seen. Edison told all the
circumstances with a painful sense of being in some
way implicated. The creek was at once dragged, and
then the body was recovered.

Edison had himself more than one narrow escape.
Of course he fell in the canal and was nearly drowned;
few boys in Milan worth their salt omitted that
performance. On another occasion he encountered a
more novel peril by falling into the pile of wheat in
a grain elevator and being almost smothered. Holding
the end of a skate-strap for another lad to shorten
with an axe, he lost the top of a finger. Fire also
had its perils. He built a fire in a barn, but the
flames spread so rapidly that, although he escaped
himself, the barn was wholly destroyed, and he was
publicly whipped in the village square as a warning
to other youths. Equally well remembered is a dangerous
encounter with a ram that attacked him while
he was busily engaged digging out a bumblebee's
nest near an orchard fence. The animal knocked
him against the fence, and was about to butt him
again when he managed to drop over on the safe side
and escape. He was badly hurt and bruised, and no
small quantity of arnica was needed for his wounds.

Meantime little Milan had reached the zenith of
its prosperity, and all of a sudden had been deprived
of its flourishing grain trade by the new Columbus,
Sandusky & Hocking Railroad; in fact, the short
canal was one of the last efforts of its kind in this
country to compete with the new means of transportation.
The bell of the locomotive was everywhere
ringing the death-knell of effective water haulage,
with such dire results that, in 1880, of the 4468
miles of American freight canal, that had cost $214,000,000,
no fewer than 1893 miles had been abandoned,
and of the remaining 2575 miles quite a large
proportion was not paying expenses. The short
Milan canal suffered with the rest, and to-day lies
well-nigh obliterated, hidden in part by vegetable
gardens, a mere grass-grown depression at the foot
of the winding, shallow valley. Other railroads also
prevented any further competition by the canal, for
a branch of the Wheeling & Lake Erie now passes
through the village, while the Lake Shore & Michigan
Southern runs a few miles to the south.

The owners of the canal soon had occasion to
regret that they had disdained the overtures of
enterprising railroad promoters desirous of reaching
the village, and the consequences of commercial isolation
rapidly made themselves felt. It soon became
evident to Samuel Edison and his wife that the cozy
brick home on the bluff must be given up and the
struggle with fortune resumed elsewhere. They were
well-to-do, however, and removing, in 1854, to Port
Huron, Michigan, occupied a large colonial house
standing in the middle of an old Government fort
reservation of ten acres overlooking the wide expanse
of the St. Clair River just after it leaves Lake Huron.
It was in many ways an ideal homestead, toward
which the family has always felt the strongest attachment,
but the association with Milan has never
wholly ceased. The old house in which Edison was
born is still occupied (in 1910) by Mr. S. O. Edison,
a half-brother of Edison's father, and a man of marked
inventive ability. He was once prominent in the
iron-furnace industry of Ohio, and was for a time
associated in the iron trade with the father of the
late President McKinley. Among his inventions may
be mentioned a machine for making fuel from wheat
straw, and a smoke-consuming device.

This birthplace of Edison remains the plain, substantial
little brick house it was originally: one-
storied, with rooms finished on the attic floor. Being
built on the hillside, its basement opens into the rear
yard. It was at first heated by means of open coal
grates, which may not have been altogether adequate
in severe winters, owing to the altitude and the north-
eastern exposure, but a large furnace is one of the
more modern changes. Milan itself is not materially
unlike the smaller Ohio towns of its own time or
those of later creation, but the venerable appearance
of the big elm-trees that fringe the trim lawns tells
of its age. It is, indeed, an extremely neat, snug little
place, with well-kept homes, mostly of frame construction,
and flagged streets crossing each other at
right angles. There are no poor--at least, everybody
is apparently well-to-do. While a leisurely atmosphere
pervades the town, few idlers are seen. Some
of the residents are engaged in local business; some
are occupied in farming and grape culture; others are
employed in the iron-works near-by, at Norwalk.
The stores and places of public resort are gathered
about the square, where there is plenty of room for
hitching when the Saturday trading is done at that
point, at which periods the fitful bustle recalls the
old wheat days when young Edison ran with curiosity
among the six and eight horse teams that had brought
in grain. This square is still covered with fine
primeval forest trees, and has at its centre a handsome
soldiers' monument of the Civil War, to which
four paved walks converge. It is an altogether pleasant
and unpretentious town, which cherishes with no
small amount of pride its association with the name
of Thomas Alva Edison.

In view of Edison's Dutch descent, it is rather
singular to find him with the name of Alva, for the
Spanish Duke of Alva was notoriously the worst
tyrant ever known to the Low Countries, and his
evil deeds occupy many stirring pages in Motley's
famous history. As a matter of fact, Edison was
named after Capt. Alva Bradley, an old friend of his
father, and a celebrated ship-owner on the Lakes.
Captain Bradley died a few years ago in wealth, while
his old associate, with equal ability for making money,
was never able long to keep it (differing again from
the Revolutionary New York banker from whom his
son's other name, "Thomas," was taken).



THE new home found by the Edison family at
Port Huron, where Alva spent his brief boyhood
before he became a telegraph operator and roamed
the whole middle West of that period, was unfortunately
destroyed by fire just after the close of the
Civil War. A smaller but perhaps more comfortable
home was then built by Edison's father on some
property he had bought at the near-by village of
Gratiot, and there his mother spent the remainder
of her life in confirmed invalidism, dying in 1871.
Hence the pictures and postal cards sold largely to
souvenir-hunters as the Port Huron home do not
actually show that in or around which the events
now referred to took place.

It has been a romance of popular biographers, based
upon the fact that Edison began his career as a
newsboy, to assume that these earlier years were
spent in poverty and privation, as indeed they usually
are by the "newsies" who swarm and shout their
papers in our large cities. While it seems a pity to
destroy this erroneous idea, suggestive of a heroic
climb from the depths to the heights, nothing could
be further from the truth. Socially the Edison family
stood high in Port Huron at a time when there
was relatively more wealth and general activity than
to-day. The town in its pristine prime was a great
lumber centre, and hummed with the industry of
numerous sawmills. An incredible quantity of lumber
was made there yearly until the forests near-by
vanished and the industry with them. The wealth
of the community, invested largely in this business
and in allied transportation companies, was accumulated
rapidly and as freely spent during those days
of prosperity in St. Clair County, bringing with it a
high standard of domestic comfort. In all this the
Edisons shared on equal terms.

