Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

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

Part 2 out of 17

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Edison had now begun unconsciously the roaming
and drifting that took him during the next five years
all over the Middle States, and that might well have
wrecked the career of any one less persistent and
industrious. It was a period of his life corresponding
to the Wanderjahre of the German artisan, and
was an easy way of gratifying a taste for travel
without the risk of privation. To-day there is little
temptation to the telegrapher to go to distant parts
of the country on the chance that he may secure a
livelihood at the key. The ranks are well filled everywhere,
and of late years the telegraph as an art or
industry has shown relatively slight expansion, owing
chiefly to the development of telephony. Hence, if vacancies
occur, there are plenty of operators available,
and salaries have remained so low as to lead to one or
two formidable and costly strikes that unfortunately
took no account of the economic conditions of demand
and supply. But in the days of the Civil War there
was a great dearth of skilful manipulators of the key.
About fifteen hundred of the best operators in the
country were at the front on the Federal side alone,
and several hundred more had enlisted. This created
a serious scarcity, and a nomadic operator going to any
telegraphic centre would be sure to find a place open
waiting for him. At the close of the war a majority
of those who had been with the two opposed armies
remained at the key under more peaceful surroundings,
but the rapid development of the commercial
and railroad systems fostered a new demand, and
then for a time it seemed almost impossible to train
new operators fast enough. In a few years, however,
the telephone sprang into vigorous existence,
dating from 1876, drawing off some of the most
adventurous spirits from the telegraph field; and the
deterrent influence of the telephone on the telegraph
had made itself felt by 1890. The expiration of the
leading Bell telephone patents, five years later,
accentuated even more sharply the check that had
been put on telegraphy, as hundreds and thousands
of "independent" telephone companies were then
organized, throwing a vast network of toll lines over
Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and other States, and
affording cheap, instantaneous means of communication
without any necessity for the intervention of an

It will be seen that the times have changed radically
since Edison became a telegrapher, and that in
this respect a chapter of electrical history has been
definitely closed. There was a day when the art
offered a distinct career to all of its practitioners,
and young men of ambition and good family were
eager to begin even as messenger boys, and were
ready to undergo a severe ordeal of apprenticeship
with the belief that they could ultimately attain positions
of responsibility and profit. At the same time
operators have always been shrewd enough to regard
the telegraph as a stepping-stone to other careers
in life. A bright fellow entering the telegraph service
to-day finds the experience he may gain therein
valuable, but he soon realizes that there are not
enough good-paying official positions to "go around,"
so as to give each worthy man a chance after he has
mastered the essentials of the art. He feels, therefore,
that to remain at the key involves either stagnation
or deterioration, and that after, say, twenty-five years
of practice he will have lost ground as compared with
friends who started out in other occupations. The
craft of an operator, learned without much difficulty,
is very attractive to a youth, but a position at the
key is no place for a man of mature years. His services,
with rare exceptions, grow less valuable as he
advances in age and nervous strain breaks him down.
On the contrary, men engaged in other professions
find, as a rule, that they improve and advance with
experience, and that age brings larger rewards and

The list of well-known Americans who have been
graduates of the key is indeed an extraordinary one,
and there is no department of our national life in
which they have not distinguished themselves. The
contrast, in this respect, between them and their
European colleagues is highly significant. In Europe
the telegraph systems are all under government
management, the operators have strictly limited
spheres of promotion, and at the best the transition
from one kind of employment to another is not
made so easily as in the New World. But in the
United States we have seen Rufus Bullock become
Governor of Georgia, and Ezra Cornell Governor of
New York. Marshall Jewell was Postmaster-General
of President Grant's Cabinet, and Daniel Lamont was
Secretary of State in President Cleveland's. Gen.
T. T. Eckert, past-President of the Western Union
Telegraph Company, was Assistant Secretary of War
under President Lincoln; and Robert J. Wynne, afterward
a consul-general, served as Assistant Postmaster
General. A very large proportion of the presidents
and leading officials of the great railroad systems are
old telegraphers, including Messrs. W. C. Brown,
President of the New York Central Railroad, and
Marvin Hughitt, President of the Chicago & North
western Railroad. In industrial and financial life
there have been Theodore N. Vail, President of the
Bell telephone system; L. C. Weir, late President of
the Adams Express; A. B. Chandler, President of the
Postal Telegraph and Cable Company; Sir W. Van
Home, identified with Canadian development; Robert
C. Clowry, President of the Western Union Telegraph
Company; D. H. Bates, Manager of the Baltimore &
Ohio telegraph for Robert Garrett; and Andrew
Carnegie, the greatest ironmaster the world has ever
known, as well as its greatest philanthropist. In
journalism there have been leaders like Edward Rose-

water, founder of the Omaha Bee; W. J. Elverson, of
the Philadelphia Press; and Frank A. Munsey, publisher
of half a dozen big magazines. George Kennan
has achieved fame in literature, and Guy Carleton
and Harry de Souchet have been successful as dramatists.
These are but typical of hundreds of men
who could be named who have risen from work at the
key to become recognized leaders in differing spheres
of activity.

But roving has never been favorable to the formation
of steady habits. The young men who thus
floated about the country from one telegraph office
to another were often brilliant operators, noted for
speed in sending and receiving, but they were undisciplined,
were without the restraining influences of
home life, and were so highly paid for their work that
they could indulge freely in dissipation if inclined
that way. Subjected to nervous tension for hours
together at the key, many of them unfortunately
took to drink, and having ended one engagement in
a city by a debauch that closed the doors of the
office to them, would drift away to the nearest town,
and there securing work, would repeat the performance.
At one time, indeed, these men were so numerous
and so much in evidence as to constitute a type
that the public was disposed to accept as representative
of the telegraphic fraternity; but as the conditions
creating him ceased to exist, the "tramp
operator" also passed into history. It was, however,
among such characters that Edison was very largely
thrown in these early days of aimless drifting, to learn
something perhaps of their nonchalant philosophy of
life, sharing bed and board with them under all kinds
of adverse conditions, but always maintaining a stoic
abstemiousness, and never feeling other than a keen
regret at the waste of so much genuine ability and
kindliness on the part of those knights errant of the
key whose inevitable fate might so easily have been
his own.

Such a class or group of men can always be presented
by an individual type, and this is assuredly
best embodied in Milton F. Adams, one of Edison's
earliest and closest friends, to whom reference will
be made in later chapters, and whose life has been
so full of adventurous episodes that he might well be
regarded as the modern Gil Blas. That career is
certainly well worth the telling as "another story,"
to use the Kipling phrase. Of him Edison says:
"Adams was one of a class of operators never satisfied
to work at any place for any great length of
time. He had the `wanderlust.' After enjoying hospitality
in Boston in 1868-69, on the floor of my hall-
bedroom, which was a paradise for the entomologist,
while the boarding-house itself was run on the banting
system of flesh reduction, he came to me one day
and said: `Good-bye, Edison; I have got sixty cents,
and I am going to San Francisco.' And he did go.
How, I never knew personally. I learned afterward
that he got a job there, and then within a week they
had a telegraphers' strike. He got a big torch and
sold patent medicine on the streets at night to support
the strikers. Then he went to Peru as partner
of a man who had a grizzly bear which they proposed
entering against a bull in the bull-ring in that city.
The grizzly was killed in five minutes, and so the
scheme died. Then Adams crossed the Andes, and
started a market-report bureau in Buenos Ayres.
This didn't pay, so he started a restaurant in Pernambuco,
Brazil. There he did very well, but something
went wrong (as it always does to a nomad), so
he went to the Transvaal, and ran a panorama called
`Paradise Lost' in the Kaffir kraals. This didn't
pay, and he became the editor of a newspaper; then
went to England to raise money for a railroad in Cape
Colony. Next I heard of him in New York, having
just arrived from Bogota, United States of Colombia,
with a power of attorney and $2000 from a native
of that republic, who had applied for a patent for
tightening a belt to prevent it from slipping on a
pulley--a device which he thought a new and great
invention, but which was in use ever since machinery
was invented. I gave Adams, then, a position as salesman
for electrical apparatus. This he soon got tired
of, and I lost sight of him." Adams, in speaking of
this episode, says that when he asked for transportation
expenses to St. Louis, Edison pulled out of his
pocket a ferry ticket to Hoboken, and said to his
associates: "I'll give him that, and he'll get there
all right." This was in the early days of electric
lighting; but down to the present moment the peregrinations
of this versatile genius of the key have
never ceased in one hemisphere or the other, so that
as Mr. Adams himself remarked to the authors in
April, 1908: "The life has been somewhat variegated,
but never dull."

The fact remains also that throughout this period
Edison, while himself a very Ishmael, never ceased
to study, explore, experiment. Referring to this beginning
of his career, he mentions a curious fact that
throws light on his ceaseless application. "After I
became a telegraph operator," he says, "I practiced
for a long time to become a rapid reader of print, and
got so expert I could sense the meaning of a whole
line at once. This faculty, I believe, should be taught
in schools, as it appears to be easily acquired. Then
one can read two or three books in a day, whereas if
each word at a time only is sensed, reading is laborious."



IN 1903, when accepting the position of honorary
electrician to the International Exposition held in
St. Louis in 1904, to commemorate the centenary of
the Louisiana Purchase, Mr. Edison spoke in his
letter of the Central West as a "region where as a
young telegraph operator I spent many arduous years
before moving East." The term of probation thus
referred to did not end until 1868, and while it lasted
Edison's wanderings carried him from Detroit to New
Orleans, and took him, among other cities, to Indianapolis,
Cincinnati, Louisville, and Memphis, some of
which he visited twice in his peregrinations to secure
work. From Canada, after the episodes noted in the
last chapter, he went to Adrian, Michigan, and of
what happened there Edison tells a story typical of
his wanderings for several years to come. "After
leaving my first job at Stratford Junction, I got a
position as operator on the Lake Shore & Michigan
Southern at Adrian, Michigan, in the division superintendent's
office. As usual, I took the `night trick,'
which most operators disliked, but which I preferred,
as it gave me more leisure to experiment. I had obtained
from the station agent a small room, and had
established a little shop of my own. One day the day
operator wanted to get off, and I was on duty. About
9 o'clock the superintendent handed me a despatch
which he said was very important, and which I must
get off at once. The wire at the time was very busy,
and I asked if I should break in. I got orders to do
so, and acting under those orders of the superintendent,
I broke in and tried to send the despatch; but
the other operator would not permit it, and the struggle
continued for ten minutes. Finally I got possession
of the wire and sent the message. The superintendent
of telegraph, who then lived in Adrian and
went to his office in Toledo every day, happened that
day to be in the Western Union office up-town--and
it was the superintendent I was really struggling
with! In about twenty minutes he arrived livid with
rage, and I was discharged on the spot. I informed
him that the general superintendent had told me to
break in and send the despatch, but the general
superintendent then and there repudiated the whole
thing. Their families were socially close, so I was
sacrificed. My faith in human nature got a slight

Edison then went to Toledo and secured a position
at Fort Wayne, on the Pittsburg, Fort Wayne &
Chicago Railroad, now leased to the Pennsylvania
system. This was a "day job," and he did not like
it. He drifted two months later to Indianapolis,
arriving there in the fall of 1864, when he was at first
assigned to duty at the Union Station at a salary
of $75 a month for the Western Union Telegraph
Company, whose service he now entered, and with
which he has been destined to maintain highly im-
portent and close relationships throughout a large
part of his life. Superintendent Wallick appears to
have treated him generously and to have loaned him
instruments, a kindness that was greatly appreciated,
for twenty years later the inventor called on his old
employer, and together they visited the scene where
the borrowed apparatus had been mounted on a
rough board in the depot. Edison did not stay long
in Indianapolis, however, resigning in February, 1865,
and proceeding to Cincinnati. The transfer was possibly
due to trouble caused by one of his early inventions
embodying what has been characterized by
an expert as "probably the most simple and ingenious
arrangement of connections for a repeater."
His ambition was to take "press report," but finding,
even after considerable practice, that he "broke"
frequently, he adjusted two embossing Morse registers
--one to receive the press matter, and the other to repeat
the dots and dashes at a lower speed, so that the
message could be copied leisurely. Hence he could
not be rushed or "broken" in receiving, while he
could turn out "copy" that was a marvel of neatness
and clearness. All was well so long as ordinary conditions
prevailed, but when an unusual pressure occurred
the little system fell behind, and the newspapers complained
of the slowness with which reports were delivered
to them. It is easy to understand that with
matter received at a rate of forty words per minute
and worked off at twenty-five words per minute a
serious congestion or delay would result, and the
newspapers were more anxious for the news than they
were for fine penmanship.

Of this device Mr. Edison remarks: "Together we
took press for several nights, my companion keeping
the apparatus in adjustment and I copying. The
regular press operator would go to the theatre or
take a nap, only finishing the report after 1 A.M. One
of the newspapers complained of bad copy toward
the end of the report--that, is from 1 to 3 A.M., and
requested that the operator taking the report up to
1 A.M.--which was ourselves--take it all, as the copy
then was perfectly unobjectionable. This led to an
investigation by the manager, and the scheme was

"This instrument, many years afterward, was applied
by me for transferring messages from one wire to
any other wire simultaneously, or after any interval
of time. It consisted of a disk of paper, the indentations
being formed in a volute spiral, exactly as in
the disk phonograph to-day. It was this instrument
which gave me the idea of the phonograph while working
on the telephone."

Arrived in Cincinnati, where he got employment in
the Western Union commercial telegraph department
at a wage of $60 per month, Edison made the
acquaintance of Milton F. Adams, already referred to
as facile princeps the typical telegrapher in all his
more sociable and brilliant aspects. Speaking of that
time, Mr. Adams says: "I can well recall when Edison
drifted in to take a job. He was a youth of about
eighteen years, decidedly unprepossessing in dress and
rather uncouth in manner. I was twenty-one, and
very dudish. He was quite thin in those days, and
his nose was very prominent, giving a Napoleonic
look to his face, although the curious resemblance did
not strike me at the time. The boys did not take to
him cheerfully, and he was lonesome. I sympathized
with him, and we became close companions. As an
operator he had no superiors and very few equals.
Most of the time he was monkeying with the batteries
and circuits, and devising things to make the work of
telegraphy less irksome. He also relieved the monotony
of office-work by fitting up the battery circuits
to play jokes on his fellow-operators, and to deal with
the vermin that infested the premises. He arranged
in the cellar what he called his `rat paralyzer,' a very
simple contrivance consisting of two plates insulated
from each other and connected with the main battery.
They were so placed that when a rat passed over
them the fore feet on the one plate and the hind feet
on the other completed the circuit and the rat departed
this life, electrocuted."

Shortly after Edison's arrival at Cincinnati came
the close of the Civil War and the assassination of
President Lincoln. It was natural that telegraphers
should take an intense interest in the general struggle,
for not only did they handle all the news relating to
it, but many of them were at one time or another personal
participants. For example, one of the operators
in the Cincinnati office was George Ellsworth,
who was telegrapher for Morgan, the famous Southern
Guerrilla, and was with him when he made his raid
into Ohio and was captured near the Pennsylvania
line. Ellsworth himself made a narrow escape by
swimming the Ohio River with the aid of an army
mule. Yet we can well appreciate the unimpression-
able way in which some of the men did their work,
from an anecdote that Mr. Edison tells of that awful
night of Friday, April 14, 1865: "I noticed," he says,
"an immense crowd gathering in the street outside
a newspaper office. I called the attention of the
other operators to the crowd, and we sent a messenger
boy to find the cause of the excitement. He returned
in a few minutes and shouted `Lincoln's shot.' Instinctively
the operators looked from one face to another
to see which man had received the news. All
the faces were blank, and every man said he had not
taken a word about the shooting. `Look over your
files,' said the boss to the man handling the press
stuff. For a few moments we waited in suspense,
and then the man held up a sheet of paper containing
a short account of the shooting of the President. The
operator had worked so mechanically that he had
handled the news without the slightest knowledge of
its significance." Mr. Adams says that at the time
the city was en fete on account of the close of the
war, the name of the assassin was received by telegraph,
and it was noted with a thrill of horror that it
was that of a brother of Edwin Booth and of Junius
Brutus Booth--the latter of whom was then playing
at the old National Theatre. Booth was hurried
away into seclusion, and the next morning the city
that had been so gay over night with bunting was
draped with mourning.

Edison's diversions in Cincinnati were chiefly those
already observed. He read a great deal, but spent
most of his leisure in experiment. Mr. Adams remarks:
"Edison and I were very fond of tragedy.
Forrest and John McCullough were playing at the
National Theatre, and when our capital was sufficient
we would go to see those eminent tragedians alternate
in Othello and Iago. Edison always enjoyed Othello
greatly. Aside from an occasional visit to the Loewen
Garden `over the Rhine,' with a glass of beer and
a few pretzels, consumed while listening to the excellent
music of a German band, the theatre was the
sum and substance of our innocent dissipation."

The Cincinnati office, as a central point, appears to
have been attractive to many of the clever young
operators who graduated from it to positions of larger
responsibility. Some of them were conspicuous for
their skill and versatility. Mr. Adams tells this interesting
story as an illustration: "L. C. Weir, or Charlie,
as he was known, at that time agent for the Adams
Express Company, had the remarkable ability of taking
messages and copying them twenty-five words
behind the sender. One day he came into the operating-
room, and passing a table he heard Louisville
calling Cincinnati. He reached over to the key and
answered the call. My attention was arrested by the
fact that he walked off after responding, and the
sender happened to be a good one. Weir coolly asked
for a pen, and when he sat down the sender was just
one message ahead of him with date, address, and
signature. Charlie started in, and in a beautiful,
large, round hand copied that message. The sender
went right along, and when he finished with six messages
closed his key. When Weir had done with the
last one the sender began to think that after all there
had been no receiver, as Weir did not `break,' but
simply gave his O. K. He afterward became president
of the Adams Express, and was certainly a wonderful
operator." The operating-room referred to
was on the fifth floor of the building with no elevators.

Those were the early days of trade unionism in
telegraphy, and the movement will probably never
quite die out in the craft which has always shown so
much solidarity. While Edison was in Cincinnati a
delegation of five union operators went over from
Cleveland to form a local branch, and the occasion
was one of great conviviality. Night came, but the
unionists were conspicuous by their absence, although
more circuits than one were intolerant of delay and
clamorous for attention---eight local unionists being
away. The Cleveland report wire was in special
need, and Edison, almost alone in the office, devoted
himself to it all through the night and until 3 o'clock
the next morning, when he was relieved.

He had previously been getting $80 a month, and
had eked this out by copying plays for the theatre.
His rating was that of a "plug" or inferior operator;
but he was determined to lift himself into the class of
first-class operators, and had kept up the practice of
going to the office at night to "copy press," acting
willingly as a substitute for any operator who wanted
to get off for a few hours--which often meant all
night. Speaking of this special ordeal, for which he
had thus been unconsciously preparing, Edison says:
"My copy looked fine if viewed as a whole, as I could
write a perfectly straight line across the wide sheet,
which was not ruled. There were no flourishes, but
the individual letters would not bear close inspection.
When I missed understanding a word, there was no
time to think what it was, so I made an illegible one
to fill in, trusting to the printers to sense it. I knew
they could read anything, although Mr. Bloss, an
editor of the Inquirer, made such bad copy that one
of his editorials was pasted up on the notice-board in
the telegraph office with an offer of one dollar to any
man who could `read twenty consecutive words.' Nobody
ever did it. When I got through I was too
nervous to go home, so waited the rest of the night
for the day manager, Mr. Stevens, to see what was to
be the outcome of this Union formation and of my
efforts. He was an austere man, and I was afraid
of him. I got the morning papers, which came out
at 4 A. M., and the press report read perfectly, which
surprised me greatly. I went to work on my regular
day wire to Portsmouth, Ohio, and there was
considerable excitement, but nothing was said to me,
neither did Mr. Stevens examine the copy on the
office hook, which I was watching with great interest.
However, about 3 P. M. he went to the hook, grabbed
the bunch and looked at it as a whole without examining
it in detail, for which I was thankful. Then he
jabbed it back on the hook, and I knew I was all
right. He walked over to me, and said: `Young
man, I want you to work the Louisville wire nights;
your salary will be $125.' Thus I got from the plug
classification to that of a `first-class man.' "

But no sooner was this promotion secured than he
started again on his wanderings southward, while his
friend Adams went North, neither having any difficulty
in making the trip. "The boys in those days
had extraordinary facilities for travel. As a usual
thing it was only necessary for them to board a train
and tell the conductor they were operators. Then
they would go as far as they liked. The number of
operators was small, and they were in demand
everywhere." It was in this way Edison made his way
south as far as Memphis, Tennessee, where the telegraph
service at that time was under military law,
although the operators received $125 a month. Here
again Edison began to invent and improve on existing
apparatus, with the result of having once more
to "move on." The story may be told in his own
terse language: "I was not the inventor of the auto
repeater, but while in Memphis I worked on one.
Learning that the chief operator, who was a protege
of the superintendent, was trying in some way to put
New York and New Orleans together for the first
time since the close of the war, I redoubled my efforts,
and at 2 o'clock one morning I had them speaking
to each other. The office of the Memphis Avalanche
was in the same building. The paper got wind of it
and sent messages. A column came out in the morning
about it; but when I went to the office in the
afternoon to report for duty I was discharged with
out explanation. The superintendent would not even
give me a pass to Nashville, so I had to pay my fare.
I had so little money left that I nearly starved at
Decatur, Alabama, and had to stay three days before
going on north to Nashville. Arrived in that city, I
went to the telegraph office, got money enough to
buy a little solid food, and secured a pass to Louisville.
I had a companion with me who was also out
of a job. I arrived at Louisville on a bitterly cold
day, with ice in the gutters. I was wearing a linen
duster and was not much to look at, but got a position
at once, working on a press wire. My travelling
companion was less successful on account of his
`record.' They had a limit even in those days when
the telegraph service was so demoralized."

Some reminiscences of Mr. Edison are of interest
as bearing not only upon the "demoralized" telegraph
service, but the conditions from which the
New South had to emerge while working out its
salvation. "The telegraph was still under military
control, not having been turned over to the original
owners, the Southern Telegraph Company. In addition
to the regular force, there was an extra force
of two or three operators, and some stranded ones,
who were a burden to us, for board was high. One of
these derelicts was a great source of worry to me,
personally. He would come in at all hours and either
throw ink around or make a lot of noise. One night
he built a fire in the grate and started to throw pistol
cartridges into the flames. These would explode, and
I was twice hit by the bullets, which left a black-and-
blue mark. Another night he came in and got from
some part of the building a lot of stationery with
`Confederate States' printed at the head. He was
a fine operator, and wrote a beautiful hand. He
would take a sheet of this paper, write capital `A,
and then take another sheet and make the `A' differently;
and so on through the alphabet; each time
crumpling the paper up in his hand and throwing
it on the floor. He would keep this up until the room
was filled nearly flush with the table. Then he would

"Everything at that time was `wide open.'
Disorganization reigned supreme. There was no head
to anything. At night myself and a companion would
go over to a gorgeously furnished faro-bank and get
our midnight lunch. Everything was free. There
were over twenty keno-rooms running. One of them
that I visited was in a Baptist church, the man with
the wheel being in the pulpit, and the gamblers in
the pews.

"While there the manager of the telegraph office
was arrested for something I never understood, and
incarcerated in a military prison about half a mile
from the office. The building was in plain sight from
the office, and four stories high. He was kept strictly
incommunicado. One day, thinking he might be confined
in a room facing the office, I put my arm out
of the window and kept signalling dots and dashes
by the movement of the arm. I tried this several
times for two days. Finally he noticed it, and putting
his arm through the bars of the window he established
communication with me. He thus sent several messages
to his friends, and was afterward set free."

Another curious story told by Edison concerns a
fellow-operator on night duty at Chattanooga Junction,
at the time he was at Memphis: "When it was
reported that Hood was marching on Nashville, one
night a Jew came into the office about 11 o'clock in
great excitement, having heard the Hood rumor. He,
being a large sutler, wanted to send a message to save
his goods. The operator said it was impossible--that
orders had been given to send no private messages.
Then the Jew wanted to bribe my friend, who steadfastly
refused for the reason, as he told the Jew, that
he might be court-martialled and shot. Finally the
Jew got up to $800. The operator swore him to
secrecy and sent the message. Now there was no
such order about private messages, and the Jew, finding
it out, complained to Captain Van Duzer, chief of
telegraphs, who investigated the matter, and while he
would not discharge the operator, laid him off
indefinitely. Van Duzer was so lenient that if an
operator were discharged, all the operator had to do
was to wait three days and then go and sit on the
stoop of Van Duzer's office all day, and he would be
taken back. But Van Duzer swore he would never
give in in this case. He said that if the operator had
taken $800 and sent the message at the regular rate,
which was twenty-five cents, it would have been all
right, as the Jew would be punished for trying to
bribe a military operator; but when the operator took
the $800 and then sent the message deadhead, he
couldn't stand it, and he would never relent."

A third typical story of this period deals with a
cipher message for Thomas. Mr. Edison narrates it
as follows: "When I was an operator in Cincinnati
working the Louisville wire nights for a time, one
night a man over on the Pittsburg wire yelled out:
`D. I. cipher,' which meant that there was a cipher
message from the War Department at Washington
and that it was coming--and he yelled out `Louisville.'
I started immediately to call up that place.
It was just at the change of shift in the office. I
could not get Louisville, and the cipher message began
to come. It was taken by the operator on the other
table direct from the War Department. It was for
General Thomas, at Nashville. I called for about
twenty minutes and notified them that I could not
get Louisville. I kept at it for about fifteen minutes
longer, and notified them that there was still no
answer from Louisville. They then notified the War
Department that they could not get Louisville. Then
we tried to get it by all kinds of roundabout ways,
but in no case could anybody get them at that office.
Soon a message came from the War Department to
send immediately for the manager of the Cincinnati
office. He was brought to the office and several
messages were exchanged, the contents of which, of course,
I did not know, but the matter appeared to be very
serious, as they were afraid of General Hood, of the
Confederate Army, who was then attempting to march
on Nashville; and it was very important that this
cipher of about twelve hundred words or so should
be got through immediately to General Thomas. I
kept on calling up to 12 or 1 o'clock, but no Louisville.
About 1 o'clock the operator at the Indianapolis
office got hold of an operator on a wire which ran
from Indianapolis to Louisville along the railroad,
who happened to come into his office. He arranged
with this operator to get a relay of horses, and the
message was sent through Indianapolis to this operator
who had engaged horses to carry the despatches to
Louisville and find out the trouble, and get the
despatches through without delay to General Thomas.
In those days the telegraph fraternity was rather
demoralized, and the discipline was very lax. It was
found out a couple of days afterward that there were
three night operators at Louisville. One of them had
gone over to Jeffersonville and had fallen off a horse
and broken his leg, and was in a hospital. By a
remarkable coincidence another of the men had been
stabbed in a keno-room, and was also in hospital
while the third operator had gone to Cynthiana to
see a man hanged and had got left by the train."

I think the most important line of
investigation is the production of
Electricity direct from carbon.

Young Edison remained in Louisville for about
two years, quite a long stay for one with such nomadic
instincts. It was there that he perfected the peculiar
vertical style of writing which, beginning with him in
telegraphy, later became so much of a fad with teachers
of penmanship and in the schools. He says of this form
of writing, a current example of which is given above:
"I developed this style in Louisville while taking press
reports. My wire was connected to the `blind' side
of a repeater at Cincinnati, so that if I missed a word
or sentence, or if the wire worked badly, I could not
break in and get the last words, because the Cincinnati
man had no instrument by which he could
hear me. I had to take what came. When I got the
job, the cable across the Ohio River at Covington,
connecting with the line to Louisville, had a variable
leak in it, which caused the strength of the signalling
current to make violent fluctuations. I obviated this
by using several relays, each with a different adjustment,
working several sounders all connected with
one sounding-plate. The clatter was bad, but I could
read it with fair ease. When, in addition to this infernal
leak, the wires north to Cleveland worked badly,
it required a large amount of imagination to get
the sense of what was being sent. An imagination
requires an appreciable time for its exercise, and as
the stuff was coming at the rate of thirty-five to forty
words a minute, it was very difficult to write down
what was coming and imagine what wasn't coming.
Hence it was necessary to become a very rapid writer,
so I started to find the fastest style. I found that the
vertical style, with each letter separate and without
any flourishes, was the most rapid, and that the
smaller the letter the greater the rapidity. As I took
on an average from eight to fifteen columns of news
report every day, it did not take long to perfect this
method." Mr. Edison has adhered to this characteristic
style of penmanship down to the present

As a matter of fact, the conditions at Louisville
at that time were not much better than they had been
at Memphis. The telegraph operating-room was in
a deplorable condition. It was on the second story
of a dilapidated building on the principal street of
the city, with the battery-room in the rear; behind
which was the office of the agent of the Associated
Press. The plastering was about one-third gone from
the ceiling. A small stove, used occasionally in the
winter, was connected to the chimney by a tortuous
pipe. The office was never cleaned. The switchboard
for manipulating the wires was about thirty-
four inches square. The brass connections on it were
black with age and with the arcing effects of lightning,
which, to young Edison, seemed particularly partial
to Louisville. "It would strike on the wires," he
says, "with an explosion like a cannon-shot, making
that office no place for an operator with heart-disease."
Around the dingy walls were a dozen tables, the ends
next to the wall. They were about the size of those
seen in old-fashioned country hotels for holding
the wash-bowl and pitcher. The copper wires
connecting the instruments to the switchboard were
small, crystallized, and rotten. The battery-room
was filled with old record-books and message bundles,
and one hundred cells of nitric-acid battery, arranged
on a stand in the centre of the room. This stand, as
well as the floor, was almost eaten through by the
destructive action of the powerful acid. Grim and
uncompromising as the description reads, it was
typical of the equipment in those remote days of
the telegraph at the close of the war.

Illustrative of the length to which telegraphers
could go at a time when they were so much in de-
mand, Edison tells the following story: "When I took
the position there was a great shortage of operators.
One night at 2 A.M. another operator and I were on
duty. I was taking press report, and the other man
was working the New York wire. We heard a heavy
tramp, tramp, tramp on the rickety stairs. Suddenly
the door was thrown open with great violence,
dislodging it from one of the hinges. There appeared in
the doorway one of the best operators we had, who
worked daytime, and who was of a very quiet
disposition except when intoxicated. He was a great
friend of the manager of the office. His eyes were
bloodshot and wild, and one sleeve had been torn
away from his coat. Without noticing either of us
he went up to the stove and kicked it over. The
stove-pipe fell, dislocated at every joint. It was half
full of exceedingly fine soot, which floated out and
filled the room completely. This produced a
momentary respite to his labors. When the atmosphere
had cleared sufficiently to see, he went around
and pulled every table away from the wall, piling
them on top of the stove in the middle of the room.
Then he proceeded to pull the switchboard away from
the wall. It was held tightly by screws. He succeeded,
finally, and when it gave way he fell with
the board, and striking on a table cut himself so that
he soon became covered with blood. He then went
to the battery-room and knocked all the batteries off
on the floor. The nitric acid soon began to combine
with the plaster in the room below, which was the
public receiving-room for messengers and bookkeepers.
The excess acid poured through and ate up
the account-books. After having finished everything
to his satisfaction, he left. I told the other operator
to do nothing. We would leave things just as they
were, and wait until the manager came. In the
mean time, as I knew all the wires coming through to
the switchboard, I rigged up a temporary set of
instruments so that the New York business could be cleared
up, and we also got the remainder of the press matter.
At 7 o'clock the day men began to appear. They
were told to go down-stairs and wait the coming of
the manager. At 8 o'clock he appeared, walked
around, went into the battery-room, and then came
to me, saying: `Edison, who did this?' I told him
that Billy L. had come in full of soda-water and
invented the ruin before him. He walked backward
and forward, about a minute, then coming up to my
table put his fist down, and said: `If Billy L. ever
does that again, I will discharge him.' It was needless
to say that there were other operators who took
advantage of that kind of discipline, and I had many
calls at night after that, but none with such destructive

This was one aspect of life as it presented itself to
the sensitive and observant young operator in Louisville.
But there was another, more intellectual side,
in the contact afforded with journalism and its leaders,
and the information taken in almost unconsciously
as to the political and social movements of the time.
Mr. Edison looks back on this with great satisfaction.
"I remember," he says, "the discussions between the
celebrated poet and journalist George D. Prentice,
then editor of the Courier-Journal, and Mr. Tyler, of
the Associated Press. I believe Prentice was the
father of the humorous paragraph of the American
newspaper. He was poetic, highly educated, and a
brilliant talker. He was very thin and small. I do
not think he weighed over one hundred and twenty
five pounds. Tyler was a graduate of Harvard, and
had a very clear enunciation, and, in sharp contrast
to Prentice, he was a large man. After the paper had
gone to press, Prentice would generally come over to
Tyler's office and start talking. Having while in
Tyler's office heard them arguing on the immortality
of the soul, etc., I asked permission of Mr. Tyler if,
after finishing the press matter, I might come in and
listen to the conversation, which I did many times
after. One thing I never could comprehend was that
Tyler had a sideboard with liquors and generally
crackers. Prentice would pour out half a glass of
what they call corn whiskey, and would dip the
crackers in it and eat them. Tyler took it sans food.
One teaspoonful of that stuff would put me to sleep."

Mr. Edison throws also a curious side-light on the
origin of the comic column in the modern American
newspaper, the telegraph giving to a new joke or a
good story the ubiquity and instantaneity of an important
historical event. "It was the practice of the
press operators all over the country at that time, when
a lull occurred, to start in and send jokes or stories
the day men had collected; and these were copied
and pasted up on the bulletin-board. Cleveland was
the originating office for `press,' which it received
from New York, and sent it out simultaneously to
Milwaukee, Chicago, Toledo, Detroit, Pittsburg,
Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Vincennes,
Terre Haute, St. Louis, and Louisville.
Cleveland would call first on Milwaukee, if he had
anything. If so, he would send it, and Cleveland
would repeat it to all of us. Thus any joke or story
originating anywhere in that area was known the
next day all over. The press men would come in
and copy anything which could be published, which
was about three per cent. I collected, too, quite a
large scrap-book of it, but unfortunately have lost it."

Edison tells an amusing story of his own pursuits
at this time. Always an omnivorous reader, he had
some difficulty in getting a sufficient quantity of
literature for home consumption, and was in the habit
of buying books at auctions and second-hand stores.
One day at an auction-room he secured a stack of
twenty unbound volumes of the North American
Review for two dollars. These he had bound and delivered
at the telegraph office. One morning, when
he was free as usual at 3 o'clock, he started off at a
rapid pace with ten volumes on his shoulder. He
found himself very soon the subject of a fusillade.
When he stopped, a breathless policeman grabbed him
by the throat and ordered him to drop his parcel and
explain matters, as a suspicious character. He opened
the package showing the books, somewhat to the
disgust of the officer, who imagined he had caught a
burglar sneaking away in the dark alley with his
booty. Edison explained that being deaf he had
heard no challenge, and therefore had kept moving;
and the policeman remarked apologetically that it
was fortunate for Edison he was not a better shot.

The incident is curiously revelatory of the character
of the man, for it must be admitted that while literary
telegraphers are by no means scarce, there are very
few who would spend scant savings on back numbers
of a ponderous review at an age when tragedy, beer,
and pretzels are far more enticing. Through all his
travels Edison has preserved those books, and has
them now in his library at Llewellyn Park, on Orange
Mountain, New Jersey.

Drifting after a time from Louisville, Edison made
his way as far north as Detroit, but, like the famous
Duke of York, soon made his way back again. Possibly
the severer discipline after the happy-go-lucky
regime in the Southern city had something to do with
this restlessness, which again manifested itself, however,
on his return thither. The end of the war had
left the South a scene of destruction and desolation,
and many men who had fought bravely and well
found it hard to reconcile themselves to the grim
task of reconstruction. To them it seemed better to
"let ill alone" and seek some other clime where
conditions would be less onerous. At this moment a
great deal of exaggerated talk was current as to the
sunny life and easy wealth of Latin America, and
under its influences many "unreconstructed" Southerners
made their way to Mexico, Brazil, Peru, or the
Argentine. Telegraph operators were naturally in
touch with this movement, and Edison's fertile imagination
was readily inflamed by the glowing idea of
all these vague possibilities. Again he threw up his
steady work and, with a couple of sanguine young
friends, made his way to New Orleans. They had the
notion of taking positions in the Brazilian Government
telegraphs, as an advertisement had been inserted
in some paper stating that operators were
wanted. They had timed their departure from Louisville
so as to catch a specially chartered steamer,
which was to leave New Orleans for Brazil on a
certain day, to convey a large number of Confederates
and their families, who were disgusted with the
United States and were going to settle in Brazil,
where slavery still prevailed. Edison and his friends
arrived in New Orleans just at the time of the great
riot, when several hundred negroes were killed, and
the city was in the hands of a mob. The Government
had seized the steamer chartered for Brazil, in order
to bring troops from the Yazoo River to New Orleans
to stop the rioting. The young operators therefore
visited another shipping-office to make inquiries as
to vessels for Brazil, and encountered an old Spaniard
who sat in a chair near the steamer agent's desk, and
to whom they explained their intentions. He had
lived and worked in South America, and was very
emphatic in his assertion, as he shook his yellow, bony
finger at them, that the worst mistake they could
possibly make would be to leave the United States.
He would not leave on any account, and they as
young Americans would always regret it if they forsook
their native land, whose freedom, climate, and
opportunities could not be equalled anywhere on the
face of the globe. Such sincere advice as this could
not be disdained, and Edison made his way North
again. One cannot resist speculation as to what might
have happened to Edison himself and to the develop-
ment of electricity had he made this proposed plunge
into the enervating tropics. It will be remembered
that at a somewhat similar crisis in life young Robert
Burns entertained seriously the idea of forsaking
Scotland for the West Indies. That he did not go
was certainly better for Scottish verse, to which he
contributed later so many immortal lines; and it was
probably better for himself, even if he died a gauger.
It is simply impossible to imagine Edison working
out the phonograph, telephone, and incandescent
lamp under the tropical climes he sought. Some years
later he was informed that both his companions had
gone to Vera Cruz, Mexico, and had died there of
yellow fever.

Work was soon resumed at Louisville, where the
dilapidated old office occupied at the close of the war
had been exchanged for one much more comfortable
and luxurious in its equipment. As before, Edison
was allotted to press report, and remembers very
distinctly taking the Presidential message and veto of
the District of Columbia bill by President Johnson.
As the matter was received over the wire he paragraphed
it so that each printer had exactly three
lines, thus enabling the matter to be set up very
expeditiously in the newspaper offices. This earned
him the gratitude of the editors, a dinner, and all the
newspaper "exchanges" he wanted. Edison's accounts
of the sprees and debauches of other night
operators in the loosely managed offices enable one to
understand how even a little steady application to
the work in hand would be appreciated. On one
occasion Edison acted as treasurer for his bibulous
companions, holding the stakes, so to speak, in order
that the supply of liquor might last longer. One of
the mildest mannered of the party took umbrage at
the parsimony of the treasurer and knocked him
down, whereupon the others in the party set upon
the assailant and mauled him so badly that he had
to spend three weeks in hospital. At another time
two of his companions sharing the temporary
hospitality of his room smashed most of the furniture,
and went to bed with their boots on. Then his kindly
good-nature rebelled. "I felt that this was running
hospitality into the ground, so I pulled them out and left
them on the floor to cool off from their alcoholic trance."

Edison seems on the whole to have been fairly
comfortable and happy in Louisville, surrounding himself
with books and experimental apparatus, and even
inditing a treatise on electricity. But his very thirst
for knowledge and new facts again proved his undoing.
The instruments in the handsome new offices
were fastened in their proper places, and operators
were strictly forbidden to remove them, or to use the
batteries except on regular work. This prohibition
meant little to Edison, who had access to no other
instruments except those of the company. "I went
one night," he says, "into the battery-room to obtain
some sulphuric acid for experimenting. The carboy
tipped over, the acid ran out, went through to the
manager's room below, and ate up his desk and all the
carpet. The next morning I was summoned before
him, and told that what the company wanted was
operators, not experimenters. I was at liberty to
take my pay and get out."

The fact that Edison is a very studious man, an
insatiate lover and reader of books, is well known to
his associates; but surprise is often expressed at his
fund of miscellaneous information. This, it will be
seen, is partly explained by his work for years as a
"press" reporter. He says of this: "The second
time I was in Louisville, they had moved into a new
office, and the discipline was now good. I took the
press job. In fact, I was a very poor sender, and
therefore made the taking of press report a specialty.
The newspaper men allowed me to come over after
going to press at 3 A.M. and get all the exchanges I
wanted. These I would take home and lay at the
foot of my bed. I never slept more than four or five
hours' so that I would awake at nine or ten and read
these papers until dinner-time. I thus kept posted,
and knew from their activity every member of Congress,
and what committees they were on; and all
about the topical doings, as well as the prices of
breadstuffs in all the primary markets. I was in a
much better position than most operators to call on
my imagination to supply missing words or sentences,
which were frequent in those days of old, rotten
wires, badly insulated, especially on stormy nights.
Upon such occasions I had to supply in some cases
one-fifth of the whole matter--pure guessing--but I
got caught only once. There had been some kind of
convention in Virginia, in which John Minor Botts
was the leading figure. There was great excitement
about it, and two votes had been taken in the
convention on the two days. There was no doubt that
the vote the next day would go a certain way. A
very bad storm came up about 10 o'clock, and my
wire worked very badly. Then there was a cessation
of all signals; then I made out the words `Minor
Botts.' The next was a New York item. I filled in
a paragraph about the convention and how the vote
had gone, as I was sure it would. But next day I
learned that instead of there being a vote the
convention had adjourned without action until the day
after." In like manner, it was at Louisville that Mr.
Edison got an insight into the manner in which great
political speeches are more frequently reported than
the public suspects. "The Associated Press had a
shorthand man travelling with President Johnson
when he made his celebrated swing around the circle
in a private train delivering hot speeches in defence
of his conduct. The man engaged me to write out
the notes from his reading. He came in loaded and
on the verge of incoherence. We started in, but about
every two minutes I would have to scratch out whole
paragraphs and insert the same things said in another
and better way. He would frequently change words,
always to the betterment of the speech. I couldn't
understand this, and when he got through, and I had
copied about three columns, I asked him why those
changes, if he read from notes. `Sonny,' he said,
`if these politicians had their speeches published as
they deliver them, a great many shorthand writers
would be out of a job. The best shorthanders and
the holders of good positions are those who can take
a lot of rambling, incoherent stuff and make a rattling
good speech out of it.' "

Going back to Cincinnati and beginning his second
term there as an operator, Edison found the office
in new quarters and with greatly improved management.
He was again put on night duty, much to his
satisfaction. He rented a room in the top floor of an
office building, bought a cot and an oil-stove, a foot
lathe, and some tools. He cultivated the acquaintance
of Mr. Sommers, superintendent of telegraph of
the Cincinnati & Indianapolis Railroad, who gave
him permission to take such scrap apparatus as he
might desire, that was of no use to the company.
With Sommers on one occasion he had an opportunity
to indulge his always strong sense of humor. "Sommers
was a very witty man," he says, "and fond of
experimenting. We worked on a self-adjusting telegraph
relay, which would have been very valuable if
we could have got it. I soon became the possessor
of a second-hand Ruhmkorff induction coil, which,
although it would only give a small spark, would
twist the arms and clutch the hands of a man so that
he could not let go of the apparatus. One day we
went down to the round-house of the Cincinnati &
Indianapolis Railroad and connected up the long wash-
tank in the room with the coil, one electrode being
connected to earth. Above this wash-room was a
flat roof. We bored a hole through the roof, and
could see the men as they came in. The first man
as he entered dipped his hands in the water. The
floor being wet he formed a circuit, and up went his
hands. He tried it the second time, with the same
result. He then stood against the wall with a
puzzled expression. We surmised that he was waiting
for somebody else to come in, which occurred
shortly after--with the same result. Then they went
out, and the place was soon crowded, and there was
considerable excitement. Various theories were
broached to explain the curious phenomenon. We
enjoyed the sport immensely." It must be remembered
that this was over forty years ago, when there
was no popular instruction in electricity, and when
its possibilities for practical joking were known to
very few. To-day such a crowd of working-men
would be sure to include at least one student of a
night school or correspondence course who would
explain the mystery offhand.

Note has been made of the presence of Ellsworth
in the Cincinnati office, and his service with the
Confederate guerrilla Morgan, for whom he tapped
Federal wires, read military messages, sent false ones,
and did serious mischief generally. It is well known
that one operator can recognize another by the way
in which he makes his signals--it is his style of
handwriting. Ellsworth possessed in a remarkable degree
the skill of imitating these peculiarities, and thus he
deceived the Union operators easily. Edison says
that while apparently a quiet man in bearing, Ellsworth,
after the excitement of fighting, found the
tameness of a telegraph office obnoxious, and that he
became a bad "gun man" in the Panhandle of Texas,
where he was killed. "We soon became acquainted,"
says Edison of this period in Cincinnati, "and he
wanted me to invent a secret method of sending
despatches so that an intermediate operator could not
tap the wire and understand it. He said that if it
could be accomplished, he could sell it to the Govern-
ment for a large sum of money. This suited me, and
I started in and succeeded in making such an
instrument, which had in it the germ of my quadruplex
now used throughout the world, permitting the despatch
of four messages over one wire simultaneously.
By the time I had succeeded in getting the apparatus
to work, Ellsworth suddenly disappeared. Many
years afterward I used this little device again for the
same purpose. At Menlo Park, New Jersey, I had
my laboratory. There were several Western Union
wires cut into the laboratory, and used by me in
experimenting at night. One day I sat near an instrument
which I had left connected during the night.
I soon found it was a private wire between New York
and Philadelphia, and I heard among a lot of stuff
a message that surprised me. A week after that I
had occasion to go to New York, and, visiting the
office of the lessee of the wire, I asked him if he hadn't
sent such and such a message. The expression that
came over his face was a sight. He asked me how I
knew of any message. I told him the circumstances,
and suggested that he had better cipher such
communications, or put on a secret sounder. The result
of the interview was that I installed for him my old
Cincinnati apparatus, which was used thereafter for
many years."

Edison did not make a very long stay in Cincinnati
this time, but went home after a while to Port Huron.
Soon tiring of idleness and isolation he sent "a cry
from Macedonia" to his old friend "Milt" Adams,
who was in Boston, and whom he wished to rejoin if
he could get work promptly in the East.

Edison himself gives the details of this eventful
move, when he went East to grow up with the new
art of electricity. "I had left Louisville the second
time, and went home to see my parents. After
stopping at home for some time, I got restless, and
thought I would like to work in the East. Knowing
that a former operator named Adams, who had worked
with me in the Cincinnati office, was in Boston, I wrote
him that I wanted a job there. He wrote back that
if I came on immediately he could get me in the
Western Union office. I had helped out the Grand
Trunk Railroad telegraph people by a new device
when they lost one of the two submarine cables they
had across the river, making the remaining cable
act just as well for their purpose, as if they had two.
I thought I was entitled to a pass, which they
conceded; and I started for Boston. After leaving
Toronto a terrific blizzard came up and the train got
snowed under in a cut. After staying there twenty-
four hours, the trainmen made snowshoes of fence-
rail splints and started out to find food, which they did
about a half mile away. They found a roadside inn,
and by means of snowshoes all the passengers were
taken to the inn. The train reached Montreal four
days late. A number of the passengers and myself
went to the military headquarters to testify in favor of
a soldier who was on furlough, and was two days late,
which was a serious matter with military people, I
learned. We willingly did this, for this soldier was
a great story-teller, and made the time pass quickly.
I met here a telegraph operator named Stanton,
who took me to his boarding-house, the most cheer-
less I have ever been in. Nobody got enough to eat;
the bedclothes were too short and too thin; it was
28 degrees below zero, and the wash-water was frozen
solid. The board was cheap, being only $1.50 per

"Stanton said that the usual live-stock accompaniment
of operators' boarding-houses was absent;
he thought the intense cold had caused them
to hibernate. Stanton, when I was working in Cincinnati,
left his position and went out on the Union
Pacific to work at Julesburg, which was a cattle town
at that time and very tough. I remember seeing him
off on the train, never expecting to see him again.
Six months afterward, while working press wire in
Cincinnati, about 2 A.M., there was flung into the middle
of the operating-room a large tin box. It made
a report like a pistol, and we all jumped up startled.
In walked Stanton. `Gentlemen,' he said `I have
just returned from a pleasure trip to the land beyond
the Mississippi. All my wealth is contained in my
metallic travelling case and you are welcome to it.'
The case contained one paper collar. He sat down,
and I noticed that he had a woollen comforter around
his neck with his coat buttoned closely. The night
was intensely warm. He then opened his coat and
revealed the fact that he had nothing but the bare
skin. `Gentlemen,' said he, `you see before you an
operator who has reached the limit of impecuniosity.' "
Not far from the limit of impecuniosity was Edison
himself, as he landed in Boston in 1868 after this
wintry ordeal.

This chapter has run to undue length, but it must
not close without one citation from high authority
as to the service of the military telegraph corps so
often referred to in it. General Grant in his
Memoirs, describing the movements of the Army of
the Potomac, lays stress on the service of his
telegraph operators, and says: "Nothing could be more
complete than the organization and discipline of this
body of brave and intelligent men. Insulated wires
were wound upon reels, two men and a mule detailed
to each reel. The pack-saddle was provided with a
rack like a sawbuck, placed crosswise, so that the
wheel would revolve freely; there was a wagon provided
with a telegraph operator, battery, and instruments
for each division corps and army, and for my
headquarters. Wagons were also loaded with light
poles supplied with an iron spike at each end to hold
the wires up. The moment troops were in position
to go into camp, the men would put up their wires.
Thus in a few minutes' longer time than it took a
mule to walk the length of its coil, telegraphic
communication would be effected between all the
headquarters of the army. No orders ever had to be given
to establish the telegraph."



MILTON ADAMS was working in the office of the
Franklin Telegraph Company in Boston when
he received Edison's appeal from Port Huron, and
with characteristic impetuosity at once made it his
business to secure a position for his friend. There
was no opening in the Franklin office, so Adams went
over to the Western Union office, and asked the manager,
Mr. George F. Milliken, if he did not want an
operator who, like young Lochinvar, came out of the
West. "What kind of copy does he make?" was the
cautious response. "I passed Edison's letter through
the window for his inspection. Milliken read it, and
a look of surprise came over his countenance as he
asked me if he could take it off the line like that. I
said he certainly could, and that there was nobody
who could stick him. Milliken said that if he was that
kind of an operator I could send for him, and I wrote
to Edison to come on, as I had a job for him in the
main office of the Western Union." Meantime Edison
had secured his pass over the Grand Trunk Railroad,
and spent four days and nights on the journey, suffering
extremes of cold and hunger. Franklin's arrival
in Philadelphia finds its parallel in the very modest
debut of Adams's friend in Boston.

It took only five minutes for Edison to get the
"job," for Superintendent Milliken, a fine type of
telegraph official, saw quickly through the superficialities,
and realized that it was no ordinary young
operator he was engaging. Edison himself tells the
story of what happened. "The manager asked me
when I was ready to go to work. `Now,' I replied
I was then told to return at 5.30 P.M., and punctually
at that hour I entered the main operating-room and
was introduced to the night manager. The weather
being cold, and being clothed poorly, my peculiar
appearance caused much mirth, and, as I afterward
learned, the night operators had consulted together
how they might `put up a job on the jay from the
woolly West.' I was given a pen and assigned to
the New York No. 1 wire. After waiting an hour,
I was told to come over to a special table and take a
special report for the Boston Herald, the conspirators
having arranged to have one of the fastest senders
in New York send the despatch and `salt' the new
man. I sat down unsuspiciously at the table, and
the New York man started slowly. Soon he increased
his speed, to which I easily adapted my
pace. This put my rival on his mettle, and he put
on his best powers, which, however, were soon reached.
At this point I happened to look up, and saw the
operators all looking over my shoulder, with their
faces shining with fun and excitement. I knew then
that they were trying to put up a job on me, but
kept my own counsel. The New York man then
commenced to slur over his words, running them together
and sticking the signals; but I had been used
to this style of telegraphy in taking report, and was
not in the least discomfited. Finally, when I thought
the fun had gone far enough, and having about completed
the special, I quietly opened the key and remarked,
telegraphically, to my New York friend:
`Say, young man, change off and send with your
other foot.' This broke the New York man all up,
and he turned the job over to another man to finish."

Edison had a distaste for taking press report, due
to the fact that it was steady, continuous work, and
interfered with the studies and investigations that
could be carried on in the intervals of ordinary
commercial telegraphy. He was not lazy in any sense.
While he had no very lively interest in the mere
routine work of a telegraph office, he had the profoundest
curiosity as to the underlying principles of
electricity that made telegraphy possible, and he
had an unflagging desire and belief in his own ability
to improve the apparatus he handled daily. The
whole intellectual atmosphere of Boston was favorable
to the development of the brooding genius in
this shy, awkward, studious youth, utterly indifferent
to clothes and personal appearance, but ready to
spend his last dollar on books and scientific
paraphernalia. It is matter of record that he did once
buy a new suit for thirty dollars in Boston, but the
following Sunday, while experimenting with acids in
his little workshop, the suit was spoiled. "That is
what I get for putting so much money in a new suit,"
was the laconic remark of the youth, who was more
than delighted to pick up a complete set of Faraday's
works about the same time. Adams says that when
Edison brought home these books at 4 A.M. he read
steadily until breakfast-time, and then he remarked,
enthusiastically: "Adams, I have got so much to do
and life is so short, I am going to hustle." And
thereupon he started on a run for breakfast. Edison
himself says: "It was in Boston I bought Faraday's
works. I think I must have tried about everything
in those books. His explanations were simple. He
used no mathematics. He was the Master Experimenter.
I don't think there were many copies of
Faraday's works sold in those days. The only people
who did anything in electricity were the
telegraphers and the opticians making simple school
apparatus to demonstrate the principles." One of
these firms was Palmer & Hall, whose catalogue of
1850 showed a miniature electric locomotive made
by Mr. Thomas Hall, and exhibited in operation the
following year at the Charitable Mechanics' Fair in
Boston. In 1852 Mr. Hall made for a Dr. A. L. Henderson,
of Buffalo, New York, a model line of railroad
with electric-motor engine, telegraph line, and electric
railroad signals, together with a figure operating the
signals at each end of the line automatically. This
was in reality the first example of railroad trains
moved by telegraph signals, a practice now so common
and universal as to attract no comment. To
show how little some fundamental methods can change
in fifty years, it may be noted that Hall conveyed the
current to his tiny car through forty feet of rail,
using the rail as conductor, just as Edison did more
than thirty years later in his historic experiments
for Villard at Menlo Park; and just as a large pro-
portion of American trolley systems do at this present

It was among such practical, investigating folk as
these that Edison was very much at home. Another
notable man of this stamp, with whom Edison was
thrown in contact, was the late Mr. Charles Williams,
who, beginning his career in the electrical field in
the forties, was at the height of activity as a maker
of apparatus when Edison arrived in the city; and
who afterward, as an associate of Alexander Graham
Bell, enjoyed the distinction of being the first
manufacturer in the world of telephones. At his Court
Street workshop Edison was a frequent visitor. Telegraph
repairs and experiments were going on constantly,
especially on the early fire-alarm telegraphs[1]
of Farmer and Gamewell, and with the aid of one of the
men there--probably George Anders--Edison worked
out into an operative model his first invention, a vote-
recorder, the first Edison patent, for which papers
were executed on October 11, 1868, and which was
taken out June 1, 1869, No. 90,646. The purpose of
this particular device was to permit a vote in the
National House of Representatives to be taken in a
minute or so, complete lists being furnished of all
members voting on the two sides of any question
Mr. Edison, in recalling the circumstances, says:
"Roberts was the telegraph operator who was the
financial backer to the extent of $100. The invention
when completed was taken to Washington. I think it
was exhibited before a committee that had something
to do with the Capitol. The chairman of the committee,
after seeing how quickly and perfectly it
worked, said: `Young man, if there is any invention
on earth that we don't want down here, it is this.
One of the greatest weapons in the hands of a minority
to prevent bad legislation is filibustering on
votes, and this instrument would prevent it.' I saw
the truth of this, because as press operator I had taken
miles of Congressional proceedings, and to this day
an enormous amount of time is wasted during each
session of the House in foolishly calling the members'
names and recording and then adding their
votes, when the whole operation could be done in
almost a moment by merely pressing a particular
button at each desk. For filibustering purposes,
however, the present methods are most admirable."
Edison determined from that time forth to devote
his inventive faculties only to things for which there
was a real, genuine demand, something that subserved
the actual necessities of humanity. This first
patent was taken out for him by the late Hon. Carroll
D. Wright, afterward U. S. Commissioner of Labor,
and a well-known publicist, then practicing patent law
in Boston. He describes Edison as uncouth in manner,
a chewer rather than a smoker of tobacco, but
full of intelligence and ideas.

[1] The general scheme of a fire-alarm telegraph system embodies
a central office to which notice can be sent from any number of
signal boxes of the outbreak of a fire in the district covered by
the box, the central office in turn calling out the nearest fire
engines, and warning the fire department in general of the
occurrence. Such fire alarms can be exchanged automatically, or
by operators, and are sometimes associated with a large fire-alarm
bell or whistle. Some boxes can be operated by the passing public;
others need special keys. The box mechanism is usually of
the ratchet, step-by-step movement, familiar in district messenger

Edison's curiously practical, though imaginative,
mind demanded realities to work upon, things that
belong to "human nature's daily food," and he soon
harked back to telegraphy, a domain in which he
was destined to succeed, and over which he was to
reign supreme as an inventor. He did not, however,
neglect chemistry, but indulged his tastes in that
direction freely, although we have no record that this
work was anything more, at that time, than the
carrying out of experiments outlined in the books.
The foundations were being laid for the remarkable
chemical knowledge that later on grappled successfully
with so many knotty problems in the realm of
chemistry; notably with the incandescent lamp and
the storage battery. Of one incident in his chemical
experiments he tells the following story: "I had read
in a scientific paper the method of making nitroglycerine,
and was so fired by the wonderful properties
it was said to possess, that I determined to make
some of the compound. We tested what we considered
a very small quantity, but this produced such
terrible and unexpected results that we became
alarmed, the fact dawning upon us that we had a very
large white elephant in our possession. At 6 A.M. I
put the explosive into a sarsaparilla bottle, tied a
string to it, wrapped it in a paper, and gently let it
down into the sewer, corner of State and Washington
Streets." The associate in this was a man whom he
had found endeavoring to make electrical apparatus
for sleight-of-hand performances.

In the Boston telegraph office at that time, as perhaps
at others, there were operators studying to en-
ter college; possibly some were already in attendance
at Harvard University. This condition was not unusual
at one time; the first electrical engineer graduated
from Columbia University, New York, followed
up his studies while a night operator, and came out
brilliantly at the head of his class. Edison says of
these scholars that they paraded their knowledge
rather freely, and that it was his delight to go to the
second-hand book stores on Cornhill and study up
questions which he could spring upon them when he
got an occasion. With those engaged on night duty
he got midnight lunch from an old Irishman called
"the Cake Man," who appeared regularly with his
wares at 12 midnight. "The office was on the
ground floor, and had been a restaurant previous to
its occupation by the Western Union Telegraph
Company. It was literally loaded with cockroaches,
which lived between the wall and the board running
around the room at the floor, and which came after
the lunch. These were such a bother on my table that
I pasted two strips of tinfoil on the wall at my desk,
connecting one piece to the positive pole of the big
battery supplying current to the wires and the negative
pole to the other strip. The cockroaches moving
up on the wall would pass over the strips. The moment
they got their legs across both strips there was
a flash of light and the cockroaches went into gas.
This automatic electrocuting device attracted so much
attention, and got half a column in an evening paper,
that the manager made me stop it." The reader will
remember that a similar plan of campaign against
rats was carried out by Edison while in the West.

About this time Edison had a narrow escape from
injury that might easily have shortened his career,
and he seems to have provoked the trouble more or
less innocently by using a little elementary chemistry.
"After being in Boston several months," he says,
"working New York wire No. 1, I was requested to
work the press wire, called the `milk route,' as there
were so many towns on it taking press simultaneously.
New York office had reported great delays on the
wire, due to operators constantly interrupting, or
`breaking,' as it was called, to have words repeated
which they had failed to get; and New York claimed
that Boston was one of the worst offenders. It was
a rather hard position for me, for if I took the report
without breaking, it would prove the previous Boston
operator incompetent. The results made the
operator have some hard feelings against me. He
was put back on the wire, and did much better after
that. It seems that the office boy was down on this
man. One night he asked me if I could tell him how
to fix a key so that it would not `break,' even if the
circuit-breaker was open, and also so that it could not
be easily detected. I told him to jab a penful of
ink on the platinum points, as there was sugar enough
to make it sufficiently thick to hold up when the
operator tried to break--the current still going through
the ink so that he could not break.

"The next night about 1 A.M. this operator, on the
press wire, while I was standing near a House printer
studying it, pulled out a glass insulator, then used
upside down as a substitute for an ink-bottle, and
threw it with great violence at me, just missing my
head. It would certainly have killed me if it had
not missed. The cause of the trouble was that this
operator was doing the best he could not to break,
but being compelled to, opened his key and found he
couldn't. The press matter came right along, and
he could not stop it. The office boy had put the ink
in a few minutes before, when the operator had
turned his head during a lull. He blamed me instinctively
as the cause of the trouble. Later on we
became good friends. He took his meals at the same
emaciator that I did. His main object in life seemed
to be acquiring the art of throwing up wash-pitchers
and catching them without breaking them. About
one-third of his salary was used up in paying for

One day a request reached the Western Union
Telegraph office in Boston, from the principal of a
select school for young ladies, to the effect that she
would like some one to be sent up to the school to
exhibit and describe the Morse telegraph to her
"children." There has always been a warm interest
in Boston in the life and work of Morse, who was born
there, at Charlestown, barely a mile from the birthplace
of Franklin, and this request for a little lecture
on Morse's telegraph was quite natural. Edison, who
was always ready to earn some extra money for his
experiments, and was already known as the best-
informed operator in the office, accepted the
invitation. What happened is described by Adams as
follows: "We gathered up a couple of sounders, a
battery, and sonic wire, and at the appointed time
called on her to do the stunt. Her school-room was
about twenty by twenty feet, not including a small
platform. We rigged up the line between the two
ends of the room, Edison taking the stage while I
was at the other end of the room. All being in
readiness, the principal was told to bring in her
children. The door opened and in came about twenty
young ladies elegantly gowned, not one of whom was
under seventeen. When Edison saw them I thought
he would faint. He called me on the line and asked
me to come to the stage and explain the mysteries of
the Morse system. I replied that I thought he was in
the right place, and told him to get busy with his talk
on dots and dashes. Always modest, Edison was so
overcome he could hardly speak, but he managed
to say, finally, that as his friend Mr. Adams was
better equipped with cheek than he was, we would
change places, and he would do the demonstrating
while I explained the whole thing. This caused the
bevy to turn to see where the lecturer was. I went
on the stage, said something, and we did some
telegraphing over the line. I guess it was satisfactory;
we got the money, which was the main point to us."
Edison tells the story in a similar manner, but insists
that it was he who saved the situation. "I managed
to say that I would work the apparatus, and Mr.
Adams would make the explanations. Adams was so
embarrassed that he fell over an ottoman. The girls
tittered, and this increased his embarrassment until he
couldn't say a word. The situation was so desperate
that for a reason I never could explain I started in
myself and talked and explained better than I ever did
before or since. I can talk to two or three persons;
but when there are more they radiate some unknown
form of influence which paralyzes my vocal cords.
However, I got out of this scrape, and many times
afterward when I chanced with other operators to meet
some of the young ladies on their way home from
school, they would smile and nod, much to the
mystification of the operators, who were ignorant of
this episode."

Another amusing story of this period of impecuniosity
and financial strain is told thus by Edison: "My
friend Adams was working in the Franklin Telegraph
Company, which competed with the Western Union.
Adams was laid off, and as his financial resources had
reached absolute zero centigrade, I undertook to let
him sleep in my hall bedroom. I generally had hall
bedrooms, because they were cheap and I needed
money to buy apparatus. I also had the pleasure of
his genial company at the boarding-house about a
mile distant, but at the sacrifice of some apparatus.
One morning, as we were hastening to breakfast, we
came into Tremont Row, and saw a large crowd in
front of two small `gents' furnishing goods stores.
We stopped to ascertain the cause of the excitement.
One store put up a paper sign in the display window
which said: `Three-hundred pairs of stockings received
this day, five cents a pair--no connection with the
store next door.' Presently the other store put up
a sign stating they had received three hundred pairs,
price three cents per pair, and stated that they had
no connection with the store next door. Nobody
went in. The crowd kept increasing. Finally, when
the price had reached three pairs for one cent, Adams
said to me: `I can't stand this any longer; give me
a cent.' I gave him a nickel, and he elbowed his way
in; and throwing the money on the counter, the
store being filled with women clerks, he said: `Give
me three pairs.' The crowd was breathless, and the
girl took down a box and drew out three pairs of
baby socks. `Oh!' said Adams, `I want men's size.'
`Well, sir, we do not permit one to pick sizes for that
amount of money.' And the crowd roared; and this
broke up the sales."

It has generally been supposed that Edison did not
take up work on the stock ticker until after his arrival
a little later in New York; but he says: "After the
vote-recorder I invented a stock ticker, and started
a ticker service in Boston; had thirty or forty
subscribers, and operated from a room over the Gold
Exchange. This was about a year after Callahan
started in New York." To say the least, this evidenced
great ability and enterprise on the part of
the youth. The dealings in gold during the Civil
War and after its close had brought gold indicators
into use, and these had soon been followed by "stock
tickers," the first of which was introduced in New
York in 1867. The success of this new but still
primitively crude class of apparatus was immediate.
Four manufacturers were soon busy trying to keep
pace with the demands for it from brokers; and the
Gold & Stock Telegraph Company formed to exploit
the system soon increased its capital from $200,000
to $300,000, paying 12 per cent. dividends on the
latter amount. Within its first year the capital was
again increased to $1,000,000, and dividends of 10
per cent. were paid easily on that sum also. It is
needless to say that such facts became quickly known
among the operators, from whose ranks, of course,
the new employees were enlisted; and it was a common
ambition among the more ingenious to produce
a new ticker. From the beginning, each phase of
electrical development--indeed, each step in
mechanics--has been accompanied by the well-known
phenomenon of invention; namely, the attempt of the
many to perfect and refine and even re-invent where
one or two daring spirits have led the way. The
figures of capitalization and profit just mentioned
were relatively much larger in the sixties than they
are to-day; and to impressionable young operators
they spelled illimitable wealth. Edison was, how
ever, about the only one in Boston of whom history
makes record as achieving any tangible result in this
new art; and he soon longed for the larger telegraphic
opportunity of New York. His friend, Milt Adams,
went West with quenchless zest for that kind of roving
life and aimless adventure of which the serious
minded Edison had already had more than enough.
Realizing that to New York he must look for further
support in his efforts, Edison, deep in debt for his
embryonic inventions, but with high hope and
courage, now made the next momentous step in his
career. He was far riper in experience and practice
of his art than any other telegrapher of his age, and
had acquired, moreover, no little knowledge of the
practical business of life. Note has been made above
of his invention of a stock ticker in Boston, and of
his establishing a stock-quotation circuit. This was
by no means all, and as a fitting close to this chapter
he may be quoted as to some other work and its perils
in experimentation: "I also engaged in putting up
private lines, upon which I used an alphabetical dial
instrument for telegraphing between business
establishments, a forerunner of modern telephony. This
instrument was very simple and practical, and any
one could work it after a few minutes' explanation.
I had these instruments made at Mr. Hamblet's, who
had a little shop where he was engaged in experimenting
with electric clocks. Mr. Hamblet was the
father and introducer in after years of the Western
Union Telegraph system of time distribution. My
laboratory was the headquarters for the men, and
also of tools and supplies for those private lines.
They were put up cheaply, as I used the roofs of
houses, just as the Western Union did. It never
occurred to me to ask permission from the owners;
all we did was to go to the store, etc., say we were
telegraph men, and wanted to go up to the wires on
the roof; and permission was always granted.

"In this laboratory I had a large induction coil
which I had borrowed to make some experiments with.
One day I got hold of both electrodes of the coil, and
it clinched my hand on them so that I couldn't let
go. The battery was on a shelf. The only way I
could get free was to back off and pull the coil, so
that the battery wires would pull the cells off the shelf
and thus break the circuit. I shut my eyes and
pulled, but the nitric acid splashed all over my face
and ran down my back. I rushed to a sink, which
was only half big enough, and got in as well as I could
and wiggled around for several minutes to permit
the water to dilute the acid and stop the pain. My
face and back were streaked with yellow; the skin
was thoroughly oxidized. I did not go on the street
by daylight for two weeks, as the appearance of my
face was dreadful. The skin, however, peeled off,
and new skin replaced it without any damage."



"THE letters and figures used in the language of
the tape," said a well-known Boston stock
speculator, "are very few, but they spell ruin in
ninety-nine million ways." It is not to be inferred,
however, that the modern stock ticker has anything
to do with the making or losing of fortunes. There
were regular daily stock-market reports in London
newspapers in 1825, and New York soon followed the
example. As far back as 1692, Houghton issued in
London a weekly review of financial and commercial
transactions, upon which Macaulay based the lively
narrative of stock speculation in the seventeenth
century, given in his famous history. That which
the ubiquitous stock ticker has done is to give
instantaneity to the news of what the stock market is
doing, so that at every minute, thousands of miles
apart, brokers, investors, and gamblers may learn
the exact conditions. The existence of such facilities
is to be admired rather than deplored. News is vital
to Wall Street, and there is no living man on whom
the doings in Wall Street are without effect. The
financial history of the United States and of the world,
as shown by the prices of government bonds and
general securities, has been told daily for forty years
on these narrow strips of paper tape, of which thousands
of miles are run yearly through the "tickers"
of New York alone. It is true that the record of the
chattering little machine, made in cabalistic abbreviations
on the tape, can drive a man suddenly to the
very verge of insanity with joy or despair; but if
there be blame for that, it attaches to the American
spirit of speculation and not to the ingenious mechanism
which reads and registers the beating of the
financial pulse.

Edison came first to New York in 1868, with his
early stock printer, which he tried unsuccessfully to
sell. He went back to Boston, and quite undismayed
got up a duplex telegraph. "Toward the end
of my stay in Boston," he says, "I obtained a loan
of money, amounting to $800, to build a peculiar
kind of duplex telegraph for sending two messages
over a single wire simultaneously. The apparatus
was built, and I left the Western Union employ and
went to Rochester, New York, to test the apparatus
on the lines of the Atlantic & Pacific Telegraph between
that city and New York. But the assistant at
the other end could not be made to understand anything,
notwithstanding I had written out a very
minute description of just what to do. After trying
for a week I gave it up and returned to New York
with but a few cents in my pocket." Thus he who
has never speculated in a stock in his life was destined
to make the beginnings of his own fortune by providing
for others the apparatus that should bring to the
eye, all over a great city, the momentary fluctuations
of stocks and bonds. No one could have been in
direr poverty than he when the steamboat landed
him in New York in 1869. He was in debt, and his
few belongings in books and instruments had to be
left behind. He was not far from starving. Mr.
W. S. Mallory, an associate of many years, quotes
directly from him on this point: "Some years ago
we had a business negotiation in New York which
made it necessary for Mr. Edison and me to visit the
city five or six times within a comparatively short
period. It was our custom to leave Orange about
11 A.M., and on arrival in New York to get our lunch
before keeping the appointments, which were usually
made for two o'clock. Several of these lunches were
had at Delmonico's, Sherry's, and other places of
similar character, but one day, while en route, Mr.
Edison said: `I have been to lunch with you several
times; now to-day I am going to take you to lunch
with me, and give you the finest lunch you ever had.'
When we arrived in Hoboken, we took the downtown
ferry across the Hudson, and when we arrived
on the Manhattan side Mr. Edison led the way to
Smith & McNell's, opposite Washington Market, and
well known to old New Yorkers. We went inside and
as soon as the waiter appeared Mr. Edison ordered
apple dumplings and a cup of coffee for himself. He
consumed his share of the lunch with the greatest
possible pleasure. Then, as soon as he had finished,
he went to the cigar counter and purchased cigars.
As we walked to keep the appointment he gave me
the following reminiscence: When he left Boston and
decided to come to New York he had only money
enough for the trip. After leaving the boat his first
thought was of breakfast; but he was without money
to obtain it. However, in passing a wholesale tea-
house he saw a man tasting tea, so he went in and
asked the `taster' if he might have some of the tea.
This the man gave him, and thus he obtained his first
breakfast in New York. He knew a telegraph operator
here, and on him he depended for a loan to tide
him over until such time as he should secure a position.
During the day he succeeded in locating this operator,
but found that he also was out of a job, and that the
best he could do was to loan him one dollar, which
he did. This small sum of money represented both
food and lodging until such time as work could be
obtained. Edison said that as the result of the time
consumed and the exercise in walking while he found
his friend, he was extremely hungry, and that he gave
most serious consideration as to what he should buy
in the way of food, and what particular kind of food
would be most satisfying and filling. The result was
that at Smith & McNell's he decided on apple dumplings
and a cup of coffee, than which he never ate anything
more appetizing. It was not long before he
was at work and was able to live in a normal manner."

During the Civil War, with its enormous increase
in the national debt and the volume of paper money,
gold had gone to a high premium; and, as ever, by its
fluctuations in price the value of all other commodities
was determined. This led to the creation of a
"Gold Room" in Wall Street, where the precious
metal could be dealt in; while for dealings in stocks
there also existed the "Regular Board," the "Open
Board," and the "Long Room." Devoted to one,
but the leading object of speculation, the "Gold
Room" was the very focus of all the financial and
gambling activity of the time, and its quotations
governed trade and commerce. At first notations in
chalk on a blackboard sufficed, but seeing their
inadequacy, Dr. S. S. Laws, vice-president and actual
presiding officer of the Gold Exchange, devised and
introduced what was popularly known as the "gold
indicator." This exhibited merely the prevailing
price of gold; but as its quotations changed from
instant to instant, it was in a most literal sense "the
cynosure of neighboring eyes." One indicator looked
upon the Gold Room; the other opened toward the
street. Within the exchange the face could easily be
seen high up on the west wall of the room, and the
machine was operated by Mr. Mersereau, the official
registrar of the Gold Board.

Doctor Laws, who afterward became President of
the State University of Missouri, was an inventor of
unusual ability and attainments. In his early youth
he had earned his livelihood in a tool factory; and,
apparently with his savings, he went to Princeton,
where he studied electricity under no less a teacher
than the famous Joseph Henry. At the outbreak of
the war in 1861 he was president of one of the
Presbyterian synodical colleges in the South, whose
buildings passed into the hands of the Government.
Going to Europe, he returned to New York in 1863,
and, becoming interested with a relative in financial
matters, his connection with the Gold Exchange soon
followed, when it was organized. The indicating
mechanism he now devised was electrical, controlled
at central by two circuit-closing keys, and was a
prototype of all the later and modern step-by-step printing
telegraphs, upon which the distribution of financial
news depends. The "fraction" drum of the indicator
could be driven in either direction, known as
the advance and retrograde movements, and was
divided and marked in eighths. It geared into a
"unit" drum, just as do speed-indicators and
cyclometers. Four electrical pulsations were required to
move the drum the distance between the fractions.
The general operation was simple, and in normally
active times the mechanism and the registrar were
equal to all emergencies. But it is obvious that the
record had to be carried away to the brokers' offices
and other places by messengers; and the delay,
confusion, and mistakes soon suggested to Doctor Laws
the desirability of having a number of indicators at
such scattered points, operated by a master transmitter,
and dispensing with the regiments of noisy
boys. He secured this privilege of distribution, and,
resigning from the exchange, devoted his exclusive
attention to the "Gold Reporting Telegraph," which
he patented, and for which, at the end of 1866, he
had secured fifty subscribers. His indicators were
small oblong boxes, in the front of which was a long
slot, allowing the dials as they travelled past, inside,
to show the numerals constituting the quotation;
the dials or wheels being arranged in a row
horizontally, overlapping each other, as in modern fare
registers which are now seen on most trolley cars.
It was not long before there were three hundred
subscribers; but the very success of this device brought
competition and improvement. Mr. E. A. Callahan,
an ingenious printing-telegraph operator, saw that
there were unexhausted possibilities in the idea, and

Book of the day: