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

Part 10 out of 17

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background, and the sequence of events, divided into
scenes as in an ordinary play. These are placed in
the hands of a "producer," corresponding to a stage-
director, generally an actor or theatrical man of
experience, with a highly developed dramatic instinct.
The various actors are selected, parts are assigned,
and the scene-painters are set to work on the production
of the desired scenery. Before the photographing
of a scene, a long series of rehearsals takes
place, the incidents being gone over and over again
until the actors are "letter perfect." So persistent
are the producers in the matter of rehearsals and the
refining and elaboration of details, that frequently
a picture that may be actually photographed and
reproduced in fifteen minutes, may require two or
three weeks for its production. After the rehearsal
of a scene has advanced sufficiently to suit the
critical requirements of the producer, the camera
man is in requisition, and he is consulted as to lighting
so as to produce the required photographic effect.
Preferably, of course, sunlight is used whenever
possible, hence the glass studios; but on dark days, and
when night-work is necessary, artificial light of
enormous candle-power is used, either mercury arcs or
ordinary arc lights of great size and number.

Under all conditions the light is properly screened
and diffused to suit the critical eye of the camera
man. All being in readiness, the actual picture is
taken, the actors going through their rehearsed parts,
the producer standing out of the range of the camera,
and with a megaphone to his lips yelling out his
instructions, imprecations, and approval, and the
camera man grinding at the crank of the camera and
securing the pictures at the rate of twenty or more
per second, making a faithful and permanent record
of every movement and every change of facial
expression. At the end of the scene the negative is
developed in the ordinary way, and is then ready for
use in the printing of the positives for sale. When a
further scene in the play takes place in the same
setting, and without regard to its position in the
plot, it is taken up, rehearsed, and photographed in
the same way, and afterward all the scenes are
cemented together in the proper sequence, and form
the complete negative. Frequently, therefore, in the
production of a motion-picture play, the first and the
last scene may be taken successively, the only thing
necessary being, of course, that after all is done the
various scenes should be arranged in their proper
order. The frames, having served their purpose, now
go back to the scene-painter for further use. All
pictures are not taken in studios, because when light
and weather permit and proper surroundings can be
secured outside, scenes can best be obtained with
natural scenery--city streets, woods, and fields. The
great drawback to the taking of pictures out-of-doors,
however, is the inevitable crowd, attracted by the
novelty of the proceedings, which makes the camera
man's life a torment by getting into the field of his
instrument. The crowds are patient, however, and
in one Edison picture involving the blowing up of a
bridge by the villain of the piece and the substitution
of a pontoon bridge by a company of engineers just
in time to allow the heroine to pass over in her
automobile, more than a thousand people stood around
for almost an entire day waiting for the tedious
rehearsals to end and the actual performance to begin.
Frequently large bodies of men are used in pictures,
such as troops of soldiers, and it is an open secret that
for weeks during the Boer War regularly equipped
British and Boer armies confronted each other on the
peaceful hills of Orange, New Jersey, ready to enact
before the camera the stirring events told by the
cable from the seat of hostilities. These conflicts
were essentially harmless, except in one case during
the battle of Spion Kopje, when "General Cronje,"
in his efforts to fire a wooden cannon, inadvertently
dropped his fuse into a large glass bottle containing
gunpowder. The effect was certainly most dramatic,
and created great enthusiasm among the many audiences
which viewed the completed production; but
the unfortunate general, who is still an employee, was
taken to the hospital, and even now, twelve years
afterward, he says with a grin that whenever he has
a moment of leisure he takes the time to pick a few
pieces of glass from his person!

Edison's great contribution to the regular stage
was the incandescent electric lamp, which enabled
the production of scenic effects never before even
dreamed of, but which we accept now with so much
complacency. Yet with the motion picture, effects
are secured that could not be reproduced to the
slightest extent on the real stage. The villain, overcome
by a remorseful conscience, sees on the wall of
the room the very crime which he committed, with
HIMSELF as the principal actor; one of the easy effects
of double exposure. The substantial and ofttimes
corpulent ghost or spirit of the real stage has been
succeeded by an intangible wraith, as transparent
and unsubstantial as may be demanded in the best
book of fairy tales--more double exposure. A man
emerges from the water with a splash, ascends feet
foremost ten yards or more, makes a graceful curve
and lands on a spring-board, runs down it to the bank,
and his clothes fly gently up from the ground and
enclose his person--all unthinkable in real life, but
readily possible by running the motion-picture film
backward! The fairy prince commands the princess
to appear, consigns the bad brothers to instant
annihilation, turns the witch into a cat, confers life
on inanimate things; and many more startling and
apparently incomprehensible effects are carried out
with actual reality, by stop-work photography. In
one case, when the command for the heroine to come
forth is given, the camera is stopped, the young
woman walks to the desired spot, and the camera is
again started; the effect to the eye--not knowing of
this little by-play--is as if she had instantly appeared
from space. The other effects are perhaps obvious,
and the field and opportunities are absolutely
unlimited. Other curious effects are secured by taking
the pictures at a different speed from that at which
they are exhibited. If, for example, a scene occupying
thirty seconds is reproduced in ten seconds, the
movements will be three times as fast, and vice
versa. Many scenes familiar to the reader, showing
automobiles tearing along the road and rounding
corners at an apparently reckless speed, are really
pictures of slow and dignified movements reproduced
at a high speed.

Brief reference has been made to motion pictures
of educational subjects, and in this field there are
very great opportunities for development. The study
of geography, scenes and incidents in foreign countries,
showing the lives and customs and surroundings
of other peoples, is obviously more entertaining
to the child when actively depicted on the screen
than when merely described in words. The lives of
great men, the enacting of important historical
events, the reproduction of great works of literature,
if visually presented to the child must necessarily
impress his mind with greater force than if shown
by mere words. We predict that the time is not
far distant when, in many of our public schools, two
or three hours a week will be devoted to this rational
and effective form of education.

By applying microphotography to motion pictures
an additional field is opened up, one phase of
which may be the study of germ life and bacteria,
so that our future medical students may become as
familiar with the habits and customs of the Anthrax
bacillus, for example, as of the domestic cat.

From whatever point of view the subject is approached,
the fact remains that in the motion picture,
perhaps more than with any other invention, Edison
has created an art that must always make a special
appeal to the mind and emotions of men, and although
so far it has not advanced much beyond the
field of amusement, it contains enormous possibilities
for serious development in the future. Let us not
think too lightly of the humble five-cent theatre with
its gaping crowd following with breathless interest
the vicissitudes of the beautiful heroine. Before us
lies an undeveloped land of opportunity which is
destined to play an important part in the growth
and welfare of the human race.



IT is more than a hundred years since the elementary
principle of the storage battery or "accumulator"
was detected by a Frenchman named Gautherot; it
is just fifty years since another Frenchman, named
Plante, discovered that on taking two thin plates of
sheet lead, immersing them in dilute sulphuric acid,
and passing an electric current through the cell, the
combination exhibited the ability to give back part
of the original charging current, owing to the chemical
changes and reactions set up. Plante coiled up his
sheets into a very handy cell like a little roll of carpet
or pastry; but the trouble was that the battery took a
long time to "form." One sheet becoming coated
with lead peroxide and the other with finely divided
or spongy metallic lead, they would receive current,
and then, even after a long period of inaction, furnish
or return an electromotive force of from 1.85
to 2.2 volts. This ability to store up electrical energy
produced by dynamos in hours otherwise idle, whether
driven by steam, wind, or water, was a distinct advance
in the art; but the sensational step was taken about
1880, when Faure in France and Brush in America
broke away from the slow and weary process of "form-
ing" the plates, and hit on clever methods of furnishing
them "ready made," so to speak, by dabbing red
lead onto lead-grid plates, just as butter is spread on a
slice of home-made bread. This brought the storage
battery at once into use as a practical, manufactured
piece of apparatus; and the world was captivated
with the idea. The great English scientist, Sir
William Thomson, went wild with enthusiasm when
a Faure "box of electricity" was brought over from
Paris to him in 1881 containing a million foot-pounds
of stored energy. His biographer, Dr. Sylvanus P.
Thompson, describes him as lying ill in bed with a
wounded leg, and watching results with an incandescent
lamp fastened to his bed curtain by a safety-pin,
and lit up by current from the little Faure cell. Said
Sir William: "It is going to be a most valuable,
practical affair--as valuable as water-cisterns to
people whether they had or had not systems of water-
pipes and water-supply." Indeed, in one outburst
of panegyric the shrewd physicist remarked that he
saw in it "a realization of the most ardently and
increasingly felt scientific aspiration of his life--an
aspiration which he hardly dared to expect or to see
realized." A little later, however, Sir William,
always cautious and canny, began to discover the
inherent defects of the primitive battery, as to
disintegration, inefficiency, costliness, etc., and though
offered tempting inducements, declined to lend his
name to its financial introduction. Nevertheless, he
accepted the principle as valuable, and put the battery
to actual use.

For many years after this episode, the modern lead-
lead type of battery thus brought forward with so
great a flourish of trumpets had a hard time of it.
Edison's attitude toward it, even as a useful
supplement to his lighting system, was always one of
scepticism, and he remarked contemptuously that the
best storage battery he knew was a ton of coal. The
financial fortunes of the battery, on both sides of the
Atlantic, were as varied and as disastrous as its
industrial; but it did at last emerge, and "made good."
By 1905, the production of lead-lead storage batteries
in the United States alone had reached a value for
the year of nearly $3,000,000, and it has increased
greatly since that time. The storage battery is now
regarded as an important and indispensable adjunct
in nearly all modern electric-lighting and electric-
railway systems of any magnitude; and in 1909, in
spite of its weight, it had found adoption in over ten
thousand automobiles of the truck, delivery wagon,
pleasure carriage, and runabout types in America.

Edison watched closely all this earlier development
for about fifteen years, not changing his mind as to
what he regarded as the incurable defects of the lead-
lead type, but coming gradually to the conclusion
that if a storage battery of some other and better
type could be brought forward, it would fulfil all the
early hopes, however extravagant, of such men as
Kelvin (Sir William Thomson), and would become as
necessary and as universal as the incandescent lamp
or the electric motor. The beginning of the present
century found him at his point of new departure.

Generally speaking, non-technical and uninitiated
persons have a tendency to regard an invention as
being more or less the ultimate result of some happy
inspiration. And, indeed, there is no doubt that such
may be the fact in some instances; but in most cases
the inventor has intentionally set out to accomplish
a definite and desired result--mostly through the
application of the known laws of the art in which he
happens to be working. It is rarely, however, that
a man will start out deliberately, as Edison did, to
evolve a radically new type of such an intricate device
as the storage battery, with only a meagre clew and
a vague starting-point.

In view of the successful outcome of the problem
which, in 1900, he undertook to solve, it will be
interesting to review his mental attitude at that period.
It has already been noted at the end of a previous
chapter that on closing the magnetic iron-ore
concentrating plant at Edison, New Jersey, he resolved
to work on a new type of storage battery. It was
about this time that, in the course of a conversation
with Mr. R. H. Beach, then of the street-railway
department of the General Electric Company, he said:
"Beach, I don't think Nature would be so unkind as
to withhold the secret of a GOOD storage battery if a
real earnest hunt for it is made. I'm going to hunt."

Frequently Edison has been asked what he considers
the secret of achievement. To this query he
has invariably replied: "Hard work, based on hard
thinking." The laboratory records bear the fullest
witness that he has consistently followed out this
prescription to the utmost. The perfection of all his
great inventions has been signalized by patient,
persistent, and incessant effort which, recognizing noth-
ing short of success, has resulted in the ultimate
accomplishment of his ideas. Optimistic and hopeful
to a high degree, Edison has the happy faculty of
beginning the day as open-minded as a child--yesterday's
disappointments and failures discarded and
discounted by the alluring possibilities of to-morrow.

Of all his inventions, it is doubtful whether any one
of them has called forth more original thought, work,
perseverance, ingenuity, and monumental patience
than the one we are now dealing with. One of his
associates who has been through the many years of
the storage-battery drudgery with him said: "If
Edison's experiments, investigations, and work on
this storage battery were all that he had ever done,
I should say that he was not only a notable inventor,
but also a great man. It is almost impossible to
appreciate the enormous difficulties that have been

From a beginning which was made practically in
the dark, it was not until he had completed more
than ten thousand experiments that he obtained any
positive preliminary results whatever. Through all
this vast amount of research there had been no previous
signs of the electrical action he was looking for.
These experiments had extended over many months
of constant work by day and night, but there was
no breakdown of Edison's faith in ultimate success--
no diminution of his sanguine and confident expectations.
The failure of an experiment simply meant
to him that he had found something else that would
not work, thus bringing the possible goal a little nearer
by a process of painstaking elimination.

Now, however, after these many months of arduous
toil, in which he had examined and tested practically
all the known elements in numerous chemical
combinations, the electric action he sought for had
been obtained, thus affording him the first inkling of
the secret that he had industriously tried to wrest
from Nature. It should be borne in mind that from
the very outset Edison had disdained any intention of
following in the only tracks then known by employing
lead and sulphuric acid as the components of a
successful storage battery. Impressed with what he
considered the serious inherent defects of batteries
made of these materials, and the tremendously complex
nature of the chemical reactions taking place in
all types of such cells, he determined boldly at the
start that he would devise a battery without lead,
and one in which an alkaline solution could be used--
a form which would, he firmly believed, be inherently
less subject to decay and dissolution than the standard
type, which after many setbacks had finally won
its way to an annual production of many thousands
of cells, worth millions of dollars.

Two or three thousand of the first experiments followed
the line of his well-known primary battery in
the attempted employment of copper oxide as an
element in a new type of storage cell; but its use
offered no advantages, and the hunt was continued
in other directions and pursued until Edison satisfied
himself by a vast number of experiments that nickel
and iron possessed the desirable qualifications he was
in search of.

This immense amount of investigation which had
consumed so many months of time, and which had
culminated in the discovery of a series of reactions
between nickel and iron that bore great promise,
brought Edison merely within sight of a strange and
hitherto unexplored country. Slowly but surely the
results of the last few thousands of his preliminary
experiments had pointed inevitably to a new and
fruitful region ahead. He had discovered the hidden
passage and held the clew which he had so industriously
sought. And now, having outlined a definite path,
Edison was all afire to push ahead vigorously in order
that he might enter in and possess the land.

It is a trite saying that "history repeats itself,"
and certainly no axiom carries more truth than this
when applied to the history of each of Edison's
important inventions. The development of the storage
battery has been no exception; indeed, far from
otherwise, for in the ten years that have elapsed since
the time he set himself and his mechanics, chemists,
machinists, and experimenters at work to develop a
practical commercial cell, the old story of incessant
and persistent efforts so manifest in the working out
of other inventions was fully repeated.

Very soon after he had decided upon the use of
nickel and iron as the elemental metals for his storage
battery, Edison established a chemical plant at Silver
Lake, New Jersey, a few miles from the Orange
laboratory, on land purchased some time previously.
This place was the scene of the further experiments
to develop the various chemical forms of nickel and
iron, and to determine by tests what would be best
adapted for use in cells manufactured on a com-
mercial scale. With a little handful of selected
experimenters gathered about him, Edison settled down
to one of his characteristic struggles for supremacy.
To some extent it was a revival of the old Menlo
Park days (or, rather, nights). Some of these who
had worked on the preliminary experiments, with the
addition of a few new-comers, toiled together regardless
of passing time and often under most discouraging
circumstances, but with that remarkable esprit
de corps that has ever marked Edison's relations with
his co-workers, and that has contributed so largely
to the successful carrying out of his ideas.

The group that took part in these early years of
Edison's arduous labors included his old-time assistant,
Fred Ott, together with his chemist, J. W.
Aylsworth, as well as E. J. Ross, Jr., W. E. Holland,
and Ralph Arbogast, and a little later W. G. Bee, all
of whom have grown up with the battery and still
devote their energies to its commercial development.
One of these workers, relating the strenuous experiences
of these few years, says: "It was hard work
and long hours, but still there were some things that
made life pleasant. One of them was the supper-hour
we enjoyed when we worked nights. Mr. Edison
would have supper sent in about midnight, and we
all sat down together, including himself. Work was
forgotten for the time, and all hands were ready for
fun. I have very pleasant recollections of Mr. Edison
at these times. He would always relax and help to
make a good time, and on some occasions I have seen
him fairly overflow with animal spirits, just like a boy
let out from school. After the supper-hour was over,
however, he again became the serious, energetic inventor,
deeply immersed in the work at hand.

"He was very fond of telling and hearing stories,
and always appreciated a joke. I remember one that
he liked to get off on us once in a while. Our lighting
plant was in duplicate, and about 12.30 or 1 o'clock
in the morning, at the close of the supper-hour, a
change would be made from one plant to the other,
involving the gradual extinction of the electric lights
and their slowly coming up to candle-power again,
the whole change requiring probably about thirty
seconds. Sometimes, as this was taking place, Edison
would fold his hands, compose himself as if he
were in sound sleep, and when the lights were full
again would apparently wake up, with the remark,
`Well, boys, we've had a fine rest; now let's pitch into
work again.' "

Another interesting and amusing reminiscence of
this period of activity has been gathered from another
of the family of experimenters: "Sometimes,
when Mr. Edison had been working long hours, he
would want to have a short sleep. It was one of the
funniest things I ever witnessed to see him crawl into
an ordinary roll-top desk and curl up and take a nap.
If there was a sight that was still more funny, it was
to see him turn over on his other side, all the time
remaining in the desk. He would use several volumes
of Watts's Dictionary of Chemistry for a pillow, and
we fellows used to say that he absorbed the contents
during his sleep, judging from the flow of new ideas
he had on waking."