Thus, contrary to the stories that have been so
widely published, the Edisons, while not rich by any
means, were in comfortable circumstances, with a
well-stocked farm and large orchard to draw upon
also for sustenance. Samuel Edison, on moving to
Port Huron, became a dealer in grain and feed, and
gave attention to that business for many years. But
he was also active in the lumber industry in the
Saginaw district and several other things. It was
difficult for a man of such mercurial, restless
temperament to stay constant to any one occupation;
in fact, had he been less visionary he would have
been more prosperous, but might not have had a son
so gifted with insight and imagination. One instance
of the optimistic vagaries which led him incessantly
to spend time and money on projects that would not
have appealed to a man less sanguine was the
construction on his property of a wooden observation
tower over a hundred feet high, the top of which was
reached toilsomely by winding stairs, after the pay-

ment of twenty-five cents. It is true that the tower
commanded a pretty view by land and water, but
Colonel Sellers himself might have projected this
enterprise as a possible source of steady income. At
first few visitors panted up the long flights of steps
to the breezy platform. During the first two months
Edison's father took in three dollars, and felt extremely
blue over the prospect, and to young Edison and his
relatives were left the lonely pleasures of the lookout
and the enjoyment of the telescope with which it
was equipped. But one fine day there came an excursion
from an inland town to see the lake. They
picnicked in the grove, and six hundred of them went
up the tower. After that the railroad company began
to advertise these excursions, and the receipts
each year paid for the observatory.

It might be thought that, immersed in business
and preoccupied with schemes of this character, Mr.
Edison was to blame for the neglect of his son's
education. But that was not the case. The conditions
were peculiar. It was at the Port Huron public
school that Edison received all the regular scholastic
instruction he ever enjoyed--just three months.
He might have spent the full term there, but, as
already noted, his teacher had found him "addled."
He was always, according to his own recollection,
at the foot of the class, and had come almost to regard
himself as a dunce, while his father entertained
vague anxieties as to his stupidity. The truth of the
matter seems to be that Mrs. Edison, a teacher of uncommon
ability and force, held no very high opinion
of the average public-school methods and results, and
was both eager to undertake the instruction of her
son and ambitious for the future of a boy whom she
knew from pedagogic experience to be receptive and
thoughtful to a very unusual degree. With her he
found study easy and pleasant. The quality of culture
in that simple but refined home, as well as the
intellectual character of this youth without schooling,
may be inferred from the fact that before he
had reached the age of twelve he had read, with his
mother's help, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire, Hume's History of England, Sears' History of
the World, Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, and the
Dictionary of Sciences; and had even attempted to
struggle through Newton's Principia, whose mathematics
were decidedly beyond both teacher and
student. Besides, Edison, like Faraday, was never
a mathematician, and has had little personal use for
arithmetic beyond that which is called "mental."
He said once to a friend: "I can always hire some
mathematicians, but they can't hire me." His father,
by-the-way, always encouraged these literary tastes,
and paid him a small sum for each new book mastered.
It will be noted that fiction makes no showing
in the list; but it was not altogether excluded
from the home library, and Edison has all his life
enjoyed it, particularly the works of such writers as
Victor Hugo, after whom, because of his enthusiastic
admiration--possibly also because of his imagination--he
was nicknamed by his fellow-operators,
"Victor Hugo Edison."

Electricity at that moment could have no allure
for a youthful mind. Crude telegraphy represented
what was known of it practically, and about that the
books read by young Edison were not redundantly
informational. Even had that not been so, the
inclinations of the boy barely ten years old were
toward chemistry, and fifty years later there is seen
no change of predilection. It sounds like heresy to
say that Edison became an electrician by chance,
but it is the sober fact that to this pre-eminent and
brilliant leader in electrical achievement escape into
the chemical domain still has the aspect of a delightful
truant holiday. One of the earliest stories about
his boyhood relates to the incident when he induced
a lad employed in the family to swallow a large
quantity of Seidlitz powders in the belief that the
gases generated would enable him to fly. The agonies
of the victim attracted attention, and Edison's
mother marked her displeasure by an application of
the switch kept behind the old Seth Thomas "grandfather
clock." The disastrous result of this experiment
did not discourage Edison at all, as he attributed
failure to the lad rather than to the motive
power. In the cellar of the Edison homestead young
Alva soon accumulated a chemical outfit, constituting
the first in a long series of laboratories. The word
"laboratory" had always been associated with
alchemists in the past, but as with "filament" this
untutored stripling applied an iconoclastic practicability
to it long before he realized the significance of
the new departure. Goethe, in his legend of Faust,
shows the traditional or conventional philosopher in
his laboratory, an aged, tottering, gray-bearded
investigator, who only becomes youthful upon dia-
bolical intervention, and would stay senile without
it. In the Edison laboratory no such weird transformation
has been necessary, for the philosopher had
youth, fiery energy, and a grimly practical determination
that would submit to no denial of the goal
of something of real benefit to mankind. Edison and
Faust are indeed the extremes of philosophic thought
and accomplishment.

The home at Port Huron thus saw the first Edison
laboratory. The boy began experimenting when he
was about ten or eleven years of age. He got a copy
of Parker's School Philosophy, an elementary book on
physics, and about every experiment in it he tried.
Young Alva, or "Al," as he was called, thus early
displayed his great passion for chemistry, and in the
cellar of the house he collected no fewer than two
hundred bottles, gleaned in baskets from all parts of
the town. These were arranged carefully on shelves
and all labelled "Poison," so that no one else would
handle or disturb them. They contained the chemicals
with which he was constantly experimenting.
To others this diversion was both mysterious and
meaningless, but he had soon become familiar with
all the chemicals obtainable at the local drug stores,
and had tested to his satisfaction many of the statements
encountered in his scientific reading. Edison
has said that sometimes he has wondered how it was
he did not become an analytical chemist instead of
concentrating on electricity, for which he had at first
no great inclination.

