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

Part 12 out of 17

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associates in the electric lighting business, and offered
me all I was going to get and $100,000 besides. Of
course I would not do it. I found out that the reason
for this offer was that he had had trouble with Mr.
Morgan, and wanted to get even with him." Wall
Street is, in fact, a frequent object of rather sarcastic
reference, applying even to its regular and probably
correct methods of banking. "When I was running
my ore-mine," he says, "and got up to the point of
making shipments to John Fritz, I didn't have capital
enough to carry the ore, so I went to J. P. Morgan &
Co. and said I wanted them to give me a letter
to the City Bank. I wanted to raise some money.
I got a letter to Mr. Stillman; and went over and told
him I wanted to open an account and get some loans
and discounts. He turned me down, and would not
do it. `Well,' I said, `isn't it banking to help a man
in this way?' He said: `What you want is a partner.'
I felt very much crestfallen. I went over to a bank
in Newark--the Merchants'--and told them what I
wanted. They said: `Certainly, you can have the
money.' I made my deposit, and they pulled me
through all right. My idea of Wall Street banking
has been very poor since that time. Merchant banking
seems to be different."

As a general thing, Edison has had no trouble in
raising money when he needed it, the reason being
that people have faith in him as soon as they come
to know him. A little incident bears on this point.
"In operating the Schenectady works Mr. Insull and
I had a terrible burden. We had enormous orders and
little money, and had great difficulty to meet our pay-
rolls and buy supplies. At one time we had so many
orders on hand we wanted $200,000 worth of copper,
and didn't have a cent to buy it. We went down to
the Ansonia Brass and Copper Company, and told Mr.
Cowles just how we stood. He said: `I will see what
I can do. Will you let my bookkeeper look at your
books?' We said: `Come right up and look them
over.' He sent his man up and found we had the
orders and were all right, although we didn't have the
money. He said: `I will let you have the copper.'
And for years he trusted us for all the copper we wanted,
even if we didn't have the money to pay for it."

It is not generally known that Edison, in addition
to being a newsboy and a contributor to the technical
press, has also been a backer and an "angel" for
various publications. This is perhaps the right place
at which to refer to the matter, as it belongs in the
list of his financial or commercial enterprises. Edison
sums up this chapter of his life very pithily. "I was
interested, as a telegrapher, in journalism, and started
the Telegraph Journal, and got out about a dozen
numbers when it was taken over by W. J. Johnston,
who afterward founded the Electrical World on it as
an offshoot from the Operator. I also started Science,
and ran it for a year and a half. It cost me too much
money to maintain, and I sold it to Gardiner Hubbard,
the father-in-law of Alexander Graham Bell.
He carried it along for years." Both these papers are
still in prosperous existence, particularly the Electrical
World, as the recognized exponent of electrical
development in America, where now the public spends
as much annually for electricity as it does for daily

From all that has been said above it will be understood
that Edison's real and remarkable capacity for
business does not lie in ability to "take care of himself,"
nor in the direction of routine office practice,
nor even in ordinary administrative affairs. In short,
he would and does regard it as a foolish waste of his
time to give attention to the mere occupancy of a

His commercial strength manifests itself rather in
the outlining of matters relating to organization and
broad policy with a sagacity arising from a shrewd
perception and appreciation of general business
requirements and conditions, to which should be added
his intensely comprehensive grasp of manufacturing
possibilities and details, and an unceasing vigilance
in devising means of improving the quality of products
and increasing the economy of their manufacture.

Like other successful commanders, Edison also possesses
the happy faculty of choosing suitable lieutenants
to carry out his policies and to manage the
industries he has created, such, for instance, as those
with which this chapter has to deal--namely, the
phonograph, motion picture, primary battery, and
storage battery enterprises.

The Portland cement business has already been
dealt with separately, and although the above remarks
are appropriate to it also, Edison being its head and
informing spirit, the following pages are intended to
be devoted to those industries that are grouped around
the laboratory at Orange, and that may be taken as
typical of Edison's methods on the manufacturing side.

Within a few months after establishing himself at
the present laboratory, in 1887, Edison entered upon
one of those intensely active periods of work that
have been so characteristic of his methods in
commercializing his other inventions. In this case his
labors were directed toward improving the phonograph
so as to put it into thoroughly practicable
form, capable of ordinary use by the public at large.
The net result of this work was the general type of
machine of which the well-known phonograph of today
is a refinement evolved through many years of
sustained experiment and improvement.

After a considerable period of strenuous activity
in the eighties, the phonograph and its wax records
were developed to a sufficient degree of perfection to
warrant him in making arrangements for their manufacture
and commercial introduction. At this time
the surroundings of the Orange laboratory were
distinctly rural in character. Immediately adjacent to
the main building and the four smaller structures,
constituting the laboratory plant, were grass meadows
that stretched away for some considerable distance
in all directions, and at its back door, so to
speak, ducks paddled around and quacked in a pond
undisturbed. Being now ready for manufacturing,
but requiring more facilities, Edison increased his
real-estate holdings by purchasing a large tract of
land lying contiguous to what he already owned. At
one end of the newly acquired land two unpretentious
brick structures were erected, equipped with first-
class machinery, and put into commission as shops
for manufacturing phonographs and their record
blanks; while the capacious hall forming the third
story of the laboratory, over the library, was fitted
up and used as a music-room where records were

Thus the modern Edison phonograph made its
modest debut in 1888, in what was then called the
"Improved" form to distinguish it from the original
style of machine he invented in 1877, in which the
record was made on a sheet of tin-foil held in place
upon a metallic cylinder. The "Improved" form is
the general type so well known for many years and
sold at the present day--viz., the spring or electric
motor-driven machine with the cylindrical wax record--in
fact, the regulation Edison phonograph.

It did not take a long time to find a market for the
products of the newly established factory, for a world-
wide public interest in the machine had been created
by the appearance of newspaper articles from time
to time, announcing the approaching completion by
Edison of his improved phonograph. The original
(tin-foil) machine had been sufficient to illustrate the
fact that the human voice and other sounds could
be recorded and reproduced, but such a type
of machine had sharp limitations in general use;
hence the coming into being of a type that any
ordinary person could handle was sufficient of itself
to insure a market. Thus the demand for the new
machines and wax records grew apace as the corporations
organized to handle the business extended their
lines. An examination of the newspaper files of the
years 1888, 1889, and 1890 will reveal the great
excitement caused by the bringing out of the new
phonograph, and how frequently and successfully it
was employed in public entertainments, either for
the whole or part of an evening. In this and other
ways it became popularized to a still further extent.
This led to the demand for a nickel-in-the-slot
machine, which, when established, became immensely
popular over the whole country. In its earlier forms
the "Improved" phonograph was not capable of
such general non-expert handling as is the machine
of the present day, and consequently there was a
constant endeavor on Edison's part to simplify the
construction of the machine and its manner of opera-
tion. Experimentation was incessantly going on with
this in view, and in the processes of evolution changes
were made here and there that resulted in a still greater
measure of perfection.

In various ways there was a continual slow and
steady growth of the industry thus created, necessitating
the erection of many additional buildings as the
years passed by. During part of the last decade
there was a lull, caused mostly from the failure of
corporate interests to carry out their contract relations
with Edison, and he was thereby compelled to
resort to legal proceedings, at the end of which he
bought in the outstanding contracts and assumed
command of the business personally.

Being thus freed from many irksome restrictions
that had hung heavily upon him, Edison now proceeded
to push the phonograph business under a
broader policy than that which obtained under his
previous contractual relations. With the ever-increasing
simplification and efficiency of the machine
and a broadening of its application, the results of this
policy were manifested in a still more rapid growth
of the business that necessitated further additions to
the manufacturing plant. And thus matters went on
until the early part of the present decade, when the
factory facilities were becoming so rapidly outgrown
as to render radical changes necessary. It
was in these circumstances that Edison's sagacity and
breadth of business capacity came to the front. With
characteristic boldness and foresight he planned the
erection of the series of magnificent concrete buildings
that now stand adjacent to and around the
laboratory, and in which the manufacturing plant is
at present housed.

There was no narrowness in his views in designing
these buildings, but, on the contrary, great faith in
the future, for his plans included not only the phonograph
industry, but provided also for the coming
development of motion pictures and of the primary
and storage battery enterprises.

In the aggregate there are twelve structures (including
the administration building), of which six
are of imposing dimensions, running from 200 feet
long by 50 feet wide to 440 feet in length by 115 feet
in width, all these larger buildings, except one, being
five stories in height. They are constructed entirely
of reinforced concrete with Edison cement, including
walls, floors, and stairways, thus eliminating fire
hazard to the utmost extent, and insuring a high
degree of protection, cleanliness, and sanitation. As
fully three-fourths of the area of their exterior framework
consists of windows, an abundance of daylight
is secured. These many advantages, combined with
lofty ceilings on every floor, provide ideal conditions
for the thousands of working people engaged in this
immense plant.