Such incidents as these serve merely to illustrate
the lighter moments that stand out in relief against
the more sombre background of the strenuous years,
for, of all the absorbingly busy periods of Edison's
inventive life, the first five years of the storage-
battery era was one of the very busiest of them all. It
was not that there remained any basic principle to
be discovered or simplified, for that had already been
done; but it was in the effort to carry these principles
into practice that there arose the numerous
difficulties that at times seemed insurmountable.
But, according to another co-worker, "Edison seemed
pleased when he used to run up against a serious
difficulty. It would seem to stiffen his backbone
and make him more prolific of new ideas. For a
time I thought I was foolish to imagine such a thing,
but I could never get away from the impression that
he really appeared happy when he ran up against
a serious snag. That was in my green days, and I
soon learned that the failure of an experiment never
discourages him unless it is by reason of the carelessness
of the man making it. Then Edison gets disgusted.
If it fails on its merits, he doesn't worry or
fret about it, but, on the contrary, regards it as a
useful fact learned; remains cheerful and tries something
else. I have known him to reverse an unsuccessful
experiment and come out all right."

To follow Edison's trail in detail through the
innumerable twists and turns of his experimentation
and research on the storage battery, during the past
ten years, would not be in keeping with the scope of
this narrative, nor would it serve any useful purpose.
Besides, such details would fill a big volume. The
narrative, however, would not be complete without
some mention of the general outline of his work, and
reference may be made briefly to a few of the chief
items. And lest the reader think that the word
"innumerable" may have been carelessly or hastily
used above, we would quote the reply of one of the
laboratory assistants when asked how many experiments
had been made on the Edison storage battery
since the year 1900: "Goodness only knows! We
used to number our experiments consecutively from
1 to 10,000, and when we got up to 10,000 we turned
back to 1 and ran up to 10,000 again, and so on.
We ran through several series--I don't know how
many, and have lost track of them now, but it was
not far from fifty thousand."

From the very first, Edison's broad idea of his
storage battery was to make perforated metallic
containers having the active materials packed therein;
nickel hydrate for the positive and iron oxide for the
negative plate. This plan has been adhered to
throughout, and has found its consummation in the
present form of the completed commercial cell, but
in the middle ground which stands between the early
crude beginnings and the perfected type of to-day
there lies a world of original thought, patient plodding,
and achievement.

The first necessity was naturally to obtain the best
and purest compounds for active materials. Edison
found that comparatively little was known by manufacturing
chemists about nickel and iron oxides of the
high grade and purity he required. Hence it became
necessary for him to establish his own chemical works
and put them in charge of men specially trained by
himself, with whom he worked. This was the plant
at Silver Lake, above referred to. Here, for several
years, there was ceaseless activity in the preparation
of these chemical compounds by every imaginable
process and subsequent testing. Edison's chief chemist
says: "We left no stone unturned to find a way
of making those chemicals so that they would give
the highest results. We carried on the experiments
with the two chemicals together. Sometimes the
nickel would be ahead in the tests, and then again
it would fall behind. To stimulate us to greater
improvement, Edison hung up a card which showed
the results of tests in milliampere-hours given by the
experimental elements as we tried them with the
various grades of nickel and iron we had made. This
stirred up a great deal of ambition among the boys
to push the figures up. Some of our earliest tests
showed around 300, but as we improved the material,
they gradually crept up to over 500. Just
about that time Edison made a trip to Canada, and
when he came back we had made such good progress
that the figures had crept up to about 1000. I well
remember how greatly he was pleased."

In speaking of the development of the negative
element of the battery, Mr. Aylsworth said: "In
like manner the iron element had to be developed
and improved; and finally the iron, which had generally
enjoyed superiority in capacity over its companion,
the nickel element, had to go in training in
order to retain its lead, which was imperative, in
order to produce a uniform and constant voltage
curve. In talking with me one day about the difficulties
under which we were working and contrasting
them with the phonograph experimentation,
Edison said: `In phonographic work we can use our
ears and our eyes, aided with powerful microscopes;
but in the battery our difficulties cannot be seen or
heard, but must be observed by our mind's eye!' And
by reason of the employment of such vision in the past,
Edison is now able to see quite clearly through the
forest of difficulties after eliminating them one by

The size and shape of the containing pockets in the
battery plates or elements and the degree of their
perforation were matters that received many years of
close study and experiment; indeed, there is still to-
day constant work expended on their perfection,
although their present general form was decided upon
several years ago. The mechanical construction of
the battery, as a whole, in its present form, compels
instant admiration on account of its beauty and
completeness. Mr. Edison has spared neither thought,
ingenuity, labor, nor money in the effort to make it
the most complete and efficient storage cell obtainable,
and the results show that his skill, judgment,
and foresight have lost nothing of the power that
laid the foundation of, and built up, other great arts at
each earlier stage of his career.

Among the complex and numerous problems that
presented themselves in the evolution of the battery
was the one concerning the internal conductivity of
the positive unit. The nickel hydrate was a poor
electrical conductor, and although a metallic nickel
pocket might be filled with it, there would not be
the desired electrical action unless a conducting
substance were mixed with it, and so incorporated and
packed that there would be good electrical contact
throughout. This proved to be a most knotty and
intricate puzzle--tricky and evasive--always leading
on and promising something, and at the last slipping
away leaving the work undone. Edison's remarkable
patience and persistence in dealing with this
trying problem and in finally solving it successfully
won for him more than ordinary admiration from his
associates. One of them, in speaking of the seemingly
interminable experiments to overcome this
trouble, said: "I guess that question of conductivity
of the positive pocket brought lots of gray hairs to
his head. I never dreamed a man could have such
patience and perseverance. Any other man than
Edison would have given the whole thing up a thousand
times, but not he! Things looked awfully blue
to the whole bunch of us many a time, but he was
always hopeful. I remember one time things looked
so dark to me that I had just about made up my
mind to throw up my job, but some good turn came
just then and I didn't. Now I'm glad I held on, for
we've got a great future."

The difficulty of obtaining good electrical contact
in the positive element was indeed Edison's chief
trouble for many years. After a great amount of
work and experimentation he decided upon a certain
form of graphite, which seemed to be suitable for the
purpose, and then proceeded to the commercial
manufacture of the battery at a special factory in
Glen Ridge, New Jersey, installed for the purpose.
There was no lack of buyers, but, on the contrary,
the factory was unable to turn out batteries enough.
The newspapers had previously published articles
showing the unusual capacity and performance of the
battery, and public interest had thus been greatly

Notwithstanding the establishment of a regular
routine of manufacture and sale, Edison did not
cease to experiment for improvement. Although
the graphite apparently did the work desired of it,
he was not altogether satisfied with its performance
and made extended trials of other substances, but at
that time found nothing that on the whole served
the purpose better. Continuous tests of the commercial
cells were carried on at the laboratory, as
well as more practical and heavy tests in automobiles,
which were constantly kept running around the adjoining
country over all kinds of roads. All these
tests were very closely watched by Edison, who demanded
rigorously that the various trials of the
battery should be carried on with all strenuousness
so as to get the utmost results and develop any possible
weakness. So insistent was he on this, that if
any automobile should run several days without
bursting a tire or breaking some part of the machine,
he would accuse the chauffeur of picking out easy

After these tests had been going on for some time,
and some thousands of cells had been sold and were
giving satisfactory results to the purchasers, the test
sheets and experience gathered from various sources
pointed to the fact that occasionally a cell here and
there would show up as being short in capacity.
Inasmuch as the factory processes were very exact
and carefully guarded, and every cell was made as
uniform as human skill and care could provide,
there thus arose a serious problem. Edison
concentrated his powers on the investigation of this
trouble, and found that the chief cause lay in the
graphite. Some other minor matters also attracted
his attention. What to do, was the important question
that confronted him. To shut down the factory
meant great loss and apparent failure. He realized
this fully, but he also knew that to go on would simply
be to increase the number of defective batteries in
circulation, which would ultimately result in a
permanent closure and real failure. Hence he took the
course which one would expect of Edison's common
sense and directness of action. He was not satisfied
that the battery was a complete success, so he shut
down and went to experimenting once more.

"And then," says one of the laboratory men, "we
started on another series of record-breaking experiments
that lasted over five years. I might almost
say heart-breaking, too, for of all the elusive,
disappointing things one ever hunted for that was the
worst. But secrets have to be long-winded and
roost high if they want to get away when the `Old
Man' goes hunting for them. He doesn't get mad
when he misses them, but just keeps on smiling and
firing, and usually brings them into camp. That's
what he did on the battery, for after a whole lot of
work he perfected the nickel-flake idea and process,
besides making the great improvement of using
tubes instead of flat pockets for the positive. He
also added a minor improvement here and there, and
now we have a finer battery than we ever expected."

In the interim, while the experimentation of these
last five years was in progress, many customers who
had purchased batteries of the original type came
knocking at the door with orders in their hands for
additional outfits wherewith to equip more wagons
and trucks. Edison expressed his regrets, but said
he was not satisfied with the old cells and was
engaged in improving them. To which the customers
replied that THEY were entirely satisfied and ready and
willing to pay for more batteries of the same kind;
but Edison could not be moved from his determination,
although considerable pressure was at times
brought to bear to sway his decision.

Experiment was continued beyond the point of
peradventure, and after some new machinery had
been built, the manufacture of the new type of cell
was begun in the early summer of 1909, and at the
present writing is being extended as fast as the
necessary additional machinery can be made. The
product is shipped out as soon as it is completed.