Deprived of the use of a large part of her cellar,
tiring of the "mess" always to be found there, and
somewhat fearful of results, his mother once told the
boy to clear everything out and restore order. The
thought of losing all his possessions was the cause
of so much ardent distress that his mother relented,
but insisted that he must get a lock and key, and
keep the embryonic laboratory closed up all the time
except when he was there. This was done. From
such work came an early familiarity with the nature
of electrical batteries and the production of current
from them. Apparently the greater part of his spare
time was spent in the cellar, for he did not share to
any extent in the sports of the boys of the
neighborhood, his chum and chief companion, Michael
Oates, being a lad of Dutch origin, many years older,
who did chores around the house, and who could be
recruited as a general utility Friday for the experiments
of this young explorer--such as that with the
Seidlitz powders.

Such pursuits as these consumed the scant pocket-
money of the boy very rapidly. He was not in regular
attendance at school, and had read all the books
within reach. It was thus he turned newsboy, overcoming
the reluctance of his parents, particularly
that of his mother, by pointing out that he could by
this means earn all he wanted for his experiments
and get fresh reading in the shape of papers and
magazines free of charge. Besides, his leisure hours
in Detroit he would be able to spend at the public
library. He applied (in 1859) for the privilege of
selling newspapers on the trains of the Grand Trunk
Railroad, between Port Huron and Detroit, and obtained
the concession after a short delay, during
which he made an essay in his task of selling newspapers.

Edison had, as a fact, already had some commercial
experience from the age of eleven. The ten acres of
the reservation offered an excellent opportunity for
truck-farming, and the versatile head of the family
could not avoid trying his luck in this branch of
work. A large "market garden" was laid out, in
which Edison worked pretty steadily with the help of
the Dutch boy, Michael Oates--he of the flying
experiment. These boys had a horse and small wagon
intrusted to them, and every morning in the season
they would load up with onions, lettuce, peas, etc.,
and go through the town.

As much as $600 was turned over to Mrs. Edison
in one year from this source. The boy was indefatigable
but not altogether charmed with agriculture.
"After a while I tired of this work, as hoeing
corn in a hot sun is unattractive, and I did not
wonder that it had built up cities. Soon the Grand
Trunk Railroad was extended from Toronto to Port
Huron, at the foot of Lake Huron, and thence to
Detroit, at about the same time the War of the
Rebellion broke out. By a great amount of persistence
I got permission from my mother to go on the
local train as a newsboy. The local train from Port
Huron to Detroit, a distance of sixty-three miles,
left at 7 A.M. and arrived again at 9.30 P.M. After
being on the train for several months, I started two
stores in Port Huron--one for periodicals, and the
other for vegetables, butter, and berries in the season.
These were attended by two boys who shared in the
profits. The periodical store I soon closed, as the
boy in charge could not be trusted. The vegetable
store I kept up for nearly a year. After the railroad
had been opened a short time, they put on an express
which left Detroit in the morning and returned in
the evening. I received permission to put a newsboy
on this train. Connected with this train was
a car, one part for baggage and the other part for
U. S. mail, but for a long time it was not used. Every
morning I had two large baskets of vegetables from
the Detroit market loaded in the mail-car and sent
to Port Huron, where the boy would take them to
the store. They were much better than those grown
locally, and sold readily. I never was asked to pay
freight, and to this day cannot explain why, except
that I was so small and industrious, and the nerve to
appropriate a U. S. mail-car to do a free freight business
was so monumental. However, I kept this up
for a long time, and in addition bought butter from
the farmers along the line, and an immense amount
of blackberries in the season. I bought wholesale
and at a low price, and permitted the wives of the
engineers and trainmen to have the benefit of the
discount. After a while there was a daily immigrant
train put on. This train generally had from seven
to ten coaches filled always with Norwegians, all
bound for Iowa and Minnesota. On these trains I
employed a boy who sold bread, tobacco, and stick
candy. As the war progressed the daily newspaper
sales became very profitable, and I gave up the vegetable

The hours of this occupation were long, but the
work was not particularly heavy, and Edison soon
found opportunity for his favorite avocation--chemical
experimentation. His train left Port Huron at
7 A.M., and made its southward trip to Detroit in
about three hours. This gave a stay in that city
from 10 A.M. until the late afternoon, when the train
left, arriving at Port Huron about 9.30 P.M. The
train was made up of three coaches--baggage, smoking,
and ordinary passenger or "ladies." The baggage-car
was divided into three compartments--one
for trunks and packages, one for the mail, and one for
smoking. In those days no use was made of the
smoking-compartment, as there was no ventilation,
and it was turned over to young Edison, who not only
kept papers there and his stock of goods as a "candy
butcher," but soon had it equipped with an extraordinary
variety of apparatus. There was plenty of
leisure on the two daily runs, even for an industrious
boy, and thus he found time to transfer his laboratory
from the cellar and re-establish it on the train.

His earnings were also excellent--so good, in fact,
that eight or ten dollars a day were often taken in,
and one dollar went every day to his mother. Thus
supporting himself, he felt entitled to spend any other
profit left over on chemicals and apparatus. And
spent it was, for with access to Detroit and its large
stores, where he bought his supplies, and to the public
library, where he could quench his thirst for technical
information, Edison gave up all his spare time
and money to chemistry. Surely the country could
have presented at that moment no more striking example
of the passionate pursuit of knowledge under
difficulties than this newsboy, barely fourteen years
of age, with his jars and test-tubes installed on a
railway baggage-car.

Nor did this amazing equipment stop at batteries
and bottles. The same little space a few feet square
was soon converted by this precocious youth into a
newspaper office. The outbreak of the Civil War
gave a great stimulus to the demand for all newspapers,
noticing which he became ambitious to publish
a local journal of his own, devoted to the news
of that section of the Grand Trunk road. A small
printing-press that had been used for hotel bills of
fare was picked up in Detroit, and type was also
bought, some of it being placed on the train so that
composition could go on in spells of leisure. To one
so mechanical in his tastes as Edison, it was quite
easy to learn the rudiments of the printing art, and
thus the Weekly Herald came into existence, of which
he was compositor, pressman, editor, publisher, and
newsdealer. Only one or two copies of this journal
are now discoverable, but its appearance can be
judged from the reduced facsimile here shown. The
thing was indeed well done as the work of a youth
shown by the date to be less than fifteen years old.
The literary style is good, there are only a few trivial
slips in spelling, and the appreciation is keen of what
would be interesting news and gossip. The price was
three cents a copy, or eight cents a month for regular
subscribers, and the circulation ran up to over
four hundred copies an issue. This was by no means
the result of mere public curiosity, but attested the
value of the sheet as a genuine newspaper, to which
many persons in the railroad service along the line
were willing contributors. Indeed, with the aid of
the railway telegraph, Edison was often able to print
late news of importance, of local origin, that the distant
regular papers like those of Detroit, which he
handled as a newsboy, could not get. It is no wonder
that this clever little sheet received the approval
and patronage of the English engineer Stephenson
when inspecting the Grand Trunk system, and was
noted by no less distinguished a contemporary than
the London Times as the first newspaper in the world
to be printed on a train in motion. The youthful
proprietor sometimes cleared as much as twenty to
thirty dollars a month from this unique journalistic

