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

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is a great discovery for electric light in the way of

This period of research on nickel, etc., was evidently
a trying one, for after nearly a month's close
application he writes, on January 27, 1879: "Owing
to the enormous power of the light my eyes commenced
to pain after seven hours' work, and I had
to quit." On the next day appears the following
entry: "Suffered the pains of hell with my eyes last
night from 10 P.M. till 4 A.M., when got to sleep with
a big dose of morphine. Eyes getting better, and
do not pain much at 4 P.M.; but I lose to-day."

The "try everything" spirit of Edison's method is
well illustrated in this early period by a series of
about sixteen hundred resistance tests of various ores,
minerals, earths, etc., occupying over fifty pages of
one of the note-books relating to the metallic filament
for his lamps.

But, as the reader has already learned, the metallic
filament was soon laid aside in favor of carbon, and
we find in the laboratory notes an amazing record of
research and experiment conducted in the minute
and searching manner peculiar to Edison's method.
His inquiries were directed along all the various roads
leading to the desired goal, for long before he had
completed the invention of a practical lamp he realized
broadly the fundamental requirements of a successful
system of electrical distribution, and had
given instructions for the making of a great variety
of calculations which, although far in advance of the
time, were clearly foreseen by him to be vitally
important in the ultimate solution of the complicated
problem. Thus we find many hundreds of pages of
the note-books covered with computations and
calculations by Mr. Upton, not only on the numerous
ramifications of the projected system and
comparisons with gas, but also on proposed forms of
dynamos and the proposed station in New York. A
mere recital by titles of the vast number of experiments
and tests on carbons, lamps, dynamos, armatures,
commutators, windings, systems, regulators,
sockets, vacuum-pumps, and the thousand and one
details relating to the subject in general, originated
by Edison, and methodically and systematically carried
on under his general direction, would fill a
great many pages here, and even then would serve
only to convey a confused impression of ceaseless

It is possible only to a broad, comprehensive mind
well stored with knowledge, and backed with resistless,
boundless energy, that such a diversified series
of experiments and investigations could be carried
on simultaneously and assimilated, even though they
should relate to a class of phenomena already understood
and well defined. But if we pause to consider
that the commercial subdivision of the electric current
(which was virtually an invention made to order)
involved the solution of problems so unprecedented
that even they themselves had to be created, we cannot
but conclude that the afflatus of innate genius
played an important part in the unique methods of
investigation instituted by Edison at that and other

The idea of attributing great successes to "genius"
has always been repudiated by Edison, as evidenced
by his historic remark that "Genius is 1 per cent.
inspiration and 99 per cent. perspiration." Again,
in a conversation many years ago at the laboratory
between Edison, Batchelor, and E. H. Johnson, the
latter made allusion to Edison's genius as evidenced
by some of his achievements, when Edison replied:

"Stuff! I tell you genius is hard work, stick-to-it-
iveness, and common sense."

"Yes," said Johnson, "I admit there is all that to
it, but there's still more. Batch and I have those
qualifications, but although we knew quite a lot about
telephones, and worked hard, we couldn't invent a
brand-new non-infringing telephone receiver as you
did when Gouraud cabled for one. Then, how about
the subdivision of the electric light?"

"Electric current," corrected Edison.

"True," continued Johnson; "you were the one
to make that very distinction. The scientific world
had been working hard on subdivision for years,
using what appeared to be common sense. Results
worse than nil. Then you come along, and about the
first thing you do, after looking the ground over, is
to start off in the opposite direction, which subsequently
proves to be the only possible way to reach
the goal. It seems to me that this is pretty close
to the dictionary definition of genius."

It is said that Edison replied rather incoherently
and changed the topic of conversation.

This innate modesty, however, does not prevent
Edison from recognizing and classifying his own
methods of investigation. In a conversation with
two old associates recently (April, 1909), he remarked:
"It has been said of me that my methods are empirical.
That is true only so far as chemistry is concerned.
Did you ever realize that practically all industrial
chemistry is colloidal in its nature? Hard
rubber, celluloid, glass, soap, paper, and lots of others,
all have to deal with amorphous substances, as to
which comparatively little has been really settled.
My methods are similar to those followed by Luther
Burbank. He plants an acre, and when this is in
bloom he inspects it. He has a sharp eye, and can
pick out of thousands a single plant that has promise
of what he wants. From this he gets the seed, and
uses his skill and knowledge in producing from it a
number of new plants which, on development, furnish
the means of propagating an improved variety
in large quantity. So, when I am after a chemical
result that I have in mind, I may make hundreds or
thousands of experiments out of which there may be
one that promises results in the right direction. This
I follow up to its legitimate conclusion, discarding
the others, and usually get what I am after. There is
no doubt about this being empirical; but when it
comes to problems of a mechanical nature, I want
to tell you that all I've ever tackled and solved have
been done by hard, logical thinking." The intense
earnestness and emphasis with which this was said
were very impressive to the auditors. This empirical
method may perhaps be better illustrated by a specific
example. During the latter part of the storage
battery investigations, after the form of positive
element had been determined upon, it became necessary
to ascertain what definite proportions and what quality
of nickel hydrate and nickel flake would give the
best results. A series of positive tubes were filled
with the two materials in different proportions--say,
nine parts hydrate to one of flake; eight parts
hydrate to two of flake; seven parts hydrate to three of
flake, and so on through varying proportions. Three
sets of each of these positives were made, and all put
into separate test tubes with a uniform type of negative
element. These were carried through a long series
of charges and discharges under strict test conditions.
From the tabulated results of hundreds of tests there
were selected three that showed the best results.
These, however, showed only the superiority of cer-
tain PROPORTIONS of the materials. The next step would
be to find out the best QUALITY. Now, as there are
several hundred variations in the quality of nickel
flake, and perhaps a thousand ways to make the
hydrate, it will be realized that Edison's methods led
to stupendous detail, for these tests embraced a trial
of all the qualities of both materials in the three
proportions found to be most suitable. Among these
many thousands of experiments any that showed
extraordinary results were again elaborated by still
further series of tests, until Edison was satisfied that
he had obtained the best result in that particular line.

The laboratory note-books do not always tell the
whole story or meaning of an experiment that may
be briefly outlined on one of their pages. For example,
the early filament made of a mixture of lampblack
and tar is merely a suggestion in the notes, but
its making afforded an example of Edison's
pertinacity. These materials, when mixed, became a
friable mass, which he had found could be brought
into such a cohesive, putty-like state by manipulation,
as to be capable of being rolled out into filaments as
fine as seven-thousandths of an inch in cross-section.
One of the laboratory assistants was told to make some
of this mixture, knead it, and roll some filaments.
After a time he brought the mass to Edison, and said:

"There's something wrong about this, for it crumbles
even after manipulating it with my fingers."

"How long did you knead it?" said Edison.

"Oh! more than an hour," replied the assistant.

"Well, just keep on for a few hours more and it
will come out all right," was the rejoinder. And this
proved to be correct, for, after a prolonged kneading
and rolling, the mass changed into a cohesive, stringy,
homogeneous putty. It was from a mixture of this
kind that spiral filaments were made and used in
some of the earliest forms of successful incandescent
lamps; indeed, they are described and illustrated in
Edison's fundamental lamp patent (No. 223,898).

The present narrative would assume the proportions
of a history of the incandescent lamp, should
the authors attempt to follow Edison's investigations
through the thousands of pages of note-books away
back in the eighties and early nineties. Improvement
of the lamp was constantly in his mind all those years,
and besides the vast amount of detail experimental
work he laid out for his assistants, he carried on a great
deal of research personally. Sometimes whole books
are filled in his own handwriting with records of
experiments showing every conceivable variation of some
particular line of inquiry; each trial bearing some
terse comment expressive of results. In one book
appear the details of one of these experiments on
September 3, 1891, at 4.30 A.M., with the comment:
"Brought up lamp higher than a 16-c.p. 240 was ever
brought before--Hurrah!" Notwithstanding the late
hour, he turns over to the next page and goes on to
write his deductions from this result as compared
with those previously obtained. Proceeding day by
day, as appears by this same book, he follows up another
line of investigation on lamps, apparently full
of difficulty, for after one hundred and thirty-two
other recorded experiments we find this note: "Saturday
3.30 went home disgusted with incandescent
lamps." This feeling was evidently evanescent, for
on the succeeding Monday the work was continued
and carried on by him as keenly as before, as shown
by the next batch of notes.

This is the only instance showing any indication of
impatience that the authors have found in looking
through the enormous mass of laboratory notes. All
his assistants agree that Edison is the most patient,
tireless experimenter that could be conceived of.
Failures do not distress him; indeed, he regards them
as always useful, as may be gathered from the following,
related by Dr. E. G. Acheson, formerly one
of his staff: "I once made an experiment in Edison's
laboratory at Menlo Park during the latter part of
1880, and the results were not as looked for. I
considered the experiment a perfect failure, and while
bemoaning the results of this apparent failure Mr.
Edison entered, and, after learning the facts of the
case, cheerfully remarked that I should not look
upon it as a failure, for he considered every experiment
a success, as in all cases it cleared up the atmosphere,
and even though it failed to accomplish the
results sought for, it should prove a valuable lesson
for guidance in future work. I believe that Mr.
Edison's success as an experimenter was, to a large
extent, due to this happy view of all experiments."

Edison has frequently remarked that out of a hundred
experiments he does not expect more than one
to be successful, and as to that one he is always
suspicious until frequent repetition has verified the
original results.