The nickel flake, which is Edison's ingenious solution
of the conductivity problem, is of itself a most
interesting product, intensely practical in its
application and fascinating in its manufacture. The
flake of nickel is obtained by electroplating upon a
metallic cylinder alternate layers of copper and
nickel, one hundred of each, after which the combined
sheet is stripped from the cylinder. So thin
are the layers that this sheet is only about the thickness
of a visiting-card, and yet it is composed of two
hundred layers of metal. The sheet is cut into tiny
squares, each about one-sixteenth of an inch, and
these squares are put into a bath where the copper
is dissolved out. This releases the layers of nickel,
so that each of these small squares becomes one
hundred tiny sheets, or flakes, of pure metallic nickel,
so thin that when they are dried they will float in the
air, like thistle-down.

In their application to the manufacture of batteries,
the flakes are used through the medium of a special
machine, so arranged that small charges of nickel
hydrate and nickel flake are alternately fed into the
pockets intended for positives, and tamped down with
a pressure equal to about four tons per square inch.
This insures complete and perfect contact and consequent
electrical conductivity throughout the entire

The development of the nickel flake contains in itself
a history of patient investigation, labor, and
achievement, but we have not space for it, nor for
tracing the great work that has been done in developing
and perfecting the numerous other parts and
adjuncts of this remarkable battery. Suffice it to
say that when Edison went boldly out into new territory,
after something entirely unknown, he was quite
prepared for hard work and exploration. He encountered
both in unstinted measure, but kept on
going forward until, after long travel, he had found
all that he expected and accomplished something
more beside. Nature DID respond to his whole-
hearted appeal, and, by the time the hunt was ended,
revealed a good storage battery of entirely new type.
Edison not only recognized and took advantage of
the principles he had discovered, but in adapting
them for commercial use developed most ingenious
processes and mechanical appliances for carrying his
discoveries into practical effect. Indeed, it may be
said that the invention of an enormous variety of
new machines and mechanical appliances rendered
necessary by each change during the various stages
of development of the battery, from first to last,
stands as a lasting tribute to the range and versatility
of his powers.

It is not within the scope of this narrative to enter
into any description of the relative merits of the
Edison storage battery, that being the province of a
commercial catalogue. It does, however, seem entirely
allowable to say that while at the present
writing the tests that have been made extend over a
few years only, their results and the intrinsic value
of this characteristic Edison invention are of such a
substantial nature as to point to the inevitable
growth of another great industry arising from its
manufacture, and to its wide-spread application to
many uses.

The principal use that Edison has had in mind for
his battery is transportation of freight and passengers
by truck, automobile, and street-car. The greatly
increased capacity in proportion to weight of the
Edison cell makes it particularly adaptable for this
class of work on account of the much greater radius
of travel that is possible by its use. The latter point
of advantage is the one that appeals most to the
automobilist, as he is thus enabled to travel, it is
asserted, more than three times farther than ever
before on a single charge of the battery.

Edison believes that there are important advantages
possible in the employment of his storage battery
for street-car propulsion. Under the present
system of operation, a plant furnishing the electric
power for street railways must be large enough to
supply current for the maximum load during "rush
hours," although much of the machinery may be
lying idle and unproductive in the hours of minimum
load. By the use of storage-battery cars, this
immense and uneconomical maximum investment in
plant can be cut down to proportions of true commercial
economy, as the charging of the batteries can
be conducted at a uniform rate with a reasonable
expenditure for generating machinery. Not only this,
but each car becomes an independently moving unit,
not subject to delay by reason of a general breakdown
of the power plant or of the line. In addition
to these advantages, the streets would be freed from
their burden of trolley wires or conduits. To put his
ideas into practice, Edison built a short railway line
at the Orange works in the winter of 1909-10, and, in
co-operation with Mr. R. H. Beach, constructed a
special type of street-car, and equipped it with motor,
storage battery, and other necessary operating devices.
This car was subsequently put upon the street-car
lines in New York City, and demonstrated its efficiency
so completely that it was purchased by one
of the street-car companies, which has since ordered
additional cars for its lines. The demonstration of
this initial car has been watched with interest by
many railroad officials, and its performance has been
of so successful a nature that at the present writing
(the summer of 1910) it has been necessary to organize
and equip a preliminary factory in which to
construct many other cars of a similar type that
have been ordered by other street-railway companies.
This enterprise will be conducted by a corporation
which has been specially organized for the purpose.
Thus, there has been initiated the development of a
new and important industry whose possible ultimate
proportions are beyond the range of present calculation.
Extensive as this industry may become, however,
Edison is firmly convinced that the greatest
field for his storage battery lies in its adaptation to
commercial trucking and hauling, and to pleasure
vehicles, in comparison with which the street-car
business even with its great possibilities--will not
amount to more than 1 per cent.

Edison has pithily summed up his work and his
views in an article on "The To-Morrows of Electricity
and Invention" in Popular Electricity for June, 1910,
in which he says: "For years past I have been trying
to perfect a storage battery, and have now rendered
it entirely suitable to automobile and other work.
There is absolutely no reason why horses should be
allowed within city limits; for between the gasoline
and the electric car, no room is left for them. They
are not needed. The cow and the pig have gone,
and the horse is still more undesirable. A higher
public ideal of health and cleanliness is working tow-
ard such banishment very swiftly; and then we shall
have decent streets, instead of stables made out of
strips of cobblestones bordered by sidewalks. The
worst use of money is to make a fine thoroughfare,
and then turn it over to horses. Besides that, the
change will put the humane societies out of business.
Many people now charge their own batteries because
of lack of facilities; but I believe central stations
will find in this work very soon the largest part of
their load. The New York Edison Company, or the
Chicago Edison Company, should have as much current
going out for storage batteries as for power
motors; and it will be so some near day."



IT has been the endeavor in this narrative to group
Edison's inventions and patents so that his work in
the different fields can be studied independently and
separately. The history of his career has therefore
fallen naturally into a series of chapters, each aiming
to describe some particular development or art; and,
in a way, the plan has been helpful to the writers while
probably useful to the readers. It happens, however,
that the process has left a vast mass of discovery and
invention wholly untouched, and relegates to a
concluding brief chapter some of the most interesting
episodes of a fruitful life. Any one who will turn to the
list of Edison patents at the end of the book will find
a large number of things of which not even casual
mention has been made, but which at the time occupied
no small amount of the inventor's time and attention,
and many of which are now part and parcel of modern
civilization. Edison has, indeed, touched nothing
that he did not in some way improve. As Thoreau
said: "The laws of the Universe are not indifferent,
but are forever on the side of the most sensitive," and
there never was any one more sensitive to the defects
of every art and appliance, nor any one more active in
applying the law of evolution. It is perhaps this
many-sidedness of Edison that has impressed the multitude,
and that in the "popular vote" taken a couple
of years ago by the New York Herald placed his name
at the head of the list of ten greatest living Americans.
It is curious and pertinent to note that a similar
plebiscite taken by a technical journal among its expert
readers had exactly the same result. Evidently the
public does not agree with the opinion expressed by
the eccentric artist Blake in his "Marriage of Heaven
and Hell," when he said: "Improvement makes
strange roads; but the crooked roads without improvements
are roads of Genius."

The product of Edison's brain may be divided into
three classes. The first embraces such arts and industries,
or such apparatus, as have already been treated.
The second includes devices like the tasimeter, phonomotor,
odoroscope, etc., and others now to be noted.
The third embraces a number of projected inventions,
partially completed investigations, inventions in use
but not patented, and a great many caveats filed in
the Patent Office at various times during the last forty
years for the purpose of protecting his ideas pending
their contemplated realization in practice. These
caveats served their purpose thoroughly in many
instances, but there have remained a great variety of
projects upon which no definite action was ever taken.
One ought to add the contents of an unfinished piece
of extraordinary fiction based wholly on new inventions
and devices utterly unknown to mankind. Some
day the novel may be finished, but Edison has no
inclination to go back to it, and says he cannot under-
stand how any man is able to make a speech or write
a book, for he simply can't do it.

After what has been said in previous chapters, it
will not seem so strange that Edison should have
hundreds of dormant inventions on his hands. There
are human limitations even for such a tireless worker
as he is. While the preparation of data for this chapter
was going on, one of the writers in discussing with
him the vast array of unexploited things said: "Don't
you feel a sense of regret in being obliged to leave so
many things uncompleted?" To which he replied:
"What's the use? One lifetime is too short, and I am
busy every day improving essential parts of my established
industries." It must suffice to speak briefly of
a few leading inventions that have been worked out,
and to dismiss with scant mention all the rest, taking
just a few items, as typical and suggestive,
especially when Edison can himself be quoted as to
them. Incidentally it may be noted that things, not
words, are referred to; for Edison, in addition to
inventing the apparatus, has often had to coin the word
to describe it. A large number of the words and
phrases in modern electrical parlance owe their origin
to him. Even the "call-word" of the telephone,
"Hello!" sent tingling over the wire a few million
times daily was taken from Menlo Park by men installing
telephones in different parts of the world, men
who had just learned it at the laboratory, and thus
made it a universal sesame for telephonic conversation.

It is hard to determine where to begin with Edison's
miscellaneous inventions, but perhaps telegraphy has
the "right of line," and Edison's work in that field
puts him abreast of the latest wireless developments
that fill the world with wonder. "I perfected a system
of train telegraphy between stations and trains
in motion whereby messages could be sent from the
moving train to the central office; and this was the
forerunner of wireless telegraphy. This system was
used for a number of years on the Lehigh Valley Railroad
on their construction trains. The electric wave
passed from a piece of metal on top of the car across
the air to the telegraph wires; and then proceeded to
the despatcher's office. In my first experiments with
this system I tried it on the Staten Island Railroad,
and employed an operator named King to do the
experimenting. He reported results every day, and
received instructions by mail; but for some reason he
could send messages all right when the train went in
one direction, but could not make it go in the contrary
direction. I made suggestions of every kind to get
around this phenomenon. Finally I telegraphed King
to find out if he had any suggestions himself; and I
received a reply that the only way he could propose
to get around the difficulty was to put the island on
a pivot so it could be turned around! I found the
trouble finally, and the practical introduction on the
Lehigh Valley road was the result. The system was
sold to a very wealthy man, and he would never sell
any rights or answer letters. He became a spiritualist
subsequently, which probably explains it." It is
interesting to note that Edison became greatly interested
in the later developments by Marconi, and is an admiring
friend and adviser of that well-known inventor.

The earlier experiments with wireless telegraphy at
Menlo Park were made at a time when Edison was
greatly occupied with his electric-light interests, and
it was not until the beginning of 1886 that he was able
to spare the time to make a public demonstration of
the system as applied to moving trains. Ezra T.
Gilliland, of Boston, had become associated with him
in his experiments, and they took out several joint
patents subsequently. The first practical use of the
system took place on a thirteen-mile stretch of the
Staten Island Railroad with the results mentioned
by Edison above.

A little later, Edison and Gilliland joined forces with
Lucius J. Phelps, another investigator, who had been
experimenting along the same lines and had taken
out several patents. The various interests were combined
in a corporation under whose auspices the system
was installed on the Lehigh Valley Railroad,
where it was used for several years. The official
demonstration trip on this road took place on October
6, 1887, on a six-car train running to Easton, Pennsylvania,
a distance of fifty-four miles. A great many
telegrams were sent and received while the train was
at full speed, including a despatch to the "cable king,"
John Pender. London, England, and a reply from

[17] Broadly described in outline, the system consisted of an induction
circuit obtained by laying strips of tin along the top or
roof of a railway car, and the installation of a special telegraph
line running parallel with the track and strung on poles of only
medium height. The train and also each signalling station were
equipped with regulation telegraphic apparatus, such as battery,
key, relay, and sounder, together with induction-coil and condenser.
In addition, there was a transmitting device in the shape of a
musical reed, or buzzer. In practice, this buzzer was continuously
operated at high speed by a battery. Its vibrations were broken
by means of a key into long and short periods, representing Morse
characters, which were transmitted inductively from the train
circuit to the pole line, or vice versa, and received by the operator
at the other end through a high-resistance telephone receiver
inserted in the secondary circuit of the induction-coil.

Although the space between the cars and the pole
line was probably not more than about fifty feet, it is
interesting to note that in Edison's early experiments
at Menlo Park he succeeded in transmitting messages
through the air at a distance of 580 feet. Speaking of
this and of his other experiments with induction
telegraphy by means of kites, communicating from one to
the other and thus from the kites to instruments on
the earth, Edison said recently: "We only transmitted
about two and one-half miles through the kites.
What has always puzzled me since is that I did not
think of using the results of my experiments on
`etheric force' that I made in 1875. I have never
been able to understand how I came to overlook them.
If I had made use of my own work I should have had
long-distance wireless telegraphy."

In one of the appendices to this book is given a brief
technical account of Edison's investigations of the
phenomena which lie at the root of modern wireless
or "space" telegraphy, and the attention of the reader
is directed particularly to the description and quotations
there from the famous note-books of Edison's experiments
in regard to what he called "etheric force."
It will be seen that as early as 1875 Edison detected
and studied certain phenomena--i.e., the production
of electrical effects in non-closed circuits, which for a
time made him think he was on the trail of a new
force, as there was no plausible explanation for them
by the then known laws of electricity and magnetism.
Later came the magnificent work of Hertz identifying
the phenomena as "electromagnetic waves" in the
ether, and developing a new world of theory and
science based upon them and their production by
disruptive discharges.

Edison's assertions were treated with scepticism by
the scientific world, which was not then ready for the
discovery and not sufficiently furnished with corroborative
data. It is singular, to say the least, to note
how Edison's experiments paralleled and proved in
advance those that came later; and even his apparatus
such as the "dark box" for making the tiny sparks
visible (as the waves impinged on the receiver) bears
close analogy with similar apparatus employed by
Hertz. Indeed, as Edison sent the dark-box apparatus
to the Paris Exposition in 1881, and let Batchelor
repeat there the puzzling experiments, it seems by no
means unlikely that, either directly or on the report of
some friend, Hertz may thus have received from
Edison a most valuable suggestion, the inventor
aiding the physicist in opening up a wonderful new
realm. In this connection, indeed, it is very interesting
to quote two great authorities. In May, 1889, at
a meeting of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in
London, Dr. (now Sir) Oliver Lodge remarked in a
discussion on a paper of his own on lightning conductors,
embracing the Hertzian waves in its treatment:
"Many of the effects I have shown--sparks in unsuspected
places and other things--have been observed
before. Henry observed things of the kind and Edison
noticed some curious phenomena, and said it was not
electricity but `etheric force' that caused these sparks;
and the matter was rather pooh-poohed. It was a
small part of THIS VERY THING; only the time was not
ripe; theoretical knowledge was not ready for it."
Again in his "Signalling without Wires," in giving
the history of the coherer principle, Lodge remarks:
"Sparks identical in all respects with those discovered
by Hertz had been seen in recent times both by Edison
and by Sylvanus Thompson, being styled `etheric
force' by the former; but their theoretic significance
had not been perceived, and they were somewhat
sceptically regarded." During the same discussion in
London, in 1889, Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin),
after citing some experiments by Faraday with his
insulated cage at the Royal Institution, said: "His
(Faraday's) attention was not directed to look for
Hertz sparks, or probably he might have found them
in the interior. Edison seems to have noticed something
of the kind in what he called `etheric force.'
His name `etheric' may thirteen years ago have
seemed to many people absurd. But now we are all
beginning to call these inductive phenomena `etheric.'
"With which testimony from the great Kelvin
as to his priority in determining the vital fact, and
with the evidence that as early as 1875 he built apparatus
that demonstrated the fact, Edison is probably
quite content.

It should perhaps be noted at this point that a
curious effect observed at the laboratory was shown
in connection with Edison lamps at the Philadelphia
Exhibition of 1884. It became known in scientific
parlance as the "Edison effect," showing a curious
current condition or discharge in the vacuum of the
bulb. It has since been employed by Fleming in
England and De Forest in this country, and others,
as the basis for wireless-telegraph apparatus. It is in
reality a minute rectifier of alternating current, and
analogous to those which have since been made on a
large scale.

When Roentgen came forward with his discovery of
the new "X"-ray in 1895, Edison was ready for it, and
took up experimentation with it on a large scale; some
of his work being recorded in an article in the Century
Magazine of May, 1896, where a great deal of data may
be found. Edison says with regard to this work:
"When the X-ray came up, I made the first fluoroscope,
using tungstate of calcium. I also found that
this tungstate could be put into a vacuum chamber of
glass and fused to the inner walls of the chamber; and
if the X-ray electrodes were let into the glass chamber
and a proper vacuum was attained, you could get a
fluorescent lamp of several candle-power. I started in
to make a number of these lamps, but I soon found
that the X-ray had affected poisonously my assistant,
Mr. Dally, so that his hair came out and his flesh
commenced to ulcerate. I then concluded it would not
do, and that it would not be a very popular kind of
light; so I dropped it.

"At the time I selected tungstate of calcium because
it was so fluorescent, I set four men to making all kinds
of chemical combinations, and thus collected upward
of 8000 different crystals of various chemical combinations,
discovering several hundred different sub-
stances which would fluoresce to the X-ray. So far
little had come of X-ray work, but it added another
letter to the scientific alphabet. I don't know any
thing about radium, and I have lots of company."
The Electrical Engineer of June 3, 1896, contains a
photograph of Mr. Edison taken by the light of one of
his fluorescent lamps. The same journal in its issue
of April 1, 1896, shows an Edison fluoroscope in use
by an observer, in the now familiar and universal
form somewhat like a stereoscope. This apparatus as
invented by Edison consists of a flaring box, curved
at one end to fit closely over the forehead and eyes,
while the other end of the box is closed by a paste-
board cover. On the inside of this is spread a layer
of tungstate of calcium. By placing the object to be
observed, such as the hand, between the vacuum-tube
and the fluorescent screen, the "shadow" is formed on
the screen and can be observed at leisure. The apparatus
has proved invaluable in surgery and has become
an accepted part of the equipment of modern surgery.
In 1896, at the Electrical Exhibition in the Grand
Central Palace, New York City, given under the
auspices of the National Electric Light Association,
thousands and thousands of persons with the use of
this apparatus in Edison's personal exhibit were
enabled to see their own bones; and the resultant
public sensation was great. Mr. Mallory tells a
characteristic story of Edison's own share in the memorable
exhibit: "The exhibit was announced for opening
on Monday. On the preceding Friday all the apparatus,
which included a large induction-coil, was shipped
from Orange to New York, and on Saturday afternoon
Edison, accompanied by Fred Ott, one of his assistants,
and myself, went over to install it so as to have
it ready for Monday morning. Had everything been
normal, a few hours would have sufficed for completion
of the work, but on coming to test the big coil, it was
found to be absolutely out of commission, having been
so seriously injured as to necessitate its entire
rewinding. It being summer-time, all the machine shops
were closed until Monday morning, and there were
several miles of wire to be wound on the coil. Edison
would not consider a postponement of the exhibition,
so there was nothing to do but go to work and wind it
by hand. We managed to find a lathe, but there was
no power; so each of us, including Edison, took turns
revolving the lathe by pulling on the belt, while the
other two attended to the winding of the wire. We
worked continuously all through that Saturday night
and all day Sunday until evening, when we finished
the job. I don't remember ever being conscious of
more muscles in my life. I guess Edison was tired
also, but he took it very philosophically." This was
apparently the first public demonstration of the X-ray
to the American public.

Edison's ore-separation work has been already fully
described, but the story would hardly be complete
without a reference to similar work in gold extraction,
dating back to the Menlo Park days: "I got up a
method," says Edison, "of separating placer gold by
a dry process, in which I could work economically ore
as lean as five cents of gold to the cubic yard. I had
several car-loads of different placer sands sent to me
and proved I could do it. Some parties hearing I had
succeeded in doing such a thing went to work and got
hold of what was known as the Ortiz mine grant,
twelve miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico. This mine,
according to the reports of several mining engineers
made in the last forty years, was considered one of the
richest placer deposits in the United States, and
various schemes had been put forward to bring water
from the mountains forty miles away to work those
immense beds. The reports stated that the Mexicans
had been panning gold for a hundred years out of these

"These parties now made arrangements with the
stockholders or owners of the grant, and with me, to
work the deposits by my process. As I had had some
previous experience with the statements of mining
men, I concluded I would just send down a small plant
and prospect the field before putting up a large one.
This I did, and I sent two of my assistants, whom I
could trust, down to this place to erect the plant; and
started to sink shafts fifty feet deep all over the area.
We soon learned that the rich gravel, instead of being
spread over an area of three by seven miles, and rich
from the grass roots down, was spread over a space of
about twenty-five acres, and that even this did not
average more than ten cents to the cubic yard. The
whole placer would not give more than one and one-
quarter cents per cubic yard. As my business
arrangements had not been very perfectly made, I lost
the usual amount."

Going to another extreme, we find Edison grappling
with one of the biggest problems known to the authorities
of New York--the disposal of its heavy snows.
It is needless to say that witnessing the ordinary slow
and costly procedure would put Edison on his mettle.
"One time when they had a snow blockade in New
York I started to build a machine with Batchelor--a
big truck with a steam-engine and compressor on it.
We would run along the street, gather all the snow up
in front of us, pass it into the compressor, and deliver
little blocks of ice behind us in the gutter, taking one-
tenth the room of the snow, and not inconveniencing
anybody. We could thus take care of a snow-storm
by diminishing the bulk of material to be handled.
The preliminary experiment we made was dropped
because we went into other things. The machine
would go as fast as a horse could walk."

Edison has always taken a keen interest in aerial
flight, and has also experimented with aeroplanes, his
preference inclining to the helicopter type, as noted
in the newspapers and periodicals from time to time.
The following statement from him refers to a type of
aeroplane of great novelty and ingenuity: "James
Gordon Bennett came to me and asked that I try
some primary experiments to see if aerial navigation
was feasible with `heavier-than-air' machines. I got
up a motor and put it on the scales and tried a large
number of different things and contrivances connected
to the motor, to see how it would lighten itself on the
scales. I got some data and made up my mind that
what was needed was a very powerful engine for its
weight, in small compass. So I conceived of an engine
employing guncotton. I took a lot of ticker paper
tape, turned it into guncotton and got up an engine
with an arrangement whereby I could feed this gun-
cotton strip into the cylinder and explode it inside
electrically. The feed took place between two copper
rolls. The copper kept the temperature down, so that
it could only explode up to the point where it was in
contact with the feed rolls. It worked pretty well;
but once the feed roll didn't save it, and the flame
went through and exploded the whole roll and kicked
up such a bad explosion I abandoned it. But the
idea might be made to work."

Turning from the air to the earth, it is interesting to
note that the introduction of the underground Edison
system in New York made an appeal to inventive
ingenuity and that one of the difficulties was met as
follows: "When we first put the Pearl Street station
in operation, in New York, we had cast-iron junction-
boxes at the intersections of all the streets. One
night, or about two o'clock in the morning, a policeman
came in and said that something had exploded
at the corner of William and Nassau streets. I happened
to be in the station, and went out to see what it
was. I found that the cover of the manhole, weighing
about 200 pounds, had entirely disappeared, but
everything inside was intact. It had even stripped
some of the threads of the bolts, and we could never
find that cover. I concluded it was either leakage of
gas into the manhole, or else the acid used in pickling
the casting had given off hydrogen, and air had leaked
in, making an explosive mixture. As this was a pretty
serious problem, and as we had a good many of the
manholes, it worried me very much for fear that it
would be repeated and the company might have to
pay a lot of damages, especially in districts like that
around William and Nassau, where there are a good
many people about. If an explosion took place in the
daytime it might lift a few of them up. However, I
got around the difficulty by putting a little bottle of
chloroform in each box, corked up, with a slight hole
in the cork. The chloroform being volatile and very
heavy, settled in the box and displaced all the air. I
have never heard of an explosion in a manhole where
this chloroform had been used. Carbon tetrachloride,
now made electrically at Niagara Falls, is very cheap
and would be ideal for the purpose."

Edison has never paid much attention to warfare,
and has in general disdained to develop inventions for
the destruction of life and property. Some years ago,
however, he became the joint inventor of the Edison-
Sims torpedo, with Mr. W. Scott Sims, who sought his
co-operation. This is a dirigible submarine torpedo
operated by electricity. In the torpedo proper, which
is suspended from a long float so as to be submerged
a few feet under water, are placed the small electric
motor for propulsion and steering, and the explosive
charge. The torpedo is controlled from the shore or
ship through an electric cable which it pays out as it
goes along, and all operations of varying the speed,
reversing, and steering are performed at the will of the
distant operator by means of currents sent through
the cable. During the Spanish-American War of 1898
Edison suggested to the Navy Department the adoption
of a compound of calcium carbide and calcium
phosphite, which when placed in a shell and fired from
a gun would explode as soon as it struck water and
ignite, producing a blaze that would continue several
minutes and make the ships of the enemy visible for
four or five miles at sea. Moreover, the blaze could
not be extinguished.

Edison has always been deeply interested in
"conservation," and much of his work has been directed
toward the economy of fuel in obtaining electrical
energy directly from the consumption of coal. Indeed,
it will be noted that the example of his handwriting
shown in these volumes deals with the importance of
obtaining available energy direct from the combustible
without the enormous loss in the intervening stages
that makes our best modern methods of steam generation
and utilization so barbarously extravagant and
wasteful. Several years ago, experimenting in this
field, Edison devised and operated some ingenious
pyromagnetic motors and generators, based, as the
name implies, on the direct application of heat to the
machines. The motor is founded upon the principle
discovered by the famous Dr. William Gilbert--court
physician to Queen Elizabeth, and the Father of
modern electricity--that the magnetic properties of
iron diminish with heat. At a light-red heat, iron
becomes non-magnetic, so that a strong magnet exerts
no influence over it. Edison employed this peculiar
property by constructing a small machine in which a
pivoted bar is alternately heated and cooled. It is
thus attracted toward an adjacent electromagnet
when cold and is uninfluenced when hot, and as the
result motion is produced.

The pyromagnetic generator is based on the same
phenomenon; its aim being of course to generate electrical
energy directly from the heat of the combustible.
The armature, or moving part of the machine, consists
in reality of eight separate armatures all constructed
of corrugated sheet iron covered with asbestos and
wound with wire. These armatures are held in place
by two circular iron plates, through the centre of
which runs a shaft, carrying at its lower extremity a
semicircular shield of fire-clay, which covers the ends
of four of the armatures. The heat, of whatever origin,
is applied from below, and the shaft being revolved,
four of the armatures lose their magnetism
constantly, while the other four gain it, so to speak.
As the moving part revolves, therefore, currents of
electricity are set up in the wires of the armatures and
are collected by a commutator, as in an ordinary
dynamo, placed on the upper end of the central shaft.