But all this extra work required attention, and
Edison solved the difficulty of attending also to the
newsboy business by the employment of a young
friend, whom he trained and treated liberally as an
understudy. There was often plenty of work for
both in the early days of the war, when the news of
battle caused intense excitement and large sales of
papers. Edison, with native shrewdness already so
strikingly displayed, would telegraph the station
agents and get them to bulletin the event of the day
at the front, so that when each station was reached
there were eager purchasers waiting. He recalls in
particular the sensation caused by the great battle
of Shiloh, or Pittsburg Landing, in April, 1862, in
which both Grant and Sherman were engaged, in
which Johnston died, and in which there was a ghastly
total of 25,000 killed and wounded.

In describing his enterprising action that day, Edison
says that when he reached Detroit the bulletin-
boards of the newspaper offices were surrounded with
dense crowds, which read awestricken the news that
there were 60,000 killed and wounded, and that the
result was uncertain. "I knew that if the same
excitement was attained at the various small towns
along the road, and especially at Port Huron, the sale
of papers would be great. I then conceived the idea
of telegraphing the news ahead, went to the operator
in the depot, and by giving him Harper's Weekly and
some other papers for three months, he agreed to
telegraph to all the stations the matter on the bulletin-board.
I hurriedly copied it, and he sent it, requesting
the agents to display it on the blackboards
used for stating the arrival and departure of trains. I
decided that instead of the usual one hundred papers
I could sell one thousand; but not having sufficient
money to purchase that number, I determined in my
desperation to see the editor himself and get credit.
The great paper at that time was the Detroit Free
Press. I walked into the office marked "Editorial"
and told a young man that I wanted to see the editor
on important business--important to me, anyway,
I was taken into an office where there were two men,
and I stated what I had done about telegraphing,
and that I wanted a thousand papers, but only had
money for three hundred, and I wanted credit. One
of the men refused it, but the other told the first
spokesman to let me have them. This man, I afterward
learned, was Wilbur F. Storey, who subsequently
founded the Chicago Times, and became celebrated in
the newspaper world. By the aid of another boy I
lugged the papers to the train and started folding
them. The first station, called Utica, was a small
one where I generally sold two papers. I saw a
crowd ahead on the platform, and thought it some
excursion, but the moment I landed there was a rush
for me; then I realized that the telegraph was a great
invention. I sold thirty-five papers there. The next
station was Mount Clemens, now a watering-place,
but then a town of about one thousand. I usually
sold six to eight papers there. I decided that if I
found a corresponding crowd there, the only thing
to do to correct my lack of judgment in not getting
more papers was to raise the price from five cents to
ten. The crowd was there, and I raised the price. At
the various towns there were corresponding crowds.
It had been my practice at Port Huron to jump from
the train at a point about one-fourth of a mile from
the station, where the train generally slackened
speed. I had drawn several loads of sand to this
point to jump on, and had become quite expert. The
little Dutch boy with the horse met me at this point.
When the wagon approached the outskirts of the
town I was met by a large crowd. I then yelled:
`Twenty-five cents apiece, gentlemen! I haven't
enough to go around!' I sold all out, and made what
to me then was an immense sum of money."

Such episodes as this added materially to his income,
but did not necessarily increase his savings,
for he was then, as now, an utter spendthrift so long
as some new apparatus or supplies for experiment
could be had. In fact, the laboratory on wheels soon
became crowded with such equipment, most costly
chemicals were bought on the instalment plan, and
Fresenius' Qualitative Analysis served as a basis for
ceaseless testing and study. George Pullman, who
then had a small shop at Detroit and was working
on his sleeping-car, made Edison a lot of wooden
apparatus for his chemicals, to the boy's delight.
Unfortunately a sudden change came, fraught with
disaster. The train, running one day at thirty miles
an hour over a piece of poorly laid track, was thrown
suddenly out of the perpendicular with a violent
lurch, and, before Edison could catch it, a stick of
phosphorus was jarred from its shelf, fell to the
floor, and burst into flame. The car took fire, and
the boy, in dismay, was still trying to quench the
blaze when the conductor, a quick-tempered Scotchman,
who acted also as baggage-master, hastened to
the scene with water and saved his car. On the arrival
at Mount Clemens station, its next stop, Edison
and his entire outfit, laboratory, printing-plant, and
all, were promptly ejected by the enraged conductor,
and the train then moved off, leaving him on the platform,
tearful and indignant in the midst of his beloved
but ruined possessions. It was lynch law of a
kind; but in view of the responsibility, this action of
the conductor lay well within his rights and duties.

It was through this incident that Edison acquired
the deafness that has persisted all through his life,
a severe box on the ears from the scorched and angry
conductor being the direct cause of the infirmity.
Although this deafness would be regarded as a great
affliction by most people, and has brought in its train
other serious baubles, Mr. Edison has always regarded
it philosophically, and said about it recently:
"This deafness has been of great advantage to me
in various ways. When in a telegraph office, I could
only hear the instrument directly on the table at
which I sat, and unlike the other operators, I was not
bothered by the other instruments. Again, in
experimenting on the telephone, I had to improve the
transmitter so I could hear it. This made the telephone
commercial, as the magneto telephone receiver
of Bell was too weak to be used as a transmitter
commercially. It was the same with the phonograph.
The great defect of that instrument was the
rendering of the overtones in music, and the hissing
consonants in speech. I worked over one year,
twenty hours a day' Sundays and all, to get the word
`specie ' perfectly recorded and reproduced on the
phonograph. When this was done I knew that
everything else could be done which was a fact.
Again, my nerves have been preserved intact. Broadway
is as quiet to me as a country village is to a
person with normal hearing."