This patient, optimistic view of the outcome of
experiments has remained part of his character down
to this day, just as his painstaking, minute, incisive
methods are still unchanged. But to the careless,
stupid, or lazy person he is a terror for the short
time they remain around him. Honest mistakes may
be tolerated, but not carelessness, incompetence, or
lack of attention to business. In such cases Edison
is apt to express himself freely and forcibly, as when
he was asked why he had parted with a certain man,
he said: "Oh, he was so slow that it would take him
half an hour to get out of the field of a microscope."
Another instance will be illustrative. Soon after the
Brockton (Massachusetts) central station was started
in operation many years ago, he wrote a note to Mr.
W. S. Andrews, containing suggestions as to future
stations, part of which related to the various employees
and their duties. After outlining the duties
of the meter man, Edison says: "I should not take
too young a man for this, say, a man from twenty-
three to thirty years old, bright and businesslike.
Don't want any one who yearns to enter a laboratory
and experiment. We have a bad case of that at
Brockton; he neglects business to potter. What we
want is a good lamp average and no unprofitable
customer. You should have these men on probation
and subject to passing an examination by me.
This will wake them up."

Edison's examinations are no joke, according to Mr.
J. H. Vail, formerly one of the Menlo Park staff. "I
wanted a job," he said, "and was ambitious to take
charge of the dynamo-room. Mr. Edison led me to
a heap of junk in a corner and said: `Put that to-
gether and let me know when it's running.' I didn't
know what it was, but received a liberal education in
finding out. It proved to be a dynamo, which I
finally succeeded in assembling and running. I got
the job." Another man who succeeded in winning a
place as assistant was Mr. John F. Ott, who has remained
in his employ for over forty years. In 1869,
when Edison was occupying his first manufacturing
shop (the third floor of a small building in Newark),
he wanted a first-class mechanician, and Mr. Ott was
sent to him. "He was then an ordinary-looking young
fellow," says Mr. Ott, "dirty as any of the other
workmen, unkempt, and not much better dressed
than a tramp, but I immediately felt that there was
a great deal in him." This is the conversation that
ensued, led by Mr. Edison's question:

"What do you want?"

" Work."

"Can you make this machine work?" (exhibiting
it and explaining its details).


"Are you sure?"

"Well, you needn't pay me if I don't."

And thus Mr. Ott went to work and succeeded in
accomplishing the results desired. Two weeks afterward
Mr. Edison put him in charge of the shop.

Edison's life fairly teems with instances of unruffled
patience in the pursuit of experiments. When
he feels thoroughly impressed with the possibility of
accomplishing a certain thing, he will settle down
composedly to investigate it to the end.

This is well illustrated in a story relating to his
invention of the type of storage battery bearing his
name. Mr. W. S. Mallory, one of his closest associates
for many years, is the authority for the following:
"When Mr. Edison decided to shut down the ore-
milling plant at Edison, New Jersey, in which I had
been associated with him, it became a problem as to
what he could profitably take up next, and we had
several discussions about it. He finally thought that
a good storage battery was a great requisite, and
decided to try and devise a new type, for he declared
emphatically he would make no battery requiring
sulphuric acid. After a little thought he conceived
the nickel-iron idea, and started to work at once
with characteristic energy. About 7 or 7.30 A.M. he
would go down to the laboratory and experiment,
only stopping for a short time at noon to eat a lunch
sent down from the house. About 6 o'clock the carriage
would call to take him to dinner, from which he
would return by 7.30 or 8 o'clock to resume work.
The carriage came again at midnight to take him
home, but frequently had to wait until 2 or 3 o'clock,
and sometimes return without him, as he had decided
to continue all night.

"This had been going on more than five months,
seven days a week, when I was called down to the
laboratory to see him. I found him at a bench about
three feet wide and twelve to fifteen feet long, on which
there were hundreds of little test cells that had been
made up by his corps of chemists and experimenters.
He was seated at this bench testing, figuring, and
planning. I then learned that he had thus made
over nine thousand experiments in trying to devise
this new type of storage battery, but had not produced
a single thing that promised to solve the question.
In view of this immense amount of thought
and labor, my sympathy got the better of my judgment,
and I said: `Isn't it a shame that with the
tremendous amount of work you have done you
haven't been able to get any results?' Edison turned
on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: `Results!
Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know
several thousand things that won't work.'

"At that time he sent me out West on a special
mission. On my return, a few weeks later, his
experiments had run up to over ten thousand, but he
had discovered the missing link in the combination
sought for. Of course, we all remember how the
battery was completed and put on the market.
Then, because he was dissatisfied with it, he stopped
the sales and commenced a new line of investigation,
which has recently culminated successfully. I
shouldn't wonder if his experiments on the battery
ran up pretty near to fifty thousand, for they fill
more than one hundred and fifty of the note-books,
to say nothing of some thousands of tests in curve

Although Edison has an absolute disregard for the
total outlay of money in investigation, he is particular
to keep down the cost of individual experiments to a
minimum, for, as he observed to one of his assistants:
"A good many inventors try to develop things life-
size, and thus spend all their money, instead of first
experimenting more freely on a small scale." To
Edison life is not only a grand opportunity to find
out things by experiment, but, when found, to improve
them by further experiment. One night, after
receiving a satisfactory report of progress from Mr.
Mason, superintendent of the cement plant, he said:
"The only way to keep ahead of the procession is to
experiment. If you don't, the other fellow will.
When there's no experimenting there's no progress.
Stop experimenting and you go backward. If anything
goes wrong, experiment until you get to the
very bottom of the trouble."

It is easy to realize, therefore, that a character so
thoroughly permeated with these ideas is not apt to
stop and figure out expense when in hot pursuit of
some desired object. When that object has been
attained, however, and it passes from the experimental
to the commercial stage, Edison's monetary views
again come into strong play, but they take a
diametrically opposite position, for he then begins
immediately to plan the extreme of economy in the
production of the article. A thousand and one instances
could be quoted in illustration; but as they
would tend to change the form of this narrative into
a history of economy in manufacture, it will suffice
to mention but one, and that a recent occurrence,
which serves to illustrate how closely he keeps in
touch with everything, and also how the inventive
faculty and instinct of commercial economy run
close together. It was during Edison's winter stay
in Florida, in March, 1909. He had reports sent to
him daily from various places, and studied them
carefully, for he would write frequently with comments,
instructions, and suggestions; and in one
case, commenting on the oiling system at the cement
plant, he wrote: "Your oil losses are now getting
lower, I see." Then, after suggesting some changes
to reduce them still further, he went on to say:
"Here is a chance to save a mill per barrel based on
your regular daily output."

This thorough consideration of the smallest detail
is essentially characteristic of Edison, not only in
economy of manufacture, but in all his work, no matter
of what kind, whether it be experimenting,
investigating, testing, or engineering. To follow him
through the labyrinthine paths of investigation
contained in the great array of laboratory note-books is
to become involved in a mass of minutely detailed
searches which seek to penetrate the inmost recesses
of nature by an ultimate analysis of an infinite variety
of parts. As the reader will obtain a fuller comprehension
of this idea, and of Edison's methods, by concrete
illustration rather than by generalization, the
authors have thought it well to select at random
two typical instances of specific investigations out of
the thousands that are scattered through the notebooks.
These will be found in the following extracts
from one of the note-books, and consist of Edison's
instructions to be carried out in detail by his

"Take, say, 25 lbs. hard Cuban asphalt and separate all
the different hydrocarbons, etc., as far as possible by
means of solvents. It will be necessary first to dissolve
everything out by, say, hot turpentine, then successively
treat the residue with bisulphide carbon, benzol, ether,
chloroform, naphtha, toluol, alcohol, and other probable
solvents. After you can go no further, distil off all the
solvents so the asphalt material has a tar-like consistency.
Be sure all the ash is out of the turpentine portion; now,
after distilling the turpentine off, act on the residue with
all the solvents that were used on the residue, using for
the first the solvent which is least likely to dissolve a great
part of it. By thus manipulating the various solvents
you will be enabled probably to separate the crude
asphalt into several distinct hydrocarbons. Put each in
a bottle after it has been dried, and label the bottle with
the process, etc., so we may be able to duplicate it; also
give bottle a number and describe everything fully in

" Destructively distil the following substances down to
a point just short of carbonization, so that the residuum
can be taken out of the retort, powdered, and acted on
by all the solvents just as the asphalt in previous page.
The distillation should be carried to, say, 600 degrees or 700 degrees
Fahr., but not continued long enough to wholly reduce
mass to charcoal, but always run to blackness. Separate
the residuum in as many definite parts as possible, bottle
and label, and keep accurate records as to process,
weights, etc., so a reproduction of the experiment can at
any time be made: Gelatine, 4 lbs.; asphalt, hard
Cuban, 10 lbs.; coal-tar or pitch, 10 lbs.; wood-pitch,
10 lbs.; Syrian asphalt, 10 lbs.; bituminous coal, 10 lbs.;
cane-sugar, 10 lbs.; glucose, 10 lbs.; dextrine, 10 lbs.;
glycerine, 10 lbs.; tartaric acid, 5 lbs.; gum guiac, 5 lbs.;
gum amber, 3 lbs.; gum tragacanth, 3 Lbs.; aniline red,
1 lb.; aniline oil, 1 lb.; crude anthracene, 5 lbs.; petroleum
pitch, 10 lbs.; albumen from eggs, 2 lbs.; tar from
passing chlorine through aniline oil, 2 lbs.; citric acid,
5 lbs.; sawdust of boxwood, 3 lbs.; starch, 5 lbs.; shellac,
3 lbs.; gum Arabic, 5 lbs.; castor oil, 5 lbs."