A great variety of electrical instruments are
included in Edison's inventions, many of these in
fundamental or earlier forms being devised for his systems
of light and power, as noted already. There are
numerous others, and it might be said with truth that
Edison is hardly ever without some new device of this
kind in hand, as he is by no means satisfied with the
present status of electrical measurements. He holds
in general that the meters of to-day, whether for heavy
or for feeble currents, are too expensive, and that
cheaper instruments are a necessity of the times.
These remarks apply more particularly to what may
be termed, in general, circuit meters. In other classes
Edison has devised an excellent form of magnetic
bridge, being an ingenious application of the principles
of the familiar Wheatstone bridge, used so extensively
for measuring the electrical resistance of wires; the
testing of iron for magnetic qualities being determined
by it in the same way. Another special instrument
is a "dead beat" galvanometer which differs from the
ordinary form of galvanometer in having no coils or
magnetic needle. It depends for its action upon the
heating effect of the current, which causes a fine
platinum-iridium wire enclosed in a glass tube to
expand; thus allowing a coiled spring to act on a
pivoted shaft carrying a tiny mirror. The mirror as
it moves throws a beam of light upon a scale and the
indications are read by the spot of light. Most novel
of all the apparatus of this measuring kind is the
odoroscope, which is like the tasimeter described in
an earlier chapter, except that a strip of gelatine takes
the place of hard rubber, as the sensitive member.
Besides being affected by heat, this device is exceedingly
sensitive to moisture. A few drops of water or
perfume thrown on the floor of a room are sufficient
to give a very decided indication on the galvanometer
in circuit with the instrument. Barometers, hygrometers,
and similar instruments of great delicacy can
be constructed on the principle of the odoroscope;
and it may also be used in determining the character
or pressure of gases and vapors in which it has been

In the list of Edison's patents at the end of this
work may be noted many other of his miscellaneous
inventions, covering items such as preserving fruit
in vacuo, making plate-glass, drawing wire, and
metallurgical processes for treatment of nickel, gold, and
copper ores; but to mention these inventions separately
would trespass too much on our limited space
here. Hence, we shall leave the interested reader to
examine that list for himself.

From first to last Edison has filed in the United States
Patent Office--in addition to more than 1400 applications
for patents--some 120 caveats embracing not
less than 1500 inventions. A "caveat" is essentially
a notice filed by an inventor, entitling him to receive
warning from the Office of any application for a patent
for an invention that would "interfere" with his own,
during the year, while he is supposed to be perfecting
his device. The old caveat system has now been
abolished, but it served to elicit from Edison a most
astounding record of ideas and possible inventions
upon which he was working, and many of which he of
course reduced to practice. As an example of Edison's
fertility and the endless variety of subjects engaging
his thoughts, the following list of matters covered by
ONE caveat is given. It is needless to say that all the
caveats are not quite so full of "plums," but this is
certainly a wonder.

Forty-one distinct inventions relating to the phonograph,
covering various forms of recorders, arrangement
of parts, making of records, shaving tool, adjustments,

Eight forms of electric lamps using infusible earthy
oxides and brought to high incandescence in vacuo by
high potential current of several thousand volts; same
character as impingement of X-rays on object in bulb.

A loud-speaking telephone with quartz cylinder and
beam of ultra-violet light.

Four forms of arc light with special carbons.

A thermostatic motor.

A device for sealing together the inside part and
bulb of an incandescent lamp mechanically.

Regulators for dynamos and motors.

Three devices for utilizing vibrations beyond the
ultra violet.

A great variety of methods for coating incandescent
lamp filaments with silicon, titanium, chromium,
osmium, boron, etc.

Several methods of making porous filaments.

Several methods of making squirted filaments of a
variety of materials, of which about thirty are specified.

Seventeen different methods and devices for separating
magnetic ores.

A continuously operative primary battery.

A musical instrument operating one of Helmholtz's
artificial larynxes.

A siren worked by explosion of small quantities of
oxygen and hydrogen mixed.

Three other sirens made to give vocal sounds or
articulate speech.

A device for projecting sound-waves to a distance
without spreading and in a straight line, on the principle
of smoke rings.

A device for continuously indicating on a galvanometer
the depths of the ocean.

A method of preventing in a great measure friction
of water against the hull of a ship and incidentally
preventing fouling by barnacles.

A telephone receiver whereby the vibrations of the
diaphragm are considerably amplified.

Two methods of "space" telegraphy at sea.

An improved and extended string telephone.

Devices and method of talking through water for
considerable distances.

An audiphone for deaf people.

Sound-bridge for measuring resistance of tubes and
other materials for conveying sound.

A method of testing a magnet to ascertain the existence
of flaws in the iron or steel composing the same.

Method of distilling liquids by incandescent conductor
immersed in the liquid.

Method of obtaining electricity direct from coal.

An engine operated by steam produced by the
hydration and dehydration of metallic salts.

Device and method for telegraphing photographically.

Carbon crucible kept brilliantly incandescent by
current in vacuo, for obtaining reaction with refractory

Device for examining combinations of odors and
their changes by rotation at different speeds.

From one of the preceding items it will be noted
that even in the eighties Edison perceived much advantage
to be gained in the line of economy by the use
of lamp filaments employing refractory metals in their
construction. From another caveat, filed in 1889, we
extract the following, which shows that he realized the
value of tungsten also for this purpose. "Filaments
of carbon placed in a combustion tube with a little
chloride ammonium. Chloride tungsten or titanium
passed through hot tube, depositing a film of metal on
the carbon; or filaments of zirconia oxide, or alumina
or magnesia, thoria or other infusible oxides mixed or
separate, and obtained by moistening and squirting
through a die, are thus coated with above metals and
used for incandescent lamps. Osmium from a volatile
compound of same thus deposited makes a filament
as good as carbon when in vacuo."

In 1888, long before there arose the actual necessity
of duplicating phonograph records so as to produce
replicas in great numbers, Edison described in one of
his caveats a method and process much similar to the
one which was put into practice by him in later years.
In the same caveat he describes an invention whereby
the power to indent on a phonograph cylinder, instead
of coming directly from the voice, is caused by power
derived from the rotation or movement of the phonogram
surface itself. He did not, however, follow up
this invention and put it into practice. Some twenty
years later it was independently invented and patented
by another inventor. A further instance of this kind
is a method of telegraphy at sea by means of a diaphragm
in a closed port-hole flush with the side of the
vessel, and actuated by a steam-whistle which is controlled
by a lever, similarly to a Morse key. A receiving
diaphragm is placed in another and near-by chamber,
which is provided with very sensitive stethoscopic
ear-pieces, by which the Morse characters sent from
another vessel may be received. This was also invented
later by another inventor, and is in use to-day,
but will naturally be rivalled by wireless telegraphy.
Still another instance is seen in one of Edison's caveats,
where he describes a method of distilling liquids by
means of internally applied heat through electric
conductors. Although Edison did not follow up the idea
and take out a patent, this system of distillation was
later hit upon by others and is in use at the present

In the foregoing pages of this chapter the authors
have endeavored to present very briefly a sketchy
notion of the astounding range of Edison's practical
ideas, but they feel a sense of impotence in being unable
to deal adequately with the subject in the space
that can be devoted to it. To those who, like the
authors, have had the privilege of examining the
voluminous records which show the flights of his
imagination, there comes a feeling of utter inadequacy
to convey to others the full extent of the story they

The few specific instances above related, although
not representing a tithe of Edison's work, will probably
be sufficient to enable the reader to appreciate
to some extent his great wealth of ideas and fertility
of imagination, and also to realize that this imagination
is not only intensely practical, but that it works
prophetically along lines of natural progress.



WHILE the world's progress depends largely upon
their ingenuity, inventors are not usually persons
who have adopted invention as a distinct profession,
but, generally speaking, are otherwise engaged
in various walks of life. By reason of more or
less inherent native genius they either make improvements
along lines of present occupation, or else
evolve new methods and means of accomplishing
results in fields for which they may have personal

Now and then, however, there arises a man so
greatly endowed with natural powers and originality
that the creative faculty within him is too strong to
endure the humdrum routine of affairs, and manifests
itself in a life devoted entirely to the evolution of
methods and devices calculated to further the world's
welfare. In other words, he becomes an inventor by
profession. Such a man is Edison. Notwithstanding
the fact that nearly forty years ago (not a great while
after he had emerged from the ranks of peripatetic
telegraph operators) he was the owner of a large and
profitable business as a manufacturer of the telegraphic
apparatus invented by him, the call of his
nature was too strong to allow of profits being laid
away in the bank to accumulate. As he himself has
said, he has "too sanguine a temperament to allow
money to stay in solitary confinement." Hence, all
superfluous cash was devoted to experimentation. In
the course of years he grew more and more impatient
of the shackles that bound him to business routine,
and, realizing the powers within him, he drew away
gradually from purely manufacturing occupations,
determining deliberately to devote his life to inventive
work, and to depend upon its results as a means of

All persons who make inventions will necessarily
be more or less original in character, but to the man
who chooses to become an inventor by profession
must be conceded a mind more than ordinarily replete
with virility and originality. That these
qualities in Edison are superabundant is well known
to all who have worked with him, and, indeed, are
apparent to every one from his multiplied achievements
within the period of one generation.

If one were allowed only two words with which to
describe Edison, it is doubtful whether a close examination
of the entire dictionary would disclose any
others more suitable than "experimenter--inventor."
These would express the overruling characteristics of
his eventful career. It is as an "inventor" that he
sets himself down in the membership list of the
American Institute of Electrical Engineers. To attempt
the strict placing of these words in relation to
each other (except alphabetically) would be equal
to an endeavor to solve the old problem as to which
came first, the egg or the chicken; for although all
his inventions have been evolved through experiment,
many of his notable experiments have called
forth the exercise of highly inventive faculties in their
very inception. Investigation and experiment have
been a consuming passion, an impelling force from
within, as it were, from his petticoat days when he
collected goose-eggs and tried to hatch them out by
sitting over them himself. One might be inclined to
dismiss this trivial incident smilingly, as a mere
childish, thoughtless prank, had not subsequent
development as a child, boy, and man revealed a born
investigator with original reasoning powers that,
disdaining crooks and bends, always aimed at the
centre, and, like the flight of the bee, were accurate
and direct.