Saddened but not wholly discouraged, Edison soon
reconstituted his laboratory and printing-office at
home, although on the part of the family there was
some fear and objection after this episode, on the score
of fire. But Edison promised not to bring in anything
of a dangerous nature. He did not cease the
publication of the Weekly Herald. On the contrary,
he prospered in both his enterprises until persuaded
by the "printer's devil" in the office of the
Port Huron Commercial to change the character of
his journal, enlarge it, and issue it under the name
of Paul Pry, a happy designation for this or kindred
ventures in the domain of society journalism. No
copies of Paul Pry can now be found, but it is
known that its style was distinctly personal, that
gossip was its specialty, and that no small offence
was given to the people whose peculiarities or peccadilloes
were discussed in a frank and breezy style by
the two boys. In one instance the resentment of
the victim of such unsought publicity was so intense
he laid hands on Edison and pitched the startled
young editor into the St. Clair River. The name of
this violator of the freedom of the press was thereafter
excluded studiously from the columns of Paul
Pry, and the incident may have been one of those
which soon caused the abandonment of the paper.
Edison had great zest in this work, and but for the
strong influences in other directions would probably
have continued in the newspaper field, in which he
was, beyond question, the youngest publisher and
editor of the day.

Before leaving this period of his career, it is to be
noted that it gave Edison many favorable opportunities.
In Detroit he could spend frequent hours
in the public library, and it is matter of record that
he began his liberal acquaintance with its contents
by grappling bravely with a certain section and trying
to read it through consecutively, shelf by shelf,
regardless of subject. In a way this is curiously
suggestive of the earnest, energetic method of "frontal
attack" with which the inventor has since addressed
himself to so many problems in the arts and sciences.

The Grand Trunk Railroad machine-shops at Port
Huron were a great attraction to the boy, who appears
to have spent a good deal of his time there. He who
was to have much to do with the evolution of the
modern electric locomotive was fascinated by the
mechanism of the steam locomotive; and whenever
he could get the chance Edison rode in the cab with
the engineer of his train. He became thoroughly
familiar with the intricacies of fire-box, boiler, valves,
levers, and gears, and liked nothing better than to
handle the locomotive himself during the run. On
one trip, when the engineer lay asleep while his eager
substitute piloted the train, the boiler "primed,"
and a deluge overwhelmed the young driver, who
stuck to his post till the run and the ordeal were
ended. Possibly this helped to spoil a locomotive
engineer, but went to make a great master of the new
motive power. "Steam is half an Englishman," said
Emerson. The temptation is strong to say that workaday
electricity is half an American. Edison's own
account of the incident is very laughable: "The engine
was one of a number leased to the Grand Trunk by
the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. It had bright brass
bands all over, the woodwork beautifully painted,
and everything highly polished, which was the custom
up to the time old Commodore Vanderbilt
stopped it on his roads. After running about fifteen
miles the fireman couldn't keep his eyes open (this
event followed an all-night dance of the trainmen's
fraternal organization), and he agreed to permit me
to run the engine. I took charge, reducing the speed
to about twelve miles an hour, and brought the
train of seven cars to her destination at the Grand
Trunk junction safely. But something occurred which
was very much out of the ordinary. I was very much
worried about the water, and I knew that if it got
low the boiler was likely to explode. I hadn't gone
twenty miles before black damp mud blew out of the
stack and covered every part of the engine, including
myself. I was about to awaken the fireman to find
out the cause of this when it stopped. Then I approached
a station where the fireman always went out
to the cowcatcher, opened the oil-cup on the steam-
chest, and poured oil in. I started to carry out the
procedure when, upon opening the oil-cup, the steam
rushed out with a tremendous noise, nearly knocking
me off the engine. I succeeded in closing the oil-cup
and got back in the cab, and made up my mind that
she would pull through without oil. I learned afterward
that the engineer always shut off steam when
the fireman went out to oil. This point I failed to
notice. My powers of observation were very much improved
after this occurrence. Just before I reached
the junction another outpour of black mud occurred,
and the whole engine was a sight--so much so that
when I pulled into the yard everybody turned to see
it, laughing immoderately. I found the reason of the
mud was that I carried so much water it passed over
into the stack, and this washed out all the accumulated

One afternoon about a week before Christmas Edison's
train jumped the track near Utica, a station
on the line. Four old Michigan Central cars with
rotten sills collapsed in the ditch and went all to
pieces, distributing figs, raisins, dates, and candies
all over the track and the vicinity. Hating to see so
much waste, Edison tried to save all he could by eating
it on the spot, but as a result "our family doctor had
the time of his life with me in this connection."

An absurd incident described by Edison throws a
vivid light on the free-and-easy condition of early railroad
travel and on the Southern extravagance of the
time. "In 1860, just before the war broke out there
came to the train one afternoon, in Detroit, two fine-
looking young men accompanied by a colored servant.
They bought tickets for Port Huron, the terminal point
for the train. After leaving the junction just outside
of Detroit, I brought in the evening papers. When I
came opposite the two young men, one of them said:
`Boy, what have you got?' I said: `Papers.' `All
right.' He took them and threw them out of the
window, and, turning to the colored man, said:
`Nicodemus, pay this boy.' I told Nicodemus the
amount, and he opened a satchel and paid me. The
passengers didn't know what to make of the transaction.
I returned with the illustrated papers and
magazines. These were seized and thrown out of
the window, and I was told to get my money of
Nicodemus. I then returned with all the old magazines
and novels I had not been able to sell, thinking
perhaps this would be too much for them. I was
small and thin, and the layer reached above my head,
and was all I could possibly carry. I had prepared a
list, and knew the amount in case they bit again.
When I opened the door, all the passengers roared
with laughter. I walked right up to the young men.
One asked me what I had. I said `Magazines and
novels.' He promptly threw them out of the window,
and Nicodemus settled. Then I came in with
cracked hickory nuts, then pop-corn balls, and, finally,
molasses candy. All went out of the window. I felt
like Alexander the Great!--I had no more chance! I
had sold all I had. Finally I put a rope to my trunk,
which was about the size of a carpenter's chest, and
started to pull this from the baggage-car to the
passenger-car. It was almost too much for my
strength, but at last I got it in front of those men.
I pulled off my coat, shoes, and hat, and laid them
on the chest. Then he asked: `What have you got,
boy?' I said: `Everything, sir, that I can spare that is
for sale.' The passengers fairly jumped with laughter.
Nicodemus paid me $27 for this last sale, and threw
the whole out of the door in the rear of the car. These
men were from the South, and I have always retained
a soft spot in my heart for a Southern gentleman."

While Edison was a newsboy on the train a request
came to him one day to go to the office of E. B. Ward
& Company, at that time the largest owners of steamboats
on the Great Lakes. The captain of their largest
boat had died suddenly, and they wanted a message
taken to another captain who lived about fourteen
miles from Ridgeway station on the railroad. This
captain had retired, taken up some lumber land, and
had cleared part of it. Edison was offered $15 by
Mr. Ward to go and fetch him, but as it was a wild
country and would be dark, Edison stood out for
$25, so that he could get the companionship of another
lad. The terms were agreed to. Edison arrived
at Ridgeway at 8.30 P.M., when it was raining and as
dark as ink. Getting another boy with difficulty to
volunteer, he launched out on his errand in the pitch-
black night. The two boys carried lanterns, but the
road was a rough path through dense forest. The
country was wild, and it was a usual occurrence to
see deer, bear, and coon skins nailed up on the sides
of houses to dry. Edison had read about bears, but
couldn't remember whether they were day or night
prowlers. The farther they went the more apprehensive
they became, and every stump in the ravished
forest looked like a bear. The other lad proposed
seeking safety up a tree, but Edison demurred on
the plea that bears could climb, and that the message
must be delivered that night to enable the captain to
catch the morning train. First one lantern went
out, then the other. "We leaned up against a tree
and cried. I thought if I ever got out of that scrape
alive I would know more about the habits of animals
and everything else, and be prepared for all kinds of
mischance when I undertook an enterprise. However,
the intense darkness dilated the pupils of our
eyes so as to make them very sensitive, and we could
just see at times the outlines of the road. Finally,
just as a faint gleam of daylight arrived, we entered
the captain's yard and delivered the message. In
my whole life I never spent such a night of horror
as this, but I got a good lesson."

An amusing incident of this period is told by Edison.
"When I was a boy," he says, "the Prince of Wales,
the late King Edward, came to Canada (1860). Great
preparations were made at Sarnia, the Canadian town
opposite Port Huron. About every boy, including myself,
went over to see the affair. The town was draped
in flags most profusely, and carpets were laid on the
cross-walks for the prince to walk on. There were
arches, etc. A stand was built raised above the general
level, where the prince was to be received by the
mayor. Seeing all these preparations, my idea of
a prince was very high; but when he did arrive I
mistook the Duke of Newcastle for him, the duke
being a fine-looking man. I soon saw that I was mistaken:
that the prince was a young stripling, and did
not meet expectations. Several of us expressed our
belief that a prince wasn't much, after all, and said
that we were thoroughly disappointed. For this one
boy was whipped. Soon the Canuck boys attacked
the Yankee boys, and we were all badly licked. I,
myself, got a black eye. That has always prejudiced
me against that kind of ceremonial and folly." It is
certainly interesting to note that in later years the
prince for whom Edison endured the ignominy of a
black eye made generous compensation in a graceful
letter accompanying the gold Albert Medal awarded
by the Royal Society of Arts.

Another incident of the period is as follows: "After
selling papers in Port Huron, which was often not
reached until about 9.30 at night, I seldom got home
before 11.00 or 11.30. About half-way home from the
station and the town, and within twenty-five feet of
the road in a dense wood, was a soldiers' graveyard
where three hundred soldiers were buried, due to a
cholera epidemic which took place at Fort Gratiot,
near by, many years previously. At first we used
to shut our eyes and run the horse past this graveyard,
and if the horse stepped on a twig my heart
would give a violent movement, and it is a wonder
that I haven't some valvular disease of that organ.
But soon this running of the horse became monotonous,
and after a while all fears of graveyards absolutely
disappeared from my system. I was in the
condition of Sam Houston, the pioneer and founder
of Texas, who, it was said, knew no fear. Houston
lived some distance from the town and generally went
home late at night, having to pass through a dark
cypress swamp over a corduroy road. One night, to
test his alleged fearlessness, a man stationed himself
behind a tree and enveloped himself in a sheet. He
confronted Houston suddenly, and Sam stopped and
said: `If you are a man, you can't hurt me. If you
are a ghost, you don't want to hurt me. And if you are
the devil, come home with me; I married your sister!' "

It is not to be inferred, however, from some of
the preceding statements that the boy was of an
exclusively studious bent of mind. He had then, as
now, the keen enjoyment of a joke, and no particular
aversion to the practical form. An incident of the
time is in point. "After the breaking out of the war
there was a regiment of volunteer soldiers quartered at
Fort Gratiot, the reservation extending to the boundary
line of our house. Nearly every night we would
hear a call, such as `Corporal of the Guard, No. 1.'
This would be repeated from sentry to sentry until
it reached the barracks, when Corporal of the Guard,
No. 1, would come and see what was wanted. I and
the little Dutch boy, after returning from the town
after selling our papers, thought we would take a
hand at military affairs. So one night, when it was
very dark, I shouted for Corporal of the Guard, No. 1.
The second sentry, thinking it was the terminal
sentry who shouted, repeated it to the third, and so
on. This brought the corporal along the half mile,
only to find that he was fooled. We tried him three
nights; but the third night they were watching, and
caught the little Dutch boy, took him to the lock-up
at the fort, and shut him up. They chased me to
the house. I rushed for the cellar. In one small
apartment there were two barrels of potatoes and a
third one nearly empty. I poured these remnants
into the other barrels, sat down, and pulled the barrel
over my head, bottom up. The soldiers had awakened
my father, and they were searching for me with
candles and lanterns. The corporal was absolutely
certain I came into the cellar, and couldn't see how I
could have gotten out, and wanted to know from
my father if there was no secret hiding-place. On
assurance of my father, who said that there was not,
he said it was most extraordinary. I was glad when
they left, as I was cramped, and the potatoes were
rotten that had been in the barrel and violently
offensive. The next morning I was found in bed,
and received a good switching on the legs from my
father, the first and only one I ever received from
him, although my mother kept a switch behind the
old Seth Thomas clock that had the bark worn off.
My mother's ideas and mine differed at times,
especially when I got experimenting and mussed up
things. The Dutch boy was released next morning."



"WHILE a newsboy on the railroad," says Edison,
"I got very much interested in electricity,
probably from visiting telegraph offices with a chum
who had tastes similar to mine." It will also have
been noted that he used the telegraph to get items
for his little journal, and to bulletin his special news
of the Civil War along the line. The next step was
natural, and having with his knowledge of chemistry
no trouble about "setting up" his batteries, the
difficulties of securing apparatus were chiefly those
connected with the circuits and the instruments.
American youths to-day are given, if of a mechanical
turn of mind, to amateur telegraphy or telephony,
but seldom, if ever, have to make any part of the
system constructed. In Edison's boyish days it was
quite different, and telegraphic supplies were hard to
obtain. But he and his "chum" had a line between
their homes, built of common stove-pipe wire. The insulators
were bottles set on nails driven into trees and
short poles. The magnet wire was wound with rags for
insulation, and pieces of spring brass were used for
keys. With an idea of securing current cheaply,
Edison applied the little that he knew about static
electricity, and actually experimented with cats,
which he treated vigorously as frictional machines
until the animals fled in dismay, and Edison had
learned his first great lesson in the relative value of
sources of electrical energy. The line was made to
work, however, and additional to the messages that
the boys interchanged, Edison secured practice in an
ingenious manner. His father insisted on 11.30 as
proper bedtime, which left but a short interval after
the long day on the train. But each evening, when
the boy went home with a bundle of papers that had
not been sold in the town, his father would sit up
reading the "returnables." Edison, therefore, on
some excuse, left the papers with his friend, but
suggested that he could get the news from him by
telegraph, bit by bit. The scheme interested his
father, and was put into effect, the messages being
written down and handed over for perusal. This
yielded good practice nightly, lasting until 12 and 1
o'clock, and was maintained for some time until Mr.
Edison became willing that his son should stay up
for a reasonable time. The papers were then brought
home again, and the boys amused themselves to their
hearts' content until the line was pulled down by a
stray cow wandering through the orchard. Meantime
better instruments had been secured, and the
rudiments of telegraphy had been fairly mastered.

The mixed train on which Edison was employed as
newsboy did the way-freight work and shunting at
the Mount Clemens station, about half an hour being
usually spent in the work. One August morning, in
1862, while the shunting was in progress, and a laden
box-car had been pushed out of a siding, Edison, who
was loitering about the platform, saw the little son
of the station agent, Mr. J. U. Mackenzie, playing
with the gravel on the main track along which the
car without a brakeman was rapidly approaching.
Edison dropped his papers and his glazed cap, and
made a dash for the child, whom he picked up and
lifted to safety without a second to spare, as the wheel
of the car struck his heel; and both were cut about the
face and hands by the gravel ballast on which they
fell. The two boys were picked up by the train-hands
and carried to the platform, and the grateful father
at once offered to teach the rescuer, whom he knew
and liked, the art of train telegraphy and to make
an operator of him. It is needless to say that the
proposal was eagerly accepted.

Edison found time for his new studies by letting
one of his friends look after the newsboy work on the
train for part of the trip, reserving to himself the run
between Port Huron and Mount Clemens. That he
was already well qualified as a beginner is evident
from the fact that he had mastered the Morse code
of the telegraphic alphabet, and was able to take to
the station a neat little set of instruments he had
just finished with his own hands at a gun-shop in
Detroit. This was probably a unique achievement
in itself among railway operators of that day or of
later times. The drill of the student involved chiefly
the acquisition of the special signals employed in
railway work, including the numerals and abbreviations
applied to save time. Some of these have passed
into the slang of the day, "73" being well known as
a telegrapher's expression of compliments or good
wishes, while "23" is an accident or death message,
and has been given broader popular significance as
a general synonym for "hoodoo." All of this came
easily to Edison, who had, moreover, as his Herald
showed, an unusual familiarity with train movement
along that portion of the Grand Trunk road.

Three or four months were spent pleasantly and
profitably by the youth in this course of study, and
Edison took to it enthusiastically, giving it no less
than eighteen hours a day. He then put up a little
telegraph line from the station to the village, a distance
of about a mile, and opened an office in a drug
store; but the business was naturally very small.
The telegraph operator at Port Huron knowing of his
proficiency, and wanting to get into the United States
Military Telegraph Corps, where the pay in those days
of the Civil War was high, succeeded in convincing
his brother-in-law, Mr. M. Walker, that young Edison
could fill the position. Edison was, of course, well
acquainted with the operators along the road and at
the southern terminal, and took up his new duties
very easily. The office was located in a jewelry store,
where newspapers and periodicals were also sold.
Edison was to be found at the office both day and
night, sleeping there. "I became quite valuable to
Mr. Walker. After working all day I worked at the
office nights as well, for the reason that `press report'
came over one of the wires until 3 A.M., and I would
cut in and copy it as well as I could, to become more
rapidly proficient. The goal of the rural telegraph
operator was to be able to take press. Mr. Walker
tried to get my father to apprentice me at $20 per
month, but they could not agree. I then applied for
a job on the Grand Trunk Railroad as a railway
operator, and was given a place, nights, at Stratford
Junction, Canada." Apparently his friend Mackenzie
helped him in the matter. The position carried
a salary of $25 per month. No serious objections
were raised by his family, for the distance from Port
Huron was not great, and Stratford was near Bayfield,
the old home from which the Edisons had come,
so that there were doubtless friends or even relatives
in the vicinity. This was in 1863.

Mr. Walker was an observant man, who has since
that time installed a number of waterworks systems
and obtained several patents of his own. He describes
the boy of sixteen as engrossed intensely in
his experiments and scientific reading, and somewhat
indifferent, for this reason, to his duties as operator.
This office was not particularly busy, taking from
$50 to $75 a month, but even the messages taken
in would remain unsent on the hook while Edison
was in the cellar below trying to solve some chemical
problem. The manager would see him studying
sometimes an article in such a paper as the Scientific
American, and then disappearing to buy a few sundries
for experiments. Returning from the drug
store with his chemicals, he would not be seen again
until required by his duties, or until he had found out
for himself, if possible, in this offhand manner,
whether what he had read was correct or not. When
he had completed his experiment all interest in it
was lost, and the jars and wires would be left to any
fate that might befall them. In like manner Edison
would make free use of the watchmaker's tools that
lay on the little table in the front window, and would
take the wire pliers there without much thought as
to their value as distinguished from a lineman's
tools. The one idea was to do quickly what he
wanted to do; and the same swift, almost headlong
trial of anything that comes to hand, while the fervor
of a new experiment is felt, has been noted at all
stages of the inventor's career. One is reminded of
Palissy's recklessness, when in his efforts to make the
enamel melt on his pottery he used the very furniture
of his home for firewood.

Mr. Edison remarks the fact that there was very
little difference between the telegraph of that time
and of to-day, except the general use of the old Morse
register with the dots and dashes recorded by indenting
paper strips that could be read and checked
later at leisure if necessary. He says: "The telegraph
men couldn't explain how it worked, and I
was always trying to get them to do so. I think they
couldn't. I remember the best explanation I got
was from an old Scotch line repairer employed by the
Montreal Telegraph Company, which operated the
railroad wires. He said that if you had a dog like
a dachshund, long enough to reach from Edinburgh
to London, if you pulled his tail in Edinburgh he would
bark in London. I could understand that, but I
never could get it through me what went through the
dog or over the wire." To-day Mr. Edison is just as
unable to solve the inner mystery of electrical
transmission. Nor is he alone. At the banquet given to
celebrate his jubilee in 1896 as professor at Glasgow
University, Lord Kelvin, the greatest physicist of our
time, admitted with tears in his eyes and the note of
tragedy in his voice, that when it came to explaining
the nature of electricity, he knew just as little as
when he had begun as a student, and felt almost as
though his life had been wasted while he tried to
grapple with the great mystery of physics.

Another episode of this period is curious in its
revelation of the tenacity with which Edison has
always held to some of his oldest possessions with a
sense of personal attachment. "While working at
Stratford Junction," he says, "I was told by one of
the freight conductors that in the freight-house at
Goodrich there were several boxes of old broken-up
batteries. I went there and found over eighty cells
of the well-known Grove nitric-acid battery. The
operator there, who was also agent, when asked by
me if I could have the electrodes of each cell, made
of sheet platinum, gave his permission readily, thinking
they were of tin. I removed them all, amounting
to several ounces. Platinum even in those days
was very expensive, costing several dollars an ounce,
and I owned only three small strips. I was overjoyed
at this acquisition, and those very strips and
the reworked scrap are used to this day in my laboratory
over forty years later."

It was at Stratford that Edison's inventiveness was
first displayed. The hours of work of a night operator
are usually from 7 P.M. to 7 A.M., and to insure attention
while on duty it is often provided that the
operator every hour, from 9 P.M. until relieved by the
day operator, shall send in the signal "6" to the
train dispatcher's office. Edison revelled in the
opportunity for study and experiment given him by his
long hours of freedom in the daytime, but needed
sleep, just as any healthy youth does. Confronted
by the necessity of sending in this watchman's signal
as evidence that he was awake and on duty, he constructed
a small wheel with notches on the rim, and
attached it to the clock in such a manner that the
night-watchman could start it when the line was
quiet, and at each hour the wheel revolved and sent
in accurately the dots required for "sixing." The
invention was a success, the device being, indeed,
similar to that of the modern district messenger box;
but it was soon noticed that, in spite of the regularity
of the report, "Sf" could not be raised even if a train
message were sent immediately after. Detection and
a reprimand came in due course, but were not taken
very seriously.

A serious occurrence that might have resulted in
accident drove him soon after from Canada, although
the youth could hardly be held to blame for it.
Edison says: "This night job just suited me, as I
could have the whole day to myself. I had the faculty
of sleeping in a chair any time for a few minutes at
a time. I taught the night-yardman my call, so I
could get half an hour's sleep now and then between
trains, and in case the station was called the watchman
would awaken me. One night I got an order
to hold a freight train, and I replied that I would.
I rushed out to find the signalman, but before I could
find him and get the signal set, the train ran past.
I ran to the telegraph office, and reported that I could
not hold her. The reply was: `Hell!' The train dispatcher,
on the strength of my message that I would
hold the train, had permitted another to leave the
last station in the opposite direction. There was
a lower station near the junction where the day
operator slept. I started for it on foot. The night
was dark, and I fell into a culvert and was knocked
senseless." Owing to the vigilance of the two engineers
on the locomotives, who saw each other approaching
on the straight single track, nothing more
dreadful happened than a summons to the thoughtless
operator to appear before the general manager at
Toronto. On reaching the manager's office, his trial
for neglect of duty was fortunately interrupted by
the call of two Englishmen; and while their conversation
proceeded, Edison slipped quietly out of the
room, hurried to the Grand Trunk freight depot,
found a conductor he knew taking out a freight train
for Sarnia, and was not happy until the ferry-boat
from Sarnia had landed him once more on the Michigan
shore. The Grand Trunk still owes Mr. Edison
the wages due him at the time he thus withdrew
from its service, but the claim has never been pressed.

The same winter of 1863-64, while at Port Huron,
Edison had a further opportunity of displaying his
ingenuity. An ice-jam had broken the light telegraph
cable laid in the bed of the river across to
Sarnia, and thus communication was interrupted.
The river is three-quarters of a mile wide, and could
not be crossed on foot; nor could the cable be repaired.
Edison at once suggested using the steam whistle of
the locomotive, and by manipulating the valve con-
versed the short and long outbursts of shrill sound
into the Morse code. An operator on the Sarnia shore
was quick enough to catch the significance of the
strange whistling, and messages were thus sent in
wireless fashion across the ice-floes in the river. It
is said that such signals were also interchanged by
military telegraphers during the war, and possibly
Edison may have heard of the practice; but be that
as it may, he certainly showed ingenuity and resource
in applying such a method to meet the necessity.
It is interesting to note that at this point the Grand
Trunk now has its St. Clair tunnel, through which the
trains are hauled under the river-bed by electric

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