In addition to these twelve concrete structures
there are a few smaller brick and wooden buildings on
the grounds, in which some special operations are
conducted. These, however, are few in number, and
at some future time will be concentrated in one or
more additional concrete buildings. It will afford a
clearer idea of the extent of the industries clustered
immediately around the laboratory when it is stated
that the combined floor space which is occupied by
them in all these buildings is equivalent in the aggregate
to over fourteen acres.

It would be instructive, but scarcely within the
scope of the narrative, to conduct the reader through
this extensive plant and see its many interesting
operations in detail. It must suffice, however, to
note its complete and ample equipment with modern
machinery of every kind applicable to the work;
its numerous (and some of them wonderfully ingenious)
methods, processes, machines, and tools
specially designed or invented for the manufacture
of special parts and supplemental appliances for the
phonograph or other Edison products; and also to
note the interesting variety of trades represented in
the different departments, in which are included
chemists, electricians, electrical mechanicians, machinists,
mechanics, pattern-makers, carpenters, cabinet-makers,
varnishers, japanners, tool-makers, lapidaries,
wax experts, photographic developers and
printers, opticians, electroplaters, furnacemen, and
others, together with factory experimenters and a
host of general employees, who by careful training
have become specialists and experts in numerous
branches of these industries.

Edison's plans for this manufacturing plant were
sufficiently well outlined to provide ample capacity
for the natural growth of the business; and although
that capacity (so far as phonographs is concerned)
has actually reached an output of over 6000 complete
phonographs PER WEEK, and upward of 130,000
molded records PER DAY--with a pay-roll embracing
over 3500 employees, including office force--and
amounting to about $45,000 per week--the limits of
production have not yet been reached.

The constant outpouring of products in such large
quantities bespeaks the unremitting activities of an
extensive and busy selling organization to provide
for their marketing and distribution. This important
department (the National Phonograph Company), in
all its branches, from president to office-boy, includes
about two hundred employees on its office pay-roll, and
makes its headquarters in the administration building,
which is one of the large concrete structures
above referred to. The policy of the company is to
dispose of its wares through regular trade channels
rather than to deal direct with the public, trusting
to local activity as stimulated by a liberal policy of
national advertising. Thus, there has been gradually
built up a very extensive business until at the present
time an enormous output of phonographs and records
is distributed to retail customers in the United
States and Canada through the medium of about
one hundred and fifty jobbers and over thirteen
thousand dealers. The Edison phonograph industry
thus organized is helped by frequent conventions of
this large commercial force.

Besides this, the National Phonograph Company
maintains a special staff for carrying on the business
with foreign countries. While the aggregate transactions
of this department are not as extensive as
those for the United States and Canada, they are of
considerable volume, as the foreign office distributes
in bulk a very large number of phonographs and rec-
ords to selling companies and agencies in Europe,
Asia, Australia, Japan, and, indeed, to all the countries
of the civilized world.[19] Like England's drumbeat,
the voice of the Edison phonograph is heard around
the world in undying strains throughout the twenty-
four hours.

[19] It may be of interest to the reader to note some parts of
the globe to which shipments of phonographs and records are made:

Samoan Islands
Falkland Islands
Crete Island
Canary Islands
British East Africa
Cape Colony
Portuguese East Africa
Straits Settlements
Fanning Islands
New Zealand
French Indo-China
South Africa

In addition to the main manufacturing plant at
Orange, another important adjunct must not be forgotten,
and that is, the Recording Department in
New York City, where the master records are made
under the superintendence of experts who have
studied the intricacies of the art with Edison himself.
This department occupies an upper story in
a lofty building, and in its various rooms may be
seen and heard many prominent musicians, vocalists,
speakers, and vaudeville artists studiously and busily
engaged in making the original records, which are
afterward sent to Orange, and which, if approved by
the expert committee, are passed on to the proper
department for reproduction in large quantities.

When we consider the subject of motion pictures
we find a similarity in general business methods, for
while the projecting machines and copies of picture
films are made in quantity at the Orange works (just
as phonographs and duplicate records are so made),
the original picture, or film, like the master record,
is made elsewhere. There is this difference, however:
that, from the particular nature of the work, practically
ALL master records are made at one convenient
place, while the essential interest in SOME motion
pictures lies in the fact that they are taken in various
parts of the world, often under exceptional circumstances.
The "silent drama," however, calls also for
many representations which employ conventional
acting, staging, and the varied appliances of stage-
craft. Hence, Edison saw early the necessity of
providing a place especially devised and arranged for
the production of dramatic performances in pantomime.

It is a far cry from the crude structure of early
days--the "Black Maria" of 1891, swung around on
its pivot in the Orange laboratory yard--to the well-
appointed Edison theatres, or pantomime studios, in
New York City. The largest of these is located in
the suburban Borough of the Bronx, and consists of
a three-story-and-basement building of reinforced
concrete, in which are the offices, dressing-rooms,
wardrobe and property-rooms, library and developing
department. Contiguous to this building, and
connected with it, is the theatre proper, a large and
lofty structure whose sides and roof are of glass, and
whose floor space is sufficiently ample for six different
sets of scenery at one time, with plenty of room left
for a profusion of accessories, such as tables, chairs,
pianos, bunch-lights, search-lights, cameras, and a
host of varied paraphernalia pertaining to stage

The second Edison theatre, or studio, is located
not far from the shopping district in New York City.
In all essential features, except size and capacity, it
is a duplicate of the one in the Bronx, of which it
is a supplement.

To a visitor coming on the floor of such a theatre
for the first time there is a sense of confusion in
beholding the heterogeneous "sets" of scenery and the
motley assemblage of characters represented in the
various plays in the process of "taking," or rehearsal.
While each set constitutes virtually a separate stage,
they are all on the same floor, without wings or
proscenium-arches, and separated only by a few feet.
Thus, for instance, a Japanese house interior may be
seen cheek by jowl with an ordinary prison cell,
flanked by a mining-camp, which in turn stands next
to a drawing-room set, and in each a set of appropriate
characters in pantomimic motion. The action
is incessant, for in any dramatic representation
intended for the motion-picture film every second

The production of several completed plays per
week necessitates the employment of a considerable
staff of people of miscellaneous trades and abilities.
At each of these two studios there is employed a
number of stage-directors, scene-painters, carpenters,
property-men, photographers, costumers, electricians,
clerks, and general assistants, besides a capable stock
company of actors and actresses, whose generous num-
bers are frequently augmented by the addition of a
special star, or by a number of extra performers, such
as Rough Riders or other specialists. It may be,
occasionally, that the exigencies of the occasion require
the work of a performing horse, dog, or other animal.
No matter what the object required may be, whether
animate or inanimate, if it is necessary for the play
it is found and pressed into service.

These two studios, while separated from the main
plant, are under the same general management, and
their original negative films are forwarded as made
to the Orange works, where the large copying department
is located in one of the concrete buildings.
Here, after the film has been passed upon by a committee,
a considerable number of positive copies are
made by ingenious processes, and after each one is
separately tested, or "run off," in one or other of the
three motion-picture theatres in the building, they
are shipped out to film exchanges in every part of
the country. How extensive this business has become
may be appreciated when it is stated that at
the Orange plant there are produced at this time
over eight million feet of motion-picture film per
year. And Edison's company is only one of many

Another of the industries at the Orange works is
the manufacture of projecting kinetoscopes, by means
of which the motion pictures are shown. While this
of itself is also a business of considerable magnitude
in its aggregate yearly transactions, it calls for no
special comment in regard to commercial production,
except to note that a corps of experimenters is con-
stantly employed refining and perfecting details of
the machine. Its basic features of operation as conceived
by Edison remain unchanged.

On coming to consider the Edison battery enterprises,
we must perforce extend the territorial view to
include a special chemical-manufacturing plant, which
is in reality a branch of the laboratory and the Orange
works, although actually situated about three miles

Both the primary and the storage battery employ
certain chemical products as essential parts of their
elements, and indeed owe their very existence to the
peculiar preparation and quality of such products, as
exemplified by Edison's years of experimentation and
research. Hence the establishment of his own chemical
works at Silver Lake, where, under his personal
supervision, the manufacture of these products is carried
on in charge of specially trained experts. At the
present writing the plant covers about seven acres
of ground; but there is ample room for expansion,
as Edison, with wise forethought, secured over forty
acres of land, so as to be prepared for developments.

Not only is the Silver Lake works used for the
manufacture of the chemical substances employed in
the batteries, but it is the plant at which the Edison
primary battery is wholly assembled and made up
for distribution to customers. This in itself is a
business of no small magnitude, having grown steadily
on its merits year by year until it has now arrived at
a point where its sales run into the hundreds of
thousands of cells per annum, furnished largely to the
steam railroads of the country for their signal service.