It is not surprising, therefore, that a man of this
kind should exhibit a ceaseless, absorbing desire for
knowledge, and an apparently uncontrollable tendency
to experiment on every possible occasion, even
though his last cent were spent in thus satisfying the
insatiate cravings of an inquiring mind.

During Edison's immature years, when he was
flitting about from place to place as a telegraph
operator, his experimentation was of a desultory,
hand-to-mouth character, although it was always
notable for originality, as expressed in a number of
minor useful devices produced during this period.
Small wonder, then, that at the end of these wanderings,
when he had found a place to "rest the sole of
his foot," he established a laboratory in which to
carry on his researches in a more methodical and
practical manner. In this was the beginning of the
work which has since made such a profound impression
on contemporary life.

There is nothing of the helter-skelter, slap-dash
style in Edison's experiments. Although all the
laboratory experimenters agree in the opinion that
he "tries everything," it is not merely the mixing of
a little of this, some of that, and a few drops of the
other, in the HOPE that SOMETHING will come of it.
Nor is the spirit of the laboratory work represented
in the following dialogue overheard between two
alleged carpenters picked up at random to help on a
hurry job.

"How near does she fit, Mike?"

"About an inch."

"Nail her!"

A most casual examination of any of the laboratory
records will reveal evidence of the minutest exactitude
insisted on in the conduct of experiments, irrespective
of the length of time they occupied. Edison's
instructions, always clear cut and direct, followed by
his keen oversight, admit of nothing less than implicit
observance in all details, no matter where
they may lead, and impel to the utmost minuteness
and accuracy.

To some extent there has been a popular notion
that many of Edison's successes have been due to
mere dumb fool luck--to blind, fortuitous "happenings."
Nothing could be further from the truth, for,
on the contrary, it is owing almost entirely to the
comprehensive scope of his knowledge, the breadth
of his conception, the daring originality of his methods,
and minuteness and extent of experiment, com-
bined with unwavering pertinacity, that new arts
have been created and additions made to others
already in existence. Indeed, without this tireless
minutiae, and methodical, searching spirit, it would
have been practically impossible to have produced
many of the most important of these inventions.

Needless to say, mastery of its literature is regarded
by him as a most important preliminary in
taking up any line of investigation. What others
may have done, bearing directly or collaterally on
the subject, in print, is carefully considered and
sifted to the point of exhaustion. Not that he takes
it for granted that the conclusions are correct, for
he frequently obtains vastly different results by
repeating in his own way experiments made by others
as detailed in books.

"Edison can travel along a well-used road and still
find virgin soil," remarked recently one of his most
practical experimenters, who had been working along
a certain line without attaining the desired result.
"He wanted to get a particular compound having
definite qualities, and I had tried in all sorts of ways
to produce it but with only partial success. He was
confident that it could be done, and said he would
try it himself. In doing so he followed the same path
in which I had travelled, but, by making an undreamed-of
change in one of the operations, succeeded
in producing a compound that virtually came up to
his specifications. It is not the only time I have
known this sort of thing to happen."

In speaking of Edison's method of experimenting,
another of his laboratory staff says: "He is never
hindered by theory, but resorts to actual experiment
for proof. For instance, when he conceived the idea
of pouring a complete concrete house it was universally
held that it would be impossible because the
pieces of stone in the mixture would not rise to the
level of the pouring-point, but would gravitate to a
lower plane in the soft cement. This, however, did
not hinder him from making a series of experiments
which resulted in an invention that proved conclusively
the contrary."

Having conceived some new idea and read everything
obtainable relating to the subject in general,
Edison's fertility of resource and originality come into
play. Taking one of the laboratory note-books, he
will write in it a memorandum of the experiments to
be tried, illustrated, if necessary, by sketches. This
book is then passed on to that member of the experimental
staff whose special training and experience
are best adapted to the work. Here strenuousness is
expected; and an immediate commencement of investigation
and prompt report are required. Sometimes
the subject may be such as to call for a long
line of frequent tests which necessitate patient and
accurate attention to minute details. Results must
be reported often--daily, or possibly with still greater
frequency. Edison does not forget what is going on;
but in his daily tours through the laboratory keeps
in touch with all the work that is under the hands of
his various assistants, showing by an instant grasp
of the present conditions of any experiment that he
has a full consciousness of its meaning and its reference
to his original conception.

The year 1869 saw the beginning of Edison's career
as an acknowledged inventor of commercial devices.
From the outset, an innate recognition of system
dictated the desirability and wisdom of preserving
records of his experiments and inventions. The
primitive records, covering the earliest years, were
mainly jotted down on loose sheets of paper covered
with sketches, notes, and data, pasted into large scrap-
books, or preserved in packages; but with the passing
of years and enlargement of his interests, it became
the practice to make all original laboratory
notes in large, uniform books. This course was pursued
until the Menlo Park period, when he instituted
a new regime that has been continued down to the
present day. A standard form of note-book, about
eight and a half by six inches, containing about two
hundred pages, was adopted. A number of these
books were (and are now) always to be found scattered
around in the different sections of the laboratory,
and in them have been noted by Edison all
his ideas, sketches, and memoranda. Details of the
various experiments concerning them have been set
down by his assistants from time to time.

These later laboratory note-books, of which there
are now over one thousand in the series, are eloquent
in the history they reveal of the strenuous labors of
Edison and his assistants and the vast fields of
research he has covered during the last thirty years.
They are overwhelmingly rich in biographic material,
but analysis would be a prohibitive task for one person,
and perhaps interesting only to technical readers.
Their pages cover practically every department of
science. The countless thousands of separate experiments
recorded exhibit the operations of a master
mind seeking to surprise Nature into a betrayal of
her secrets by asking her the same question in a
hundred different ways. For instance, when Edison
was investigating a certain problem of importance
many years ago, the note-books show that on this
point alone about fifteen thousand experiments and
tests were made by one of his assistants.

A most casual glance over these note-books will
illustrate the following remark, which was made to
one of the writers not long ago by a member of the
laboratory staff who has been experimenting there
for twenty years: "Edison can think of more ways
of doing a thing than any man I ever saw or heard
of. He tries everything and never lets up, even
though failure is apparently staring him in the face.
He only stops when he simply can't go any further
on that particular line. When he decides on any
mode of procedure he gives his notes to the experimenter
and lets him alone, only stepping in from
time to time to look at the operations and receive
reports of progress."

The history of the development of the telephone
transmitter, phonograph, incandescent lamp, dynamo,
electrical distributing systems from central stations,
electric railway, ore-milling, cement, motion pictures,
and a host of minor inventions may be found embedded
in the laboratory note-books. A passing
glance at a few pages of these written records will
serve to illustrate, though only to a limited extent,
the thoroughness of Edison's method. It is to be
observed that these references can be but of the most
meagre kind, and must be regarded as merely throwing
a side-light on the subject itself. For instance,
the complex problem of a practical telephone transmitter
gave rise to a series of most exhaustive experiments.
Combinations in almost infinite variety,
including gums, chemical compounds, oils, minerals,
and metals were suggested by Edison; and his assistants
were given long lists of materials to try with
reference to predetermined standards of articulation,
degrees of loudness, and perfection of hissing sounds.
The note-books contain hundreds of pages showing
that a great many thousands of experiments were
tried and passed upon. Such remarks as "N. G.";
"Pretty good"; "Whistling good, but no articulation";
"Rattly"; "Articulation, whispering, and
whistling good"; "Best to-night so far"; and others
are noted opposite the various combinations as they
were tried. Thus, one may follow the investigation
through a maze of experiments which led up to the
successful invention of the carbon button transmitter,
the vital device to give the telephone its
needed articulation and perfection.

The two hundred and odd note-books, covering the
strenuous period during which Edison was carrying
on his electric-light experiments, tell on their forty
thousand pages or more a fascinating story of the
evolution of a new art in its entirety. From the crude
beginnings, through all the varied phases of this
evolution, the operations of a master mind are apparent
from the contents of these pages, in which are
recorded the innumerable experiments, calculations,
and tests that ultimately brought light out of darkness.

The early work on a metallic conductor for lamps
gave rise to some very thorough research on melting
and alloying metals, the preparation of metallic
oxides, the coating of fine wires by immersing them
in a great variety of chemical solutions. Following
his usual custom, Edison would indicate the lines of
experiment to be followed, which were carried out
and recorded in the note-books. He himself, in
January, 1879, made personally a most minute and
searching investigation into the properties and behavior
of plating-iridium, boron, rutile, zircon, chromium,
molybdenum, and nickel, under varying degrees
of current strength, on which there may be
found in the notes about forty pages of detailed
experiments and deductions in his own handwriting,
concluding with the remark (about nickel): "This

Book of the day: