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

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would furnish a still more perfect and homogeneous
material. In his study of this subject, and during the
prosecution of vigorous and searching inquiries in
various directions, he learned that Mr. John C.
Brauner, then residing in Brooklyn, New York, had
an expert knowledge of indigenous plants of the
particular kind desired. During the course of a geological
survey which he had made for the Brazilian
Government, Mr. Brauner had examined closely the
various species of palms which grow plentifully in
that country, and of them there was one whose fibres
he thought would be just what Edison wanted.

Accordingly, Mr. Brauner was sent for and dispatched
to Brazil in December, 1880, to search for
and send samples of this and such other palms, fibres,
grasses, and canes as, in his judgment, would be suitable
for the experiments then being carried on at
Menlo Park. Landing at Para, he crossed over into
the Amazonian province, and thence proceeded
through the heart of the country, making his way by
canoe on the rivers and their tributaries, and by foot
into the forests and marshes of a vast and almost
untrodden wilderness. In this manner Mr. Brauner
traversed about two thousand miles of the comparatively
unknown interior of Southern Brazil, and procured
a large variety of fibrous specimens, which he
shipped to Edison a few months later. When these
fibres arrived in the United States they were carefully
tested and a few of them found suitable but not
superior to the Japanese bamboo, which was then
being exclusively used in the manufacture of commercial
Edison lamps.

Later on Edison sent out an expedition to explore
the wilds of Cuba and Jamaica. A two months'
investigation of the latter island revealed a variety
of bamboo growths, of which a great number of specimens
were obtained and shipped to Menlo Park; but
on careful test they were found inferior to the Jap-
anese bamboo, and hence rejected. The exploration
of the glades and swamps of Florida by three men
extended over a period of five months in a minute
search for fibrous woods of the palmetto species. A
great variety was found, and over five hundred boxes
of specimens were shipped to the laboratory from
time to time, but none of them tested out with entirely
satisfactory results.

The use of Japanese bamboo for carbon filaments
was therefore continued in the manufacture of lamps,
although an incessant search was maintained for a
still more perfect material. The spirit of progress,
so pervasive in Edison's character, led him, however,
to renew his investigations further afield by sending
out two other men to examine the bamboo and
similar growths of those parts of South America not
covered by Mr. Brauner. These two men were Frank
McGowan and C. F. Hanington, both of whom had
been for nearly seven years in the employ of the
Edison Electric Light Company in New York. The
former was a stocky, rugged Irishman, possessing the
native shrewdness and buoyancy of his race, coupled
with undaunted courage and determination; and the
latter was a veteran of the Civil War, with some
knowledge of forest and field, acquired as a sportsman.
They left New York in September, 1887, arriving
in due time at Para, proceeding thence twenty-
three hundred miles up the Amazon River to Iquitos.
Nothing of an eventful nature occurred during this
trip, but on arrival at Iquitos the two men separated;
Mr. McGowan to explore on foot and by canoe in
Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, while Mr. Hanington
returned by the Amazon River to Para. Thence
Hanington went by steamer to Montevideo, and by
similar conveyance up the River de la Plata and
through Uruguay, Argentine, and Paraguay to the
southernmost part of Brazil, collecting a large number
of specimens of palms and grasses.

The adventures of Mr. McGowan, after leaving
Iquitos, would fill a book if related in detail. The
object of the present narrative and the space at the
authors' disposal, however, do not permit of more
than a brief mention of his experiences. His first
objective point was Quito, about five hundred miles
away, which he proposed to reach on foot and by
means of canoeing on the Napo River through a wild
and comparatively unknown country teeming with
tribes of hostile natives. The dangers of the expedition
were pictured to him in glowing colors, but spurning
prophecies of dire disaster, he engaged some native
Indians and a canoe and started on his explorations,
reaching Quito in eighty-seven days, after a
thorough search of the country on both sides of the
Napo River. From Quito he went to Guayaquil,
from there by steamer to Buenaventura, and thence
by rail, twelve miles, to Cordova. From this point
he set out on foot to explore the Cauca Valley and
the Cordilleras.

Mr. McGowan found in these regions a great variety
of bamboo, small and large, some species growing
seventy-five to one hundred feet in height, and from
six to nine inches in diameter. He collected a large
number of specimens, which were subsequently sent
to Orange for Edison's examination. After about
fifteen months of exploration attended by much hardship
and privation, deserted sometimes by treacherous
guides, twice laid low by fevers, occasionally in peril
from Indian attacks, wild animals and poisonous
serpents, tormented by insect pests, endangered by
floods, one hundred and nineteen days without meat,
ninety-eight days without taking off his clothes, Mr.
McGowan returned to America, broken in health but
having faithfully fulfilled the commission intrusted
to him. The Evening Sun, New York, obtained an
interview with him at that time, and in its issue of
May 2, 1889, gave more than a page to a brief story
of his interesting adventures, and then commented
editorially upon them, as follows:


"The narrative given elsewhere in the Evening Sun
of the wanderings of Edison's missionary of science,
Mr. Frank McGowan, furnishes a new proof that the
romances of real life surpass any that the imagination
can frame.

"In pursuit of a substance that should meet the
requirements of the Edison incandescent lamp, Mr. McGowan
penetrated the wilderness of the Amazon, and for a year
defied its fevers, beasts, reptiles, and deadly insects in
his quest of a material so precious that jealous Nature
has hidden it in her most secret fastnesses.

"No hero of mythology or fable ever dared such
dragons to rescue some captive goddess as did this
dauntless champion of civilization. Theseus, or Siegfried,
or any knight of the fairy books might envy the
victories of Edison's irresistible lieutenant.

"As a sample story of adventure, Mr. McGowan's narrative
is a marvel fit to be classed with the historic jour-
neyings of the greatest travellers. But it gains immensely
in interest when we consider that it succeeded in its
scientific purpose. The mysterious bamboo was discovered,
and large quantities of it were procured and
brought to the Wizard's laboratory, there to suffer another
wondrous change and then to light up our pleasure-
haunts and our homes with a gentle radiance."

A further, though rather sad, interest attaches to
the McGowan story, for only a short time had
elapsed after his return to America when he disappeared
suddenly and mysteriously, and in spite of
long-continued and strenuous efforts to obtain some
light on the subject, no clew or trace of him was ever
found. He was a favorite among the Edison "oldtimers,"
and his memory is still cherished, for when
some of the "boys" happen to get together, as they
occasionally do, some one is almost sure to "wonder
what became of poor `Mac.' " He was last seen at
Mouquin's famous old French restaurant on Fulton
Street, New York, where he lunched with one of the
authors of this book and the late Luther Stieringer.
He sat with them for two or three hours discussing
his wonderful trip, and telling some fascinating stories
of adventure. Then the party separated at the Ann
Street door of the restaurant, after making plans to
secure the narrative in more detailed form for
subsequent use--and McGowan has not been seen from
that hour to this. The trail of the explorer was more
instantly lost in New York than in the vast recesses
of the Amazon swamps.

The next and last explorer whom Edison sent out
in search of natural fibres was Mr. James Ricalton,
of Maplewood, New Jersey, a school-principal, a well-
known traveller, and an ardent student of natural
science. Mr. Ricalton's own story of his memorable
expedition is so interesting as to be worthy of repetition

"A village schoolmaster is not unaccustomed to
door-rappings; for the steps of belligerent mothers
are often thitherward bent seeking redress for conjured
wrongs to their darling boobies.

"It was a bewildering moment, therefore, to the
Maplewood teacher when, in answering a rap at the
door one afternoon, he found, instead of an irate
mother, a messenger from the laboratory of the
world's greatest inventor bearing a letter requesting
an audience a few hours later.

"Being the teacher to whom reference is made, I
am now quite willing to confess that for the remainder
of that afternoon, less than a problem in Euclid would
have been sufficient to disqualify me for the remaining
scholastic duties of the hour. I felt it, of course,
to be no small honor for a humble teacher to be called
to the sanctum of Thomas A. Edison. The letter,
however, gave no intimation of the nature of the
object for which I had been invited to appear before
Mr. Edison....

"When I was presented to Mr. Edison his way of
setting forth the mission he had designated for me
was characteristic of how a great mind conceives vast
undertakings and commands great things in few
words. At this time Mr. Edison had discovered that
the fibre of a certain bamboo afforded a very desirable
carbon for the electric lamp, and the variety of bam-
boo used was a product of Japan. It was his belief
that in other parts of the world other and superior
varieties might be found, and to that end he had
dispatched explorers to bamboo regions in the valleys
of the great South American rivers, where specimens
were found of extraordinary quality; but the locality
in which these specimens were found was lost in the
limitless reaches of those great river-bottoms. The
great necessity for more durable carbons became a
desideratum so urgent that the tireless inventor decided
to commission another explorer to search the
tropical jungles of the Orient.

"This brings me then to the first meeting of Edison,
when he set forth substantially as follows, as I remember
it twenty years ago, the purpose for which
he had called me from my scholastic duties. With
a quizzical gleam in his eye, he said: `I want a man
to ransack all the tropical jungles of the East to find
a better fibre for my lamp; I expect it to be found
in the palm or bamboo family. How would you like
that job?' Suiting my reply to his love of brevity
and dispatch, I said, `That would suit me.' `Can
you go to-morrow?' was his next question. `Well,
Mr. Edison, I must first of all get a leave of absence
from my Board of Education, and assist the board to
secure a substitute for the time of my absence. How
long will it take, Mr. Edison?' `How can I tell?
Maybe six months, and maybe five years; no matter
how long, find it.' He continued: `I sent a man to
South America to find what I want; he found it;
but lost the place where he found it, so he might
as well never have found it at all.' Hereat I was
enjoined to proceed forthwith to court the Board
of Education for a leave of absence, which I did
successfully, the board considering that a call so
important and honorary was entitled to their
unqualified favor, which they generously granted.

"I reported to Mr. Edison on the following day,
when he instructed me to come to the laboratory at
once to learn all the details of drawing and carbonizing
fibres, which it would be necessary to do in the
Oriental jungles. This I did, and, in the mean time,
a set of suitable tools for this purpose had been ordered
to be made in the laboratory. As soon as I
learned my new trade, which I accomplished in a few
days, Mr. Edison directed me to the library of the
laboratory to occupy a few days in studying the
geography of the Orient and, particularly, in drawing
maps of the tributaries of the Ganges, the Irrawaddy,
and the Brahmaputra rivers, and other regions which
I expected to explore.

"It was while thus engaged that Mr. Edison came
to me one day and said: `If you will go up to the
house' (his palatial home not far away) `and look behind
the sofa in the library you will find a joint of
bamboo, a specimen of that found in South America;
bring it down and make a study of it; if you find
something equal to that I will be satisfied.' At the
home I was guided to the library by an Irish servant-
woman, to whom I communicated my knowledge of
the definite locality of the sample joint. She plunged
her arm, bare and herculean, behind the aforementioned
sofa, and holding aloft a section of wood,
called out in a mood of discovery: `Is that it?'
Replying in the affirmative, she added, under an
impulse of innocent divination that whatever her
wizard master laid hands upon could result in nothing
short of an invention, `Sure, sor, and what's he
going to invint out o' that?'

"My kit of tools made, my maps drawn, my
Oriental geography reviewed, I come to the point
when matters of immediate departure are discussed;
and when I took occasion to mention to my chief
that, on the subject of life insurance, underwriters
refuse to take any risks on an enterprise so hazardous,
Mr. Edison said that, if I did not place too high
a valuation on my person, he would take the risk
himself. I replied that I was born and bred in New
York State, but now that I had become a Jersey man
I did not value myself at above fifteen hundred dollars.
Edison laughed and said that he would assume
the risk, and another point was settled. The next
matter was the financing of the trip, about which
Mr. Edison asked in a tentative way about the rates
to the East. I told him the expense of such a trip
could not be determined beforehand in detail, but that
I had established somewhat of a reputation for
economic travel, and that I did not believe any
traveller could surpass me in that respect. He desired
no further assurance in that direction, and thereupon
ordered a letter of credit made out with authorization
to order a second when the first was exhausted.
Herein then are set forth in briefest space the
preliminaries of a circuit of the globe in quest of fibre.

"It so happened that the day on which I set out
fell on Washington's Birthday, and I suggested to my
boys and girls at school that they make a line across
the station platform near the school at Maplewood,
and from this line I would start eastward around
the world, and if good-fortune should bring me back
I would meet them from the westward at the same
line. As I had often made them `toe the scratch,'
for once they were only too well pleased to have me
toe the line for them.

"This was done, and I sailed via England and the
Suez Canal to Ceylon, that fair isle to which Sindbad
the Sailor made his sixth voyage, picturesquely
referred to in history as the `brightest gem in the
British Colonial Crown.' I knew Ceylon to be eminently
tropical; I knew it to be rich in many varieties
of the bamboo family, which has been called the king
of the grasses; and in this family had I most hope of
finding the desired fibre. Weeks were spent in this
paradisiacal isle. Every part was visited. Native
wood craftsmen were offered a premium on every
new species brought in, and in this way nearly a hundred
species were tested, a greater number than was
found in any other country. One of the best specimens
tested during the entire trip around the world
was found first in Ceylon, although later in Burmah,
it being indigenous to the latter country. It is a
gigantic tree-grass or reed growing in clumps of from
one to two hundred, often twelve inches in diameter,
and one hundred and fifty feet high, and known as
the giant bamboo (Bambusa gigantia). This giant
grass stood the highest test as a carbon, and on account
of its extraordinary size and qualities I extend
it this special mention. With others who have given
much attention to this remarkable reed, I believe that
in its manifold uses the bamboo is the world's greatest
dendral benefactor.

"From Ceylon I proceeded to India, touching the
great peninsula first at Cape Comorin, and continuing
northward by way of Pondicherry, Madura, and
Madras; and thence to the tableland of Bangalore
and the Western Ghauts, testing many kinds of wood
at every point, but particularly the palm and bamboo
families. From the range of the Western Ghauts
I went to Bombay and then north by the way of
Delhi to Simla, the summer capital of the Himalayas;
thence again northward to the headwaters of the
Sutlej River, testing everywhere on my way everything
likely to afford the desired carbon.

"On returning from the mountains I followed the
valleys of the Jumna and the Ganges to Calcutta,
whence I again ascended the Sub-Himalayas to
Darjeeling, where the numerous river-bottoms were
sprinkled plentifully with many varieties of bamboo,
from the larger sizes to dwarfed species covering the
mountain slopes, and not longer than the grass of
meadows. Again descending to the plains I passed
eastward to the Brahmaputra River, which I ascended
to the foot-hills in Assam; but finding nothing of
superior quality in all this northern region I returned
to Calcutta and sailed thence to Rangoon, in Burmah;
and there, finding no samples giving more excellent
tests in the lower reaches of the Irrawaddy, I ascended
that river to Mandalay, where, through Burmese
bamboo wiseacres, I gathered in from round about
and tested all that the unusually rich Burmese flora
could furnish. In Burmah the giant bamboo, as already
mentioned, is found indigenous; but beside it
no superior varieties were found. Samples tested
at several points on the Malay Peninsula showed no
new species, except at a point north of Singapore,
where I found a species large and heavy which gave
a test nearly equal to that of the giant bamboo in

"After completing the Malay Peninsula I had
planned to visit Java and Borneo; but having found
in the Malay Peninsula and in Ceylon a bamboo
fibre which averaged a test from one to two hundred
per cent. better than that in use at the lamp factory,
I decided it was unnecessary to visit these countries
or New Guinea, as my `Eureka' had already been
established, and that I would therefore set forth over
the return hemisphere, searching China and Japan
on the way. The rivers in Southern China brought
down to Canton bamboos of many species, where this
wondrously utilitarian reed enters very largely into
the industrial life of that people, and not merely into
the industrial life, but even into the culinary arts,
for bamboo sprouts are a universal vegetable in
China; but among all the bamboos of China I
found none of superexcellence in carbonizing qualities.
Japan came next in the succession of countries to be
explored, but there the work was much simplified,
from the fact that the Tokio Museum contains a
complete classified collection of all the different species
in the empire, and there samples could be obtained
and tested.

"Now the last of the important bamboo-producing
countries in the globe circuit had been done, and
the `home-lap' was in order; the broad Pacific was
spanned in fourteen days; my natal continent in six;
and on the 22d of February, on the same day, at the
same hour, at the same minute, one year to a second,
`little Maude,' a sweet maid of the school, led me
across the line which completed the circuit of the
globe, and where I was greeted by the cheers of my
boys and girls. I at once reported to Mr. Edison,
whose manner of greeting my return was as characteristic
of the man as his summary and matter-of-
fact manner of my dispatch. His little catechism
of curious inquiry was embraced in four small and
intensely Anglo-Saxon words--with his usual pleasant
smile he extended his hand and said: `Did you
get it?' This was surely a summing of a year's exploration
not less laconic than Caesar's review of his
Gallic campaign. When I replied that I had, but
that he must be the final judge of what I had found,
he said that during my absence he had succeeded in
making an artificial carbon which was meeting the
requirements satisfactorily; so well, indeed, that I
believe no practical use was ever made of the bamboo
fibres thereafter.

"I have herein given a very brief resume of my
search for fibre through the Orient; and during my
connection with that mission I was at all times not
less astonished at Mr. Edison's quick perception of
conditions and his instant decision and his bigness
of conceptions, than I had always been with his
prodigious industry and his inventive genius.

"Thinking persons know that blatant men never
accomplish much, and Edison's marvellous brevity
of speech along with his miraculous achievements
should do much to put bores and garrulity out of

Although Edison had instituted such a costly and
exhaustive search throughout the world for the most
perfect of natural fibres, he did not necessarily feel
committed for all time to the exclusive use of that
material for his lamp filaments. While these
explorations were in progress, as indeed long before,
he had given much thought to the production of some
artificial compound that would embrace not only the
required homogeneity, but also many other qualifications
necessary for the manufacture of an improved
type of lamp which had become desirable by reason
of the rapid adoption of his lighting system.

At the very time Mr. McGowan was making his
explorations deep in South America, and Mr. Ricalton
his swift trip around the world, Edison, after
much investigation and experiment, had produced
a compound which promised better results than bamboo
fibres. After some changes dictated by experience,
this artificial filament was adopted in the
manufacture of lamps. No radical change was
immediately made, however, but the product of the
lamp factory was gradually changed over, during the
course of a few years, from the use of bamboo to the
"squirted" filament, as the new material was called.
An artificial compound of one kind or another has
indeed been universally adopted for the purpose by
all manufacturers; hence the incandescing conductors
in all carbon-filament lamps of the present day are
made in that way. The fact remains, however, that
for nearly nine years all Edison lamps (many millions
in the aggregate) were made with bamboo filaments,
and many of them for several years after that, until
bamboo was finally abandoned in the early nineties,
except for use in a few special types which were so
made until about the end of 1908. The last few years
have witnessed a remarkable advance in the manufacture
of incandescent lamps in the substitution of
metallic filaments for those of carbon. It will be
remembered that many of the earlier experiments were
based on the use of strips of platinum; while other
rare metals were the subject of casual trial. No real
success was attained in that direction, and for many
years the carbon-filament lamp reigned supreme.
During the last four or five years lamps with filaments
made from tantalum and tungsten have been
produced and placed on the market with great success,
and are now largely used. Their price is still
very high, however, as compared with that of the
carbon lamp, which has been vastly improved in
methods of construction, and whose average price
of fifteen cents is only one-tenth of what it was when
Edison first brought it out.

With the close of Mr. McGowan's and Mr. Ricalton's
expeditions, there ended the historic world-hunt
for natural fibres. From start to finish the investigations
and searches made by Edison himself, and carried
on by others under his direction, are remarkable
not only from the fact that they entailed a total
expenditure of about $100,000, (disbursed under his
supervision by Mr. Upton), but also because of
their unique inception and thoroughness they illustrate
one of the strongest traits of his character--an
invincible determination to leave no stone unturned
to acquire that which he believes to be in existence,
and which, when found, will answer the purpose that
he has in mind.



IN Berlin, on December 11, 1908, with notable eclat,
the seventieth birthday was celebrated of Emil
Rathenau, the founder of the great Allgemein
Elektricitaets Gesellschaft. This distinguished German,
creator of a splendid industry, then received the
congratulations of his fellow-countrymen, headed by
Emperor William, who spoke enthusiastically of his
services to electro-technics and to Germany. In
his interesting acknowledgment, Mr. Rathenau told
how he went to Paris in 1881, and at the electrical
exhibition there saw the display of Edison's inventions
in electric lighting "which have met with as
little proper appreciation as his countless innovations
in connection with telegraphy, telephony, and the
entire electrical industry." He saw the Edison dynamo,
and he saw the incandescent lamp, "of which millions
have been manufactured since that day without the
great master being paid the tribute to his invention."
But what impressed the observant, thoroughgoing
German was the breadth with which the whole lighting
art had been elaborated and perfected, even at
that early day. "The Edison system of lighting was
as beautifully conceived down to the very details,
and as thoroughly worked out as if it had been tested
for decades in various towns. Neither sockets,
switches, fuses, lamp-holders, nor any of the other
accessories necessary to complete the installation
were wanting; and the generating of the current,
the regulation, the wiring with distributing boxes,
house connections, meters, etc., all showed signs of
astonishing skill and incomparable genius."

Such praise on such an occasion from the man who
introduced incandescent electric lighting into Germany
is significant as to the continued appreciation abroad
of Mr. Edison's work. If there is one thing modern
Germany is proud and jealous of, it is her leadership
in electrical engineering and investigation. But with
characteristic insight, Mr. Rathenau here placed his
finger on the great merit that has often been forgotten.
Edison was not simply the inventor of a new lamp
and a new dynamo. They were invaluable elements,
but far from all that was necessary. His was the
mighty achievement of conceiving and executing in
all its details an art and an industry absolutely new
to the world. Within two years this man completed
and made that art available in its essential, fundamental
facts, which remain unchanged after thirty
years of rapid improvement and widening application.

Such a stupendous feat, whose equal is far to seek
anywhere in the history of invention, is worth studying,
especially as the task will take us over much new
ground and over very little of the territory already
covered. Notwithstanding the enormous amount of
thought and labor expended on the incandescent
lamp problem from the autumn of 1878 to the winter
of 1879, it must not be supposed for one moment that
Edison's whole endeavor and entire inventive skill
had been given to the lamp alone, or the dynamo
alone. We have sat through the long watches of the
night while Edison brooded on the real solution of
the swarming problems. We have gazed anxiously at
the steady fingers of the deft and cautious Batchelor,
as one fragile filament after another refused to stay
intact until it could be sealed into its crystal prison
and there glow with light that never was before on
land or sea. We have calculated armatures and field
coils for the new dynamo with Upton, and held the
stakes for Jehl and his fellows at their winding bees.
We have seen the mineral and vegetable kingdoms
rifled and ransacked for substances that would yield
the best "filament." We have had the vague consciousness
of assisting at a great development whose
evidences to-day on every hand attest its magnitude.
We have felt the fierce play of volcanic effort, lifting
new continents of opportunity from the infertile sea,
without any devastation of pre-existing fields of human
toil and harvest. But it still remains to elucidate
the actual thing done; to reduce it to concrete
data, and in reducing, to unfold its colossal dimensions.

The lighting system that Edison contemplated in
this entirely new departure from antecedent methods
included the generation of electrical energy, or current,
on a very large scale; its distribution throughout
extended areas, and its division and subdivision
into small units converted into light at innumerable
points in every direction from the source of
supply, each unit to be independent of every oth-
er and susceptible to immediate control by the

This was truly an altogether prodigious undertaking.
We need not wonder that Professor Tyndall,
in words implying grave doubt as to the possibility
of any solution of the various problems, said publicly
that he would much rather have the matter in Edison's
hands than in his own. There were no precedents,
nothing upon which to build or improve. The
problems could only be answered by the creation of
new devices and methods expressly worked out for
their solution. An electric lamp answering certain
specific requirements would, indeed, be the key to
the situation, but its commercial adaptation required
a multifarious variety of apparatus and devices. The
word "system" is much abused in invention, and
during the early days of electric lighting its use
applied to a mere freakish lamp or dynamo was often
ludicrous. But, after all, nothing short of a complete
system could give real value to the lamp as an
invention; nothing short of a system could body
forth the new art to the public. Let us therefore set
down briefly a few of the leading items needed for
perfect illumination by electricity, all of which were
part of the Edison programme:

First--To conceive a broad and fundamentally correct
method of distributing the current, satisfactory
in a scientific sense and practical commercially in its
efficiency and economy. This meant, ready made, a
comprehensive plan analogous to illumination by gas,
with a network of conductors all connected together,
so that in any given city area the lights could be fed
with electricity from several directions, thus eliminating
any interruption due to the disturbance on any
particular section.

Second--To devise an electric lamp that would give
about the same amount of light as a gas jet, which
custom had proven to be a suitable and useful unit.
This lamp must possess the quality of requiring only
a small investment in the copper conductors reaching
it. Each lamp must be independent of every
other lamp. Each and all the lights must be produced
and operated with sufficient economy to compete
on a commercial basis with gas. The lamp must
be durable, capable of being easily and safely handled
by the public, and one that would remain capable of
burning at full incandescence and candle-power a great
length of time.

Third--To devise means whereby the amount of
electrical energy furnished to each and every customer
could be determined, as in the case of gas, and
so that this could be done cheaply and reliably by a
meter at the customer's premises.

Fourth--To elaborate a system or network of conductors
capable of being placed underground or overhead,
which would allow of being tapped at any intervals,
so that service wires could be run from the
main conductors in the street into each building.
Where these mains went below the surface of the
thoroughfare, as in large cities, there must be
protective conduit or pipe for the copper conductors,
and these pipes must allow of being tapped wherever
necessary. With these conductors and pipes must
also be furnished manholes, junction-boxes, con-
nections, and a host of varied paraphernalia insuring
perfect general distribution.

Fifth--To devise means for maintaining at all
points in an extended area of distribution a practically
even pressure of current, so that all the lamps,
wherever located, near or far away from the central
station, should give an equal light at all times,
independent of the number that might be turned on; and
safeguarding the lamps against rupture by sudden
and violent fluctuations of current. There must also
be means for thus regulating at the point where the
current was generated the quality or pressure of the
current throughout the whole lighting area, with devices
for indicating what such pressure might actually
be at various points in the area.

Sixth--To design efficient dynamos, such not being
in existence at the time, that would convert economically
the steam-power of high-speed engines into
electrical energy, together with means for connecting
and disconnecting them with the exterior consumption
circuits; means for regulating, equalizing their
loads, and adjusting the number of dynamos to be
used according to the fluctuating demands on the
central station. Also the arrangement of complete
stations with steam and electric apparatus and auxiliary
devices for insuring their efficient and continuous

Seventh--To invent devices that would prevent
the current from becoming excessive upon any conductors,
causing fire or other injury; also switches
for turning the current on and off; lamp-holders,
fixtures, and the like; also means and methods for
establishing the interior circuits that were to carry
current to chandeliers and fixtures in buildings.

Here was the outline of the programme laid down
in the autumn of 1878, and pursued through all its
difficulties to definite accomplishment in about eighteen
months, some of the steps being made immediately,
others being taken as the art evolved. It is
not to be imagined for one moment that Edison performed
all the experiments with his own hands. The
method of working at Menlo Park has already been
described in these pages by those who participated.
It would not only have been physically impossible for
one man to have done all this work himself, in view
of the time and labor required, and the endless detail;
but most of the apparatus and devices invented
or suggested by him as the art took shape required
the handiwork of skilled mechanics and artisans of a
high order of ability. Toward the end of 1879 the
laboratory force thus numbered at least one hundred
earnest men. In this respect of collaboration, Edison
has always adopted a policy that must in part
be taken to explain his many successes. Some inventors
of the greatest ability, dealing with ideas and
conceptions of importance, have found it impossible
to organize or even to tolerate a staff of co-workers,
preferring solitary and secret toil, incapable of team
work, or jealous of any intrusion that could possibly
bar them from a full and complete claim to the result
when obtained. Edison always stood shoulder to
shoulder with his associates, but no one ever questioned
the leadership, nor was it ever in doubt where
the inspiration originated. The real truth is that
Edison has always been so ceaselessly fertile of ideas
himself, he has had more than his whole staff could
ever do to try them all out; he has sought co-operation,
but no exterior suggestion. As a matter of fact
a great many of the "Edison men" have made notable
inventions of their own, with which their names are
imperishably associated; but while they were with
Edison it was with his work that they were and
must be busied.

It was during this period of "inventing a system"
that so much systematic and continuous work with
good results was done by Edison in the design and
perfection of dynamos. The value of his contributions
to the art of lighting comprised in this work
has never been fully understood or appreciated, having
been so greatly overshadowed by his invention of
the incandescent lamp, and of a complete system of
distribution. It is a fact, however, that the principal
improvements he made in dynamo-electric generators
were of a radical nature and remain in the art.
Thirty years bring about great changes, especially
in a field so notably progressive as that of the
generation of electricity; but different as are the
dynamos of to-day from those of the earlier period,
they embody essential principles and elements that
Edison then marked out and elaborated as the conditions
of success. There was indeed prompt appreciation
in some well-informed quarters of what Edison
was doing, evidenced by the sensation caused in the
summer of 1881, when he designed, built, and shipped
to Paris for the first Electrical Exposition ever held,
the largest dynamo that had been built up to that
time. It was capable of lighting twelve hundred
incandescent lamps, and weighed with its engine
twenty-seven tons, the armature alone weighing six
tons. It was then, and for a long time after, the
eighth wonder of the scientific world, and its arrival
and installation in Paris were eagerly watched by
the most famous physicists and electricians of Europe.

Edison's amusing description of his experience
in shipping the dynamo to Paris when built may
appropriately be given here: "I built a very large
dynamo with the engine directly connected, which I
intended for the Paris Exposition of 1881. It was
one or two sizes larger than those I had previously
built. I had only a very short period in which to get
it ready and put it on a steamer to reach the Exposition
in time. After the machine was completed we
found the voltage was too low. I had to devise a way
of raising the voltage without changing the machine,
which I did by adding extra magnets. After this
was done, we tested the machine, and the crank-shaft
of the engine broke and flew clear across the shop.
By working night and day a new crank-shaft was put
in, and we only had three days left from that time to
get it on board the steamer; and had also to run a
test. So we made arrangements with the Tammany
leader, and through him with the police, to clear the
street--one of the New York crosstown streets--and
line it with policemen, as we proposed to make a
quick passage, and didn't know how much time it
would take. About four hours before the steamer
had to get it, the machine was shut down after the
test, and a schedule was made out in advance of what
each man had to do. Sixty men were put on top of
the dynamo to get it ready, and each man had written
orders as to what he was to perform. We got it all
taken apart and put on trucks and started off. They
drove the horses with a fire-bell in front of them to
the French pier, the policemen lining the streets.
Fifty men were ready to help the stevedores get it on
the steamer--and we were one hour ahead of time."

This Exposition brings us, indeed, to a dramatic
and rather pathetic parting of the ways. The hour
had come for the old laboratory force that had done
such brilliant and memorable work to disband, never
again to assemble under like conditions for like effort,
although its members all remained active in the field,
and many have ever since been associated prominently
with some department of electrical enterprise. The
fact was they had done their work so well they must
now disperse to show the world what it was, and assist
in its industrial exploitation. In reality, they were
too few for the demands that reached Edison from
all parts of the world for the introduction of his
system; and in the emergency the men nearest to
him and most trusted were those upon whom he could
best depend for such missionary work as was now
required. The disciples full of fire and enthusiasm,
as well as of knowledge and experience, were soon
scattered to the four winds, and the rapidity with
which the Edison system was everywhere successfully
introduced is testimony to the good judgment
with which their leader had originally selected them
as his colleagues. No one can say exactly just how this
process of disintegration began, but Mr. E. H. John-
son had already been sent to England in the Edison
interests, and now the question arose as to what
should be done with the French demands and the
Paris Electrical Exposition, whose importance as a
point of new departure in electrical industry was
speedily recognized on both sides of the Atlantic. It
is very interesting to note that as the earlier staff
broke up, Edison became the centre of another large
body, equally devoted, but more particularly
concerned with the commercial development of his ideas.
Mr. E. G. Acheson mentions in his personal notes on
work at the laboratory, that in December of 1880,
while on some experimental work, he was called to
the new lamp factory started recently at Menlo Park,
and there found Edison, Johnson, Batchelor, and
Upton in conference, and "Edison informed me that
Mr. Batchelor, who was in charge of the construction,
development, and operation of the lamp factory, was
soon to sail for Europe to prepare for the exhibit to
be made at the Electrical Exposition to be held in Paris
during the coming summer." These preparations overlap
the reinforcement of the staff with some notable
additions, chief among them being Mr. Samuel Insull,
whose interesting narrative of events fits admirably
into the story at this stage, and gives a vivid idea of
the intense activity and excitement with which the
whole atmosphere around Edison was then surcharged:
"I first met Edison on March 1, 1881. I
arrived in New York on the City of Chester about five
or six in the evening, and went direct to 65 Fifth
Avenue. I had come over to act as Edison's private
secretary, the position having been obtained for me
through the good offices of Mr. E. H. Johnson, whom
I had known in London, and who wrote to Mr. U. H.
Painter, of Washington, about me in the fall of 1880.
Mr. Painter sent the letter on to Mr. Batchelor, who
turned it over to Edison. Johnson returned to
America late in the fall of 1880, and in January, 1881,
cabled to me to come to this country. At the time
he cabled for me Edison was still at Menlo Park, but
when I arrived in New York the famous offices of the
Edison Electric Light Company had been opened at
`65' Fifth Avenue, and Edison had moved into New
York with the idea of assisting in the exploitation of
the Light Company's business.

"I was taken by Johnson direct from the Inman
Steamship pier to 65 Fifth Avenue, and met Edison
for the first time. There were three rooms on the
ground floor at that time. The front one was used
as a kind of reception-room; the room immediately
behind it was used as the office of the president of
the Edison Electric Light Company, Major S. B.
Eaton. The rear room, which was directly back of
the front entrance hall, was Edison's office, and there
I first saw him. There was very little in the room
except a couple of walnut roller-top desks--which were
very generally used in American offices at that time.
Edison received me with great cordiality. I think
he was possibly disappointed at my being so young
a man; I had only just turned twenty-one, and had
a very boyish appearance. The picture of Edison is
as vivid to me now as if the incident occurred
yesterday, although it is now more than twenty-nine
years since that first meeting. I had been connected
with Edison's affairs in England as private secretary
to his London agent for about two years; and had
been taught by Johnson to look on Edison as the
greatest electrical inventor of the day--a view of
him, by-the-way, which has been greatly strengthened
as the years have rolled by. Owing to this, and
to the fact that I felt highly flattered at the appointment
as his private secretary, I was naturally prepared
to accept him as a hero. With my strict English
ideas as to the class of clothes to be worn by a
prominent man, there was nothing in Edison's dress
to impress me. He wore a rather seedy black diagonal
Prince Albert coat and waistcoat, with trousers of a
dark material, and a white silk handkerchief around
his neck, tied in a careless knot falling over the stiff
bosom of a white shirt somewhat the worse for wear.
He had a large wide-awake hat of the sombrero pattern
then generally used in this country, and a rough,
brown overcoat, cut somewhat similarly to his Prince
Albert coat. His hair was worn quite long, and hanging
carelessly over his fine forehead. His face was
at that time, as it is now, clean shaven. He was full
in face and figure, although by no means as stout as
he has grown in recent years. What struck me above
everything else was the wonderful intelligence and
magnetism of his expression, and the extreme brightness
of his eyes. He was far more modest than in
my youthful picture of him. I had expected to find
a man of distinction. His appearance, as a whole,
was not what you would call `slovenly,' it is best
expressed by the word `careless.' "

Mr. Insull supplements this pen-picture by another,
bearing upon the hustle and bustle of the moment:
"After a short conversation Johnson hurried me off to
meet his family, and later in the evening, about eight
o'clock, he and I returned to Edison's office; and I
found myself launched without further ceremony into
Edison's business affairs. Johnson had already explained
to me that he was sailing the next morning,
March 2d, on the S.S. Arizona, and that Mr. Edison
wanted to spend the evening discussing matters in
connection with his European affairs. It was assumed,
inasmuch as I had just arrived from London,
that I would be able to give more or less information
on this subject. As Johnson was to sail the next
morning at five o'clock, Edison explained that it
would be necessary for him to have an understanding
of European matters. Edison started out by drawing
from his desk a check-book and stating how much
money he had in the bank; and he wanted to know
what European telephone securities were most salable,
as he wished to raise the necessary funds to put
on their feet the incandescent lamp factory, the
Electric Tube works, and the necessary shops to build
dynamos. All through the interview I was tremendously
impressed with Edison's wonderful resourcefulness
and grasp, and his immediate appreciation of
any suggestion of consequence bearing on the subject
under discussion.

"He spoke with very great enthusiasm of the work
before him--namely, the development of his electric-
lighting system; and his one idea seemed to be to
raise all the money he could with the object of pouring
it into the manufacturing side of the lighting
business. I remember how extraordinarily I was impressed
with him on this account, as I had just come
from a circle of people in London who not only questioned
the possibility of the success of Edison's invention,
but often expressed doubt as to whether the
work he had done could be called an invention at all.
After discussing affairs with Johnson--who was receiving
his final instructions from Edison--far into
the night, and going down to the steamer to see Johnson
aboard, I finished my first night's business with
Edison somewhere between four and five in the morning,
feeling thoroughly imbued with the idea that I
had met one of the great master minds of the world.
You must allow for my youthful enthusiasm, but
you must also bear in mind Edison's peculiar gift of
magnetism, which has enabled him during his career
to attach so many men to him. I fell a victim to the
spell at the first interview."

Events moved rapidly in those days. The next
morning, Tuesday, Edison took his new fidus Achates
with him to a conference with John Roach, the famous
old ship-builder, and at it agreed to take the AEtna
Iron works, where Roach had laid the foundations
of his fame and fortune. These works were not in
use at the time. They were situated on Goerck
Street, New York, north of Grand Street, on the
east side of the city, and there, very soon after, was
established the first Edison dynamo-manufacturing
establishment, known for many years as the Edison
Machine Works. The same night Insull made his
first visit to Menlo Park. Up to that time he had
seen very little incandescent lighting, for the simple
reason that there was very little to see. Johnson
had had a few Edison lamps in London, lit up from
primary batteries, as a demonstration; and in the
summer of 1880 Swan had had a few series lamps
burning in London. In New York a small gas-engine
plant was being started at the Edison offices on Fifth
Avenue. But out at Menlo Park there was the first
actual electric-lighting central station, supplying
distributed incandescent lamps and some electric motors
by means of underground conductors imbedded in
asphaltum and surrounded by a wooden box. Mr. Insull
says: "The system employed was naturally the
two-wire, as at that time the three-wire had not been
thought of. The lamps were partly of the horseshoe
filament paper-carbon type, and partly bamboo-filament
lamps, and were of an efficiency of 95 to 100
watts per 16 c.p. I can never forget the impression
that this first view of the electric-lighting industry
produced on me. Menlo Park must always be looked
upon as the birthplace of the electric light and
power industry. At that time it was the only place
where could be seen an electric light and power
multiple arc distribution system, the operation of
which seemed as successful to my youthful mind as
the operation of one of the large metropolitan systems
to-day. I well remember about ten o'clock that night
going down to the Menlo Park depot and getting the
station agent, who was also the telegraph operator, to
send some cable messages for me to my London
friends, announcing that I had seen Edison's incandescent
lighting system in actual operation, and that
so far as I could tell it was an accomplished fact. A
few weeks afterward I received a letter from one of
my London friends, who was a doubting Thomas,
upbraiding me for coming so soon under the spell of
the `Yankee inventor.' "

It was to confront and deal with just this element
of doubt in London and in Europe generally, that the
dispatch of Johnson to England and of Batchelor to
France was intended. Throughout the Edison staff
there was a mingled feeling of pride in the work,
resentment at the doubts expressed about it, and keen
desire to show how excellent it was. Batchelor left
for Paris in July, 1881--on his second trip to Europe
that year--and the exhibit was made which brought
such an instantaneous recognition of the incalculable
value of Edison's lighting inventions, as evidenced
by the awards and rewards immediately bestowed
upon him. He was made an officer of the Legion of
Honor, and Prof. George F. Barker cabled as follows
from Paris, announcing the decision of the expert
jury which passed upon the exhibits: "Accept my
congratulations. You have distanced all competitors
and obtained a diploma of honor, the highest
award given in the Exposition. No person in any
class in which you were an exhibitor received a like

Nor was this all. Eminent men in science who had
previously expressed their disbelief in the statements
made as to the Edison system were now foremost in
generous praise of his notable achievements, and accorded
him full credit for its completion. A typical
instance was M. Du Moncel, a distinguished electrician,
who had written cynically about Edison's work
and denied its practicability. He now recanted publicly
in this language, which in itself shows the state
of the art when Edison came to the front: "All these
experiments achieved but moderate success, and when,
in 1879, the new Edison incandescent carbon lamp
was announced, many of the scientists, and I,
particularly, doubted the accuracy of the reports which
came from America. This horseshoe of carbonized
paper seemed incapable to resist mechanical shocks
and to maintain incandescence for any considerable
length of time. Nevertheless, Mr. Edison was not
discouraged, and despite the active opposition made
to his lamp, despite the polemic acerbity of which he
was the object, he did not cease to perfect it; and
he succeeded in producing the lamps which we now
behold exhibited at the Exposition, and are admired
by all for their perfect steadiness."

The competitive lamps exhibited and tested at this
time comprised those of Edison, Maxim, Swan, and
Lane-Fox. The demonstration of Edison's success
stimulated the faith of his French supporters, and
rendered easier the completion of plans for the Societe
Edison Continental, of Paris, formed to operate
the Edison patents on the Continent of Europe. Mr.
Batchelor, with Messrs. Acheson and Hipple, and one
or two other assistants, at the close of the Exposition
transferred their energies to the construction and
equipment of machine-shops and lamp factories at
Ivry-sur-Seine for the company, and in a very short
time the installation of plants began in various
countries--France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, etc.

All through 1881 Johnson was very busy, for his
part, in England. The first "Jumbo" Edison dynamo
had gone to Paris; the second and third went to
London, where they were installed in 1881 by Mr.
Johnson and his assistant, Mr. W. J. Hammer, in the
three-thousand-light central station on Holborn Viaduct,
the plant going into operation on January 12,
1882. Outside of Menlo Park this was the first regular
station for incandescent lighting in the world, as
the Pearl Street station in New York did not go into
operation until September of the same year. This
historic plant was hurriedly thrown together on
Crown land, and would doubtless have been the
nucleus of a great system but for the passage of the
English electric lighting act of 1882, which at once
throttled the industry by its absurd restrictive
provisions, and which, though greatly modified, has left
England ever since in a condition of serious inferiority
as to development in electric light and power. The
streets and bridges of Holborn Viaduct were lighted
by lamps turned on and off from the station, as well
as the famous City Temple of Dr. Joseph Parker, the
first church in the world to be lighted by incandescent
lamps--indeed, so far as can be ascertained, the first
church to be illuminated by electricity in any form.
Mr. W. J. Hammer, who supplies some very interesting
notes on the installation, says: "I well remember
the astonishment of Doctor Parker and his associates
when they noted the difference of temperature as
compared with gas. I was informed that the people
would not go in the gallery in warm weather, owing
to the great heat caused by the many gas jets, whereas
on the introduction of the incandescent lamp there
was no complaint." The telegraph operating-room
of the General Post-Office, at St. Martin's-Le Grand
and Newgate Street nearby, was supplied with four
hundred lamps through the instrumentality of Mr.
(Sir) W. H. Preece, who, having been seriously sceptical
as to Mr. Edison's results, became one of his most
ardent advocates, and did much to facilitate the
introduction of the light. This station supplied its
customers by a network of feeders and mains of the
standard underground two-wire Edison tubing-conductors
in sections of iron pipe--such as was
used subsequently in New York, Milan, and other
cities. It also had a measuring system for the
current, employing the Edison electrolytic meter.
Arc lamps were operated from its circuits, and one of
the first sets of practicable storage batteries was
used experimentally at the station. In connection
with these batteries Mr. Hammer tells a characteristic
anecdote of Edison: "A careless boy passing through
the station whistling a tune and swinging carelessly
a hammer in his hand, rapped a carboy of sulphuric
acid which happened to be on the floor above a
`Jumbo' dynamo. The blow broke the glass carboy,
and the acid ran down upon the field magnets of
the dynamo, destroying the windings of one of the
twelve magnets. This accident happened while I
was taking a vacation in Germany, and a prominent
scientific man connected with the company cabled
Mr. Edison to know whether the machine would work
if the coil was cut out. Mr. Edison sent the laconic
reply: `Why doesn't he try it and see?' Mr. E. H.
Johnson was kept busy not only with the cares and
responsibilities of this pioneer English plant, but by
negotiations as to company formations, hearings before
Parliamentary committees, and particularly by
distinguished visitors, including all the foremost
scientific men in England, and a great many well-
known members of the peerage. Edison was fortunate
in being represented by a man with so much
address, intimate knowledge of the subject, and powers
of explanation. As one of the leading English
papers said at the time, with equal humor and truth:
`There is but one Edison, and Johnson is his prophet.' "

As the plant continued in operation, various details
and ideas of improvement emerged, and Mr. Hammer
says: "Up to the time of the construction of this
plant it had been customary to place a single-pole
switch on one wire and a safety fuse on the other;
and the practice of putting fuses on both sides of a
lighting circuit was first used here. Some of the first,
if not the very first, of the insulated fixtures were
used in this plant, and many of the fixtures were
equipped with ball insulating joints, enabling the
chandeliers--or `electroliers'--to be turned around,
as was common with the gas chandeliers. This particular
device was invented by Mr. John B. Verity,
whose firm built many of the fixtures for the Edison
Company, and constructed the notable electroliers
shown at the Crystal Palace Exposition of 1882."

We have made a swift survey of developments from
the time when the system of lighting was ready for
use, and when the staff scattered to introduce it. It
will be readily understood that Edison did not sit
with folded hands or drop into complacent satisfac-
tion the moment he had reached the practical stage
of commercial exploitation. He was not willing to
say "Let us rest and be thankful," as was one of
England's great Liberal leaders after a long period of
reform. On the contrary, he was never more active
than immediately after the work we have summed
up at the beginning of this chapter. While he had
been pursuing his investigations of the generator in
conjunction with the experiments on the incandescent
lamp, he gave much thought to the question of
distribution of the current over large areas, revolving
in his mind various plans for the accomplishment of
this purpose, and keeping his mathematicians very
busy working on the various schemes that suggested
themselves from time to time. The idea of a
complete system had been in his mind in broad outline
for a long time, but did not crystallize into
commercial form until the incandescent lamp was an
accomplished fact. Thus in January, 1880, his first
patent application for a "System of Electrical
Distribution" was signed. It was filed in the Patent
Office a few days later, but was not issued as a patent
until August 30, 1887. It covered, fundamentally,
multiple arc distribution, how broadly will be understood
from the following extracts from the New York
Electrical Review of September 10, 1887: "It would
appear as if the entire field of multiple distribution were
now in the hands of the owners of this patent....
The patent is about as broad as a patent can be, being
regardless of specific devices, and laying a powerful grasp
on the fundamental idea of multiple distribution from
a number of generators throughout a metallic circuit."

Mr. Edison made a number of other applications
for patents on electrical distribution during the year
1880. Among these was the one covering the celebrated
"Feeder" invention, which has been of very
great commercial importance in the art, its object
being to obviate the "drop" in pressure, rendering
lights dim in those portions of an electric-light system
that were remote from the central station.[10]

[10] For further explanation of "Feeder" patent, see Appendix.

From these two patents alone, which were absolutely
basic and fundamental in effect, and both of which
were, and still are, put into actual use wherever
central-station lighting is practiced, the reader will see
that Mr. Edison's patient and thorough study, aided
by his keen foresight and unerring judgment, had
enabled him to grasp in advance with a master hand
the chief and underlying principles of a true system--
that system which has since been put into practical use
all over the world, and whose elements do not need the
touch or change of more modern scientific knowledge.

These patents were not by any means all that he
applied for in the year 1880, which it will be remembered
was the year in which he was perfecting the
incandescent electric lamp and methods, to put into
the market for competition with gas. It was an
extraordinarily busy year for Mr. Edison and his
whole force, which from time to time was increased
in number. Improvement upon improvement was
the order of the day. That which was considered
good to-day was superseded by something better and
more serviceable to-morrow. Device after device,
relating to some part of the entire system, was designed,
built, and tried, only to be rejected ruthlessly
as being unsuitable; but the pursuit was not abandoned.
It was renewed over and over again in innumerable
ways until success had been attained.

During the year 1880 Edison had made application
for sixty patents, of which thirty-two were in relation
to incandescent lamps; seven covered inventions
relating to distributing systems (including the two
above particularized); five had reference to inventions
of parts, such as motors, sockets, etc.; six covered
inventions relating to dynamo-electric machines;
three related to electric railways, and seven to
miscellaneous apparatus, such as telegraph relays,
magnetic ore separators, magneto signalling apparatus, etc.

The list of Mr. Edison's patents (see Appendices)
is not only a monument to his life's work, but serves
to show what subjects he has worked on from year
to year since 1868. The reader will see from an
examination of this list that the years 1880, 1881,
1882, and 1883 were the most prolific periods of invention.
It is worth while to scrutinize this list
closely to appreciate the wide range of his activities.
Not that his patents cover his entire range of work
by any means, for his note-books reveal a great number
of major and minor inventions for which he has not
seen fit to take out patents. Moreover, at the period
now described Edison was the victim of a dishonest
patent solicitor, who deprived him of a number of
patents in the following manner:

"Around 1881-82 I had several solicitors attending
to different classes of work. One of these did me a
most serious injury. It was during the time that I
was developing my electric-lighting system, and I
was working and thinking very hard in order to cover
all the numerous parts, in order that it would be
complete in every detail. I filed a great many
applications for patents at that time, but there were
seventy-eight of the inventions I made in that period
that were entirely lost to me and my company by
reason of the dishonesty of this patent solicitor.
Specifications had been drawn, and I had signed
and sworn to the application for patents for these
seventy-eight inventions, and naturally I supposed
they had been filed in the regular way.

"As time passed I was looking for some action of
the Patent Office, as usual, but none came. I thought
it very strange, but had no suspicions until I began
to see my inventions recorded in the Patent Office
Gazette as being patented by others. Of course I
ordered an investigation, and found that the patent
solicitor had drawn from the company the fees for
filing all these applications, but had never filed them.
All the papers had disappeared, however, and what
he had evidently done was to sell them to others,
who had signed new applications and proceeded to
take out patents themselves on my inventions. I
afterward found that he had been previously mixed
up with a somewhat similar crooked job in connection
with telephone patents.

"I am free to confess that the loss of these seventy-
eight inventions has left a sore spot in me that has
never healed. They were important, useful, and
valuable, and represented a whole lot of tremendous
work and mental effort, and I had had a feeling of
pride in having overcome through them a great
many serious obstacles, One of these inventions covered
the multipolar dynamo. It was an elaborated
form of the type covered by my patent No. 219,393
which had a ring armature. I modified and improved
on this form and had a number of pole pieces placed
all around the ring, with a modified form of armature
winding. I built one of these machines and ran it
successfully in our early days at the Goerck Street shop.

"It is of no practical use to mention the man's
name. I believe he is dead, but he may have left
a family. The occurrence is a matter of the old
Edison Company's records."

It will be seen from an examination of the list of
patents in the Appendix that Mr. Edison has continued
year after year adding to his contributions to
the art of electric lighting, and in the last twenty-
eight years--1880-1908--has taken out no fewer
than three hundred and seventy-five patents in this
branch of industry alone. These patents may be
roughly tabulated as follows:

Incandescent lamps and their manufacture....................149
Distributing systems and their control and regulation....... 77
Dynamo-electric machines and accessories....................106
Minor parts, such as sockets, switches, safety catches,
meters, underground conductors and parts, etc............... 43

Quite naturally most of these patents cover inventions
that are in the nature of improvements or based
upon devices which he had already created; but there
are a number that relate to inventions absolutely
fundamental and original in their nature. Some of
these have already been alluded to; but among the
others there is one which is worthy of special mention
in connection with the present consideration of
a complete system. This is patent No. 274,290,
applied for November 27, 1882, and is known as the
"Three-wire" patent. It is described more fully in
the Appendix.

The great importance of the "Feeder" and "Three-
wire" inventions will be apparent when it is realized
that without them it is a question whether electric
light could be sold to compete with low-priced gas,
on account of the large investment in conductors
that would be necessary. If a large city area were
to be lighted from a central station by means of
copper conductors running directly therefrom to all
parts of the district, it would be necessary to install
large conductors, or suffer such a drop of pressure
at the ends most remote from the station as to
cause the lights there to burn with a noticeable
diminution of candle-power. The Feeder invention
overcame this trouble, and made it possible to use
conductors ONLY ONE-EIGHTH THE SIZE that would otherwise
have been necessary to produce the same results.

A still further economy in cost of conductors was
effected by the "Three-wire" invention, by the use
of which the already diminished conductors could be
still further reduced TO ONE-THIRD of this smaller size,
and at the same time allow of the successful operation
of the station with far better results than if it
were operated exactly as at first conceived. The
Feeder and Three-wire systems are at this day used
in all parts of the world, not only in central-station
work, but in the installation and operation of isolated
electric-light plants in large buildings. No sensible
or efficient station manager or electric contractor
would ever think of an installation made upon any
other plan. Thus Mr. Edison's early conceptions of
the necessities of a complete system, one of them
made even in advance of practice, have stood firm,
unimproved, and unchanged during the past twenty-
eight years, a period of time which has witnessed
more wonderful and rapid progress in electrical science
and art than has been known during any similar art
or period of time since the world began.

It must be remembered that the complete system
in all its parts is not comprised in the few of Mr.
Edison's patents, of which specific mention is here
made. In order to comprehend the magnitude and
extent of his work and the quality of his genius, it is
necessary to examine minutely the list of patents
issued for the various elements which go to make up
such a system. To attempt any relation in detail
of the conception and working-out of each part or
element; to enter into any description of the almost
innumerable experiments and investigations that were
made would entail the writing of several volumes, for
Mr. Edison's close-written note-books covering these
subjects number nearly two hundred.

It is believed that enough evidence has been given
in this chapter to lead to an appreciation of the
assiduous work and practical skill involved in "inventing
a system" of lighting that would surpass, and
to a great extent, in one single quarter of a century,
supersede all the other methods of illumination
developed during long centuries. But it will be ap-
propriate before passing on to note that on January
17, 1908, while this biography was being written,
Mr. Edison became the fourth recipient of the John
Fritz gold medal for achievement in industrial progress.
This medal was founded in 1902 by the professional
friends and associates of the veteran American
ironmaster and metallurgical inventor, in honor
of his eightieth birthday. Awards are made by a
board of sixteen engineers appointed in equal numbers
from the four great national engineering societies
--the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American
Institute of Mining Engineers, the American Society
of Mechanical Engineers, and the American
Institute of Electrical Engineers, whose membership
embraces the very pick and flower of professional
engineering talent in America. Up to the time of
the Edison award, three others had been made. The
first was to Lord Kelvin, the Nestor of physics in
Europe, for his work in submarine-cable telegraphy
and other scientific achievement. The second was
to George Westinghouse for the air-brake. The third
was to Alexander Graham Bell for the invention and
introduction of the telephone. The award to Edison
was not only for his inventions in duplex and quadruplex
telegraphy, and for the phonograph, but for the
development of a commercially practical incandescent
lamp, and the development of a complete system
of electric lighting, including dynamos, regulating
devices, underground system, protective devices, and
meters. Great as has been the genius brought to
bear on electrical development, there is no other man
to whom such a comprehensive tribute could be paid.



IN the previous chapter on the invention of a system,
the narrative has been carried along for several
years of activity up to the verge of the successful and
commercial application of Edison's ideas and devices
for incandescent electric lighting. The story of any
one year in this period, if treated chronologically,
would branch off in a great many different directions,
some going back to earlier work, others forward to
arts not yet within the general survey; and the effect
of such treatment would be confusing. In like manner
the development of the Edison lighting system
followed several concurrent, simultaneous lines of
advance; and an effort was therefore made in the
last chapter to give a rapid glance over the whole
movement, embracing a term of nearly five years, and
including in its scope both the Old World and the
New. What is necessary to the completeness of the
story at this stage is not to recapitulate, but to take
up some of the loose ends of threads woven in and
follow them through until the clear and comprehensive
picture of events can be seen.

Some things it would be difficult to reproduce in
any picture of the art and the times. One of the
greatest delusions of the public in regard to any
notable invention is the belief that the world is waiting
for it with open arms and an eager welcome. The
exact contrary is the truth. There is not a single new
art or device the world has ever enjoyed of which
it can be said that it was given an immediate and
enthusiastic reception. The way of the inventor is
hard. He can sometimes raise capital to help him
in working out his crude conceptions, but even then
it is frequently done at a distressful cost of personal
surrender. When the result is achieved the invention
makes its appeal on the score of economy of
material or of effort; and then "labor" often awaits
with crushing and tyrannical spirit to smash the
apparatus or forbid its very use. Where both capital
and labor are agreed that the object is worthy of
encouragement, there is the supreme indifference of
the public to overcome, and the stubborn resistance
of pre-existing devices to combat. The years of hardship
and struggle are thus prolonged, the chagrin of
poverty and neglect too frequently embitters the
inventor's scanty bread; and one great spirit after
another has succumbed to the defeat beyond which
lay the procrastinated triumph so dearly earned.
Even in America, where the adoption of improvements
and innovations is regarded as so prompt and
sure, and where the huge tolls of the Patent Office
and the courts bear witness to the ceaseless efforts
of the inventor, it is impossible to deny the sad truth
that unconsciously society discourages invention
rather than invites it. Possibly our national optimism
as revealed in invention--the seeking a higher
good--needs some check. Possibly the leaders would
travel too fast and too far on the road to perfection
if conservatism did not also play its salutary part
in insisting that the procession move forward as a

Edison and his electric light were happily more
fortunate than other men and inventions, in the relative
cordiality of the reception given them. The
merit was too obvious to remain unrecognized.
Nevertheless, it was through intense hostility and
opposition that the young art made its way, pushed
forward by Edison's own strong personality and by
his unbounded, unwavering faith in the ultimate success
of his system. It may seem strange that great
effort was required to introduce a light so manifestly
convenient, safe, agreeable, and advantageous,
but the facts are matter of record; and to-day the
recollection of some of the episodes brings a fierce
glitter into the eye and keen indignation into the
voice of the man who has come so victoriously through
it all.

It was not a fact at any time that the public was
opposed to the idea of the electric light. On the contrary,
the conditions for its acceptance had been ripening
fast. Yet the very vogue of the electric arc light
made harder the arrival of the incandescent. As a
new illuminant for the streets, the arc had become
familiar, either as a direct substitute for the low gas
lamp along the sidewalk curb, or as a novel form of
moonlight, raised in groups at the top of lofty towers
often a hundred and fifty feet high. Some of these
lights were already in use for large indoor spaces,
although the size of the unit, the deadly pressure of
the current, and the sputtering sparks from the carbons
made them highly objectionable for such purposes.
A number of parent arc-lighting companies
were in existence, and a great many local companies
had been called into being under franchises for
commercial business and to execute regular city contracts
for street lighting. In this manner a good deal of
capital and the energies of many prominent men in
politics and business had been rallied distinctively
to the support of arc lighting. Under the inventive
leadership of such brilliant men as Brush, Thomson,
Weston, and Van Depoele--there were scores of
others--the industry had made considerable progress
and the art had been firmly established. Here lurked,
however, very vigorous elements of opposition, for
Edison predicted from the start the superiority of the
small electric unit of light, and devoted himself
exclusively to its perfection and introduction. It can
be readily seen that this situation made it all the more
difficult for the Edison system to secure the large
sums of money needed for its exploitation, and to
obtain new franchises or city ordinances as a public
utility. Thus in a curious manner the modern art
of electric lighting was in a very true sense divided
against itself, with intense rivalries and jealousies
which were none the less real because they were but
temporary and occurred in a field where ultimate
union of forces was inevitable. For a long period the
arc was dominant and supreme in the lighting branch
of the electrical industries, in all respects, whether as
to investment, employees, income, and profits, or in
respect to the manufacturing side. When the great
National Electric Light Association was formed in
1885, its organizers were the captains of arc lighting,
and not a single Edison company or licensee could be
found in its ranks, or dared to solicit membership.
The Edison companies, soon numbering about three
hundred, formed their own association--still maintained
as a separate and useful body--and the lines
were tensely drawn in a way that made it none too
easy for the Edison service to advance, or for an
impartial man to remain friendly with both sides.
But the growing popularity of incandescent lighting,
the flexibility and safety of the system, the ease with
which other electric devices for heat, power, etc.,
could be put indiscriminately on the same circuits
with the lamps, in due course rendered the old attitude
of opposition obviously foolish and untenable.
The United States Census Office statistics of 1902
show that the income from incandescent lighting by
central stations had by that time become over 52
per cent. of the total, while that from arc lighting
was less than 29; and electric-power service due to
the ease with which motors could be introduced on
incandescent circuits brought in 15 per cent. more.
Hence twenty years after the first Edison stations
were established the methods they involved could be
fairly credited with no less than 67 per cent. of all
central-station income in the country, and the
proportion has grown since then. It will be readily
understood that under these conditions the modern
lighting company supplies to its customers both
incandescent and arc lighting, frequently from the same
dynamo-electric machinery as a source of current;
and that the old feud as between the rival systems
has died out. In fact, for some years past the presidents
of the National Electric Light Association have
been chosen almost exclusively from among the managers
of the great Edison lighting companies in the
leading cities.

The other strong opposition to the incandescent
light came from the gas industry. There also the
most bitter feeling was shown. The gas manager did
not like the arc light, but it interfered only with his
street service, which was not his largest source of
income by any means. What did arouse his ire and
indignation was to find this new opponent, the little
incandescent lamp, pushing boldly into the field of
interior lighting, claiming it on a great variety of
grounds of superiority, and calmly ignoring the question
of price, because it was so much better. Newspaper
records and the pages of the technical papers
of the day show to what an extent prejudice and
passion were stirred up and the astounding degree
to which the opposition to the new light was carried.

Here again was given a most convincing demonstration
of the truth that such an addition to the
resources of mankind always carries with it unsuspected
benefits even for its enemies. In two distinct
directions the gas art was immediately helped by
Edison's work. The competition was most salutary
in the stimulus it gave to improvements in processes
for making, distributing, and using gas, so that while
vast economies have been effected at the gas works,
the customer has had an infinitely better light for
less money. In the second place, the coming of the
incandescent light raised the standard of illumination
in such a manner that more gas than ever was
wanted in order to satisfy the popular demand for
brightness and brilliancy both indoors and on the
street. The result of the operation of these two
forces acting upon it wholly from without, and from
a rival it was desired to crush, has been to increase
enormously the production and use of gas in the last
twenty-five years. It is true that the income of the
central stations is now over $300,000,000 a year, and
that isolated-plant lighting represents also a large
amount of diverted business; but as just shown, it
would obviously be unfair to regard all this as a loss
from the standpoint of gas. It is in great measure
due to new sources of income developed by electricity
for itself.

A retrospective survey shows that had the men in
control of the American gas-lighting art, in 1880, been
sufficiently far-sighted, and had they taken a broader
view of the situation, they might easily have remained
dominant in the whole field of artificial lighting by
securing the ownership of the patents and devices of
the new industry. Apparently not a single step of
that kind was undertaken, nor probably was there
a gas manager who would have agreed with Edison in
the opinion written down by him at the time in little
note-book No. 184, that gas properties were having
conferred on them an enhanced earning capacity.
It was doubtless fortunate and providential for the
electric-lighting art that in its state of immature
development it did not fall into the hands of men who
were opposed to its growth, and would not have sought
its technical perfection. It was allowed to carve out
its own career, and thus escaped the fate that is
supposed to have attended other great inventions--of
being bought up merely for purposes of suppression.
There is a vague popular notion that this happens to
the public loss; but the truth is that no discovery of
any real value is ever entirely lost. It may be retarded;
but that is all. In the case of the gas companies
and the incandescent light, many of them to
whom it was in the early days as great an irritant as
a red flag to a bull, emulated the performance of that
animal and spent a great deal of money and energy
in bellowing and throwing up dirt in the effort to
destroy the hated enemy. This was not long nor
universally the spirit shown; and to-day in hundreds
of cities the electric and gas properties are united
under the one management, which does not find it
impossible to push in a friendly and progressive way
the use of both illuminants. The most conspicuous
example of this identity of interest is given in New
York itself.

So much for the early opposition, of which there
was plenty. But it may be questioned whether
inertia is not equally to be dreaded with active ill-will.
Nothing is more difficult in the world than to get a
good many hundreds of thousands or millions of people
to do something they have never done before. A
very real difficulty in the introduction of his lamp
and lighting system by Edison lay in the absolute
ignorance of the public at large, not only as to its
merits, but as to the very appearance of the light,
Some few thousand people had gone out to Menlo
Park, and had there seen the lamps in operation at
the laboratory or on the hillsides, but they were an
insignificant proportion of the inhabitants of the
United States. Of course, a great many accounts
were written and read, but while genuine interest was
aroused it was necessarily apathetic. A newspaper
description or a magazine article may be admirably
complete in itself, with illustrations, but until some
personal experience is had of the thing described it
does not convey a perfect mental picture, nor can it
always make the desire active and insistent. Generally,
people wait to have the new thing brought to
them; and hence, as in the case of the Edison light,
an educational campaign of a practical nature is a
fundamental condition of success.

Another serious difficulty confronting Edison and
his associates was that nowhere in the world were
there to be purchased any of the appliances necessary
for the use of the lighting system. Edison had resolved
from the very first that the initial central
station embodying his various ideas should be installed
in New York City, where he could superintend
the installation personally, and then watch the operation.
Plans to that end were now rapidly maturing;
but there would be needed among many other things
--every one of them new and novel--dynamos,
switchboards, regulators, pressure and current
indicators, fixtures in great variety, incandescent
lamps, meters, sockets, small switches, underground
conductors, junction-boxes, service-boxes, manhole-
boxes, connectors, and even specially made wire.
Now, not one of these miscellaneous things was in
existence; not an outsider was sufficiently informed
about such devices to make them on order, except
perhaps the special wire. Edison therefore started
first of all a lamp factory in one of the buildings at
Menlo Park, equipped it with novel machinery and
apparatus, and began to instruct men, boys, and girls,
as they could be enlisted, in the absolutely new art,
putting Mr. Upton in charge.

With regard to the conditions attendant upon the
manufacture of the lamps, Edison says: "When we
first started the electric light we had to have a factory
for manufacturing lamps. As the Edison Light Company
did not seem disposed to go into manufacturing,
we started a small lamp factory at Menlo Park with
what money I could raise from my other inventions
and royalties, and some assistance. The lamps at
that time were costing about $1.25 each to make, so
I said to the company: `If you will give me a contract
during the life of the patents, I will make all
the lamps required by the company and deliver them
for forty cents.' The company jumped at the chance
of this offer, and a contract was drawn up. We then
bought at a receiver's sale at Harrison, New Jersey,
a very large brick factory building which had been
used as an oil-cloth works. We got it at a great bargain,
and only paid a small sum down, and the balance
on mortgage. We moved the lamp works from
Menlo Park to Harrison. The first year the lamps
cost us about $1.10 each. We sold them for forty
cents; but there were only about twenty or thirty
thousand of them. The next year they cost us about
seventy cents, and we sold them for forty. There
were a good many, and we lost more money the
second year than the first. The third year I succeeded
in getting up machinery and in changing the
processes, until it got down so that they cost somewhere
around fifty cents. I still sold them for forty
cents, and lost more money that year than any other,
because the sales were increasing rapidly. The
fourth year I got it down to thirty-seven cents, and
I made all the money up in one year that I had lost
previously. I finally got it down to twenty-two
cents, and sold them for forty cents; and they were
made by the million. Whereupon the Wall Street
people thought it was a very lucrative business, so
they concluded they would like to have it, and
bought us out.

"One of the incidents which caused a very great
cheapening was that, when we started, one of the
important processes had to be done by experts. This
was the sealing on of the part carrying the filament
into the globe, which was rather a delicate operation
in those days, and required several months of training
before any one could seal in a fair number of parts
in a day. When we got to the point where we employed
eighty of these experts they formed a union;
and knowing it was impossible to manufacture lamps
without them, they became very insolent. One instance
was that the son of one of these experts was
employed in the office, and when he was told to do
anything would not do it, or would give an insolent
reply. He was discharged, whereupon the union
notified us that unless the boy was taken back the
whole body would go out. It got so bad that the
manager came to me and said he could not stand it
any longer; something had got to be done. They
were not only more surly; they were diminishing the
output, and it became impossible to manage the
works. He got me enthused on the subject, so I
started in to see if it were not possible to do that
operation by machinery. After feeling around for
some days I got a clew how to do it. I then put men
on it I could trust, and made the preliminary machinery.
That seemed to work pretty well. I then
made another machine which did the work nicely.
I then made a third machine, and would bring in
yard men, ordinary laborers, etc., and when I could
get these men to put the parts together as well as
the trained experts, in an hour, I considered the
machine complete. I then went secretly to work
and made thirty of the machines. Up in the top
loft of the factory we stored those machines, and at
night we put up the benches and got everything all
ready. Then we discharged the office-boy. Then
the union went out. It has been out ever since.

"When we formed the works at Harrison we divided
the interests into one hundred shares or parts
at $100 par. One of the boys was hard up after a
time, and sold two shares to Bob Cutting. Up to
that time we had never paid anything; but we got
around to the point where the board declared a
dividend every Saturday night. We had never declared
a dividend when Cutting bought his shares,
and after getting his dividends for three weeks in
succession, he called up on the telephone and wanted
to know what kind of a concern this was that paid
a weekly dividend. The works sold for $1,085,000."

Incidentally it may be noted, as illustrative of the
problems brought to Edison, that while he had the
factory at Harrison an importer in the Chinese trade
went to him and wanted a dynamo to be run by
hand power. The importer explained that in China
human labor was cheaper than steam power. Edison
devised a machine to answer the purpose, and put
long spokes on it, fitted it up, and shipped it to
China. He has not, however, heard of it since.

For making the dynamos Edison secured, as noted
in the preceding chapter, the Roach Iron Works on
Goerck Street, New York, and this was also equipped.
A building was rented on Washington Street, where
machinery and tools were put in specially designed
for making the underground tube conductors and
their various paraphernalia; and the faithful John
Kruesi was given charge of that branch of production.
To Sigmund Bergmann, who had worked previously
with Edison on telephone apparatus and phonographs,
and was already making Edison specialties
in a small way in a loft on Wooster Street, New York,
was assigned the task of constructing sockets, fixtures,
meters, safety fuses, and numerous other

Thus, broadly, the manufacturing end of the problem
of introduction was cared for. In the early part
of 1881 the Edison Electric Light Company leased
the old Bishop mansion at 65 Fifth Avenue, close to
Fourteenth Street, for its headquarters and show-
rooms. This was one of the finest homes in the
city of that period, and its acquisition was a premonitory
sign of the surrender of the famous residential
avenue to commerce. The company needed
not only offices, but, even more, such an interior as
would display to advantage the new light in everyday
use; and this house with its liberal lines, spacious
halls, lofty ceilings, wide parlors, and graceful, winding
stairway was ideal for the purpose. In fact, in
undergoing this violent change, it did not cease to
be a home in the real sense, for to this day many
an Edison veteran's pulse is quickened by some
chance reference to "65," where through many years
the work of development by a loyal and devoted
band of workers was centred. Here Edison and a
few of his assistants from Menlo Park installed
immediately in the basement a small generating plant,
at first with a gas-engine which was not successful,
and then with a Hampson high-speed engine and
boiler, constituting a complete isolated plant. The
building was wired from top to bottom, and equipped
with all the appliances of the art. The experience
with the little gas-engine was rather startling. "At
an early period at `65' we decided," says Edison, "to
light it up with the Edison system, and put a gas-
engine in the cellar, using city gas. One day it was
not going very well, and I went down to the man in
charge and got exploring around. Finally I opened
the pedestal--a storehouse for tools, etc. We had
an open lamp, and when we opened the pedestal, it
blew the doors off, and blew out the windows, and
knocked me down, and the other man."

For the next four or five years "65" was a veritable
beehive, day and night. The routine was very much
the same as that at the laboratory, in its utter neglect
of the clock. The evenings were not only devoted to
the continuance of regular business, but the house
was thrown open to the public until late at night,
never closing before ten o'clock, so as to give everybody
who wished an opportunity to see that great
novelty of the time--the incandescent light--whose
fame had meanwhile been spreading all over the
globe. The first year, 1881, was naturally that which
witnessed the greatest rush of visitors; and the
building hardly ever closed its doors till midnight.
During the day business was carried on under great
stress, and Mr. Insull has described how Edison was
to be found there trying to lead the life of a man of
affairs in the conventional garb of polite society,
instead of pursuing inventions and researches in his
laboratory. But the disagreeable ordeal could not
be dodged. After the experience Edison could never
again be tempted to quit his laboratory and work
for any length of time; but in this instance there were
some advantages attached to the sacrifice, for the
crowds of lion-hunters and people seeking business
arrangements would only have gone out to Menlo
Park; while, on the other hand, the great plans for
lighting New York demanded very close personal
attention on the spot.

As it was, not only Edison, but all the company's
directors, officers, and employees, were kept busy
exhibiting and explaining the light. To the public
of that day, when the highest known form of house
illuminant was gas, the incandescent lamp, with its
ability to burn in any position, its lack of heat so
that you could put your hand on the brilliant glass
globe; the absence of any vitiating effect on the
atmosphere, the obvious safety from fire; the curious
fact that you needed no matches to light it, and
that it was under absolute control from a distance--
these and many other features came as a distinct
revelation and marvel, while promising so much

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