The Orange laboratory, as originally planned, consisted of a main building two hundred and fifty feet long and three stories in height, together with four other structures, each one hundred by twenty-five feet, and only one story in height. All these were substantially built of brick. The main building was divided into five chief divisions—the library, office, machine shops, experimental and chemical rooms, and stock-room. The use of the smaller buildings will be presently indicated.
Surrounding the whole was erected a high picket fence with a gate placed on Valley Road. At this point a gate-house was provided and put in charge of a keeper, for then, as at the present time, Edison was greatly sought after; and, in order to accomplish any work at all, he was obliged to deny himself to all but the most important callers. The keeper of the gate was usually chosen with reference to his capacity for stony-hearted implacability and adherence to instructions; and this choice was admirably made in one instance when a new gateman, not yet thoroughly initiated, refused admittance to Edison himself. It was of no use to try and explain. To the gateman EVERY ONE was persona non grata without proper credentials, and Edison had to wait outside until he could get some one to identify him.
On entering the main building the first doorway from the ample passage leads the visitor into a handsome library finished throughout in yellow pine, occupying the entire width of the building, and almost as broad as long. The centre of this spacious room is an open rectangular space about forty by twenty-five feet, rising clear about forty feet from the main floor to a panelled ceiling. Around the sides of the room, bounding this open space, run two tiers of gallery, divided, as is the main floor beneath them; into alcoves of liberal dimensions. These alcoves are formed by racks extending from floor to ceiling, fitted with shelves, except on two sides of both galleries, where they are formed by a series of glass-fronted cabinets containing extensive collections of curious and beautiful mineralogical and geological specimens, among which is the notable Tiffany-Kunz collection of minerals acquired by Edison some years ago. Here and there in these cabinets may also be found a few models which he has used at times in his studies of anatomy and physiology.
The shelves on the remainder of the upper gallery and part of those on the first gallery are filled with countless thousands of specimens of ores and minerals of every conceivable kind gathered from all parts of the world, and all tagged and numbered. The remaining shelves of the first gallery are filled with current numbers (and some back numbers) of the numerous periodicals to which Edison subscribes. Here may be found the popular magazines, together with those of a technical nature relating to electricity, chemistry, engineering, mechanics, building, cement, building materials, drugs, water and gas, power, automobiles, railroads, aeronautics, philosophy, hygiene, physics, telegraphy, mining, metallurgy, metals, music, and others; also theatrical weeklies, as well as the proceedings and transactions of various learned and technical societies.
The first impression received as one enters on the main floor of the library and looks around is that of noble proportions and symmetry as a whole. The open central space of liberal dimensions and height, flanked by the galleries and relieved by four handsome electric-lighting fixtures suspended from the ceiling by long chains, conveys an idea of lofty spaciousness; while the huge open fireplace, surmounted by a great clock built into the wall, at one end of the room, the large rugs, the arm-chairs scattered around, the tables and chairs in the alcoves, give a general air of comfort combined with utility. In one of the larger alcoves, at the sunny end of the main hall, is Edison's own desk, where he may usually be seen for a while in the early morning hours looking over his mail or otherwise busily working on matters requiring his attention.
At the opposite end of the room, not far from the open fireplace, is a long table surrounded by swivel desk-chairs. It is here that directors' meetings are sometimes held, and also where weighty matters are often discussed by Edison at conference with his closer associates. It has been the privilege of the writers to be present at some of these conferences, not only as participants, but in some cases as lookers-on while awaiting their turn. On such occasions an interesting opportunity is offered to study Edison in his intense and constructive moods. Apparently oblivious to everything else, he will listen with concentrated mind and close attention, and then pour forth a perfect torrent of ideas and plans, and, if the occasion calls for it, will turn around to the table, seize a writing-pad and make sketch after sketch with lightning-like rapidity, tearing off each sheet as filled and tossing it aside to the floor. It is an ordinary indication that there has been an interesting meeting when the caretaker about fills a waste-basket with these discarded sketches.
Directly opposite the main door is a beautiful marble statue purchased by Edison at the Paris Exposition in 1889, on the occasion of his visit there. The statue, mounted on a base three feet high, is an allegorical representation of the supremacy of electric light over all other forms of illumination, carried out by the life-size figure of a youth with half-spread wings seated upon the ruins of a street gas-lamp, holding triumphantly high above his head an electric incandescent lamp. Grouped about his feet are a gear-wheel, voltaic pile, telegraph key, and telephone. This work of art was executed by A. Bordiga, of Rome, held a prominent place in the department devoted to Italian art at the Paris Exposition, and naturally appealed to Edison as soon as he saw it.
In the middle distance, between the entrance door and this statue, has long stood a magnificent palm, but at the present writing it has been set aside to give place to a fine model of the first type of the Edison poured cement house, which stands in a miniature artificial lawn upon a special table prepared for it; while on the floor at the foot of the table are specimens of the full-size molds in which the house will be cast.
The balustrades of the galleries and all other available places are filled with portraits of great scientists and men of achievement, as well as with pictures of historic and scientific interest. Over the fireplace hangs a large photograph showing the Edison cement plant in its entire length, flanked on one end of the mantel by a bust of Humboldt, and on the other by a statuette of Sandow, the latter having been presented to Edison by the celebrated athlete after the visit he made to Orange to pose for the motion pictures in the earliest days of their development. On looking up under the second gallery at this end is seen a great roll resting in sockets placed on each side of the room. This is a huge screen or curtain which may be drawn down to the floor to provide a means of projection for lantern slides or motion pictures, for the entertainment or instruction of Edison and his guests. In one of the larger alcoves is a large terrestrial globe pivoted in its special stand, together with a relief map of the United States; and here and there are handsomely mounted specimens of underground conductors and electric welds that were made at the Edison Machine Works at Schenectady before it was merged into the General Electric Company. On two pedestals stand, respectively, two other mementoes of the works, one a fifteen-light dynamo of the Edison type, and the other an elaborate electric fan—both of them gifts from associates or employees.
In noting these various objects of interest one must not lose sight of the fact that this part of the building is primarily a library, if indeed that fact did not at once impress itself by a glance at the well-filled unglazed book-shelves in the alcoves of the main floor. Here Edison's catholic taste in reading becomes apparent as one scans the titles of thousands of volumes ranged upon the shelves, for they include astronomy, botany, chemistry, dynamics, electricity, engineering, forestry, geology, geography, mechanics, mining, medicine, metallurgy, magnetism, philosophy, psychology, physics, steam, steam-engines, telegraphy, telephony, and many others. Besides these there are the journals and proceedings of numerous technical societies; encyclopaedias of various kinds; bound series of important technical magazines; a collection of United States and foreign patents, embracing some hundreds of volumes, together with an extensive assortment of miscellaneous books of special and general interest. There is another big library up in the house on the hill—in fact, there are books upon books all over the home. And wherever they are, those books are read.
As one is about to pass out of the library attention is arrested by an incongruity in the form of a cot, which stands in an alcove near the door. Here Edison, throwing himself down, sometimes seeks a short rest during specially long working tours. Sleep is practically instantaneous and profound, and he awakes in immediate and full possession of his faculties, arising from the cot and going directly "back to the job" without a moment's hesitation, just as a person wide awake would arise from a chair and proceed to attend to something previously determined upon.
Immediately outside the library is the famous stock-room, about which much has been written and invented. Its fame arose from the fact that Edison planned it to be a repository of some quantity, great or small, of every known and possibly useful substance not readily perishable, together with the most complete assortment of chemicals and drugs that experience and knowledge could suggest. Always strenuous in his experimentation, and the living embodiment of the spirit of the song, I Want What I Want When I Want It, Edison had known for years what it was to be obliged to wait, and sometimes lack, for some substance or chemical that he thought necessary to the success of an experiment. Naturally impatient at any delay which interposed in his insistent and searching methods, and realizing the necessity of maintaining the inspiration attending his work at any time, he determined to have within his immediate reach the natural resources of the world.
Hence it is not surprising to find the stock-room not only a museum, but a sample-room of nature, as well as a supply department. To a casual visitor the first view of this heterogeneous collection is quite bewildering, but on more mature examination it resolves itself into a natural classification—as, for instance, objects pertaining to various animals, birds, and fishes, such as skins, hides, hair, fur, feathers, wool, quills, down, bristles, teeth, bones, hoofs, horns, tusks, shells; natural products, such as woods, barks, roots, leaves, nuts, seeds, herbs, gums, grains, flours, meals, bran; also minerals in great assortment; mineral and vegetable oils, clay, mica, ozokerite, etc. In the line of textiles, cotton and silk threads in great variety, with woven goods of all kinds from cheese-cloth to silk plush. As for paper, there is everything in white and colored, from thinnest tissue up to the heaviest asbestos, even a few newspapers being always on hand. Twines of all sizes, inks, waxes, cork, tar, resin, pitch, turpentine, asphalt, plumbago, glass in sheets and tubes; and a host of miscellaneous articles revealed on looking around the shelves, as well as an interminable collection of chemicals, including acids, alkalies, salts, reagents, every conceivable essential oil and all the thinkable extracts. It may be remarked that this collection includes the eighteen hundred or more fluorescent salts made by Edison during his experimental search for the best material for a fluoroscope in the initial X-ray period. All known metals in form of sheet, rod and tube, and of great variety in thickness, are here found also, together with a most complete assortment of tools and accessories for machine shop and laboratory work.
The list is confined to the merest general mention of the scope of this remarkable and interesting collection, as specific details would stretch out into a catalogue of no small proportions. When it is stated, however, that a stock clerk is kept exceedingly busy all day answering the numerous and various demands upon him, the reader will appreciate that this comprehensive assortment is not merely a fad of Edison's, but stands rather as a substantial tribute to his wide-angled view of possible requirements as his various investigations take him far afield. It has no counterpart in the world!
Beyond the stock-room, and occupying about half the building on the same floor, lie a machine shop, engine-room, and boiler-room. This machine shop is well equipped, and in it is constantly employed a large force of mechanics whose time is occupied in constructing the heavier class of models and mechanical devices called for by the varied experiments and inventions always going on.
Immediately above, on the second floor, is found another machine shop in which is maintained a corps of expert mechanics who are called upon to do work of greater precision and fineness, in the construction of tools and experimental models. This is the realm presided over lovingly by John F. Ott, who has been Edison's designer of mechanical devices for over forty years. He still continues to ply his craft with unabated skill and oversees the work of the mechanics as his productions are wrought into concrete shape.
In one of the many experimental-rooms lining the sides of the second floor may usually be seen his younger brother, Fred Ott, whose skill as a dexterous manipulator and ingenious mechanic has found ample scope for exercise during the thirty-two years of his service with Edison, not only at the regular laboratories, but also at that connected with the inventor's winter home in Florida. Still another of the Ott family, the son of John F., for some years past has been on the experimental staff of the Orange laboratory. Although possessing in no small degree the mechanical and manipulative skill of the family, he has chosen chemistry as his special domain, and may be found with the other chemists in one of the chemical-rooms.
On this same floor is the vacuum-pump room with a glass-blowers' room adjoining, both of them historic by reason of the strenuous work done on incandescent lamps and X-ray tubes within their walls. The tools and appliances are kept intact, for Edison calls occasionally for their use in some of his later experiments, and there is a suspicion among the laboratory staff that some day he may resume work on incandescent lamps. Adjacent to these rooms are several others devoted to physical and mechanical experiments, together with a draughting-room.
Last to be mentioned, but the first in order as one leaves the head of the stairs leading up to this floor, is No. 12, Edison's favorite room, where he will frequently be found. Plain of aspect, being merely a space boarded off with tongued-and-grooved planks—as all the other rooms are—without ornament or floor covering, and containing only a few articles of cheap furniture, this room seems to exercise a nameless charm for him. The door is always open, and often he can be seen seated at a plain table in the centre of the room, deeply intent on some of the numerous problems in which he is interested. The table is usually pretty well filled with specimens or data of experimental results which have been put there for his examination. At the time of this writing these specimens consist largely of sections of positive elements of the storage battery, together with many samples of nickel hydrate, to which Edison devotes deep study. Close at hand is a microscope which is in frequent use by him in these investigations. Around the room, on shelves, are hundreds of bottles each containing a small quantity of nickel hydrate made in as many different ways, each labelled correspondingly. Always at hand will be found one or two of the laboratory note-books, with frequent entries or comments in the handwriting which once seen is never forgotten.
No. 12 is at times a chemical, a physical, or a mechanical room—occasionally a combination of all, while sometimes it might be called a consultation-room or clinic—for often Edison may be seen there in animated conference with a group of his assistants; but its chief distinction lies in its being one of his favorite haunts, and in the fact that within its walls have been settled many of the perplexing problems and momentous questions that have brought about great changes in electrical and engineering arts during the twenty-odd years that have elapsed since the Orange laboratory was built.
Passing now to the top floor the visitor finds himself at the head of a broad hall running almost the entire length of the building, and lined mostly with glass-fronted cabinets containing a multitude of experimental incandescent lamps and an immense variety of models of phonographs, motors, telegraph and telephone apparatus, meters, and a host of other inventions upon which Edison's energies have at one time and another been bent. Here also are other cabinets containing old papers and records, while further along the wall are piled up boxes of historical models and instruments. In fact, this hallway, with its conglomerate contents, may well be considered a scientific attic. It is to be hoped that at no distant day these Edisoniana will be assembled and arranged in a fireproof museum for the benefit of posterity.
In the front end of the building, and extending over the library, is a large room intended originally and used for a time as the phonograph music-hall for record-making, but now used only as an experimental-room for phonograph work, as the growth of the industry has necessitated a very much larger and more central place where records can be made on a commercial scale. Even the experimental work imposes no slight burden on it. On each side of the hallway above mentioned, rooms are partitioned off and used for experimental work of various kinds, mostly phonographic, although on this floor are also located the storage-battery testing-room, a chemical and physical room and Edison's private office, where all his personal correspondence and business affairs are conducted by his personal secretary, Mr. H. F. Miller. A visitor to this upper floor of the laboratory building cannot but be impressed with a consciousness of the incessant efforts that are being made to improve the reproducing qualities of the phonograph, as he hears from all sides the sounds of vocal and instrumental music constantly varying in volume and timbre, due to changes in the experimental devices under trial.
The traditions of the laboratory include cots placed in many of the rooms of these upper floors, but that was in the earlier years when the strenuous scenes of Menlo Park were repeated in the new quarters. Edison and his closest associates were accustomed to carry their labors far into the wee sma' hours, and when physical nature demanded a respite from work, a short rest would be obtained by going to bed on a cot. One would naturally think that the wear and tear of this intense application, day after day and night after night, would have tended to induce a heaviness and gravity of demeanor in these busy men; but on the contrary, the old spirit of good-humor and prankishness was ever present, as its frequent outbursts manifested from time to time. One instance will serve as an illustration. One morning, about 2.30, the late Charles Batchelor announced that he was tired and would go to bed. Leaving Edison and the others busily working, he went out and returned quietly in slippered feet, with his nightgown on, the handle of a feather duster stuck down his back with the feathers waving over his head, and his face marked. With unearthly howls and shrieks, a l'Indien, he pranced about the room, incidentally giving Edison a scare that made him jump up from his work. He saw the joke quickly, however, and joined in the general merriment caused by this prank.
Leaving the main building with its corps of busy experimenters, and coming out into the spacious yard, one notes the four long single-story brick structures mentioned above. The one nearest the Valley Road is called the galvanometer-room, and was originally intended by Edison to be used for the most delicate and minute electrical measurements. In order to provide rigid resting-places for the numerous and elaborate instruments he had purchased for this purpose, the building was equipped along three-quarters of its length with solid pillars, or tables, of brick set deep in the earth. These were built up to a height of about two and a half feet, and each was surmounted with a single heavy slab of black marble. A cement floor was laid, and every precaution was taken to render the building free from all magnetic influences, so that it would be suitable for electrical work of the utmost accuracy and precision. Hence, iron and steel were entirely eliminated in its construction, copper being used for fixtures for steam and water piping, and, indeed, for all other purposes where metal was employed.
This room was for many years the headquarters of Edison's able assistant, Dr. A. E. Kennelly, now professor of electrical engineering in Harvard University to whose energetic and capable management were intrusted many scientific investigations during his long sojourn at the laboratory. Unfortunately, however, for the continued success of Edison's elaborate plans, he had not been many years established in the laboratory before a trolley road through West Orange was projected and built, the line passing in front of the plant and within seventy-five feet of the galvanometer-room, thus making it practically impossible to use it for the delicate purposes for which it was originally intended.
For some time past it has been used for photography and some special experiments on motion pictures as well as for demonstrations connected with physical research; but some reminders of its old-time glory still remain in evidence. In lofty and capacious glass-enclosed cabinets, in company with numerous models of Edison's inventions, repose many of the costly and elaborate instruments rendered useless by the ubiquitous trolley. Instruments are all about, on walls, tables, and shelves, the photometer is covered up; induction coils of various capacities, with other electrical paraphernalia, lie around, almost as if the experimenter were absent for a few days but would soon return and resume his work.
In numbering the group of buildings, the galvanometer-room is No. 1, while the other single-story structures are numbered respectively 2, 3, and 4. On passing out of No. 1 and proceeding to the succeeding building is noticed, between the two, a garage of ample dimensions and a smaller structure, at the door of which stands a concrete-mixer. In this small building Edison has made some of his most important experiments in the process of working out his plans for the poured house. It is in this little place that there was developed the remarkable mixture which is to play so vital a part in the successful construction of these everlasting homes for living millions.
Drawing near to building No. 2, olfactory evidence presents itself of the immediate vicinity of a chemical laboratory. This is confirmed as one enters the door and finds that the entire building is devoted to chemistry. Long rows of shelves and cabinets filled with chemicals line the room; a profusion of retorts, alembics, filters, and other chemical apparatus on numerous tables and stands, greet the eye, while a corps of experimenters may be seen busy in the preparation of various combinations, some of which are boiling or otherwise cooking under their dexterous manipulation.
It would not require many visits to discover that in this room, also, Edison has a favorite nook. Down at the far end in a corner are a plain little table and chair, and here he is often to be found deeply immersed in a study of the many experiments that are being conducted. Not infrequently he is actively engaged in the manipulation of some compound of special intricacy, whose results might be illuminative of obscure facts not patent to others than himself. Here, too, is a select little library of chemical literature.
The next building, No. 3, has a double mission—the farther half being partitioned off for a pattern-making shop, while the other half is used as a store-room for chemicals in quantity and for chemical apparatus and utensils. A grimly humorous incident, as related by one of the laboratory staff, attaches to No. 3. It seems that some time ago one of the helpers in the chemical department, an excitable foreigner, became dissatisfied with his wages, and after making an unsuccessful application for an increase, rushed in desperation to Edison, and said "Eef I not get more money I go to take ze cyanide potassia." Edison gave him one quick, searching glance and, detecting a bluff, replied in an offhand manner: "There's a five-pound bottle in No. 3," and turned to his work again. The foreigner did not go to get the cyanide, but gave up his job.
The last of these original buildings, No. 4, was used for many years in Edison's ore-concentrating experiments, and also for rough-and-ready operations of other kinds, such as furnace work and the like. At the present writing it is used as a general stock-room.
In the foregoing details, the reader has been afforded but a passing glance at the great practical working equipment which constitutes the theatre of Edison's activities, for, in taking a general view of such a unique and comprehensive laboratory plant, its salient features only can be touched upon to advantage. It would be but repetition to enumerate here the practical results of the laboratory work during the past two decades, as they appear on other pages of this work. Nor can one assume for a moment that the history of Edison's laboratory is a closed book. On the contrary, its territorial boundaries have been increasing step by step with the enlargement of its labors, until now it has been obliged to go outside its own proper domains to occupy some space in and about the great Edison industrial buildings and space immediately adjacent. It must be borne in mind that the laboratory is only the core of a group of buildings devoted to production on a huge scale by hundreds of artisans.
Incidental mention has already been made of the laboratory at Edison's winter residence in Florida, where he goes annually to spend a month or six weeks. This is a miniature copy of the Orange laboratory, with its machine shop, chemical-room, and general experimental department. While it is only in use during his sojourn there, and carries no extensive corps of assistants, the work done in it is not of a perfunctory nature, but is a continuation of his regular activities, and serves to keep him in touch with the progress of experiments at Orange, and enables him to give instructions for their variation and continuance as their scope is expanded by his own investigations made while enjoying what he calls "vacation." What Edison in Florida speaks of as "loafing" would be for most of us extreme and healthy activity in the cooler Far North.
A word or two may be devoted to the visitors received at the laboratory, and to the correspondence. It might be injudicious to gauge the greatness of a man by the number of his callers or his letters; but they are at least an indication of the degree to which he interests the world. In both respects, for these forty years, Edison has been a striking example of the manner in which the sentiment of hero-worship can manifest itself, and of the deep desire of curiosity to get satisfaction by personal observation or contact. Edison's mail, like that of most well-known men, is extremely large, but composed in no small degree of letters—thousands of them yearly—that concern only the writers, and might well go to the waste-paper basket without prolonged consideration. The serious and important part of the mail, some personal and some business, occupies the attention of several men; all such letters finding their way promptly into the proper channels, often with a pithy endorsement by Edison scribbled on the margin. What to do with a host of others it is often difficult to decide, even when written by "cranks," who imagine themselves subject to strange electrical ailments from which Edison alone can relieve them. Many people write asking his opinion as to a certain invention, or offering him an interest in it if he will work it out. Other people abroad ask help in locating lost relatives; and many want advice as to what they shall do with their sons, frequently budding geniuses whose ability to wire a bell has demonstrated unusual qualities. A great many persons want autographs, and some would like photographs. The amazing thing about it all is that this flood of miscellaneous letters flows on in one steady, uninterrupted stream, year in and year out; always a curious psychological study in its variety and volume; and ever a proof of the fact that once a man has become established as a personality in the public eye and mind, nothing can stop the tide of correspondence that will deluge him.
It is generally, in the nature of things, easier to write a letter than to make a call; and the semi-retirement of Edison at a distance of an hour by train from New York stands as a means of protection to him against those who would certainly present their respects in person, if he could be got at without trouble. But it may be seriously questioned whether in the aggregate Edison's visitors are less numerous or less time-consuming than his epistolary besiegers. It is the common experience of any visitor to the laboratory that there are usually several persons ahead of him, no matter what the hour of the day, and some whose business has been sufficiently vital to get them inside the porter's gate, or even into the big library and lounging-room. Celebrities of all kinds and distinguished foreigners are numerous—princes, noblemen, ambassadors, artists, litterateurs, scientists, financiers, women. A very large part of the visiting is done by scientific bodies and societies; and then the whole place will be turned over to hundreds of eager, well-dressed men and women, anxious to see everything and to be photographed in the big courtyard around the central hero. Nor are these groups and delegations limited to this country, for even large parties of English, Dutch, Italian, or Japanese visitors come from time to time, and are greeted with the same ready hospitality, although Edison, it is easy to see, is torn between the conflicting emotions of a desire to be courteous, and an anxiety to guard the precious hours of work, or watch the critical stage of a new experiment.
One distinct group of visitors has always been constituted by the "newspaper men." Hardly a day goes by that the journals do not contain some reference to Edison's work or remarks; and the items are generally based on an interview. The reporters are never away from the laboratory very long; for if they have no actual mission of inquiry, there is always the chance of a good story being secured offhand; and the easy, inveterate good-nature of Edison toward reporters is proverbial in the craft. Indeed, it must be stated here that once in a while this confidence has been abused; that stories have been published utterly without foundation; that interviews have been printed which never took place; that articles with Edison's name as author have been widely circulated, although he never saw them; and that in such ways he has suffered directly. But such occasional incidents tend in no wise to lessen Edison's warm admiration of the press or his readiness to avail himself of it whenever a representative goes over to Orange to get the truth or the real facts in regard to any matter of public importance. As for the newspaper clippings containing such articles, or others in which Edison's name appears—they are literally like sands of the sea-shore for number; and the archives of the laboratory that preserve only a very minute percentage of them are a further demonstration of what publicity means, where a figure like Edison is concerned.
EDISON IN COMMERCE AND MANUFACTURE
AN applicant for membership in the Engineers' Club of Philadelphia is required to give a brief statement of the professional work he has done. Some years ago a certain application was made, and contained the following terse and modest sentence:
"I have designed a concentrating plant and built a machine shop, etc., etc. THOMAS A. EDISON."
Although in the foregoing pages the reader has been made acquainted with the tremendous import of the actualities lying behind those "etc., etc.," the narrative up to this point has revealed Edison chiefly in the light of inventor, experimenter, and investigator. There have been some side glimpses of the industries he has set on foot, and of their financial aspects, and a later chapter will endeavor to sum up the intrinsic value of Edison's work to the world. But there are some other interesting points that may be touched on now in regard to a few of Edison's financial and commercial ventures not generally known or appreciated.
It is a popular idea founded on experience that an inventor is not usually a business man. One of the exceptions proving the rule may perhaps be met in Edison, though all depends on the point of view. All his life he has had a great deal to do with finance and commerce, and as one looks at the magnitude of the vast industries he has helped to create, it would not be at all unreasonable to expect him to be among the multi-millionaires. That he is not is due to the absence of certain qualities, the lack of which Edison is himself the first to admit. Those qualities may not be amiable, but great wealth is hardly ever accumulated without them. If he had not been so intent on inventing he would have made more of his great opportunities for getting rich. If this utter detachment from any love of money for its own sake has not already been illustrated in some of the incidents narrated, one or two stories are available to emphasize the point. They do not involve any want of the higher business acumen that goes to the proper conduct of affairs. It was said of Gladstone that he was the greatest Chancellor of the Exchequer England ever saw, but that as a retail merchant he would soon have ruined himself by his bookkeeping.
Edison confesses that he has never made a cent out of his patents in electric light and power—in fact, that they have been an expense to him, and thus a free gift to the world.  This was true of the European patents as well as the American. "I endeavored to sell my lighting patents in different countries of Europe, and made a contract with a couple of men. On account of their poor business capacity and lack of practicality, they conveyed under the patents all rights to different corporations but in such a way and with such confused wording of the contracts that I never got a cent. One of the companies started was the German Edison, now the great Allgemeine Elektricitaets Gesellschaft. The English company I never got anything for, because a lawyer had originally advised Drexel, Morgan & Co. as to the signing of a certain document, and said it was all right for me to sign. I signed, and I never got a cent because there was a clause in it which prevented me from ever getting anything." A certain easy-going belief in human nature, and even a certain carelessness of attitude toward business affairs, are here revealed. We have already pointed out two instances where in his dealings with the Western Union Company he stipulated that payments of $6000 per year for seventeen years were to be made instead of $100,000 in cash, evidently forgetful of the fact that the annual sum so received was nothing more than legal interest, which could have been earned indefinitely if the capital had been only insisted upon. In later life Edison has been more circumspect, but throughout his early career he was constantly getting into some kind of scrape. Of one experience he says:
[Footnote 18: Edison received some stock from the parent lighting company, but as the capital stock of that company was increased from time to time, his proportion grew smaller, and he ultimately used it to obtain ready money with which to create and finance the various "shops" in which were manufactured the various items of electric- lighting apparatus necessary to exploit his system. Besides, he was obliged to raise additional large sums of money from other sources for this purpose. He thus became a manufacturer with capital raised by himself, and the stock that he received later, on the formation of the General Electric Company, was not for his electric-light patents, but was in payment for his manufacturing establishments, which had then grown to be of great commercial importance.]
"In the early days I was experimenting with metallic filaments for the incandescent light, and sent a certain man out to California in search of platinum. He found a considerable quantity in the sluice-boxes of the Cherokee Valley Mining Company; but just then he found also that fruit-gardening was the thing, and dropped the subject. He then came to me and said that if he could raise $4000 he could go into some kind of orchard arrangement out there, and would give me half the profits. I was unwilling to do it, not having very much money just then, but his persistence was such that I raised the money and gave it to him. He went back to California, and got into mining claims and into fruit-growing, and became one of the politicians of the Coast, and, I believe, was on the staff of the Governor of the State. A couple of years ago he wounded his daughter and shot himself because he had become ruined financially. I never heard from him after he got the money."
Edison tells of another similar episode. "I had two men working for me—one a German, the other a Jew. They wanted me to put up a little money and start them in a shop in New York to make repairs, etc. I put up $800, and was to get half of the profits, and each of them one-quarter. I never got anything for it. A few years afterward I went to see them, and asked what they were doing, and said I would like to sell my interest. They said: 'Sell out what?' 'Why,' I said, 'my interest in the machinery.' They said: 'You don't own this machinery. This is our machinery. You have no papers to show anything. You had better get out.' I am inclined to think that the percentage of crooked people was smaller when I was young. It has been steadily rising, and has got up to a very respectable figure now. I hope it will never reach par." To which lugubrious episode so provocative of cynicism, Edison adds: "When I was a young fellow the first thing I did when I went to a town was to put something into the savings-bank and start an account. When I came to New York I put $30 into a savings-bank under the New York Sun office. After the money had been in about two weeks the bank busted. That was in 1870. In 1909 I got back $6.40, with a charge for $1.75 for law expenses. That shows the beauty of New York receiverships."
It is hardly to be wondered at that Edison is rather frank and unsparing in some of his criticisms of shady modern business methods, and the mention of the following incident always provokes him to a fine scorn. "I had an interview with one of the wealthiest men in New York. He wanted me to sell out my associates in the electric lighting business, and offered me all I was going to get and $100,000 besides. Of course I would not do it. I found out that the reason for this offer was that he had had trouble with Mr. Morgan, and wanted to get even with him." Wall Street is, in fact, a frequent object of rather sarcastic reference, applying even to its regular and probably correct methods of banking. "When I was running my ore-mine," he says, "and got up to the point of making shipments to John Fritz, I didn't have capital enough to carry the ore, so I went to J. P. Morgan & Co. and said I wanted them to give me a letter to the City Bank. I wanted to raise some money. I got a letter to Mr. Stillman; and went over and told him I wanted to open an account and get some loans and discounts. He turned me down, and would not do it. 'Well,' I said, 'isn't it banking to help a man in this way?' He said: 'What you want is a partner.' I felt very much crestfallen. I went over to a bank in Newark—the Merchants'—and told them what I wanted. They said: 'Certainly, you can have the money.' I made my deposit, and they pulled me through all right. My idea of Wall Street banking has been very poor since that time. Merchant banking seems to be different."
As a general thing, Edison has had no trouble in raising money when he needed it, the reason being that people have faith in him as soon as they come to know him. A little incident bears on this point. "In operating the Schenectady works Mr. Insull and I had a terrible burden. We had enormous orders and little money, and had great difficulty to meet our payrolls and buy supplies. At one time we had so many orders on hand we wanted $200,000 worth of copper, and didn't have a cent to buy it. We went down to the Ansonia Brass and Copper Company, and told Mr. Cowles just how we stood. He said: 'I will see what I can do. Will you let my bookkeeper look at your books?' We said: 'Come right up and look them over.' He sent his man up and found we had the orders and were all right, although we didn't have the money. He said: 'I will let you have the copper.' And for years he trusted us for all the copper we wanted, even if we didn't have the money to pay for it."
It is not generally known that Edison, in addition to being a newsboy and a contributor to the technical press, has also been a backer and an "angel" for various publications. This is perhaps the right place at which to refer to the matter, as it belongs in the list of his financial or commercial enterprises. Edison sums up this chapter of his life very pithily. "I was interested, as a telegrapher, in journalism, and started the Telegraph Journal, and got out about a dozen numbers when it was taken over by W. J. Johnston, who afterward founded the Electrical World on it as an offshoot from the Operator. I also started Science, and ran it for a year and a half. It cost me too much money to maintain, and I sold it to Gardiner Hubbard, the father-in-law of Alexander Graham Bell. He carried it along for years." Both these papers are still in prosperous existence, particularly the Electrical World, as the recognized exponent of electrical development in America, where now the public spends as much annually for electricity as it does for daily bread.
From all that has been said above it will be understood that Edison's real and remarkable capacity for business does not lie in ability to "take care of himself," nor in the direction of routine office practice, nor even in ordinary administrative affairs. In short, he would and does regard it as a foolish waste of his time to give attention to the mere occupancy of a desk.
His commercial strength manifests itself rather in the outlining of matters relating to organization and broad policy with a sagacity arising from a shrewd perception and appreciation of general business requirements and conditions, to which should be added his intensely comprehensive grasp of manufacturing possibilities and details, and an unceasing vigilance in devising means of improving the quality of products and increasing the economy of their manufacture.
Like other successful commanders, Edison also possesses the happy faculty of choosing suitable lieutenants to carry out his policies and to manage the industries he has created, such, for instance, as those with which this chapter has to deal—namely, the phonograph, motion picture, primary battery, and storage battery enterprises.
The Portland cement business has already been dealt with separately, and although the above remarks are appropriate to it also, Edison being its head and informing spirit, the following pages are intended to be devoted to those industries that are grouped around the laboratory at Orange, and that may be taken as typical of Edison's methods on the manufacturing side.
Within a few months after establishing himself at the present laboratory, in 1887, Edison entered upon one of those intensely active periods of work that have been so characteristic of his methods in commercializing his other inventions. In this case his labors were directed toward improving the phonograph so as to put it into thoroughly practicable form, capable of ordinary use by the public at large. The net result of this work was the general type of machine of which the well-known phonograph of today is a refinement evolved through many years of sustained experiment and improvement.
After a considerable period of strenuous activity in the eighties, the phonograph and its wax records were developed to a sufficient degree of perfection to warrant him in making arrangements for their manufacture and commercial introduction. At this time the surroundings of the Orange laboratory were distinctly rural in character. Immediately adjacent to the main building and the four smaller structures, constituting the laboratory plant, were grass meadows that stretched away for some considerable distance in all directions, and at its back door, so to speak, ducks paddled around and quacked in a pond undisturbed. Being now ready for manufacturing, but requiring more facilities, Edison increased his real-estate holdings by purchasing a large tract of land lying contiguous to what he already owned. At one end of the newly acquired land two unpretentious brick structures were erected, equipped with first-class machinery, and put into commission as shops for manufacturing phonographs and their record blanks; while the capacious hall forming the third story of the laboratory, over the library, was fitted up and used as a music-room where records were made.
Thus the modern Edison phonograph made its modest debut in 1888, in what was then called the "Improved" form to distinguish it from the original style of machine he invented in 1877, in which the record was made on a sheet of tin-foil held in place upon a metallic cylinder. The "Improved" form is the general type so well known for many years and sold at the present day—viz., the spring or electric motor-driven machine with the cylindrical wax record—in fact, the regulation Edison phonograph.
It did not take a long time to find a market for the products of the newly established factory, for a world-wide public interest in the machine had been created by the appearance of newspaper articles from time to time, announcing the approaching completion by Edison of his improved phonograph. The original (tin-foil) machine had been sufficient to illustrate the fact that the human voice and other sounds could be recorded and reproduced, but such a type of machine had sharp limitations in general use; hence the coming into being of a type that any ordinary person could handle was sufficient of itself to insure a market. Thus the demand for the new machines and wax records grew apace as the corporations organized to handle the business extended their lines. An examination of the newspaper files of the years 1888, 1889, and 1890 will reveal the great excitement caused by the bringing out of the new phonograph, and how frequently and successfully it was employed in public entertainments, either for the whole or part of an evening. In this and other ways it became popularized to a still further extent. This led to the demand for a nickel-in-the-slot machine, which, when established, became immensely popular over the whole country. In its earlier forms the "Improved" phonograph was not capable of such general non-expert handling as is the machine of the present day, and consequently there was a constant endeavor on Edison's part to simplify the construction of the machine and its manner of operation. Experimentation was incessantly going on with this in view, and in the processes of evolution changes were made here and there that resulted in a still greater measure of perfection.
In various ways there was a continual slow and steady growth of the industry thus created, necessitating the erection of many additional buildings as the years passed by. During part of the last decade there was a lull, caused mostly from the failure of corporate interests to carry out their contract relations with Edison, and he was thereby compelled to resort to legal proceedings, at the end of which he bought in the outstanding contracts and assumed command of the business personally.
Being thus freed from many irksome restrictions that had hung heavily upon him, Edison now proceeded to push the phonograph business under a broader policy than that which obtained under his previous contractual relations. With the ever-increasing simplification and efficiency of the machine and a broadening of its application, the results of this policy were manifested in a still more rapid growth of the business that necessitated further additions to the manufacturing plant. And thus matters went on until the early part of the present decade, when the factory facilities were becoming so rapidly outgrown as to render radical changes necessary. It was in these circumstances that Edison's sagacity and breadth of business capacity came to the front. With characteristic boldness and foresight he planned the erection of the series of magnificent concrete buildings that now stand adjacent to and around the laboratory, and in which the manufacturing plant is at present housed.
There was no narrowness in his views in designing these buildings, but, on the contrary, great faith in the future, for his plans included not only the phonograph industry, but provided also for the coming development of motion pictures and of the primary and storage battery enterprises.
In the aggregate there are twelve structures (including the administration building), of which six are of imposing dimensions, running from 200 feet long by 50 feet wide to 440 feet in length by 115 feet in width, all these larger buildings, except one, being five stories in height. They are constructed entirely of reinforced concrete with Edison cement, including walls, floors, and stairways, thus eliminating fire hazard to the utmost extent, and insuring a high degree of protection, cleanliness, and sanitation. As fully three-fourths of the area of their exterior framework consists of windows, an abundance of daylight is secured. These many advantages, combined with lofty ceilings on every floor, provide ideal conditions for the thousands of working people engaged in this immense plant.
In addition to these twelve concrete structures there are a few smaller brick and wooden buildings on the grounds, in which some special operations are conducted. These, however, are few in number, and at some future time will be concentrated in one or more additional concrete buildings. It will afford a clearer idea of the extent of the industries clustered immediately around the laboratory when it is stated that the combined floor space which is occupied by them in all these buildings is equivalent in the aggregate to over fourteen acres.
It would be instructive, but scarcely within the scope of the narrative, to conduct the reader through this extensive plant and see its many interesting operations in detail. It must suffice, however, to note its complete and ample equipment with modern machinery of every kind applicable to the work; its numerous (and some of them wonderfully ingenious) methods, processes, machines, and tools specially designed or invented for the manufacture of special parts and supplemental appliances for the phonograph or other Edison products; and also to note the interesting variety of trades represented in the different departments, in which are included chemists, electricians, electrical mechanicians, machinists, mechanics, pattern-makers, carpenters, cabinet-makers, varnishers, japanners, tool-makers, lapidaries, wax experts, photographic developers and printers, opticians, electroplaters, furnacemen, and others, together with factory experimenters and a host of general employees, who by careful training have become specialists and experts in numerous branches of these industries.
Edison's plans for this manufacturing plant were sufficiently well outlined to provide ample capacity for the natural growth of the business; and although that capacity (so far as phonographs is concerned) has actually reached an output of over 6000 complete phonographs PER WEEK, and upward of 130,000 molded records PER DAY—with a pay-roll embracing over 3500 employees, including office force—and amounting to about $45,000 per week—the limits of production have not yet been reached.
The constant outpouring of products in such large quantities bespeaks the unremitting activities of an extensive and busy selling organization to provide for their marketing and distribution. This important department (the National Phonograph Company), in all its branches, from president to office-boy, includes about two hundred employees on its office pay-roll, and makes its headquarters in the administration building, which is one of the large concrete structures above referred to. The policy of the company is to dispose of its wares through regular trade channels rather than to deal direct with the public, trusting to local activity as stimulated by a liberal policy of national advertising. Thus, there has been gradually built up a very extensive business until at the present time an enormous output of phonographs and records is distributed to retail customers in the United States and Canada through the medium of about one hundred and fifty jobbers and over thirteen thousand dealers. The Edison phonograph industry thus organized is helped by frequent conventions of this large commercial force.
Besides this, the National Phonograph Company maintains a special staff for carrying on the business with foreign countries. While the aggregate transactions of this department are not as extensive as those for the United States and Canada, they are of considerable volume, as the foreign office distributes in bulk a very large number of phonographs and records to selling companies and agencies in Europe, Asia, Australia, Japan, and, indeed, to all the countries of the civilized world.  Like England's drumbeat, the voice of the Edison phonograph is heard around the world in undying strains throughout the twenty-four hours.
[Footnote 19: It may be of interest to the reader to note some parts of the globe to which shipments of phonographs and records are made:
Samoan Islands Falkland Islands Siam Corea Crete Island Paraguay Chile Canary Islands Egypt British East Africa Cape Colony Portuguese East Africa Liberia Java Straits Settlements Madagascar Fanning Islands New Zealand French Indo-China Morocco Ecuador Brazil Madeira South Africa Azores Manchuria Ceylon Sierra Leone]
In addition to the main manufacturing plant at Orange, another important adjunct must not be forgotten, and that is, the Recording Department in New York City, where the master records are made under the superintendence of experts who have studied the intricacies of the art with Edison himself. This department occupies an upper story in a lofty building, and in its various rooms may be seen and heard many prominent musicians, vocalists, speakers, and vaudeville artists studiously and busily engaged in making the original records, which are afterward sent to Orange, and which, if approved by the expert committee, are passed on to the proper department for reproduction in large quantities.
When we consider the subject of motion pictures we find a similarity in general business methods, for while the projecting machines and copies of picture films are made in quantity at the Orange works (just as phonographs and duplicate records are so made), the original picture, or film, like the master record, is made elsewhere. There is this difference, however: that, from the particular nature of the work, practically ALL master records are made at one convenient place, while the essential interest in SOME motion pictures lies in the fact that they are taken in various parts of the world, often under exceptional circumstances. The "silent drama," however, calls also for many representations which employ conventional acting, staging, and the varied appliances of stagecraft. Hence, Edison saw early the necessity of providing a place especially devised and arranged for the production of dramatic performances in pantomime.
It is a far cry from the crude structure of early days—the "Black Maria" of 1891, swung around on its pivot in the Orange laboratory yard—to the well-appointed Edison theatres, or pantomime studios, in New York City. The largest of these is located in the suburban Borough of the Bronx, and consists of a three-story-and-basement building of reinforced concrete, in which are the offices, dressing-rooms, wardrobe and property-rooms, library and developing department. Contiguous to this building, and connected with it, is the theatre proper, a large and lofty structure whose sides and roof are of glass, and whose floor space is sufficiently ample for six different sets of scenery at one time, with plenty of room left for a profusion of accessories, such as tables, chairs, pianos, bunch-lights, search-lights, cameras, and a host of varied paraphernalia pertaining to stage effects.
The second Edison theatre, or studio, is located not far from the shopping district in New York City. In all essential features, except size and capacity, it is a duplicate of the one in the Bronx, of which it is a supplement.
To a visitor coming on the floor of such a theatre for the first time there is a sense of confusion in beholding the heterogeneous "sets" of scenery and the motley assemblage of characters represented in the various plays in the process of "taking," or rehearsal. While each set constitutes virtually a separate stage, they are all on the same floor, without wings or proscenium-arches, and separated only by a few feet. Thus, for instance, a Japanese house interior may be seen cheek by jowl with an ordinary prison cell, flanked by a mining-camp, which in turn stands next to a drawing-room set, and in each a set of appropriate characters in pantomimic motion. The action is incessant, for in any dramatic representation intended for the motion-picture film every second counts.
The production of several completed plays per week necessitates the employment of a considerable staff of people of miscellaneous trades and abilities. At each of these two studios there is employed a number of stage-directors, scene-painters, carpenters, property-men, photographers, costumers, electricians, clerks, and general assistants, besides a capable stock company of actors and actresses, whose generous numbers are frequently augmented by the addition of a special star, or by a number of extra performers, such as Rough Riders or other specialists. It may be, occasionally, that the exigencies of the occasion require the work of a performing horse, dog, or other animal. No matter what the object required may be, whether animate or inanimate, if it is necessary for the play it is found and pressed into service.
These two studios, while separated from the main plant, are under the same general management, and their original negative films are forwarded as made to the Orange works, where the large copying department is located in one of the concrete buildings. Here, after the film has been passed upon by a committee, a considerable number of positive copies are made by ingenious processes, and after each one is separately tested, or "run off," in one or other of the three motion-picture theatres in the building, they are shipped out to film exchanges in every part of the country. How extensive this business has become may be appreciated when it is stated that at the Orange plant there are produced at this time over eight million feet of motion-picture film per year. And Edison's company is only one of many producers.
Another of the industries at the Orange works is the manufacture of projecting kinetoscopes, by means of which the motion pictures are shown. While this of itself is also a business of considerable magnitude in its aggregate yearly transactions, it calls for no special comment in regard to commercial production, except to note that a corps of experimenters is constantly employed refining and perfecting details of the machine. Its basic features of operation as conceived by Edison remain unchanged.
On coming to consider the Edison battery enterprises, we must perforce extend the territorial view to include a special chemical-manufacturing plant, which is in reality a branch of the laboratory and the Orange works, although actually situated about three miles away.
Both the primary and the storage battery employ certain chemical products as essential parts of their elements, and indeed owe their very existence to the peculiar preparation and quality of such products, as exemplified by Edison's years of experimentation and research. Hence the establishment of his own chemical works at Silver Lake, where, under his personal supervision, the manufacture of these products is carried on in charge of specially trained experts. At the present writing the plant covers about seven acres of ground; but there is ample room for expansion, as Edison, with wise forethought, secured over forty acres of land, so as to be prepared for developments.
Not only is the Silver Lake works used for the manufacture of the chemical substances employed in the batteries, but it is the plant at which the Edison primary battery is wholly assembled and made up for distribution to customers. This in itself is a business of no small magnitude, having grown steadily on its merits year by year until it has now arrived at a point where its sales run into the hundreds of thousands of cells per annum, furnished largely to the steam railroads of the country for their signal service.
As to the storage battery, the plant at Silver Lake is responsible only for the production of the chemical compounds, nickel-hydrate and iron oxide, which enter into its construction. All the mechanical parts, the nickel plating, the manufacture of nickel flake, the assembling and testing, are carried on at the Orange works in two of the large concrete buildings above referred to. A visit to this part of the plant reveals an amazing fertility of resourcefulness and ingenuity in the devising of the special machines and appliances employed in constructing the mechanical parts of these cells, for it is practically impossible to fashion them by means of machinery and tools to be found in the open market, notwithstanding the immense variety that may be there obtained.
Since Edison completed his final series of investigations on his storage battery and brought it to its present state of perfection, the commercial values have increased by leaps and bounds. The battery, as it was originally put out some years ago, made for itself an enviable reputation; but with its improved form there has come a vast increase of business. Although the largest of the concrete buildings where its manufacture is carried on is over four hundred feet long and four stories in height, it has already become necessary to plan extensions and enlargements of the plant in order to provide for the production of batteries to fill the present demands. It was not until the summer of 1909 that Edison was willing to pronounce the final verdict of satisfaction with regard to this improved form of storage battery; but subsequent commercial results have justified his judgment, and it is not too much to predict that in all probability the business will assume gigantic proportions within a very few years. At the present time (1910) the Edison storage-battery enterprise is in its early stages of growth, and its status may be compared with that of the electric-light system about the year 1881.
There is one more industry, though of comparatively small extent, that is included in the activities of the Orange works, namely, the manufacture and sale of the Bates numbering machine. This is a well-known article of commerce, used in mercantile establishments for the stamping of consecutive, duplicate, and manifold numbers on checks and other documents. It is not an invention of Edison, but the organization owning it, together with the patent rights, were acquired by him some years ago, and he has since continued and enlarged the business both in scope and volume, besides, of course, improving and perfecting the apparatus itself. These machines are known everywhere throughout the country, and while the annual sales are of comparatively moderate amount in comparison with the totals of the other Edison industries at Orange, they represent in the aggregate a comfortable and encouraging business.
In this brief outline review of the flourishing and extensive commercial enterprises centred around the Orange laboratory, the facts, it is believed, contain a complete refutation of the idea that an inventor cannot be a business man. They also bear abundant evidence of the compatibility of these two widely divergent gifts existing, even to a high degree, in the same person. A striking example of the correctness of this proposition is afforded in the present case, when it is borne in mind that these various industries above described (whose annual sales run into many millions of dollars) owe not only their very creation (except the Bates machine) and existence to Edison's inventive originality and commercial initiative, but also their continued growth and prosperity to his incessant activities in dealing with their multifarious business problems. In publishing a portrait of Edison this year, one of the popular magazines placed under it this caption: "Were the Age called upon to pay Thomas A. Edison all it owes to him, the Age would have to make an assignment." The present chapter will have thrown some light on the idiosyncrasies of Edison as financier and as manufacturer, and will have shown that while the claim thus suggested may be quite good, it will certainly never be pressed or collected.
THE VALUE OF EDISON'S INVENTIONS TO THE WORLD
IF the world were to take an account of stock, so to speak, and proceed in orderly fashion to marshal its tangible assets in relation to dollars and cents, the natural resources of our globe, from centre to circumference, would head the list. Next would come inventors, whose value to the world as an asset could be readily estimated from an increase of its wealth resulting from the actual transformations of these resources into items of convenience and comfort through the exercise of their inventive ingenuity.
Inventors of practical devices may be broadly divided into two classes—first, those who may be said to have made two blades of grass grow where only one grew before; and, second, great inventors, who have made grass grow plentifully on hitherto unproductive ground. The vast majority of practical inventors belong to and remain in the first of these divisions, but there have been, and probably always will be, a less number who, by reason of their greater achievements, are entitled to be included in both classes. Of these latter, Thomas Alva Edison is one, but in the pages of history he stands conspicuously pre-eminent—a commanding towering figure, even among giants.
The activities of Edison have been of such great range, and his conquests in the domains of practical arts so extensive and varied, that it is somewhat difficult to estimate with any satisfactory degree of accuracy the money value of his inventions to the world of to-day, even after making due allowance for the work of other great inventors and the propulsive effect of large amounts of capital thrown into the enterprises which took root, wholly or in part, through the productions of his genius and energies. This difficulty will be apparent, for instance, when we consider his telegraph and telephone inventions. These were absorbed in enterprises already existing, and were the means of assisting their rapid growth and expansion, particularly the telephone industry. Again, in considering the fact that Edison was one of the first in the field to design and perfect a practical and operative electric railway, the main features of which are used in all electric roads of to-day, we are confronted with the problem as to what proportion of their colossal investment and earnings should be ascribed to him.
Difficulties are multiplied when we pause for a moment to think of Edison's influence on collateral branches of business. In the public mind he is credited with the invention of the incandescent electric light, the phonograph, and other widely known devices; but how few realize his actual influence on other trades that are not generally thought of in connection with these things. For instance, let us note what a prominent engine builder, the late Gardiner C. Sims, has said: "Watt, Corliss, and Porter brought forward steam-engines to a high state of proficiency, yet it remained for Mr. Edison to force better proportions, workmanship, designs, use of metals, regulation, the solving of the complex problems of high speed and endurance, and the successful development of the shaft governor. Mr. Edison is preeminent in the realm of engineering."
The phenomenal growth of the copper industry was due to a rapid and ever-increasing demand, owing to the exploitation of the telephone, electric light, electric motor, and electric railway industries. Without these there might never have been the romance of "Coppers" and the rise and fall of countless fortunes. And although one cannot estimate in definite figures the extent of Edison's influence in the enormous increase of copper production, it is to be remembered that his basic inventions constitute a most important factor in the demand for the metal. Besides, one must also give him the credit, as already noted, for having recognized the necessity for a pure quality of copper for electric conductors, and for his persistence in having compelled the manufacturers of that period to introduce new and additional methods of refinement so as to bring about that result, which is now a sine qua non.
Still considering his influence on other staples and collateral trades, let us enumerate briefly and in a general manner some of the more important and additional ones that have been not merely stimulated, but in many cases the business and sales have been directly increased and new arts established through the inventions of this one man—namely, iron, steel, brass, zinc, nickel, platinum ($5 per ounce in 1878, now $26 an ounce), rubber, oils, wax, bitumen, various chemical compounds, belting, boilers, injectors, structural steel, iron tubing, glass, silk, cotton, porcelain, fine woods, slate, marble, electrical measuring instruments, miscellaneous machinery, coal, wire, paper, building materials, sapphires, and many others.
The question before us is, To what extent has Edison added to the wealth of the world by his inventions and his energy and perseverance? It will be noted from the foregoing that no categorical answer can be offered to such a question, but sufficient material can be gathered from a statistical review of the commercial arts directly influenced to afford an approximate idea of the increase in national wealth that has been affected by or has come into being through the practical application of his ideas.
First of all, as to inventions capable of fairly definite estimate, let us mention the incandescent electric light and systems of distribution of electric light, heat, and power, which may justly be considered as the crowning inventions of Edison's life. Until October 21, 1879, there was nothing in existence resembling our modern incandescent lamp. On that date, as we have seen in a previous chapter, Edison's labors culminated in his invention of a practical incandescent electric lamp embodying absolutely all the essentials of the lamp of to-day, thus opening to the world the doors of a new art and industry. To-day there are in the United States more than 41,000,000 of these lamps, connected to existing central-station circuits in active operation.
Such circuits necessarily imply the existence of central stations with their equipment. Until the beginning of 1882 there were only a few arc-lighting stations in existence for the limited distribution of current. At the present time there are over 6000 central stations in this country for the distribution of electric current for light, heat, and power, with capital obligations amounting to not less than $1,000,000,000. Besides the above-named 41,000,000 incandescent lamps connected to their mains, there are about 500,000 arc lamps and 150,000 motors, using 750,000 horse-power, besides countless fan motors and electric heating and cooking appliances.
When it is stated that the gross earnings of these central stations approximate the sum of $225,000,000 yearly, the significant import of these statistics of an art that came so largely from Edison's laboratory about thirty years ago will undoubtedly be apparent.
But the above are not by any means all the facts relating to incandescent electric lighting in the United States, for in addition to central stations there are upward of 100,000 isolated or private plants in mills, factories, steamships, hotels, theatres, etc., owned by the persons or concerns who operate them. These plants represent an approximate investment of $500,000,000, and the connection of not less than 25,000,000 incandescent lamps or their equivalent.
Then there are the factories where these incandescent lamps are made, about forty in number, representing a total investment that may be approximated at $25,000,000. It is true that many of these factories are operated by other than the interests which came into control of the Edison patents (General Electric Company), but the 150,000,000 incandescent electric lamps now annually made are broadly covered in principle by Edison's fundamental ideas and patents.
It will be noted that these figures are all in round numbers, but they are believed to be well within the mark, being primarily founded upon the special reports of the Census Bureau issued in 1902 and 1907, with the natural increase from that time computed by experts who are in position to obtain the facts. It would be manifestly impossible to give exact figures of such a gigantic and swiftly moving industry, whose totals increase from week to week.
The reader will naturally be disposed to ask whether it is intended to claim that Edison has brought about all this magnificent growth of the electric-lighting art. The answer to this is decidedly in the negative, for the fact is that he laid some of the foundation and erected a building thereon, and in the natural progressive order of things other inventors of more or less fame have laid substructures or added a wing here and a story there until the resultant great structure has attained such proportions as to evoke the admiration of the beholder; but the old foundation and the fundamental building still remain to support other parts. In other words, Edison created the incandescent electric lamp, and invented certain broad and fundamental systems of distribution of current, with all the essential devices of detail necessary for successful operation. These formed a foundation. He also spent great sums of money and devoted several years of patient labor in the early practical exploitation of the dynamo and central station and isolated plants, often under, adverse and depressing circumstances, with a dogged determination that outlived an opposition steadily threatening defeat. These efforts resulted in the firm commercial establishment of modern electric lighting. It is true that many important inventions of others have a distinguished place in the art as it is exploited today, but the fact remains that the broad essentials, such as the incandescent lamp, systems of distribution, and some important details, are not only universally used, but are as necessary to-day for successful commercial practice as they were when Edison invented them many years ago.
The electric railway next claims our consideration, but we are immediately confronted by a difficulty which seems insurmountable when we attempt to formulate any definite estimate of the value and influence of Edison's pioneer work and inventions. There is one incontrovertible fact—namely, that he was the first man to devise, construct, and operate from a central station a practicable, life-size electric railroad, which was capable of transporting and did transport passengers and freight at variable speeds over varying grades, and under complete control of the operator. These are the essential elements in all electric railroading of the present day; but while Edison's original broad ideas are embodied in present practice, the perfection of the modern electric railway is greatly due to the labors and inventions of a large number of other well-known inventors. There was no reason why Edison could not have continued the commercial development of the electric railway after he had helped to show its practicability in 1880, 1881, and 1882, just as he had completed his lighting system, had it not been that his financial allies of the period lacked faith in the possibilities of electric railroads, and therefore declined to furnish the money necessary for the purpose of carrying on the work.
With these facts in mind, we shall ask the reader to assign to Edison a due proportion of credit for his pioneer and basic work in relation to the prodigious development of electric railroading that has since taken place. The statistics of 1908 for American street and elevated railways show that within twenty-five years the electric-railway industry has grown to embrace 38,812 miles of track on streets and for elevated railways, operated under the ownership of 1238 separate companies, whose total capitalization amounted to the enormous sum of $4,123,834,598. In the equipments owned by such companies there are included 68,636 electric cars and 17,568 trailers and others, making a total of 86,204 of such vehicles. These cars and equipments earned over $425,000,000 in 1907, in giving the public transportation, at a cost, including transfers, of a little over three cents per passenger, for whom a fifteen-mile ride would be possible. It is the cheapest transportation in the world.
Some mention should also be made of the great electrical works of the country, in which the dynamos, motors, and other varied paraphernalia are made for electric lighting, electric railway, and other purposes. The largest of these works is undoubtedly that of the General Electric Company at Schenectady, New York, a continuation and enormous enlargement of the shops which Edison established there in 1886. This plant at the present time embraces over 275 acres, of which sixty acres are covered by fifty large and over one hundred small buildings; besides which the company also owns other large plants elsewhere, representing a total investment approximating the sum of $34,850,000 up to 1908. The productions of the General Electric Company alone average annual sales of nearly $75,000,000, but they do not comprise the total of the country's manufactures in these lines.
Turning our attention now to the telephone, we again meet a condition that calls for thoughtful consideration before we can properly appreciate how much the growth of this industry owes to Edison's inventive genius. In another place there has already been told the story of the telephone, from which we have seen that to Alexander Graham Bell is due the broad idea of transmission of speech by means of an electrical circuit; also that he invented appropriate instruments and devices through which he accomplished this result, although not to that extent which gave promise of any great commercial practicability for the telephone as it then existed. While the art was in this inefficient condition, Edison went to work on the subject, and in due time, as we have already learned, invented and brought out the carbon transmitter, which is universally acknowledged to have been the needed device that gave to the telephone the element of commercial practicability, and has since led to its phenomenally rapid adoption and world-wide use. It matters not that others were working in the same direction, Edison was legally adjudicated to have been the first to succeed in point of time, and his inventions were put into actual use, and may be found in principle in every one of the 7,000,000 telephones which are estimated to be employed in the country at the present day. Basing the statements upon facts shown by the Census reports of 1902 and 1907, and adding thereto the growth of the industry since that time, we find on a conservative estimate that at this writing the investment has been not less than $800,000,000 in now existing telephone systems, while no fewer than 10,500,000,000 talks went over the lines during the year 1908. These figures relate only to telephone systems, and do not include any details regarding the great manufacturing establishments engaged in the construction of telephone apparatus, of which there is a production amounting to at least $15,000,000 per annum.
Leaving the telephone, let us now turn our attention to the telegraph, and endeavor to show as best we can some idea of the measure to which it has been affected by Edison's inventions. Although, as we have seen in a previous part of this book, his earliest fame arose from his great practical work in telegraphic inventions and improvements, there is no way in which any definite computation can be made of the value of his contributions in the art except, perhaps, in the case of his quadruplex, through which alone it is estimated that there has been saved from $15,000,000 to $20,000,000 in the cost of line construction in this country. If this were the only thing that he had ever accomplished, it would entitle him to consideration as an inventor of note. The quadruplex, however, has other material advantages, but how far they and the natural growth of the business have contributed to the investment and earnings of the telegraph companies, is beyond practicable computation.
It would, perhaps, be interesting to speculate upon what might have been the growth of the telegraph and the resultant benefit to the community had Edison's automatic telegraph inventions been allowed to take their legitimate place in the art, but we shall not allow ourselves to indulge in flights of fancy, as the value of this chapter rests not upon conjecture, but only upon actual fact. Nor shall we attempt to offer any statistics regarding Edison's numerous inventions relating to telegraphs and kindred devices, such as stock tickers, relays, magnets, rheotomes, repeaters, printing telegraphs, messenger calls, etc., on which he was so busily occupied as an inventor and manufacturer during the ten years that began with January, 1869. The principles of many of these devices are still used in the arts, but have become so incorporated in other devices as to be inseparable, and cannot now be dealt with separately. To show what they mean, however, it might be noted that New York City alone has 3000 stock "tickers," consuming 50,000 miles of record tape every year.
Turning now to other important arts and industries which have been created by Edison's inventions, and in which he is at this time taking an active personal interest, let us visit Orange, New Jersey. When his present laboratory was nearing completion in 1887, he wrote to Mr. J. Hood Wright, a partner in the firm of Drexel, Morgan & Co.: "My ambition is to build up a great industrial works in the Orange Valley, starting in a small way and gradually working up."
In this plant, which represents an investment approximating the sum of $4,000,000, are grouped a number of industrial enterprises of which Edison is either the sole or controlling owner and the guiding spirit. These enterprises are the National Phonograph Company, the Edison Business Phonograph Company, the Edison Phonograph Works, the Edison Manufacturing Company, the Edison Storage Battery Company, and the Bates Manufacturing Company. The importance of these industries will be apparent when it is stated that at this plant the maximum pay-roll shows the employment of over 4200 persons, with annual earnings in salaries and wages of more than $2,750,000.
In considering the phonograph in its commercial aspect, and endeavoring to arrive at some idea of the world's estimate of the value of this invention, we feel the ground more firm under our feet, for Edison has in later years controlled its manufacture and sale. It will be remembered that the phonograph lay dormant, commercially speaking, for about ten years after it came into being, and then later invention reduced it to a device capable of more popular utility. A few years of rather unsatisfactory commercial experience brought about a reorganization, through which Edison resumed possession of the business. It has since been continued under his general direction and ownership, and he has made a great many additional inventions tending to improve the machine in all its parts.
The uses made of the phonograph up to this time have been of four kinds, generally speaking—first, and principally, for amusement; second, for instruction in languages; third, for business, in the dictation of correspondence; and fourth, for sentimental reasons in preserving the voices of friends. No separate figures are available to show the extent of its employment in the second and fourth classes, as they are probably included in machines coming under the first subdivision. Under this head we find that there have been upward of 1,310,000 phonographs sold during the last twenty years, with and for which there have been made and sold no fewer than 97,845,000 records of a musical or other character. Phonographic records are now being manufactured at Orange at the rate of 75,000 a day, the annual sale of phonographs and records being approximately $7,000,000, including business phonographs. This does not include blank records, of which large numbers have also been supplied to the public.
The adoption of the business phonograph has not been characterized by the unanimity that obtained in the case of the one used merely for amusement, as its use involves some changes in methods that business men are slow to adopt until they realize the resulting convenience and economy. Although it is only a few years since the business phonograph has begun to make some headway, it is not difficult to appreciate that Edison's prediction in 1878 as to the value of such an appliance is being realized, when we find that up to this time the sales run up to 12,695 in number. At the present time the annual sales of the business phonographs and supplies, cylinders, etc., are not less than $350,000.
We must not forget that the basic patent of Edison on the phonograph has long since expired, thus throwing open to the world the wonderful art of reproducing human speech and other sounds. The world was not slow to take advantage of the fact, hence there are in the field numerous other concerns in the same business. It is conservatively estimated by those who know the trade and are in position to form an opinion, that the figures above given represent only about one-half of the entire business of the country in phonographs, records, cylinders, and supplies.
Taking next his inventions that pertain to a more recently established but rapidly expanding branch of business that provides for the amusement of the public, popularly known as "motion pictures," we also find a general recognition of value created. Referring the reader to a previous chapter for a discussion of Edison's standing as a pioneer inventor in this art, let us glance at the commercial proportions of this young but lusty business, whose ramifications extend to all but the most remote and primitive hamlets of our country.
The manufacture of the projecting machines and accessories, together with the reproduction of films, is carried on at the Orange Valley plant, and from the inception of the motion-picture business to the present time there have been made upward of 16,000 projecting machines and many million feet of films carrying small photographs of moving objects. Although the motion-picture business, as a commercial enterprise, is still in its youth, it is of sufficient moment to call for the annual production of thousands of machines and many million feet of films in Edison's shops, having a sale value of not less than $750,000. To produce the originals from which these Edison films are made, there have been established two "studios," the largest of which is in the Bronx, New York City.
In this, as well as in the phonograph business, there are many other manufacturers in the field. Indeed, the annual product of the Edison Manufacturing Company in this line is only a fractional part of the total that is absorbed by the 8000 or more motion-picture theatres and exhibitions that are in operation in the United States at the present time, and which represent an investment of some $45,000,000. Licensees under Edison patents in this country alone produce upward of 60,000,000 feet of films annually, containing more than a billion and a half separate photographs. To what extent the motion-picture business may grow in the not remote future it is impossible to conjecture, for it has taken a place in the front rank of rapidly increasing enterprises.
The manufacture and sale of the Edison-Lalande primary battery, conducted by the Edison Manufacturing Company at the Orange Valley plant, is a business of no mean importance. Beginning about twenty years ago with a battery that, without polarizing, would furnish large currents specially adapted for gas-engine ignition and other important purposes, the business has steadily grown in magnitude until the present output amounts to about 125,000 cells annually; the total number of cells put into the hands of the public up to date being approximately 1,500,000. It will be readily conceded that to most men this alone would be an enterprise of a lifetime, and sufficient in itself to satisfy a moderate ambition. But, although it has yielded a considerable profit to Edison and gives employment to many people, it is only one of the many smaller enterprises that owe an existence to his inventive ability and commercial activity.
So it also is in regard to the mimeograph, whose forerunner, the electric pen, was born of Edison's brain in 1877. He had been long impressed by the desirability of the rapid production of copies of written documents, and, as we have seen by a previous chapter, he invented the electric pen for this purpose, only to improve upon it later with a more desirable device which he called the mimeograph, that is in use, in various forms, at this time. Although the electric pen had a large sale and use in its time, the statistics relating to it are not available. The mimeograph, however, is, and has been for many years, a standard office appliance, and is entitled to consideration, as the total number put into use up to this time is approximately 180,000, valued at $3,500,000, while the annual output is in the neighborhood of 9000 machines, sold for about $150,000, besides the vast quantity of special paper and supplies which its use entails in the production of the many millions of facsimile letters and documents. The extent of production and sale of supplies for the mimeograph may be appreciated when it is stated that they bring annually an equivalent of three times the amount realized from sales of machines. The manufacture and sale of the mimeograph does not come within the enterprises conducted under Edison's personal direction, as he sold out the whole thing some years ago to Mr. A. B. Dick, of Chicago.
In making a somewhat radical change of subject, from duplicating machines to cement, we find ourselves in a field in which Edison has made a most decided impression. The reader has already learned that his entry into this field was, in a manner, accidental, although logically in line with pronounced convictions of many years' standing, and following up the fund of knowledge gained in the magnetic ore-milling business. From being a new-comer in the cement business, his corporation in five years has grown to be the fifth largest producer in the United States, with a still increasing capacity. From the inception of this business there has been a steady and rapid development, resulting in the production of a grand total of over 7,300,000 barrels of cement up to the present date, having a value of about $6,000,000, exclusive of package. At the time of this writing, the rate of production is over 8000 barrels of cement per day, or, say, 2,500,000 barrels per year, having an approximate selling value of a little less than $2,000,000, with prospects of increasing in the near future to a daily output of 10,000 barrels. This enterprise is carried on by a corporation called the Edison Portland Cement Company, in which he is very largely interested, and of which he is the active head and guiding spirit.
Had not Edison suspended the manufacture and sale of his storage battery a few years ago because he was not satisfied with it, there might have been given here some noteworthy figures of an extensive business, for the company's books show an astonishing number of orders that were received during the time of the shut-down. He was implored for batteries, but in spite of the fact that good results had been obtained from the 18,000 or 20,000 cells sold some years ago, he adhered firmly to his determination to perfect them to a still higher standard before resuming and continuing their manufacture as a regular commodity. As we have noted in a previous chapter, however, deliveries of the perfected type were begun in the summer of 1909, and since that time the business has continued to grow in the measure indicated by the earlier experience.
Thus far we have concerned ourselves chiefly with those figures which exhibit the extent of investment and production, but there is another and humanly important side that presents itself for consideration namely, the employment of a vast industrial army of men and women, who earn a living through their connection with some of the arts and industries to which our narrative has direct reference. To this the reader's attention will now be drawn.
The following figures are based upon the Special Reports of the Census Bureau, 1902 and 1907, with additions computed upon the increase that has subsequently taken place. In the totals following is included the compensation paid to salaried officials and clerks. Details relating to telegraph systems are omitted.
Taking the electric light into consideration first, we find that in the central stations of the United States there are not less than an average of 50,000 persons employed, requiring an aggregate yearly payroll of over $40,000,000. This does not include the 100,000 or more isolated electric-light plants scattered throughout the land. Many of these are quite large, and at least one-third of them require one additional helper, thus adding, say, 33,000 employees to the number already mentioned. If we assume as low a wage as $10 per week for each of these helpers, we must add to the foregoing an additional sum of over $17,000,000 paid annually for wages, almost entirely in the isolated incandescent electric lighting field.
Central stations and isolated plants consume over 100,000,000 incandescent electric lamps annually, and in the production of these there are engaged about forty factories, on whose pay-rolls appear an average of 14,000 employees, earning an aggregate yearly sum of $8,000,000.
Following the incandescent lamp we must not forget an industry exclusively arising from it and absolutely dependent upon it—namely, that of making fixtures for such lamps, the manufacture of which gives employment to upward of 6000 persons, who annually receive at least $3,750,000 in compensation.
The detail devices of the incandescent electric lighting system also contribute a large quota to the country's wealth in the millions of dollars paid out in salaries and wages to many thousands of persons who are engaged in their manufacture.