As to the storage battery, the plant at Silver Lake
is responsible only for the production of the chemical
compounds, nickel-hydrate and iron oxide, which enter
into its construction. All the mechanical parts, the
nickel plating, the manufacture of nickel flake, the
assembling and testing, are carried on at the Orange
works in two of the large concrete buildings above
referred to. A visit to this part of the plant reveals an
amazing fertility of resourcefulness and ingenuity in the
devising of the special machines and appliances employed
in constructing the mechanical parts of these
cells, for it is practically impossible to fashion them
by means of machinery and tools to be found in the
open market, notwithstanding the immense variety
that may be there obtained.

Since Edison completed his final series of investigations
on his storage battery and brought it to its
present state of perfection, the commercial values
have increased by leaps and bounds. The battery,
as it was originally put out some years ago, made for
itself an enviable reputation; but with its improved
form there has come a vast increase of business.
Although the largest of the concrete buildings where
its manufacture is carried on is over four hundred
feet long and four stories in height, it has already
become necessary to plan extensions and enlargements
of the plant in order to provide for the production
of batteries to fill the present demands. It
was not until the summer of 1909 that Edison was
willing to pronounce the final verdict of satisfaction
with regard to this improved form of storage battery;
but subsequent commercial results have justified his
judgment, and it is not too much to predict that in
all probability the business will assume gigantic
proportions within a very few years. At the present
time (1910) the Edison storage-battery enterprise is
in its early stages of growth, and its status may be
compared with that of the electric-light system about
the year 1881.

There is one more industry, though of comparatively
small extent, that is included in the activities
of the Orange works, namely, the manufacture and
sale of the Bates numbering machine. This is a well-
known article of commerce, used in mercantile
establishments for the stamping of consecutive,
duplicate, and manifold numbers on checks and other
documents. It is not an invention of Edison, but
the organization owning it, together with the patent
rights, were acquired by him some years ago, and he
has since continued and enlarged the business both
in scope and volume, besides, of course, improving
and perfecting the apparatus itself. These machines
are known everywhere throughout the country, and
while the annual sales are of comparatively moderate
amount in comparison with the totals of the other
Edison industries at Orange, they represent in the
aggregate a comfortable and encouraging business.

In this brief outline review of the flourishing and
extensive commercial enterprises centred around the
Orange laboratory, the facts, it is believed, contain a
complete refutation of the idea that an inventor
cannot be a business man. They also bear abundant
evidence of the compatibility of these two widely
divergent gifts existing, even to a high degree, in the
same person. A striking example of the correctness
of this proposition is afforded in the present case,
when it is borne in mind that these various industries
above described (whose annual sales run into many
millions of dollars) owe not only their very creation
(except the Bates machine) and existence to Edison's
inventive originality and commercial initiative, but
also their continued growth and prosperity to his
incessant activities in dealing with their multifarious
business problems. In publishing a portrait of Edison
this year, one of the popular magazines placed under
it this caption: "Were the Age called upon to pay
Thomas A. Edison all it owes to him, the Age would
have to make an assignment." The present chapter
will have thrown some light on the idiosyncrasies of
Edison as financier and as manufacturer, and will
have shown that while the claim thus suggested may
be quite good, it will certainly never be pressed or



IF the world were to take an account of stock, so
to speak, and proceed in orderly fashion to marshal
its tangible assets in relation to dollars and
cents, the natural resources of our globe, from centre
to circumference, would head the list. Next would
come inventors, whose value to the world as an asset
could be readily estimated from an increase of its
wealth resulting from the actual transformations of
these resources into items of convenience and comfort
through the exercise of their inventive ingenuity.

Inventors of practical devices may be broadly divided
into two classes--first, those who may be said
to have made two blades of grass grow where only
one grew before; and, second, great inventors, who
have made grass grow plentifully on hitherto unproductive
ground. The vast majority of practical inventors
belong to and remain in the first of these
divisions, but there have been, and probably always
will be, a less number who, by reason of their greater
achievements, are entitled to be included in both
classes. Of these latter, Thomas Alva Edison is one,
but in the pages of history he stands conspicuously
pre-eminent--a commanding towering figure, even
among giants.

The activities of Edison have been of such great
range, and his conquests in the domains of practical
arts so extensive and varied, that it is somewhat
difficult to estimate with any satisfactory degree of
accuracy the money value of his inventions to the
world of to-day, even after making due allowance
for the work of other great inventors and the propulsive
effect of large amounts of capital thrown into
the enterprises which took root, wholly or in part,
through the productions of his genius and energies.
This difficulty will be apparent, for instance, when we
consider his telegraph and telephone inventions.
These were absorbed in enterprises already existing,
and were the means of assisting their rapid growth
and expansion, particularly the telephone industry.
Again, in considering the fact that Edison was one
of the first in the field to design and perfect a practical
and operative electric railway, the main features
of which are used in all electric roads of to-day, we are
confronted with the problem as to what proportion of
their colossal investment and earnings should be
ascribed to him.

Difficulties are multiplied when we pause for a
moment to think of Edison's influence on collateral
branches of business. In the public mind he is
credited with the invention of the incandescent electric
light, the phonograph, and other widely known
devices; but how few realize his actual influence on
other trades that are not generally thought of in connection
with these things. For instance, let us note
what a prominent engine builder, the late Gardiner
C. Sims, has said: "Watt, Corliss, and Porter brought
forward steam-engines to a high state of proficiency,
yet it remained for Mr. Edison to force better proportions,
workmanship, designs, use of metals, regulation,
the solving of the complex problems of high
speed and endurance, and the successful development
of the shaft governor. Mr. Edison is pre-
eminent in the realm of engineering."

The phenomenal growth of the copper industry was
due to a rapid and ever-increasing demand, owing to
the exploitation of the telephone, electric light, electric
motor, and electric railway industries. Without
these there might never have been the romance of
"Coppers" and the rise and fall of countless fortunes.
And although one cannot estimate in definite figures
the extent of Edison's influence in the enormous increase
of copper production, it is to be remembered
that his basic inventions constitute a most important
factor in the demand for the metal. Besides, one
must also give him the credit, as already noted, for
having recognized the necessity for a pure quality of
copper for electric conductors, and for his persistence
in having compelled the manufacturers of that period
to introduce new and additional methods of refinement
so as to bring about that result, which is now
a sine qua non.

Still considering his influence on other staples and
collateral trades, let us enumerate briefly and in a
general manner some of the more important and additional
ones that have been not merely stimulated,
but in many cases the business and sales have been
directly increased and new arts established through
the inventions of this one man--namely, iron, steel,
brass, zinc, nickel, platinum ($5 per ounce in 1878,
now $26 an ounce), rubber, oils, wax, bitumen, various
chemical compounds, belting, boilers, injectors, structural
steel, iron tubing, glass, silk, cotton, porcelain,
fine woods, slate, marble, electrical measuring instruments,
miscellaneous machinery, coal, wire, paper,
building materials, sapphires, and many others.

The question before us is, To what extent has
Edison added to the wealth of the world by his
inventions and his energy and perseverance? It will
be noted from the foregoing that no categorical answer
can be offered to such a question, but sufficient material
can be gathered from a statistical review of the
commercial arts directly influenced to afford an
approximate idea of the increase in national wealth that
has been affected by or has come into being through
the practical application of his ideas.

First of all, as to inventions capable of fairly definite
estimate, let us mention the incandescent electric
light and systems of distribution of electric light,
heat, and power, which may justly be considered as
the crowning inventions of Edison's life. Until October
21, 1879, there was nothing in existence resembling
our modern incandescent lamp. On that date,
as we have seen in a previous chapter, Edison's labors
culminated in his invention of a practical incandescent
electric lamp embodying absolutely all the essentials
of the lamp of to-day, thus opening to the
world the doors of a new art and industry. To-day
there are in the United States more than 41,000,000
of these lamps, connected to existing central-station
circuits in active operation.

Such circuits necessarily imply the existence of
central stations with their equipment. Until the
beginning of 1882 there were only a few arc-lighting
stations in existence for the limited distribution of
current. At the present time there are over 6000
central stations in this country for the distribution
of electric current for light, heat, and power, with
capital obligations amounting to not less than
$1,000,000,000. Besides the above-named 41,000,000
incandescent lamps connected to their mains, there are
about 500,000 arc lamps and 150,000 motors, using
750,000 horse-power, besides countless fan motors
and electric heating and cooking appliances.

When it is stated that the gross earnings of these
central stations approximate the sum of $225,000,000
yearly, the significant import of these statistics of
an art that came so largely from Edison's laboratory
about thirty years ago will undoubtedly be apparent.

But the above are not by any means all the facts
relating to incandescent electric lighting in the United
States, for in addition to central stations there are
upward of 100,000 isolated or private plants in mills,
factories, steamships, hotels, theatres, etc., owned by
the persons or concerns who operate them. These
plants represent an approximate investment of
$500,000,000, and the connection of not less than
25,000,000 incandescent lamps or their equivalent.

Then there are the factories where these incandescent
lamps are made, about forty in number, repre-
sensing a total investment that may be approximated
at $25,000,000. It is true that many of these factories
are operated by other than the interests which
came into control of the Edison patents (General
Electric Company), but the 150,000,000 incandescent
electric lamps now annually made are broadly covered
in principle by Edison's fundamental ideas and

It will be noted that these figures are all in round
numbers, but they are believed to be well within the
mark, being primarily founded upon the special reports
of the Census Bureau issued in 1902 and 1907,
with the natural increase from that time computed
by experts who are in position to obtain the facts.
It would be manifestly impossible to give exact figures
of such a gigantic and swiftly moving industry,
whose totals increase from week to week.

The reader will naturally be disposed to ask whether
it is intended to claim that Edison has brought about
all this magnificent growth of the electric-lighting
art. The answer to this is decidedly in the negative,
for the fact is that he laid some of the foundation
and erected a building thereon, and in the natural
progressive order of things other inventors of more
or less fame have laid substructures or added a wing
here and a story there until the resultant great structure
has attained such proportions as to evoke the
admiration of the beholder; but the old foundation
and the fundamental building still remain to support
other parts. In other words, Edison created the
incandescent electric lamp, and invented certain
broad and fundamental systems of distribution of
current, with all the essential devices of detail necessary
for successful operation. These formed a foundation.
He also spent great sums of money and devoted
several years of patient labor in the early
practical exploitation of the dynamo and central
station and isolated plants, often under, adverse and
depressing circumstances, with a dogged determination
that outlived an opposition steadily threatening
defeat. These efforts resulted in the firm commercial
establishment of modern electric lighting. It is true
that many important inventions of others have a
distinguished place in the art as it is exploited today,
but the fact remains that the broad essentials,
such as the incandescent lamp, systems of distribution,
and some important details, are not only universally
used, but are as necessary to-day for successful
commercial practice as they were when Edison
invented them many years ago.

The electric railway next claims our consideration,
but we are immediately confronted by a difficulty
which seems insurmountable when we attempt to
formulate any definite estimate of the value and
influence of Edison's pioneer work and inventions.
There is one incontrovertible fact--namely, that he
was the first man to devise, construct, and operate
from a central station a practicable, life-size electric
railroad, which was capable of transporting and did
transport passengers and freight at variable speeds
over varying grades, and under complete control
of the operator. These are the essential elements
in all electric railroading of the present day; but
while Edison's original broad ideas are embodied
in present practice, the perfection of the modern electric
railway is greatly due to the labors and inventions
of a large number of other well-known inventors.
There was no reason why Edison could not have continued
the commercial development of the electric
railway after he had helped to show its practicability
in 1880, 1881, and 1882, just as he had completed his
lighting system, had it not been that his financial
allies of the period lacked faith in the possibilities of
electric railroads, and therefore declined to furnish
the money necessary for the purpose of carrying on
the work.

With these facts in mind, we shall ask the reader
to assign to Edison a due proportion of credit for his
pioneer and basic work in relation to the prodigious
development of electric railroading that has since
taken place. The statistics of 1908 for American
street and elevated railways show that within twenty-
five years the electric-railway industry has grown to
embrace 38,812 miles of track on streets and for
elevated railways, operated under the ownership of
1238 separate companies, whose total capitalization
amounted to the enormous sum of $4,123,834,598. In
the equipments owned by such companies there are
included 68,636 electric cars and 17,568 trailers and
others, making a total of 86,204 of such vehicles.
These cars and equipments earned over $425,000,000
in 1907, in giving the public transportation, at a cost,
including transfers, of a little over three cents per
passenger, for whom a fifteen-mile ride would be
possible. It is the cheapest transportation in the

Some mention should also be made of the great
electrical works of the country, in which the dynamos,
motors, and other varied paraphernalia are made for
electric lighting, electric railway, and other purposes.
The largest of these works is undoubtedly that of the
General Electric Company at Schenectady, New York,
a continuation and enormous enlargement of the
shops which Edison established there in 1886. This
plant at the present time embraces over 275 acres,
of which sixty acres are covered by fifty large and
over one hundred small buildings; besides which the
company also owns other large plants elsewhere,
representing a total investment approximating the sum
of $34,850,000 up to 1908. The productions of the
General Electric Company alone average annual sales
of nearly $75,000,000, but they do not comprise
the total of the country's manufactures in these

Turning our attention now to the telephone, we
again meet a condition that calls for thoughtful
consideration before we can properly appreciate how
much the growth of this industry owes to Edison's
inventive genius. In another place there has already
been told the story of the telephone, from which we
have seen that to Alexander Graham Bell is due the
broad idea of transmission of speech by means of an
electrical circuit; also that he invented appropriate
instruments and devices through which he accomplished
this result, although not to that extent which
gave promise of any great commercial practicability
for the telephone as it then existed. While the art
was in this inefficient condition, Edison went to work
on the subject, and in due time, as we have already
learned, invented and brought out the carbon transmitter,
which is universally acknowledged to have
been the needed device that gave to the telephone
the element of commercial practicability, and has
since led to its phenomenally rapid adoption and
world-wide use. It matters not that others were
working in the same direction, Edison was legally
adjudicated to have been the first to succeed in point
of time, and his inventions were put into actual use,
and may be found in principle in every one of the
7,000,000 telephones which are estimated to be employed
in the country at the present day. Basing
the statements upon facts shown by the Census reports
of 1902 and 1907, and adding thereto the growth
of the industry since that time, we find on a conservative
estimate that at this writing the investment has
been not less than $800,000,000 in now existing telephone
systems, while no fewer than 10,500,000,000
talks went over the lines during the year 1908. These
figures relate only to telephone systems, and do not
include any details regarding the great manufacturing
establishments engaged in the construction of
telephone apparatus, of which there is a production
amounting to at least $15,000,000 per annum.

Leaving the telephone, let us now turn our attention
to the telegraph, and endeavor to show as best we can
some idea of the measure to which it has been affected
by Edison's inventions. Although, as we have seen
in a previous part of this book, his earliest fame arose
from his great practical work in telegraphic inventions
and improvements, there is no way in which any
definite computation can be made of the value of his
contributions in the art except, perhaps, in the case
of his quadruplex, through which alone it is estimated
that there has been saved from $15,000,000 to $20,000,000
in the cost of line construction in this country.
If this were the only thing that he had ever accomplished,
it would entitle him to consideration as an
inventor of note. The quadruplex, however, has
other material advantages, but how far they and the
natural growth of the business have contributed to
the investment and earnings of the telegraph companies,
is beyond practicable computation.

It would, perhaps, be interesting to speculate upon
what might have been the growth of the telegraph
and the resultant benefit to the community had
Edison's automatic telegraph inventions been allowed
to take their legitimate place in the art, but we shall
not allow ourselves to indulge in flights of fancy, as
the value of this chapter rests not upon conjecture,
but only upon actual fact. Nor shall we attempt
to offer any statistics regarding Edison's numerous
inventions relating to telegraphs and kindred devices,
such as stock tickers, relays, magnets, rheotomes,
repeaters, printing telegraphs, messenger calls, etc.,
on which he was so busily occupied as an inventor
and manufacturer during the ten years that
began with January, 1869. The principles of many
of these devices are still used in the arts, but have
become so incorporated in other devices as to be
inseparable, and cannot now be dealt with
separately. To show what they mean, however, it
might be noted that New York City alone has 3000
stock "tickers," consuming 50,000 miles of record
tape every year.

Turning now to other important arts and industries
which have been created by Edison's inventions, and
in which he is at this time taking an active personal
interest, let us visit Orange, New Jersey. When his
present laboratory was nearing completion in 1887, he
wrote to Mr. J. Hood Wright, a partner in the firm of
Drexel, Morgan & Co.: "My ambition is to build up a
great industrial works in the Orange Valley, starting
in a small way and gradually working up."

In this plant, which represents an investment
approximating the sum of $4,000,000, are grouped a
number of industrial enterprises of which Edison is
either the sole or controlling owner and the guiding
spirit. These enterprises are the National Phonograph
Company, the Edison Business Phonograph
Company, the Edison Phonograph Works, the Edison
Manufacturing Company, the Edison Storage Battery
Company, and the Bates Manufacturing Company.
The importance of these industries will be apparent
when it is stated that at this plant the maximum
pay-roll shows the employment of over 4200
persons, with annual earnings in salaries and wages
of more than $2,750,000.

In considering the phonograph in its commercial
aspect, and endeavoring to arrive at some idea of the
world's estimate of the value of this invention, we
feel the ground more firm under our feet, for Edison
has in later years controlled its manufacture and sale.
It will be remembered that the phonograph lay dormant,
commercially speaking, for about ten years
after it came into being, and then later invention reduced
it to a device capable of more popular utility.
A few years of rather unsatisfactory commercial
experience brought about a reorganization, through
which Edison resumed possession of the business. It
has since been continued under his general direction
and ownership, and he has made a great many additional
inventions tending to improve the machine
in all its parts.

The uses made of the phonograph up to this time
have been of four kinds, generally speaking--first,
and principally, for amusement; second, for instruction
in languages; third, for business, in the dictation
of correspondence; and fourth, for sentimental reasons
in preserving the voices of friends. No separate
figures are available to show the extent of its
employment in the second and fourth classes, as they
are probably included in machines coming under the
first subdivision. Under this head we find that there
have been upward of 1,310,000 phonographs sold
during the last twenty years, with and for which there
have been made and sold no fewer than 97,845,000
records of a musical or other character. Phonographic
records are now being manufactured at
Orange at the rate of 75,000 a day, the annual sale
of phonographs and records being approximately
$7,000,000, including business phonographs. This
does not include blank records, of which large numbers
have also been supplied to the public.

The adoption of the business phonograph has not
been characterized by the unanimity that obtained
in the case of the one used merely for amusement, as
its use involves some changes in methods that business
men are slow to adopt until they realize the resulting
convenience and economy. Although it is
only a few years since the business phonograph has
begun to make some headway, it is not difficult to
appreciate that Edison's prediction in 1878 as to the
value of such an appliance is being realized, when
we find that up to this time the sales run up to 12,695
in number. At the present time the annual sales of
the business phonographs and supplies, cylinders, etc.,
are not less than $350,000.

We must not forget that the basic patent of Edison
on the phonograph has long since expired, thus throwing
open to the world the wonderful art of reproducing
human speech and other sounds. The world was
not slow to take advantage of the fact, hence there
are in the field numerous other concerns in the same
business. It is conservatively estimated by those
who know the trade and are in position to form
an opinion, that the figures above given represent
only about one-half of the entire business of the
country in phonographs, records, cylinders, and

Taking next his inventions that pertain to a more
recently established but rapidly expanding branch
of business that provides for the amusement of the
public, popularly known as "motion pictures," we
also find a general recognition of value created. Referring
the reader to a previous chapter for a discussion
of Edison's standing as a pioneer inventor in
this art, let us glance at the commercial proportions
of this young but lusty business, whose ramifications
extend to all but the most remote and primitive hamlets
of our country.

The manufacture of the projecting machines and
accessories, together with the reproduction of films,
is carried on at the Orange Valley plant, and from the
inception of the motion-picture business to the present
time there have been made upward of 16,000
projecting machines and many million feet of films
carrying small photographs of moving objects. Although
the motion-picture business, as a commercial
enterprise, is still in its youth, it is of sufficient
moment to call for the annual production of thousands
of machines and many million feet of films in Edison's
shops, having a sale value of not less than $750,000.
To produce the originals from which these Edison
films are made, there have been established two
"studios," the largest of which is in the Bronx, New
York City.

In this, as well as in the phonograph business, there
are many other manufacturers in the field. Indeed,
the annual product of the Edison Manufacturing
Company in this line is only a fractional part of the
total that is absorbed by the 8000 or more motion-
picture theatres and exhibitions that are in operation
in the United States at the present time,
and which represent an investment of some $45,000,000.
Licensees under Edison patents in this
country alone produce upward of 60,000,000 feet of
films annually, containing more than a billion and
a half separate photographs. To what extent the
motion-picture business may grow in the not remote
future it is impossible to conjecture, for it has taken
a place in the front rank of rapidly increasing enterprises.

The manufacture and sale of the Edison-Lalande
primary battery, conducted by the Edison Manufacturing
Company at the Orange Valley plant, is a
business of no mean importance. Beginning about
twenty years ago with a battery that, without polarizing,
would furnish large currents specially adapted
for gas-engine ignition and other important purposes,
the business has steadily grown in magnitude until
the present output amounts to about 125,000 cells
annually; the total number of cells put into the
hands of the public up to date being approximately
1,500,000. It will be readily conceded that to most
men this alone would be an enterprise of a lifetime,
and sufficient in itself to satisfy a moderate ambition.
But, although it has yielded a considerable profit to
Edison and gives employment to many people, it is
only one of the many smaller enterprises that owe
an existence to his inventive ability and commercial

So it also is in regard to the mimeograph, whose
forerunner, the electric pen, was born of Edison's
brain in 1877. He had been long impressed by the
desirability of the rapid production of copies of written
documents, and, as we have seen by a previous
chapter, he invented the electric pen for this purpose,
only to improve upon it later with a more desirable
device which he called the mimeograph, that is in
use, in various forms, at this time. Although the
electric pen had a large sale and use in its time, the
statistics relating to it are not available. The mimeo-
graph, however, is, and has been for many years, a
standard office appliance, and is entitled to consideration,
as the total number put into use up to this
time is approximately 180,000, valued at $3,500,000,
while the annual output is in the neighborhood of
9000 machines, sold for about $150,000, besides the
vast quantity of special paper and supplies which its
use entails in the production of the many millions of
facsimile letters and documents. The extent of production
and sale of supplies for the mimeograph may
be appreciated when it is stated that they bring
annually an equivalent of three times the amount
realized from sales of machines. The manufacture
and sale of the mimeograph does not come within the
enterprises conducted under Edison's personal direction,
as he sold out the whole thing some years ago
to Mr. A. B. Dick, of Chicago.

In making a somewhat radical change of subject,
from duplicating machines to cement, we find ourselves
in a field in which Edison has made a most
decided impression. The reader has already learned
that his entry into this field was, in a manner,
accidental, although logically in line with pronounced
convictions of many years' standing, and following up
the fund of knowledge gained in the magnetic ore-milling
business. From being a new-comer in the cement
business, his corporation in five years has grown to be
the fifth largest producer in the United States, with
a still increasing capacity. From the inception of
this business there has been a steady and rapid
development, resulting in the production of a grand
total of over 7,300,000 barrels of cement up to the
present date, having a value of about $6,000,000,
exclusive of package. At the time of this writing,
the rate of production is over 8000 barrels of cement
per day, or, say, 2,500,000 barrels per year, having an
approximate selling value of a little less than $2,000,000,
with prospects of increasing in the near future
to a daily output of 10,000 barrels. This enterprise
is carried on by a corporation called the Edison
Portland Cement Company, in which he is very largely
interested, and of which he is the active head and
guiding spirit.

Had not Edison suspended the manufacture and
sale of his storage battery a few years ago because
he was not satisfied with it, there might have been
given here some noteworthy figures of an extensive
business, for the company's books show an astonishing
number of orders that were received during the time
of the shut-down. He was implored for batteries,
but in spite of the fact that good results had been
obtained from the 18,000 or 20,000 cells sold some
years ago, he adhered firmly to his determination to
perfect them to a still higher standard before resuming
and continuing their manufacture as a regular
commodity. As we have noted in a previous chapter,
however, deliveries of the perfected type were
begun in the summer of 1909, and since that time the
business has continued to grow in the measure indicated
by the earlier experience.

Thus far we have concerned ourselves chiefly with
those figures which exhibit the extent of investment
and production, but there is another and humanly
important side that presents itself for consideration
namely, the employment of a vast industrial army of
men and women, who earn a living through their
connection with some of the arts and industries to
which our narrative has direct reference. To this the
reader's attention will now be drawn.

The following figures are based upon the Special
Reports of the Census Bureau, 1902 and 1907, with
additions computed upon the increase that has subsequently
taken place. In the totals following is included
the compensation paid to salaried officials and
clerks. Details relating to telegraph systems are

Taking the electric light into consideration first,
we find that in the central stations of the United
States there are not less than an average of 50,000
persons employed, requiring an aggregate yearly pay-
roll of over $40,000,000. This does not include the
100,000 or more isolated electric-light plants scattered
throughout the land. Many of these are quite large,
and at least one-third of them require one additional
helper, thus adding, say, 33,000 employees to the
number already mentioned. If we assume as low
a wage as $10 per week for each of these helpers, we
must add to the foregoing an additional sum of over
$17,000,000 paid annually for wages, almost entirely
in the isolated incandescent electric lighting field.

Central stations and isolated plants consume over
100,000,000 incandescent electric lamps annually, and
in the production of these there are engaged about
forty factories, on whose pay-rolls appear an average
of 14,000 employees, earning an aggregate yearly sum
of $8,000,000.

Following the incandescent lamp we must not forget
an industry exclusively arising from it and absolutely
dependent upon it--namely, that of making
fixtures for such lamps, the manufacture of which
gives employment to upward of 6000 persons, who
annually receive at least $3,750,000 in compensation.

The detail devices of the incandescent electric lighting
system also contribute a large quota to the country's
wealth in the millions of dollars paid out in
salaries and wages to many thousands of persons who
are engaged in their manufacture.

The electric railways of our country show even
larger figures than the lighting stations and plants,
as they employ on the average over 250,000 persons,
whose annual compensation amounts to not less than

In the manufacture of about $50,000,000 worth of
dynamos and motors annually, for central-station
equipment, isolated plants, electric railways, and
other purposes, the manufacturers of the country
employ an average of not less than 30,000 people,
whose yearly pay-roll amounts to no less a sum than

The growth of the telephone systems of the United
States also furnishes us with statistics of an analogous
nature, for we find that the average number of employees
engaged in this industry is at least 140,000,
whose annual earnings aggregate a minimum of
$75,000,000; besides which the manufacturers of
telephone apparatus employ over 12,000 persons, to
whom is paid annually about $5,500,000.

No attempt is made to include figures of collateral
industries, such, for instance, as copper, which is
very closely allied with the electrical arts, and the
great bulk of which is refined electrically.

The 8000 or so motion-picture theatres of the
country employ no fewer than 40,000 people, whose
aggregate annual income amounts to not less than

Coming now to the Orange Valley plant, we take a
drop from these figures to the comparatively modest
ones which give us an average of 3600 employees
and calling for an annual pay-roll of about $2,250,000.
It must be remembered, however, that the sums
mentioned above represent industries operated by
great aggregations of capital, while the Orange Valley
plant, as well as the Edison Portland Cement Company,
with an average daily number of 530 employees
and over $400,000 annual pay-roll, represent in a
large measure industries that are more in the nature
of closely held enterprises and practically under the
direction of one mind.

The table herewith given summarizes the figures
that have just been presented, and affords an idea of
the totals affected by the genius of this one man. It
is well known that many other men and many other
inventions have been needed for the perfection of
these arts; but it is equally true that, as already
noted, some of these industries are directly the creation
of Edison, while in every one of the rest his impress
has been deep and significant. Before he began
inventing, only two of them were known at all
as arts--telegraphy and the manufacture of cement.
Moreover, these figures deal only with the United
States, and take no account of the development of
many of the Edison inventions in Europe or of their
adoption throughout the world at large. Let it suffice


Gross Rev- Number Annual
Class of Industry Investment enue or of Em- Pay-Rolls
Central station lighting
and power $1,000,000,000 $125,000,000 50,000 $40,000,000
Isolated incandescent
lighting 500,000,000 -- 33,000 17,000 000
Incandescent lamps 25,000,000 20,000,000 14,000 8,000 000
Electric fixtures 8,000,000 5,000,000 6,000 3,750,000
Dynamos and motors 60,000,000 50,000,000 30,000 20,000,000
Electric railways 4,000,000,000 430,000,000 250,000 155,000,000
Telephone systems 800,000,000 175,000,000 140,000 75,000,000
Telephone apparatus 30,000,000 15,000,000 12,000 5,500,000
Phonograph and motion
pictures 10,000,000 15,000,000 5,000 6,000,000
Motion picture theatres 40,000,000 80,000,000 40,000 37,000,000
Edison Portland cement 4,000,000 2,000,000 530 400,000
Telegraphy 250,000,000 60,000,000 100,000 30,000,000
Totals 6,727,000,000 1,077,000,000 680,530 397,650,000

that in America alone the work of Edison has been
one of the most potent factors in bringing into existence
new industries now capitalized at nearly $ 7,000,000,000,
earning annually over $1,000,000,000, and
giving employment to an army of more than six
hundred thousand people.

A single diamond, prismatically flashing from its
many facets the beauties of reflected light, comes
well within the limits of comprehension of the human
mind and appeals to appreciation by the finer sensibilities;
but in viewing an exhibition of thousands
of these beautiful gems, the eye and brain are simply
bewildered with the richness of a display which tends
to confuse the intellect until the function of analysis
comes into play and leads to more adequate apprehension.

So, in presenting the mass of statistics contained in
this chapter, we fear that the result may have been
the bewilderment of the reader to some extent.
Nevertheless, in writing a biography of Edison, the
main object is to present the facts as they are, and
leave it to the intelligent reader to classify, apply,
and analyze them in such manner as appeals most
forcibly to his intellectual processes. If in the
foregoing pages there has appeared to be a tendency to
attribute to Edison the entire credit for the growth
to which many of the above-named great enterprises
have in these latter days attained, we must especially
disclaim any intention of giving rise to such a
deduction. No one who has carefully followed the
course of this narrative can deny, however, that
Edison is the father of some of the arts and industries
that have been mentioned, and that as to some of the
others it was the magic of his touch that helped make
them practicable. Not only to his work and ingenuity
is due the present magnitude of these arts and industries,
but it is attributable also to the splendid work
and numerous contributions of other great inventors,
such as Brush, Bell, Elihu Thomson, Weston, Sprague,
and many others, as well as to the financiers and
investors who in the past thirty years have furnished
the vast sums of money that were necessary to exploit
and push forward these enterprises.

The reader may have noticed in a perusal of this
chapter the lack of autobiographical quotations, such
as have appeared in other parts of this narrative.
Edison's modesty has allowed us but one remark on
the subject. This was made by him to one of the
writers a short time ago, when, after an interesting
indulgence in reminiscences of old times and early
inventions, he leaned back in his chair, and with
a broad smile on his face, said, reflectively: "Say,
I HAVE been mixed up in a whole lot of things,
haven't I?"



THROUGHOUT the forty-odd years of his creative
life, Edison has realized by costly experience
the truth of the cynical proverb that "A patent
is merely a title to a lawsuit." It is not intended,
however, by this statement to lead to any inference
on the part of the reader that HE stands peculiarly
alone in any such experience, for it has been and
still is the common lot of every successful inventor,
sooner or later.

To attribute dishonesty or cupidity as the root of
the defence in all patent litigation would be aiming
very wide of the mark, for in no class of suits that
come before the courts are there any that present a
greater variety of complex, finely shaded questions,
or that require more delicacy of interpretation, than
those that involve the construction of patents, particularly
those relating to electrical devices. Indeed,
a careful study of legal procedure of this character
could not be carried far without discovery of the fact
that in numerous instances the differences of opinion
between litigants were marked by the utmost bona

On the other hand, such study would reveal many
cases of undoubted fraudulent intent, as well as many
bold attempts to deprive the inventor of the fruits
of his endeavors by those who have sought to evade,
through subtle technicalities of the law, the penalty
justly due them for trickery, evasion, or open contempt
of the rights of others.

In the history of science and of the arts to which
the world has owed its continued progress from year
to year there is disclosed one remarkable fact, and that
is, that whenever any important discovery or invention
has been made and announced by one man, it has
almost always been disclosed later that other men
--possibly widely separated and knowing nothing of
the other's work--have been following up the same
general lines of investigation, independently, with the
same object in mind. Their respective methods might
be dissimilar while tending to the same end, but it
does not necessarily follow that any one of these
other experimenters might ever have achieved the result
aimed at, although, after the proclamation of
success by one, it is easy to believe that each of the
other independent investigators might readily persuade
himself that he would ultimately have reached
the goal in just that same way.

This peculiar coincidence of simultaneous but
separate work not only comes to light on the bringing
out of great and important discoveries or inventions,
but becomes more apparent if a new art is disclosed,
for then the imagination of previous experimenters
is stimulated through wide dissemination of the tidings,
sometimes resulting in more or less effort to
enter the newly opened field with devices or methods
that resemble closely the original and fundamental
ones in principle and application. In this and other
ways there arises constantly in the United States
Patent Office a large number of contested cases,
called "Interferences," where applications for patents
covering the invention of a similar device have been
independently filed by two or even more persons.
In such cases only one patent can be issued, and that
to the inventor who on the taking of testimony shows
priority in date of invention.[20]

[20] A most remarkable instance of contemporaneous invention
and without a parallel in the annals of the United States Patent
Office, occurred when, on the same day, February 15, 1876, two
separate descriptions were filed in that office, one a complete
application and the other a caveat, but each covering an invention
for "transmitting vocal sounds telegraphically." The application
was made by Alexander Graham Bell, of Salem, Massachusetts,
and the caveat by Elisha Gray, of Chicago, Illinois. On
examination of the two papers it was found that both of them
covered practically the same ground, hence, as only one patent
could be granted, it became necessary to ascertain the precise
hour at which the documents were respectively filed, and put the
parties in interference. This was done, with the result that the
patent was ultimately awarded to Bell.

In the opening up and development of any new art
based upon a fundamental discovery or invention,
there ensues naturally an era of supplemental or
collateral inventive activity--the legitimate outcome
of the basic original ideas. Part of this development
may be due to the inventive skill and knowledge of
the original inventor and his associates, who, by reason
of prior investigation, would be in better position
to follow up the art in its earliest details than others,
who might be regarded as mere outsiders. Thus a
new enterprise may be presented before the world
by its promoters in the belief that they are strongly
fortified by patent rights which will protect them in
a degree commensurate with the risks they have

Supplemental inventions, however, in any art, new
or old, are not limited to those which emanate from
the original workers, for the ingenuity of man, influenced
by the spirit of the times, seizes upon any
novel line of action and seeks to improve or enlarge
upon it, or, at any rate, to produce more or less variation
of its phases. Consequently, there is a constant
endeavor on the part of a countless host of men possessing
some degree of technical skill and inventive
ability, to win fame and money by entering into
the already opened fields of endeavor with devices
and methods of their own, for which subsidiary
patents may be obtainable. Some of such patents
may prove to be valuable, while it is quite certain
that in the natural order of things others will be
commercially worthless, but none may be entirely
disregarded in the history and development of the

It will be quite obvious, therefore, that the advent
of any useful invention or discovery, great or small,
is followed by a clashing of many interests which become
complex in their interpretation by reason of
the many conflicting claims that cluster around the
main principle. Nor is the confusion less confounded
through efforts made on the part of dishonest persons,
who, like vultures, follow closely on the trail
of successful inventors and (sometimes through
information derived by underhand methods) obtain
patents on alleged inventions, closely approximating
the real ones, solely for the purpose of harassing the
original patentee until they are bought up, or else,
with the intent of competing boldly in the new business,
trust in the delays of legal proceedings to obtain
a sure foothold in their questionable enterprise.

Then again there are still others who, having no
patent rights, but waving aside all compunction and
in downright fraud, simply enter the commercial field
against the whole world, using ruthlessly whatever
inventive skill and knowledge the original patentee
may have disclosed, and trusting to the power of
money, rapid movement, and mendacious advertising
to build up a business which shall presently assume
such formidable proportions as to force a compromise,
or stave off an injunction until the patent
has expired. In nine cases out of ten such a course
can be followed with relative impunity; and guided
by skilful experts who may suggest really trivial
changes here and there over the patented structure,
and with the aid of keen and able counsel, hardly a
patent exists that could not be invaded by such infringers.
Such is the condition of our laws and practice
that the patentee in seeking to enforce his rights
labors under a terrible handicap.

And, finally, in this recital of perplexing conditions
confronting the inventor, there must not be forgotten
the commercial "shark," whose predatory instincts
are ever keenly alert for tender victims. In the wake
of every newly developed art of world-wide importance
there is sure to follow a number of unscrupulous
adventurers, who hasten to take advantage of general
public ignorance of the true inwardness of affairs.
Basing their operations on this lack of knowledge,
and upon the tendency of human nature to give
credence to widely advertised and high-sounding descriptions
and specious promises of vast profits, these
men find little difficulty in conjuring money out of
the pockets of the unsophisticated and gullible, who
rush to become stockholders in concerns that have
"airy nothings" for a foundation, and that collapse
quickly when the bubble is pricked.[21]

[21] A notable instance of the fleecing of unsuspecting and credulous
persons occurred in the early eighties, during the furor
occasioned by the introduction of Mr. Edison's electric-light system.
A corporation claiming to have a self-generating dynamo
(practically perpetual motion) advertised its preposterous claims
extensively, and actually succeeded in selling a large amount of
stock, which, of course, proved to be absolutely worthless.

To one who is unacquainted with the trying circumstances
attending the introduction and marketing of
patented devices, it might seem unnecessary that an
inventor and his business associates should be obliged
to take into account the unlawful or ostensible competition
of pirates or schemers, who, in the absence
of legal decision, may run a free course for a long
time. Nevertheless, as public patronage is the element
vitally requisite for commercial success, and as
the public is not usually in full possession of all the
facts and therefore cannot discriminate between the
genuine and the false, the legitimate inventor must
avail himself of every possible means of proclaiming
and asserting his rights if he desires to derive any
benefit from the results of his skill and labor. Not
only must he be prepared to fight in the Patent
Office and pursue a regular course of patent litigation
against those who may honestly deem themselves to
be protected by other inventions or patents of similar
character, and also proceed against more palpable
infringers who are openly, defiantly, and illegitimately
engaged in competitive business operations,
but he must, as well, endeavor to protect himself
against the assaults of impudent fraud by educating
the public mind to a point of intelligent apprehension
of the true status of his invention and the conflicting
claims involved.

When the nature of a patent right is considered it
is difficult to see why this should be so. The inventor
creates a new thing--an invention of utility--and the
people, represented by the Federal Government, say
to him in effect: "Disclose your invention to us in a
patent so that we may know how to practice it, and
we will agree to give you a monopoly for seventeen
years, after which we shall be free to use it. If the
right thus granted is invaded, apply to a Federal
Court and the infringer will be enjoined and required
to settle in damages." Fair and false promise! Is
it generally realized that no matter how flagrant the
infringement nor how barefaced and impudent the
infringer, no Federal Court will grant an injunction
HEARING AND SUSTAINED? A procedure, it may be
stated, requiring years of time and thousands of
dollars, during which other infringers have generally
entered the field, and all have grown fat.

Thus Edison and his business associates have been
forced into a veritable maelstrom of litigation during
the major part of the last forty years, in the effort
to procure for themselves a small measure of protec-
tion for their interests under the numerous inventions
of note that he has made at various times in that
period. The earlier years of his inventive activity,
while productive of many important contributions
to electrical industries, such as stock tickers and
printers, duplex, quadruplex, and automatic telegraphs,
were not marked by the turmoil of interminable
legal conflicts that arose after the beginning of
the telephone and electric-light epochs. In fact, his
inventions; up to and including his telephone
improvements (which entered into already existing arts),
had been mostly purchased by the Western Union
and other companies, and while there was more or
less contesting of his claims (especially in respect of
the telephone), the extent of such litigation was not
so conspicuously great as that which centred
subsequently around his patents covering incandescent
electric lighting and power systems.

Through these inventions there came into being
an entirely new art, complete in its practicability
evolved by Edison after protracted experiments founded
upon most patient, thorough, and original methods
of investigation extending over several years. Long
before attaining the goal, he had realized with
characteristic insight the underlying principles of the
great and comprehensive problem he had started out to
solve, and plodded steadily along the path that he had
marked out, ignoring the almost universal scientific
disbelief in his ultimate success. "Dreamer," "fool,"
"boaster" were among the appellations bestowed
upon him by unbelieving critics. Ridicule was heaped
upon him in the public prints, and mathematics were
called into service by learned men to settle the point
forever that he was attempting the utterly impossible.

But, presto! no sooner had he accomplished the
task and shown concrete results to the world than
he found himself in the anomalous position of being
at once surrounded by the conditions which inevitably
confront every inventor. The path through the
trackless forest had been blazed, and now every one
could find the way. At the end of the road was a
rich prize belonging rightfully to the man who had
opened a way to it, but the struggles of others to
reach it by more or less honest methods now began
and continued for many years. If, as a former
commissioner once said, "Edison was the man who kept
the path to the Patent Office hot with his footsteps,"
there were other great inventors abreast or immediately
on his heels, some, to be sure, with legitimate,
original methods and vital improvements representing
independent work; while there were also those
who did not trouble to invent, but simply helped
themselves to whatever ideas were available, and
coming from any source.

Possibly events might have happened differently
had Edison been able to prevent the announcement
of his electric-light inventions until he was entirely
prepared to bring out the system as a whole, ready
for commercial exploitation, but the news of his
production of a practical and successful incandescent
lamp became known and spread like wild-fire to all
corners of the globe. It took more than a year after
the evolution of the lamp for Edison to get into position
to do actual business, and during that time his
laboratory was the natural Mecca of every inquiring
person. Small wonder, then, that when he was prepared
to market his invention he should find others
entering that market, at home and abroad, at the
same time, and with substantially similar merchandise.

Edison narrates two incidents that may be taken
as characteristic of a good deal that had to be contended
with, coming in the shape of nefarious attack.
"In the early days of my electric light," he says,
"curiosity and interest brought a great many people
to Menlo Park to see it. Some of them did not come
with the best of intentions. I remember the visit of
one expert, a well-known electrician, a graduate of
Johns Hopkins University, and who then represented
a Baltimore gas company. We had the lamps exhibited
in a large room, and so arranged on a table
as to illustrate the regular layout of circuits for
houses and streets. Sixty of the men employed at
the laboratory were used as watchers, each to keep
an eye on a certain section of the exhibit, and see
there was no monkeying with it. This man had a
length of insulated No. 10 wire passing through his
sleeves and around his back, so that his hands would
conceal the ends and no one would know he had it.
His idea, of course, was to put this wire across the
ends of the supplying circuits, and short-circuit the
whole thing--put it all out of business without being
detected. Then he could report how easily the electric
light went out, and a false impression would be conveyed
to the public. He did not know that we had
already worked out the safety-fuse, and that every
group of lights was thus protected independently.
He put this jumper slyly in contact with the wires--
and just four lamps went out on the section he tampered
with. The watchers saw him do it, however,
and got hold of him and just led him out of the place
with language that made the recording angels jump
for their typewriters."

The other incident is as follows: "Soon after I had
got out the incandescent light I had an interference
in the Patent Office with a man from Wisconsin. He
filed an application for a patent and entered into a
conspiracy to `swear back' of the date of my invention,
so as to deprive me of it. Detectives were put
on the case, and we found he was a `faker,' and we
took means to break the thing up. Eugene Lewis, of
Eaton & Lewis, had this in hand for me. Several years
later this same man attempted to defraud a leading
firm of manufacturing chemists in New York, and was
sent to State prison. A short time after that a syndicate
took up a man named Goebel and tried to do
the same thing, but again our detective-work was
too much for them. This was along the same line as
the attempt of Drawbaugh to deprive Bell of his
telephone. Whenever an invention of large prospective
value comes out, these cases always occur.
The lamp patent was sustained in the New York
Federal Court. I thought that was final and would
end the matter, but another Federal judge out in
St. Louis did not sustain it. The result is I have
never enjoyed any benefits from my lamp patents,
although I fought for many years." The Goebel
case will be referred to later in this chapter.

The original owner of the patents and inventions
covering his electric-lighting system, the Edison
Electric Light Company (in which Edison was largely
interested as a stockholder), thus found at the outset
that its commercial position was imperilled by the
activity of competitors who had sprung up like
mushrooms. It became necessary to take proper
preliminary legal steps to protect the interests which
had been acquired at the cost of so much money and
such incessant toil and experiment. During the first
few years in which the business of the introduction
of the light was carried on with such strenuous and
concentrated effort, the attention of Edison and his
original associates was constantly focused upon the
commercial exploitation and the further development
of the system at home and abroad. The difficult
and perplexing situation at that time is thus
described by Major S. B. Eaton:

"The reason for the delay in beginning and pushing
suits for infringements of the lamp patent has
never been generally understood. In my official position
as president of the Edison Electric Light Company
I became the target, along with Mr. Edison, for
censure from the stockholders and others on account
of this delay, and I well remember how deep the feeling
was. In view of the facts that a final injunction
on the lamp patent was not obtained until the life
of the patent was near its end, and, next, that no
damages in money were ever paid by the guilty infringers,
it has been generally believed that Mr. Edison
sacrificed the interest of his stockholders selfishly
when he delayed the prosecution of patent suits and
gave all his time and energies to manufacturing.
This belief was the stronger because the manufacturing
enterprises belonged personally to Mr. Edison
and not to his company. But the facts render it
easy to dispel this false belief. The Edison inventions
were not only a lamp; they comprised also an entire
system of central stations. Such a thing was new to
the world, and the apparatus, as well as the manufacture
thereof, was equally new. Boilers, engines,
dynamos, motors, distribution mains, meters, house-
wiring, safety-devices, lamps, and lamp-fixtures--all
were vital parts of the whole system. Most of them
were utterly novel and unknown to the arts, and all
of them required quick, and, I may say, revolutionary
thought and invention. The firm of Babcock & Wilcox
gave aid on the boilers, Armington & Sims undertook
the engines, but everything else was abnormal.
No factories in the land would take up the manufacture.
I remember, for instance, our interviews
with Messrs. Mitchell, Vance & Co., the leading
manufacturers of house gas-lighting fixtures, such as
brackets and chandeliers. They had no faith in electric
lighting, and rejected all our overtures to induce
them to take up the new business of making electric-
light fixtures. As regards other parts of the Edison
system, notably the Edison dynamo, no such machines
had ever existed; there was no factory in the
world equipped to make them, and, most discouraging
of all, the very scientific principles of their
construction were still vague and experimental.

"What was to be done? Mr. Edison has never
been greater than when he met and solved this crisis.
`If there are no factories,' he said, `to make my
inventions, I will build the factories myself. Since
capital is timid, I will raise and supply it. The issue
is factories or death.' Mr. Edison invited the co-
operation of his leading stockholders. They lacked
confidence or did not care to increase their
investments. He was forced to go on alone. The chain
of Edison shops was then created. By far the most
perplexing of these new manufacturing problems was
the lamp. Not only was it a new industry, one without
shadow of prototype, but the mechanical devices
for making the lamps, and to some extent the very
machines to make those devices, were to be invented.
All of this was done by the courage, capital, and
invincible energy and genius of the great inventor.
But Mr. Edison could not create these great and
diverse industries and at the same time give requisite
attention to litigation. He could not start and develop
the new and hard business of electric lighting
and yet spare one hour to pursue infringers. One
thing or the other must wait. All agreed that it must
be the litigation. And right there a lasting blow was
given to the prestige of the Edison patents. The delay
was translated as meaning lack of confidence;
and the alert infringer grew strong in courage and
capital. Moreover, and what was the heaviest blow
of all, he had time, thus unmolested, to get a good

"In looking back on those days and scrutinizing
them through the years, I am impressed by the greatness,
the solitary greatness I may say, of Mr. Edison.
We all felt then that we were of importance, and that
our contribution of effort and zeal were vital. I can
see now, however, that the best of us was nothing but
the fly on the wheel. Suppose anything had happened
to Edison? All would have been chaos and ruin..
To him, therefore, be the glory, if not the profit."

The foregoing remarks of Major Eaton show authoritatively
how the much-discussed delay in litigating
the Edison patents was so greatly misunderstood at
the time, and also how imperatively necessary it was
for Edison and his associates to devote their entire
time and energies to the commercial development of
the art. As the lighting business increased, however,
and a great number of additional men were
initiated into its mysteries, Edison and his experts
were able to spare some time to legal matters, and
an era of active patent litigation against infringers
was opened about the year 1885 by the Edison company,
and thereafter continued for many years.

While the history of this vast array of legal proceedings
possesses a fascinating interest for those involved,
as well as for professional men, legal and scientific,
it could not be expected that it would excite any
such feeling on the part of a casual reader. Hence,
it is not proposed to encumber this narrative with
any detailed record of the numerous suits that were
brought and conducted through their complicated
ramifications by eminent counsel. Suffice it to say
that within about sixteen years after the commencement
of active patent litigation, there had been spent
by the owners of the Edison lighting patents upward
of two million dollars in prosecuting more than two
hundred lawsuits brought against persons who were
infringing many of the patents of Edison on the
incandescent electric lamp and component parts of his
system. Over fifty separate patents were involved
in these suits, including the basic one on the lamp
(ordinarily called the "Filament" patent), other detail
lamp patents, as well as those on sockets, switches,
dynamos, motors, and distributing systems.

The principal, or "test," suit on the "Filament"
patent was that brought against "The United States
Electric Lighting Company," which became a cause
celebre in the annals of American jurisprudence.
Edison's claims were strenuously and stubbornly contested
throughout a series of intense legal conflicts
that raged in the courts for a great many years. Both
sides of the controversy were represented by legal
talent of the highest order, under whose examination
and cross-examination volumes of testimony were
taken, until the printed record (including exhibits)
amounted to more than six thousand pages. Scientific
and technical literature and records in all parts of
the civilized world were subjected to the most minute
scrutiny of opposing experts in the endeavor to prove
Edison to be merely an adapter of methods and devices
already projected or suggested by others. The
world was ransacked for anything that might be
claimed as an anticipation of what he had done.
Every conceivable phase of ingenuity that could be
devised by technical experts was exercised in the
attempt to show that Edison had accomplished nothing
new. Everything that legal acumen could suggest--
every subtle technicality of the law--all the
complicated variations of phraseology that the novel
nomenclature of a young art would allow--all were
pressed into service and availed of by the contestors
of the Edison invention in their desperate effort to
defeat his claims. It was all in vain, however, for
the decision of the court was in favor of Edison, and
his lamp patent was sustained not only by the
tribunal of the first resort, but also by the Appellate
Court some time afterward.

The first trial was had before Judge Wallace in the
United States Circuit Court for the Southern District
of New York, and the appeal was heard by Judges
Lacombe and Shipman, of the United States Circuit
Court of Appeals. Before both tribunals the cause
had been fully represented by counsel chosen from
among the most eminent representatives of the bar
at that time, those representing the Edison interests
being the late Clarence A. Seward and Grosvenor P.
Lowrey, together with Sherburne Blake Eaton,
Albert H. Walker, and Richard N. Dyer. The presentation
of the case to the courts had in both instances
been marked by masterly and able arguments, elucidated
by experiments and demonstrations to educate
the judges on technical points. Some appreciation
of the magnitude of this case may be gained from the
fact that the argument on its first trial employed a
great many days, and the minutes covered hundreds
of pages of closely typewritten matter, while the
argument on appeal required eight days, and was set
forth in eight hundred and fifty pages of typewriting.
Eliminating all purely forensic eloquence and exparte
statements, the addresses of counsel in this celebrated
suit are worthy of deep study by an earnest
student, for, taken together, they comprise the most
concise, authentic, and complete history of the prior
state of the art and the development of the incandescent
lamp that had been made up to that time.[22]

[22] The argument on appeal was conducted with the dignity and
decorum that characterize such a proceeding in that court.
There is usually little that savors of humor in the ordinary conduct
of a case of this kind, but in the present instance a pertinent
story was related by Mr. Lowrey, and it is now reproduced. In
the course of his address to the court, Mr. Lowrey said:

"I have to mention the name of one expert whose testimony
will, I believe, be found as accurate, as sincere, as straightforward
as if it were the preaching of the gospel. I do it with great pleasure,

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