The empirical nature of his method will be apparent
from an examination of the above items; but in pur-
suing it he leaves all uncertainty behind and, trusting
nothing to theory, he acquires absolute knowledge.
Whatever may be the mental processes by which he
arrives at the starting-point of any specific line of
research, the final results almost invariably prove
that he does not plunge in at random; indeed, as an
old associate remarked: "When Edison takes up
any proposition in natural science, his perceptions
seem to be elementally broad and analytical, that
is to say, in addition to the knowledge he has
acquired from books and observation, he appears to
have an intuitive apprehension of the general order
of things, as they might be supposed to exist in
natural relation to each other. It has always seemed
to me that he goes to the core of things at once."

Although nothing less than results from actual experiments
are acceptable to him as established facts,
this view of Edison may also account for his peculiar
and somewhat weird ability to "guess" correctly, a
faculty which has frequently enabled him to take
short cuts to lines of investigation whose outcome has
verified in a most remarkable degree statements
apparently made offhand and without calculation.
Mr. Upton says: "One of the main impressions left
upon me, after knowing Mr. Edison for many years,
is the marvellous accuracy of his guesses. He will
see the general nature of a result long before it can
be reached by mathematical calculation." This was
supplemented by one of his engineering staff, who
remarked: "Mr. Edison can guess better than a
good many men can figure, and so far as my experience
goes, I have found that he is almost invariably
correct. His guess is more than a mere starting-
point, and often turns out to be the final solution of
a problem. I can only account for it by his remarkable
insight and wonderful natural sense of the proportion
of things, in addition to which he seems to
carry in his head determining factors of all kinds,
and has the ability to apply them instantly in
considering any mechanical problem."

While this mysterious intuitive power has been of
the greatest advantage in connection with the vast
number of technical problems that have entered into
his life-work, there have been many remarkable instances
in which it has seemed little less than prophecy,
and it is deemed worth while to digress to the extent
of relating two of them. One day in the summer of
1881, when the incandescent lamp-industry was still
in swaddling clothes, Edison was seated in the room
of Major Eaton, vice-president of the Edison Electric
Light Company, talking over business matters, when
Mr. Upton came in from the lamp factory at Menlo
Park, and said: "Well, Mr. Edison, we completed a
thousand lamps to-day." Edison looked up and
said "Good," then relapsed into a thoughtful mood.
In about two minutes he raised his head, and said:
"Upton, in fifteen years you will be making forty
thousand lamps a day." None of those present
ventured to make any remark on this assertion,
although all felt that it was merely a random guess,
based on the sanguine dream of an inventor. The
business had not then really made a start, and being
entirely new was without precedent upon which to
base any such statement, but, as a matter of fact, the
records of the lamp factory show that in 1896 its
daily output of lamps was actually about forty

The other instance referred to occurred shortly
after the Edison Machine Works was moved up to
Schenectady, in 1886. One day, when he was at the
works, Edison sat down and wrote on a sheet of paper
fifteen separate predictions of the growth and future
of the electrical business. Notwithstanding the fact
that the industry was then in an immature state, and
that the great boom did not set in until a few years
afterward, twelve of these predictions have been fully
verified by the enormous growth and development in
all branches of the art.

What the explanation of this gift, power, or intuition
may be, is perhaps better left to the psychologist
to speculate upon. If one were to ask Edison,
he would probably say, "Hard work, not too much
sleep, and free use of the imagination." Whether or
not it would be possible for the average mortal to
arrive at such perfection of "guessing" by faithfully
following this formula, even reinforced by the Edison
recipe for stimulating a slow imagination with pastry,
is open for demonstration.

Somewhat allied to this curious faculty is another
no less remarkable, and that is, the ability to point
out instantly an error in a mass of reported experimental
results. While many instances could be definitely
named, a typical one, related by Mr. J. D.
Flack, formerly master mechanic at the lamp factory,
may be quoted: "During the many years of lamp
experimentation, batches of lamps were sent to the
photometer department for test, and Edison would
examine the tabulated test sheets. He ran over
every item of the tabulations rapidly, and, apparently
without any calculation whatever, would check off
errors as fast as he came to them, saying: `You have
made a mistake; try this one over.' In every case
the second test proved that he was right. This wonderful
aptitude for infallibly locating an error without
an instant's hesitation for mental calculation, has
always appealed to me very forcibly."

The ability to detect errors quickly in a series of
experiments is one of the things that has enabled
Edison to accomplish such a vast amount of work
as the records show. Examples of the minuteness of
detail into which his researches extend have already
been mentioned, and as there are always a number
of such investigations in progress at the laboratory,
this ability stands Edison in good stead, for he is
thus enabled to follow, and, if necessary, correct each
one step by step. In this he is aided by the great
powers of a mind that is able to free itself from
absorbed concentration on the details of one problem,
and instantly to shift over and become deeply and
intelligently concentrated in another and entirely
different one. For instance, he may have been busy
for hours on chemical experiments, and be called
upon suddenly to determine some mechanical questions.
The complete and easy transition is the constant
wonder of his associates, for there is no confusion
of ideas resulting from these quick changes,
no hesitation or apparent effort, but a plunge into
the midst of the new subject, and an instant acquaint-
ance with all its details, as if he had been studying
it for hours.

A good stiff difficulty--one which may, perhaps, appear
to be an unsurmountable obstacle--only serves to
make Edison cheerful, and brings out variations of his
methods in experimenting. Such an occurrence will
start him thinking, which soon gives rise to a line
of suggestions for approaching the trouble from various
sides; or he will sit down and write out a series
of eliminations, additions, or changes to be worked
out and reported upon, with such variations as may
suggest themselves during their progress. It is at
such times as these that his unfailing patience and
tremendous resourcefulness are in evidence. Ideas and
expedients are poured forth in a torrent, and although
some of them have temporarily appeared to
the staff to be ridiculous or irrelevant, they have
frequently turned out to be the ones leading to a
correct solution of the trouble.

Edison's inexhaustible resourcefulness and fertility
of ideas have contributed largely to his great
success, and have ever been a cause of amazement
to those around him. Frequently, when it
would seem to others that the extreme end of an
apparently blind alley had been reached, and that it
was impossible to proceed further, he has shown that
there were several ways out of it. Examples without
number could be quoted, but one must suffice by way
of illustration. During the progress of the ore-milling
work at Edison, it became desirable to carry on
a certain operation by some special machinery. He
requested the proper person on his engineering staff
to think this matter up and submit a few sketches
of what he would propose to do. He brought three
drawings to Edison, who examined them and said
none of them would answer. The engineer remarked
that it was too bad, for there was no other way to
do it. Mr. Edison turned to him quickly, and said:
"Do you mean to say that these drawings represent
the only way to do this work?" To which he received
the reply: "I certainly do." Edison said
nothing. This happened on a Saturday. He followed
his usual custom of spending Sunday at home
in Orange. When he returned to the works on
Monday morning, he took with him sketches he had
made, showing FORTY-EIGHT other ways of accomplishing
the desired operation, and laid them on the engineer's
desk without a word. Subsequently one of
these ideas, with modifications suggested by some of
the others, was put into successful practice.

Difficulties seem to have a peculiar charm for
Edison, whether they relate to large or small things;
and although the larger matters have contributed
most to the history of the arts, the same carefulness
of thought has often been the means of leading to
improvements of permanent advantage even in
minor details. For instance, in the very earliest
days of electric lighting, the safe insulation of two
bare wires fastened together was a serious problem
that was solved by him. An iron pot over a fire, some
insulating material melted therein, and narrow strips
of linen drawn through it by means of a wooden
clamp, furnished a readily applied and adhesive
insulation, which was just as perfect for the purpose
as the regular and now well-known insulating tape,
of which it was the forerunner.

Dubious results are not tolerated for a moment
in Edison's experimental work. Rather than pass
upon an uncertainty, the experiment will be dissected
and checked minutely in order to obtain absolute
knowledge, pro and con. This searching method
is followed not only in chemical or other investigations,
into which complexities might naturally enter,
but also in more mechanical questions, where simplicity
of construction might naturally seem to preclude
possibilities of uncertainty. For instance, at
the time when he was making strenuous endeavors
to obtain copper wire of high conductivity, strict
laboratory tests were made of samples sent by
manufacturers. One of these samples tested out poorer
than a previous lot furnished from the same factory.
A report of this to Edison brought the following
note: "Perhaps the ---- wire had a bad spot in it.
Please cut it up into lengths and test each one and
send results to me immediately." Possibly the electrical
fraternity does not realize that this earnest
work of Edison, twenty-eight years ago, resulted in
the establishment of the high quality of copper wire
that has been the recognized standard since that
time. Says Edison on this point: "I furnished the
expert and apparatus to the Ansonia Brass and Copper
Company in 1883, and he is there yet. It was this
expert and this company who pioneered high-conductivity
copper for the electrical trade."

Nor is it generally appreciated in the industry that
the adoption of what is now regarded as a most ob-
vious proposition--the high-economy incandescent
lamp--was the result of that characteristic foresight
which there has been occasion to mention frequently
in the course of this narrative, together with the
courage and "horse-sense" which have always been
displayed by the inventor in his persistent pushing
out with far-reaching ideas, in the face of pessimistic
opinions. As is well known, the lamps of the first
ten or twelve years of incandescent lighting were of
low economy, but had long life. Edison's study of
the subject had led him to the conviction that the
greatest growth of the electric-lighting industry
would be favored by a lamp taking less current, but
having shorter, though commercially economical life;
and after gradually making improvements along this
line he developed, finally, a type of high-economy
lamp which would introduce a most radical change
in existing conditions, and lead ultimately to highly
advantageous results. His start on this lamp, and
an expressed desire to have it manufactured for regular
use, filled even some of his business associates
with dismay, for they could see nothing but disaster
ahead in forcing such a lamp on the market. His
persistence and profound conviction of the ultimate
results were so strong and his arguments so sound,
however, that the campaign was entered upon.
Although it took two or three years to convince the
public of the correctness of his views, the idea gradually
took strong root, and has now become an integral
principle of the business.

In this connection it may be noted that with
remarkable prescience Edison saw the coming of the
modern lamps of to-day, which, by reason of their
small consumption of energy to produce a given
candle-power, have dismayed central-station managers.
A few years ago a consumption of 3.1 watts
per candle-power might safely be assumed as an
excellent average, and many stations fixed their
rates and business on such a basis. The results on
income when the consumption, as in the new metallic-
filament lamps, drops to 1.25 watts per candle can
readily be imagined. Edison has insisted that central
stations are selling light and not current; and
he points to the predicament now confronting them
as truth of his assertion that when selling light they
share in all the benefits of improvement, but that
when they sell current the consumer gets all those
benefits without division. The dilemma is encountered
by central stations in a bewildered way,
as a novel and unexpected experience; but Edison
foresaw the situation and warned against it long ago.
It is one of the greatest gifts of statesmanship to see
new social problems years before they arise and
solve them in advance. It is one of the greatest
attributes of invention to foresee and meet its own
problems in exactly the same way.



A LIVING interrogation-point and a born investigator
from childhood, Edison has never been without
a laboratory of some kind for upward of half a

In youthful years, as already described in this book,
he became ardently interested in chemistry, and even
at the early age of twelve felt the necessity for a
special nook of his own, where he could satisfy his
unconvinced mind of the correctness or inaccuracy
of statements and experiments contained in the few
technical books then at his command.

Ordinarily he was like other normal lads of his age
--full of boyish, hearty enjoyments--but withal possessed
of an unquenchable spirit of inquiry and an
insatiable desire for knowledge. Being blessed with
a wise and discerning mother, his aspirations were
encouraged; and he was allowed a corner in her
cellar. It is fair to offer tribute here to her bravery
as well as to her wisdom, for at times she was in mortal
terror lest the precocious experimenter below
should, in his inexperience, make some awful
combination that would explode and bring down the
house in ruins on himself and the rest of the family.

Fortunately no such catastrophe happened, but
young Edison worked away in his embryonic laboratory,
satisfying his soul and incidentally depleting
his limited pocket-money to the vanishing-point. It
was, indeed, owing to this latter circumstance that in
a year or two his aspirations necessitated an increase
of revenue; and a consequent determination to earn
some money for himself led to his first real commercial
enterprise as "candy butcher" on the Grand Trunk
Railroad, already mentioned in a previous chapter.
It has also been related how his precious laboratory
was transferred to the train; how he and it were
subsequently expelled; and how it was re-established in
his home, where he continued studies and experiments
until the beginning of his career as a telegraph

The nomadic life of the next few years did not
lessen his devotion to study; but it stood seriously
in the way of satisfying the ever-present craving for
a laboratory. The lack of such a place never prevented
experimentation, however, as long as he had
a dollar in his pocket and some available "hole in
the wall." With the turning of the tide of fortune
that suddenly carried him, in New York in 1869, from
poverty to the opulence of $300 a month, he drew
nearer to a realization of his cherished ambition in
having money, place, and some time (stolen from
sleep) for more serious experimenting. Thus matters
continued until, at about the age of twenty-two,
Edison's inventions had brought him a relatively
large sum of money, and he became a very busy
manufacturer, and lessee of a large shop in Newark,
New Jersey.

Now, for the first time since leaving that boyish
laboratory in the old home at Port Huron, Edison
had a place of his own to work in, to think in; but
no one in any way acquainted with Newark as a
swarming centre of miscellaneous and multitudinous
industries would recommend it as a cloistered retreat
for brooding reverie and introspection, favorable to
creative effort. Some people revel in surroundings
of hustle and bustle, and find therein no hindrance
to great accomplishment. The electrical genius of
Newark is Edward Weston, who has thriven amid its
turmoil and there has developed his beautiful
instruments of precision; just as Brush worked out his
arc-lighting system in Cleveland; or even as Faraday,
surrounded by the din and roar of London, laid the
intellectual foundations of the whole modern science
of dynamic electricity. But Edison, though deaf,
could not make too hurried a retreat from Newark
to Menlo Park, where, as if to justify his change of
base, vital inventions soon came thick and fast, year
after year. The story of Menlo has been told in
another chapter, but the point was not emphasized
that Edison then, as later, tried hard to drop
manufacturing. He would infinitely rather be philosopher
than producer; but somehow the necessity of
manufacturing is constantly thrust back upon him by a
profound--perhaps finical--sense of dissatisfaction
with what other people make for him. The world
never saw a man more deeply and desperately convinced
that nothing in it approaches perfection. Edison
is the doctrine of evolution incarnate, applied to
mechanics. As to the removal from Newark, he may
be allowed to tell his own story: "I had a shop at
Newark in which I manufactured stock tickers and
such things. When I moved to Menlo Park I took
out only the machinery that would be necessary for
experimental purposes and left the manufacturing
machinery in the place. It consisted of many milling
machines and other tools for duplicating. I rented
this to a man who had formerly been my bookkeeper,
and who thought he could make money out of
manufacturing. There was about $10,000 worth of
machinery. He was to pay me $2000 a year for the
rent of the machinery and keep it in good order.
After I moved to Menlo Park, I was very busy with
the telephone and phonograph, and I paid no attention
to this little arrangement. About three years
afterward, it occurred to me that I had not heard at
all from the man who had rented this machinery, so
I thought I would go over to Newark and see how
things were going. When I got there, I found that
instead of being a machine shop it was a hotel! I
have since been utterly unable to find out what be
came of the man or the machinery." Such incidents
tend to justify Edison in his rather cynical remark
that he has always been able to improve machinery
much quicker than men. All the way up he has had
discouraging experiences. "One day while I was
carrying on my work in Newark, a Wall Street broker
came from the city and said he was tired of the
`Street,' and wanted to go into something real. He
said he had plenty of money. He wanted some kind
of a job to keep his mind off Wall Street. So we gave
him a job as a `mucker' in chemical experiments.
The second night he was there he could not stand the
long hours and fell asleep on a sofa. One of the boys
took a bottle of bromine and opened it under the
sofa. It floated up and produced a violent effect on
the mucous membrane. The broker was taken with
such a fit of coughing he burst a blood-vessel, and
the man who let the bromine out got away and never
came back. I suppose he thought there was going
to be a death. But the broker lived, and left the
next day; and I have never seen him since, either."
Edison tells also of another foolhardy laboratory
trick of the same kind: "Some of my assistants in
those days were very green in the business, as I did
not care whether they had had any experience or
not. I generally tried to turn them loose. One day
I got a new man, and told him to conduct a certain
experiment. He got a quart of ether and started to
boil it over a naked flame. Of course it caught fire.
The flame was about four feet in diameter and eleven
feet high. We had to call out the fire department;
and they came down and put a stream through the
window. That let all the fumes and chemicals out
and overcame the firemen; and there was the devil to
pay. Another time we experimented with a tub full of
soapy water, and put hydrogen into it to make large
bubbles. One of the boys, who was washing bottles in
the place, had read in some book that hydrogen was
explosive, so he proceeded to blow the tub up. There
was about four inches of soap in the bottom of the
tub, fourteen inches high; and he filled it with soap
bubbles up to the brim. Then he took a bamboo
fish-pole, put a piece of paper at the end, and
touched it off. It blew every window out of the

Always a shrewd, observant, and kindly critic of
character, Edison tells many anecdotes of the men
who gathered around him in various capacities at
that quiet corner of New Jersey--Menlo Park--and
later at Orange, in the Llewellyn Park laboratory;
and these serve to supplement the main narrative by
throwing vivid side-lights on the whole scene. Here,
for example, is a picture drawn by Edison of a
laboratory interlude--just a bit Rabelaisian: "When
experimenting at Menlo Park we had all the way from
forty to fifty men. They worked all the time. Each
man was allowed from four to six hours' sleep. We
had a man who kept tally, and when the time came
for one to sleep, he was notified. At midnight we
had lunch brought in and served at a long table at
which the experimenters sat down. I also had an
organ which I procured from Hilbourne Roosevelt--
uncle of the ex-President--and we had a man play
this organ while we ate our lunch. During the summer-
time, after we had made something which was
successful, I used to engage a brick-sloop at Perth
Amboy and take the whole crowd down to the fishing-
banks on the Atlantic for two days. On one occasion
we got outside Sandy Hook on the banks and anchored.
A breeze came up, the sea became rough,
and a large number of the men were sick. There was
straw in the bottom of the boat, which we all slept
on. Most of the men adjourned to this straw very
sick. Those who were not got a piece of rancid salt
pork from the skipper, and cut a large, thick slice
out of it. This was put on the end of a fish-hook
and drawn across the men's faces. The smell was
terrific, and the effect added to the hilarity of the

"I went down once with my father and two assistants
for a little fishing inside Sandy Hook. For some
reason or other the fishing was very poor. We anchored,
and I started in to fish. After fishing for
several hours there was not a single bite. The others
wanted to pull up anchor, but I fished two days and
two nights without a bite, until they pulled up anchor
and went away. I would not give up. I was going
to catch that fish if it took a week."

This is general. Let us quote one or two piquant
personal observations of a more specific nature as to
the odd characters Edison drew around him in his
experimenting. "Down at Menlo Park a man came
in one day and wanted a job. He was a sailor. I
hadn't any particular work to give him, but I had a
number of small induction coils, and to give him
something to do I told him to fix them up and sell
them among his sailor friends. They were fixed up,
and he went over to New York and sold them all.
He was an extraordinary fellow. His name was
Adams. One day I asked him how long it was since
he had been to sea, and he replied two or three years.
I asked him how he had made a living in the mean
time, before he came to Menlo Park. He said he
made a pretty good living by going around to different
clinics and getting $10 at each clinic, because of
having the worst case of heart-disease on record. I
told him if that was the case he would have to be very
careful around the laboratory. I had him there to
help in experimenting, and the heart-disease did not
seem to bother him at all.

"It appeared that he had once been a slaver; and
altogether he was a tough character. Having no
other man I could spare at that time, I sent him over
with my carbon transmitter telephone to exhibit it
in England. It was exhibited before the Post-Office
authorities. Professor Hughes spent an afternoon in
examining the apparatus, and in about a month came
out with his microphone, which was absolutely nothing
more nor less than my exact invention. But no
mention was made of the fact that, just previously,
he had seen the whole of my apparatus. Adams
stayed over in Europe connected with the telephone
for several years, and finally died of too much whiskey
--but not of heart-disease. This shows how whiskey
is the more dangerous of the two.

"Adams said that at one time he was aboard a
coffee-ship in the harbor of Santos, Brazil. He fell
down a hatchway and broke his arm. They took
him up to the hospital--a Portuguese one--where he
could not speak the language, and they did not
understand English. They treated him for two weeks for
yellow fever! He was certainly the most profane
man we ever had around the laboratory. He stood
high in his class."

And there were others of a different stripe. "We
had a man with us at Menlo called Segredor. He was
a queer kind of fellow. The men got in the habit of
plaguing him; and, finally, one day he said to the
assembled experimenters in the top room of the
laboratory: `The next man that does it, I will kill
him.' They paid no attention to this, and next day
one of them made some sarcastic remark to him.
Segredor made a start for his boarding-house, and
when they saw him coming back up the hill with a
gun, they knew there would be trouble, so they all
made for the woods. One of the men went back and
mollified him. He returned to his work; but he was
not teased any more. At last, when I sent men out
hunting for bamboo, I dispatched Segredor to Cuba.
He arrived in Havana on Tuesday, and on the Friday
following he was buried, having died of the black
vomit. On the receipt of the news of his death, half
a dozen of the men wanted his job, but my searcher
in the Astor Library reported that the chances of
finding the right kind of bamboo for lamps in Cuba
were very small; so I did not send a substitute."

Another thumb-nail sketch made of one of his
associates is this: "When experimenting with vacuum-
pumps to exhaust the incandescent lamps, I required
some very delicate and close manipulation of glass,
and hired a German glass-blower who was said to be
the most expert man of his kind in the United States.
He was the only one who could make clinical thermometers.
He was the most extraordinarily conceited
man I have ever come across. His conceit was
so enormous, life was made a burden to him by all
the boys around the laboratory. He once said that
he was educated in a university where all the students
belonged to families of the aristocracy; and the highest
class in the university all wore little red caps.
He said HE wore one."

Of somewhat different caliber was "honest" John
Kruesi, who first made his mark at Menlo Park, and
of whom Edison says: "One of the workmen I had
at Menlo Park was John Kruesi, who afterward became,
from his experience, engineer of the lighting
station, and subsequently engineer of the Edison
General Electric Works at Schenectady. Kruesi was
very exact in his expressions. At the time we were
promoting and putting up electric-light stations in
Pennsylvania, New York, and New England, there
would be delegations of different people who proposed
to pay for these stations. They would come to our
office in New York, at `65,' to talk over the specifications,
the cost, and other things. At first, Mr. Kruesi
was brought in, but whenever a statement was made
which he could not understand or did not believe could
be substantiated, he would blurt right out among
these prospects that he didn't believe it. Finally
it disturbed these committees so much, and raised so
many doubts in their minds, that one of my chief
associates said: `Here, Kruesi, we don't want you to
come to these meetings any longer. You are too painfully
honest.' I said to him: `We always tell the
truth. It may be deferred truth, but it is the truth.'
He could not understand that."

Various reasons conspired to cause the departure
from Menlo Park midway in the eighties. For Edison,
in spite of the achievement with which its name
will forever be connected, it had lost all its attractions
and all its possibilities. It had been outgrown
in many ways, and strange as the remark may seem,
it was not until he had left it behind and had settled
in Orange, New Jersey, that he can be said to have
given definite shape to his life. He was only forty
in 1887, and all that he had done up to that time,
tremendous as much of it was, had worn a haphazard,
Bohemian air, with all the inconsequential freedom
and crudeness somehow attaching to pioneer life.
The development of the new laboratory in West
Orange, just at the foot of Llewellyn Park, on the
Orange Mountains, not only marked the happy beginning
of a period of perfect domestic and family
life, but saw in the planning and equipment of a
model laboratory plant the consummation of youthful
dreams, and of the keen desire to enjoy resources
adequate at any moment to whatever strain the fierce
fervor of research might put upon them. Curiously
enough, while hitherto Edison had sought to
dissociate his experimenting from his manufacturing,
here he determined to develop a large industry to
which a thoroughly practical laboratory would be a
central feature, and ever a source of suggestion and
inspiration. Edison's standpoint to-day is that an
evil to be dreaded in manufacture is that of over-
standardization, and that as soon as an article is
perfect that is the time to begin improving it. But he
who would improve must experiment.

The Orange laboratory, as originally planned, consisted
of a main building two hundred and fifty feet
long and three stories in height, together with four
other structures, each one hundred by twenty-five
feet, and only one story in height. All these were
substantially built of brick. The main building was
divided into five chief divisions--the library, office,
machine shops, experimental and chemical rooms,
and stock-room. The use of the smaller buildings
will be presently indicated.

Surrounding the whole was erected a high picket
fence with a gate placed on Valley Road. At this
point a gate-house was provided and put in charge
of a keeper, for then, as at the present time, Edison
was greatly sought after; and, in order to accomplish
any work at all, he was obliged to deny himself to all
but the most important callers. The keeper of the
gate was usually chosen with reference to his capacity
for stony-hearted implacability and adherence to
instructions; and this choice was admirably made in
one instance when a new gateman, not yet thoroughly
initiated, refused admittance to Edison himself. It
was of no use to try and explain. To the gateman
EVERY ONE was persona non grata without proper
credentials, and Edison had to wait outside until he
could get some one to identify him.

On entering the main building the first doorway
from the ample passage leads the visitor into a handsome
library finished throughout in yellow pine,
occupying the entire width of the building, and
almost as broad as long. The centre of this spacious
room is an open rectangular space about forty by
twenty-five feet, rising clear about forty feet
from the main floor to a panelled ceiling. Around
the sides of the room, bounding this open space, run
two tiers of gallery, divided, as is the main floor
beneath them; into alcoves of liberal dimensions. These
alcoves are formed by racks extending from floor to
ceiling, fitted with shelves, except on two sides of both
galleries, where they are formed by a series of glass-
fronted cabinets containing extensive collections of
curious and beautiful mineralogical and geological
specimens, among which is the notable Tiffany-Kunz
collection of minerals acquired by Edison some years
ago. Here and there in these cabinets may also be
found a few models which he has used at times in his
studies of anatomy and physiology.

The shelves on the remainder of the upper gallery
and part of those on the first gallery are filled with
countless thousands of specimens of ores and minerals
of every conceivable kind gathered from all parts of
the world, and all tagged and numbered. The remaining
shelves of the first gallery are filled with current
numbers (and some back numbers) of the numerous
periodicals to which Edison subscribes. Here
may be found the popular magazines, together with
those of a technical nature relating to electricity,
chemistry, engineering, mechanics, building, cement,
building materials, drugs, water and gas, power,
automobiles, railroads, aeronautics, philosophy, hygiene,
physics, telegraphy, mining, metallurgy, metals,
music, and others; also theatrical weeklies, as well
as the proceedings and transactions of various learned
and technical societies.

The first impression received as one enters on the
main floor of the library and looks around is that of
noble proportions and symmetry as a whole. The
open central space of liberal dimensions and height,
flanked by the galleries and relieved by four handsome
electric-lighting fixtures suspended from the
ceiling by long chains, conveys an idea of lofty
spaciousness; while the huge open fireplace, surmounted
by a great clock built into the wall, at one
end of the room, the large rugs, the arm-chairs
scattered around, the tables and chairs in the alcoves,
give a general air of comfort combined with utility.
In one of the larger alcoves, at the sunny end of the
main hall, is Edison's own desk, where he may usually
be seen for a while in the early morning hours looking
over his mail or otherwise busily working on matters
requiring his attention.

At the opposite end of the room, not far from the
open fireplace, is a long table surrounded by swivel
desk-chairs. It is here that directors' meetings are
sometimes held, and also where weighty matters are
often discussed by Edison at conference with his
closer associates. It has been the privilege of the
writers to be present at some of these conferences,
not only as participants, but in some cases as lookers-
on while awaiting their turn. On such occasions an
interesting opportunity is offered to study Edison
in his intense and constructive moods. Apparently
oblivious to everything else, he will listen with
concentrated mind and close attention, and then pour
forth a perfect torrent of ideas and plans, and,
if the occasion calls for it, will turn around to the
table, seize a writing-pad and make sketch after
sketch with lightning-like rapidity, tearing off each
sheet as filled and tossing it aside to the floor. It
is an ordinary indication that there has been an
interesting meeting when the caretaker about fills a
waste-basket with these discarded sketches.

Directly opposite the main door is a beautiful
marble statue purchased by Edison at the Paris
Exposition in 1889, on the occasion of his visit there.
The statue, mounted on a base three feet high, is an
allegorical representation of the supremacy of electric
light over all other forms of illumination, carried out
by the life-size figure of a youth with half-spread
wings seated upon the ruins of a street gas-lamp,
holding triumphantly high above his head an electric
incandescent lamp. Grouped about his feet are a
gear-wheel, voltaic pile, telegraph key, and telephone.
This work of art was executed by A. Bordiga, of Rome,
held a prominent place in the department devoted to
Italian art at the Paris Exposition, and naturally
appealed to Edison as soon as he saw it.

In the middle distance, between the entrance door
and this statue, has long stood a magnificent palm,
but at the present writing it has been set aside to
give place to a fine model of the first type of the
Edison poured cement house, which stands in a
miniature artificial lawn upon a special table prepared
for it; while on the floor at the foot of the
table are specimens of the full-size molds in which
the house will be cast.

The balustrades of the galleries and all other available
places are filled with portraits of great scientists
and men of achievement, as well as with pictures of historic
and scientific interest. Over the fireplace hangs
a large photograph showing the Edison cement plant
in its entire length, flanked on one end of the mantel
by a bust of Humboldt, and on the other by a statuette
of Sandow, the latter having been presented to Edison
by the celebrated athlete after the visit he made to
Orange to pose for the motion pictures in the earliest
days of their development. On looking up under
the second gallery at this end is seen a great roll
resting in sockets placed on each side of the room.
This is a huge screen or curtain which may be drawn
down to the floor to provide a means of projection
for lantern slides or motion pictures, for the
entertainment or instruction of Edison and his guests.
In one of the larger alcoves is a large terrestrial globe
pivoted in its special stand, together with a relief
map of the United States; and here and there are
handsomely mounted specimens of underground
conductors and electric welds that were made at the
Edison Machine Works at Schenectady before it was
merged into the General Electric Company. On two
pedestals stand, respectively, two other mementoes
of the works, one a fifteen-light dynamo of the Edison
type, and the other an elaborate electric fan--both
of them gifts from associates or employees.

In noting these various objects of interest one
must not lose sight of the fact that this part of the
building is primarily a library, if indeed that fact did
not at once impress itself by a glance at the well-
filled unglazed book-shelves in the alcoves of the
main floor. Here Edison's catholic taste in reading
becomes apparent as one scans the titles of
thousands of volumes ranged upon the shelves,
for they include astronomy, botany, chemistry,
dynamics, electricity, engineering, forestry, geology,
geography, mechanics, mining, medicine, metallurgy,
magnetism, philosophy, psychology, physics, steam,
steam-engines, telegraphy, telephony, and many
others. Besides these there are the journals and
proceedings of numerous technical societies;
encyclopaedias of various kinds; bound series of important
technical magazines; a collection of United States
and foreign patents, embracing some hundreds of
volumes, together with an extensive assortment of
miscellaneous books of special and general interest.
There is another big library up in the house on the
hill--in fact, there are books upon books all over the
home. And wherever they are, those books are read.

As one is about to pass out of the library attention
is arrested by an incongruity in the form of a cot,
which stands in an alcove near the door. Here Edison,
throwing himself down, sometimes seeks a short
rest during specially long working tours. Sleep is
practically instantaneous and profound, and he awakes
in immediate and full possession of his faculties,
arising from the cot and going directly "back to the
job" without a moment's hesitation, just as a person
wide awake would arise from a chair and proceed to
attend to something previously determined upon.

Immediately outside the library is the famous
stock-room, about which much has been written and
invented. Its fame arose from the fact that Edison
planned it to be a repository of some quantity, great
or small, of every known and possibly useful substance
not readily perishable, together with the most
complete assortment of chemicals and drugs that
experience and knowledge could suggest. Always
strenuous in his experimentation, and the living
embodiment of the spirit of the song, I Want What I
Want When I Want It, Edison had known for years
what it was to be obliged to wait, and sometimes
lack, for some substance or chemical that he thought
necessary to the success of an experiment. Naturally
impatient at any delay which interposed in his
insistent and searching methods, and realizing the
necessity of maintaining the inspiration attending
his work at any time, he determined to have within
his immediate reach the natural resources of the

Hence it is not surprising to find the stock-room
not only a museum, but a sample-room of nature, as
well as a supply department. To a casual visitor the
first view of this heterogeneous collection is quite
bewildering, but on more mature examination it resolves
itself into a natural classification--as, for instance,
objects pertaining to various animals, birds,
and fishes, such as skins, hides, hair, fur, feathers,
wool, quills, down, bristles, teeth, bones, hoofs,
horns, tusks, shells; natural products, such as woods,
barks, roots, leaves, nuts, seeds, herbs, gums, grains,
flours, meals, bran; also minerals in great assortment;
mineral and vegetable oils, clay, mica, ozokerite,
etc. In the line of textiles, cotton and silk
threads in great variety, with woven goods of all
kinds from cheese-cloth to silk plush. As for paper,
there is everything in white and colored, from thinnest
tissue up to the heaviest asbestos, even a few
newspapers being always on hand. Twines of all
sizes, inks, waxes, cork, tar, resin, pitch, turpentine,
asphalt, plumbago, glass in sheets and tubes; and a
host of miscellaneous articles revealed on looking
around the shelves, as well as an interminable col-
lection of chemicals, including acids, alkalies, salts,
reagents, every conceivable essential oil and all the
thinkable extracts. It may be remarked that this
collection includes the eighteen hundred or more
fluorescent salts made by Edison during his experimental
search for the best material for a fluoroscope
in the initial X-ray period. All known metals in
form of sheet, rod and tube, and of great variety in
thickness, are here found also, together with a most
complete assortment of tools and accessories for machine
shop and laboratory work.

The list is confined to the merest general mention
of the scope of this remarkable and interesting collection,
as specific details would stretch out into a
catalogue of no small proportions. When it is
stated, however, that a stock clerk is kept
exceedingly busy all day answering the numerous and
various demands upon him, the reader will appreciate
that this comprehensive assortment is not merely a
fad of Edison's, but stands rather as a substantial
tribute to his wide-angled view of possible requirements
as his various investigations take him far afield.
It has no counterpart in the world!

Beyond the stock-room, and occupying about half
the building on the same floor, lie a machine shop,
engine-room, and boiler-room. This machine shop is
well equipped, and in it is constantly employed a
large force of mechanics whose time is occupied in
constructing the heavier class of models and mechanical
devices called for by the varied experiments and
inventions always going on.

Immediately above, on the second floor, is found
another machine shop in which is maintained a corps
of expert mechanics who are called upon to do work
of greater precision and fineness, in the construction
of tools and experimental models. This is the realm
presided over lovingly by John F. Ott, who has been
Edison's designer of mechanical devices for over
forty years. He still continues to ply his craft with
unabated skill and oversees the work of the mechanics
as his productions are wrought into concrete shape.

In one of the many experimental-rooms lining the
sides of the second floor may usually be seen his
younger brother, Fred Ott, whose skill as a dexterous
manipulator and ingenious mechanic has found
ample scope for exercise during the thirty-two years
of his service with Edison, not only at the regular
laboratories, but also at that connected with the
inventor's winter home in Florida. Still another
of the Ott family, the son of John F., for some
years past has been on the experimental staff of the
Orange laboratory. Although possessing in no small
degree the mechanical and manipulative skill of the
family, he has chosen chemistry as his special domain,
and may be found with the other chemists in one of
the chemical-rooms.

On this same floor is the vacuum-pump room with
a glass-blowers' room adjoining, both of them historic
by reason of the strenuous work done on incandescent
lamps and X-ray tubes within their walls.
The tools and appliances are kept intact, for Edison
calls occasionally for their use in some of his later
experiments, and there is a suspicion among the
laboratory staff that some day he may resume work
on incandescent lamps. Adjacent to these rooms are
several others devoted to physical and mechanical
experiments, together with a draughting-room.

Last to be mentioned, but the first in order as
one leaves the head of the stairs leading up to this
floor, is No. 12, Edison's favorite room, where he
will frequently be found. Plain of aspect, being
merely a space boarded off with tongued-and-grooved
planks--as all the other rooms are--without ornament
or floor covering, and containing only a few
articles of cheap furniture, this room seems to exercise
a nameless charm for him. The door is always
open, and often he can be seen seated at a plain table
in the centre of the room, deeply intent on some of
the numerous problems in which he is interested.
The table is usually pretty well filled with specimens
or data of experimental results which have been put
there for his examination. At the time of this writing
these specimens consist largely of sections of
positive elements of the storage battery, together
with many samples of nickel hydrate, to which
Edison devotes deep study. Close at hand is a microscope
which is in frequent use by him in these investigations.
Around the room, on shelves, are hundreds
of bottles each containing a small quantity of
nickel hydrate made in as many different ways, each
labelled correspondingly. Always at hand will be
found one or two of the laboratory note-books, with
frequent entries or comments in the handwriting which
once seen is never forgotten.

No. 12 is at times a chemical, a physical, or a
mechanical room--occasionally a combination of all,
while sometimes it might be called a consultation-
room or clinic--for often Edison may be seen there in
animated conference with a group of his assistants;
but its chief distinction lies in its being one of his
favorite haunts, and in the fact that within its walls
have been settled many of the perplexing problems
and momentous questions that have brought about
great changes in electrical and engineering arts during
the twenty-odd years that have elapsed since the
Orange laboratory was built.

Passing now to the top floor the visitor finds himself
at the head of a broad hall running almost the
entire length of the building, and lined mostly with
glass-fronted cabinets containing a multitude of
experimental incandescent lamps and an immense
variety of models of phonographs, motors, telegraph
and telephone apparatus, meters, and a host of other
inventions upon which Edison's energies have at one
time and another been bent. Here also are other
cabinets containing old papers and records, while
further along the wall are piled up boxes of historical
models and instruments. In fact, this hallway, with
its conglomerate contents, may well be considered
a scientific attic. It is to be hoped that at no distant
day these Edisoniana will be assembled and arranged
in a fireproof museum for the benefit of posterity.

In the front end of the building, and extending
over the library, is a large room intended originally and
used for a time as the phonograph music-hall for
record-making, but now used only as an experimental-
room for phonograph work, as the growth of the
industry has necessitated a very much larger and
more central place where records can be made on a
commercial scale. Even the experimental work imposes
no slight burden on it. On each side of the
hallway above mentioned, rooms are partitioned off
and used for experimental work of various kinds,
mostly phonographic, although on this floor are also
located the storage-battery testing-room, a chemical
and physical room and Edison's private office, where
all his personal correspondence and business affairs
are conducted by his personal secretary, Mr. H. F.
Miller. A visitor to this upper floor of the laboratory
building cannot but be impressed with a consciousness
of the incessant efforts that are being made to
improve the reproducing qualities of the phonograph,
as he hears from all sides the sounds of vocal and
instrumental music constantly varying in volume and
timbre, due to changes in the experimental devices
under trial.

The traditions of the laboratory include cots placed
in many of the rooms of these upper floors, but that
was in the earlier years when the strenuous scenes
of Menlo Park were repeated in the new quarters.
Edison and his closest associates were accustomed
to carry their labors far into the wee sma' hours,
and when physical nature demanded a respite from
work, a short rest would be obtained by going to bed
on a cot. One would naturally think that the wear
and tear of this intense application, day after day
and night after night, would have tended to induce
a heaviness and gravity of demeanor in these busy
men; but on the contrary, the old spirit of good-
humor and prankishness was ever present, as its fre-
quent outbursts manifested from time to time. One
instance will serve as an illustration. One morning,
about 2.30, the late Charles Batchelor announced that
he was tired and would go to bed. Leaving Edison
and the others busily working, he went out and returned
quietly in slippered feet, with his nightgown
on, the handle of a feather duster stuck down his
back with the feathers waving over his head, and his
face marked. With unearthly howls and shrieks, a
l'Indien, he pranced about the room, incidentally giving
Edison a scare that made him jump up from his
work. He saw the joke quickly, however, and joined
in the general merriment caused by this prank.

Leaving the main building with its corps of busy
experimenters, and coming out into the spacious
yard, one notes the four long single-story brick
structures mentioned above. The one nearest the Valley
Road is called the galvanometer-room, and was
originally intended by Edison to be used for the most
delicate and minute electrical measurements. In
order to provide rigid resting-places for the numerous
and elaborate instruments he had purchased for this
purpose, the building was equipped along three-
quarters of its length with solid pillars, or tables, of
brick set deep in the earth. These were built up to
a height of about two and a half feet, and each was
surmounted with a single heavy slab of black marble.
A cement floor was laid, and every precaution was
taken to render the building free from all magnetic
influences, so that it would be suitable for electrical
work of the utmost accuracy and precision. Hence,
iron and steel were entirely eliminated in its con-
struction, copper being used for fixtures for steam
and water piping, and, indeed, for all other purposes
where metal was employed.

This room was for many years the headquarters of
Edison's able assistant, Dr. A. E. Kennelly, now professor
of electrical engineering in Harvard University
to whose energetic and capable management were intrusted
many scientific investigations during his long
sojourn at the laboratory. Unfortunately, however, for
the continued success of Edison's elaborate plans, he
had not been many years established in the laboratory
before a trolley road through West Orange was projected
and built, the line passing in front of the plant
and within seventy-five feet of the galvanometer-
room, thus making it practically impossible to use
it for the delicate purposes for which it was originally

For some time past it has been used for photography
and some special experiments on motion pictures as
well as for demonstrations connected with physical
research; but some reminders of its old-time glory
still remain in evidence. In lofty and capacious
glass-enclosed cabinets, in company with numerous
models of Edison's inventions, repose many of the
costly and elaborate instruments rendered useless by
the ubiquitous trolley. Instruments are all about,
on walls, tables, and shelves, the photometer is covered
up; induction coils of various capacities, with
other electrical paraphernalia, lie around, almost as
if the experimenter were absent for a few days but
would soon return and resume his work.

In numbering the group of buildings, the galva-
nometer-room is No. 1, while the other single-story
structures are numbered respectively 2, 3, and 4.
On passing out of No. 1 and proceeding to the succeeding
building is noticed, between the two, a garage
of ample dimensions and a smaller structure, at the
door of which stands a concrete-mixer. In this
small building Edison has made some of his most
important experiments in the process of working out
his plans for the poured house. It is in this little
place that there was developed the remarkable mixture
which is to play so vital a part in the successful
construction of these everlasting homes for
living millions.

Drawing near to building No. 2, olfactory evidence
presents itself of the immediate vicinity of a chemical
laboratory. This is confirmed as one enters the door
and finds that the entire building is devoted to
chemistry. Long rows of shelves and cabinets filled
with chemicals line the room; a profusion of retorts,
alembics, filters, and other chemical apparatus on
numerous tables and stands, greet the eye, while a
corps of experimenters may be seen busy in the
preparation of various combinations, some of which are
boiling or otherwise cooking under their dexterous

It would not require many visits to discover that
in this room, also, Edison has a favorite nook. Down
at the far end in a corner are a plain little table and
chair, and here he is often to be found deeply immersed
in a study of the many experiments that are
being conducted. Not infrequently he is actively
engaged in the manipulation of some compound of
special intricacy, whose results might be illuminative
of obscure facts not patent to others than himself.
Here, too, is a select little library of chemical literature.

The next building, No. 3, has a double mission--
the farther half being partitioned off for a pattern-
making shop, while the other half is used as a store-
room for chemicals in quantity and for chemical
apparatus and utensils. A grimly humorous incident,
as related by one of the laboratory staff, attaches to
No. 3. It seems that some time ago one of the
helpers in the chemical department, an excitable
foreigner, became dissatisfied with his wages, and
after making an unsuccessful application for an
increase, rushed in desperation to Edison, and said
"Eef I not get more money I go to take ze cyanide
potassia." Edison gave him one quick, searching
glance and, detecting a bluff, replied in an offhand
manner: "There's a five-pound bottle in No. 3," and
turned to his work again. The foreigner did not go
to get the cyanide, but gave up his job.

The last of these original buildings, No. 4, was used
for many years in Edison's ore-concentrating experiments,
and also for rough-and-ready operations of
other kinds, such as furnace work and the like. At
the present writing it is used as a general stock-room.

In the foregoing details, the reader has been afforded
but a passing glance at the great practical working
equipment which constitutes the theatre of Edison's
activities, for, in taking a general view of such a
unique and comprehensive laboratory plant, its salient
features only can be touched upon to advantage.
It would be but repetition to enumerate here the practical
results of the laboratory work during the past two
decades, as they appear on other pages of this work.
Nor can one assume for a moment that the history
of Edison's laboratory is a closed book. On the contrary,
its territorial boundaries have been increasing
step by step with the enlargement of its labors, until
now it has been obliged to go outside its own proper
domains to occupy some space in and about the great
Edison industrial buildings and space immediately
adjacent. It must be borne in mind that the laboratory
is only the core of a group of buildings devoted
to production on a huge scale by hundreds of artisans.

Incidental mention has already been made of the
laboratory at Edison's winter residence in Florida,
where he goes annually to spend a month or six
weeks. This is a miniature copy of the Orange laboratory,
with its machine shop, chemical-room, and general
experimental department. While it is only in
use during his sojourn there, and carries no extensive
corps of assistants, the work done in it is not of a
perfunctory nature, but is a continuation of his regular
activities, and serves to keep him in touch with the
progress of experiments at Orange, and enables him
to give instructions for their variation and continuance
as their scope is expanded by his own investigations
made while enjoying what he calls "vacation." What
Edison in Florida speaks of as "loafing" would be
for most of us extreme and healthy activity in the
cooler Far North.

A word or two may be devoted to the visitors received
at the laboratory, and to the correspondence.
It might be injudicious to gauge the greatness of a
man by the number of his callers or his letters; but
they are at least an indication of the degree to which
he interests the world. In both respects, for these
forty years, Edison has been a striking example of
the manner in which the sentiment of hero-worship
can manifest itself, and of the deep desire of curiosity
to get satisfaction by personal observation or contact.
Edison's mail, like that of most well-known
men, is extremely large, but composed in no small
degree of letters--thousands of them yearly--that
concern only the writers, and might well go to the
waste-paper basket without prolonged consideration.
The serious and important part of the mail, some
personal and some business, occupies the attention of
several men; all such letters finding their way promptly
into the proper channels, often with a pithy
endorsement by Edison scribbled on the margin. What
to do with a host of others it is often difficult to
decide, even when written by "cranks," who imagine
themselves subject to strange electrical ailments from
which Edison alone can relieve them. Many people
write asking his opinion as to a certain invention, or
offering him an interest in it if he will work it out.
Other people abroad ask help in locating lost
relatives; and many want advice as to what they shall
do with their sons, frequently budding geniuses whose
ability to wire a bell has demonstrated unusual
qualities. A great many persons want autographs,
and some would like photographs. The amazing
thing about it all is that this flood of miscellaneous
letters flows on in one steady, uninterrupted stream,
year in and year out; always a curious psychological
study in its variety and volume; and ever a
proof of the fact that once a man has become established
as a personality in the public eye and mind,
nothing can stop the tide of correspondence that
will deluge him.

It is generally, in the nature of things, easier to
write a letter than to make a call; and the semi-
retirement of Edison at a distance of an hour by
train from New York stands as a means of protection
to him against those who would certainly present
their respects in person, if he could be got at without
trouble. But it may be seriously questioned whether
in the aggregate Edison's visitors are less numerous
or less time-consuming than his epistolary besiegers.
It is the common experience of any visitor to the
laboratory that there are usually several persons
ahead of him, no matter what the hour of the day, and
some whose business has been sufficiently vital to
get them inside the porter's gate, or even into the big
library and lounging-room. Celebrities of all kinds
and distinguished foreigners are numerous--princes,
noblemen, ambassadors, artists, litterateurs, scientists,
financiers, women. A very large part of the visiting
is done by scientific bodies and societies; and then
the whole place will be turned over to hundreds of
eager, well-dressed men and women, anxious to see
everything and to be photographed in the big courtyard
around the central hero. Nor are these groups
and delegations limited to this country, for even
large parties of English, Dutch, Italian, or Japanese
visitors come from time to time, and are greeted with
the same ready hospitality, although Edison, it is easy to
see, is torn between the conflicting emotions of a desire to
be courteous, and an anxiety to guard the precious hours
of work, or watch the critical stage of a new experiment.

One distinct group of visitors has always been
constituted by the "newspaper men." Hardly a day
goes by that the journals do not contain some reference
to Edison's work or remarks; and the items are
generally based on an interview. The reporters are
never away from the laboratory very long; for if they
have no actual mission of inquiry, there is always the
chance of a good story being secured offhand; and
the easy, inveterate good-nature of Edison toward
reporters is proverbial in the craft. Indeed, it must
be stated here that once in a while this confidence has
been abused; that stories have been published utterly
without foundation; that interviews have been
printed which never took place; that articles with
Edison's name as author have been widely circulated,
although he never saw them; and that in such ways
he has suffered directly. But such occasional incidents
tend in no wise to lessen Edison's warm admiration
of the press or his readiness to avail himself of
it whenever a representative goes over to Orange to
get the truth or the real facts in regard to any matter
of public importance. As for the newspaper clippings
containing such articles, or others in which Edison's
name appears--they are literally like sands of the
sea-shore for number; and the archives of the laboratory
that preserve only a very minute percentage of
them are a further demonstration of what publicity
means, where a figure like Edison is concerned.



AN applicant for membership in the Engineers'
Club of Philadelphia is required to give a brief
statement of the professional work he has done.
Some years ago a certain application was made, and
contained the following terse and modest sentence:

"I have designed a concentrating plant and built a
machine shop, etc., etc. THOMAS A. EDISON."

Although in the foregoing pages the reader has been
made acquainted with the tremendous import of the
actualities lying behind those "etc., etc.," the narrative
up to this point has revealed Edison chiefly in
the light of inventor, experimenter, and investigator.
There have been some side glimpses of the industries
he has set on foot, and of their financial aspects, and
a later chapter will endeavor to sum up the intrinsic
value of Edison's work to the world. But there are
some other interesting points that may be touched on
now in regard to a few of Edison's financial and commercial
ventures not generally known or appreciated.

It is a popular idea founded on experience that an
inventor is not usually a business man. One of the
exceptions proving the rule may perhaps be met in
Edison, though all depends on the point of view.
All his life he has had a great deal to do with finance
and commerce, and as one looks at the magnitude of
the vast industries he has helped to create, it would
not be at all unreasonable to expect him to be among
the multi-millionaires. That he is not is due to the
absence of certain qualities, the lack of which Edison
is himself the first to admit. Those qualities may not
be amiable, but great wealth is hardly ever accumulated
without them. If he had not been so intent
on inventing he would have made more of his great
opportunities for getting rich. If this utter detachment
from any love of money for its own sake has not
already been illustrated in some of the incidents
narrated, one or two stories are available to emphasize
the point. They do not involve any want of the higher
business acumen that goes to the proper conduct
of affairs. It was said of Gladstone that he was the
greatest Chancellor of the Exchequer England ever
saw, but that as a retail merchant he would soon
have ruined himself by his bookkeeping.

Edison confesses that he has never made a cent
out of his patents in electric light and power--in
fact, that they have been an expense to him, and thus
a free gift to the world.[18] This was true of the Euro-
pean patents as well as the American. "I endeavored
to sell my lighting patents in different countries
of Europe, and made a contract with a couple of
men. On account of their poor business capacity
and lack of practicality, they conveyed under the
patents all rights to different corporations but in
such a way and with such confused wording of the
contracts that I never got a cent. One of the companies
started was the German Edison, now the great
Allgemeine Elektricitaets Gesellschaft. The English
company I never got anything for, because a
lawyer had originally advised Drexel, Morgan & Co.
as to the signing of a certain document, and said it
was all right for me to sign. I signed, and I never
got a cent because there was a clause in it which
prevented me from ever getting anything." A certain
easy-going belief in human nature, and even a
certain carelessness of attitude toward business
affairs, are here revealed. We have already pointed
out two instances where in his dealings with the
Western Union Company he stipulated that payments
of $6000 per year for seventeen years were to
be made instead of $100,000 in cash, evidently forgetful
of the fact that the annual sum so received was
nothing more than legal interest, which could have
been earned indefinitely if the capital had been only
insisted upon. In later life Edison has been more
circumspect, but throughout his early career he was
constantly getting into some kind of scrape. Of one
experience he says:

[18] Edison received some stock from the parent lighting company,
but as the capital stock of that company was increased from time
to time, his proportion grew smaller, and he ultimately used it to
obtain ready money with which to create and finance the various
"shops" in which were manufactured the various items of electric-
lighting apparatus necessary to exploit his system. Besides, he
was obliged to raise additional large sums of money from other
sources for this purpose. He thus became a manufacturer with
capital raised by himself, and the stock that he received later, on
the formation of the General Electric Company, was not for his
electric-light patents, but was in payment for his manufacturing
establishments, which had then grown to be of great commercial

"In the early days I was experimenting with metallic
filaments for the incandescent light, and sent a
certain man out to California in search of platinum.
He found a considerable quantity in the sluice-boxes
of the Cherokee Valley Mining Company; but just
then he found also that fruit-gardening was the thing,
and dropped the subject. He then came to me and
said that if he could raise $4000 he could go into some
kind of orchard arrangement out there, and would
give me half the profits. I was unwilling to do it,
not having very much money just then, but his persistence
was such that I raised the money and gave
it to him. He went back to California, and got into
mining claims and into fruit-growing, and became
one of the politicians of the Coast, and, I believe, was
on the staff of the Governor of the State. A couple
of years ago he wounded his daughter and shot himself
because he had become ruined financially. I
never heard from him after he got the money."

Edison tells of another similar episode. "I had two
men working for me--one a German, the other a Jew.
They wanted me to put up a little money and start
them in a shop in New York to make repairs, etc. I
put up $800, and was to get half of the profits, and
each of them one-quarter. I never got anything for
it. A few years afterward I went to see them, and
asked what they were doing, and said I would like
to sell my interest. They said: `Sell out what?'
`Why,' I said, `my interest in the machinery.' They
said: `You don't own this machinery. This is our
machinery. You have no papers to show anything.
You had better get out.' I am inclined to think that
the percentage of crooked people was smaller when
I was young. It has been steadily rising, and has got
up to a very respectable figure now. I hope it will
never reach par." To which lugubrious episode so
provocative of cynicism, Edison adds: "When I was
a young fellow the first thing I did when I went to
a town was to put something into the savings-bank
and start an account. When I came to New York
I put $30 into a savings-bank under the New York
Sun office. After the money had been in about two
weeks the bank busted. That was in 1870. In 1909
I got back $6.40, with a charge for $1.75 for law
expenses. That shows the beauty of New York

It is hardly to be wondered at that Edison is rather
frank and unsparing in some of his criticisms of shady
modern business methods, and the mention of the
following incident always provokes him to a fine
scorn. "I had an interview with one of the wealthiest
men in New York. He wanted me to sell out my

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