Edison, His Life and Inventions
by Frank Lewis Dyer and Thomas Commerford Martin
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[Footnote 25: During the period in which Edison exhibited his lighting system at the Paris Exposition in 1881, his representative, Mr. Charles Batchelor, repeated Edison's remarkable experiments of the winter of 1875 for the benefit of a great number of European savants, using with other apparatus the original "dark box" with micrometer adjustment.]

There is not the slightest intention on the part of the authors to detract in the least degree from the brilliant work of Hertz, but, on the contrary, to ascribe to him the honor that is his due in having given mathematical direction and certainty to so important a discovery. The adaptation of the principles thus elucidated and the subsequent development of the present wonderful art by Marconi, Branly, Lodge, Slaby, and others are now too well known to call for further remark at this place.

Strange to say, that although Edison's early experiments in "etheric force" called forth extensive comment and discussion in the public prints of the period, they seemed to have been generally overlooked when the work of Hertz was published. At a meeting of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, held in London on May 16, 1889, at which there was a discussion on the celebrated paper of Prof. (Sir) Oliver Lodge on "Lightning Conductors," however; the chairman, Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), made the following remarks:

"We all know how Faraday made himself a cage six feet in diameter, hung it up in mid-air in the theatre of the Royal Institution, went into it, and, as he said, lived in it and made experiments. It was a cage with tin-foil hanging all round it; it was not a complete metallic enclosing shell. Faraday had a powerful machine working in the neighborhood, giving all varieties of gradual working-up and discharges by 'impulsive rush'; and whether it was a sudden discharge of ordinary insulated conductors, or of Leyden jars in the neighborhood outside the cage, or electrification and discharge of the cage itself, he saw no effects on his most delicate gold-leaf electroscopes in the interior. His attention was not directed to look for Hertz sparks, or probably he might have found them in the interior. Edison seems to have noticed something of the kind in what he called the etheric force. His name 'etheric' may, thirteen years ago, have seemed to many people absurd. But now we are all beginning to call these inductive phenomena 'etheric.'"

With these preliminary observations, let us now glance briefly at Edison's laboratory experiments, of which mention has been made.

Oh the first manifestation of the unusual phenomena in November, 1875, Edison's keenness of perception led him at once to believe that he had discovered a new force. Indeed, the earliest entry of this discovery in the laboratory note-book bore that caption. After a few days of further experiment and observation, however, he changed it to "Etheric Force," and the further records thereof (all in Mr. Batchelor's handwriting) were under that heading.

The publication of Edison's discovery created considerable attention at the time, calling forth a storm of general ridicule and incredulity. But a few scientific men of the period, whose experimental methods were careful and exact, corroborated his deductions after obtaining similar phenomena by repeating his experiments with intelligent precision. Among these was the late Dr. George M. Beard, a noted physicist, who entered enthusiastically into the investigation, and, in addition to a great deal of independent experiment, spent much time with Edison at his laboratory. Doctor Beard wrote a treatise of some length on the subject, in which he concurred with Edison's deduction that the phenomena were the manifestation of oscillations, or rapidly reversing waves of electricity, which did not respond to the usual tests. Edison had observed the tendency of this force to diffuse itself in various directions through the air and through matter, hence the name "Etheric" that he had provisionally applied to it.

Edison's laboratory notes on this striking investigation are fascinating and voluminous, but cannot be reproduced in full for lack of space. In view of the later practical application of the principles involved, however, the reader will probably be interested in perusing a few extracts therefrom as illustrated by facsimiles of the original sketches from the laboratory note-book.

As the full significance of the experiments shown by these extracts may not be apparent to a lay reader, it may be stated by way of premise that, ordinarily, a current only follows a closed circuit. An electric bell or electric light is a familiar instance of this rule. There is in each case an open (wire) circuit which is closed by pressing the button or turning the switch, thus making a complete and uninterrupted path in which the current may travel and do its work. Until the time of Edison's investigations of 1875, now under consideration, electricity had never been known to manifest itself except through a closed circuit. But, as the reader will see from the following excerpts, Edison discovered a hitherto unknown phenomenon—namely, that under certain conditions the rule would be reversed and electricity would pass through space and through matter entirely unconnected with its point of origin. In other words, he had found the forerunner of wireless telegraphy. Had he then realized the full import of his discovery, all he needed was to increase the strength of the waves and to provide a very sensitive detector, like the coherer, in order to have anticipated the principal developments that came many years afterward. With these explanatory observations, we will now turn to the excerpts referred to, which are as follows:

"November 22, 1875. New Force.—In experimenting with a vibrator magnet consisting of a bar of Stubb's steel fastened at one end and made to vibrate by means of a magnet, we noticed a spark coming from the cores of the magnet. This we have noticed often in relays, in stock-printers, when there were a little iron filings between the armature and core, and more often in our new electric pen, and we have always come to the conclusion that it was caused by strong induction. But when we noticed it on this vibrator it seemed so strong that it struck us forcibly there might be something more than induction. We now found that if we touched any metallic part of the vibrator or magnet we got the spark. The larger the body of iron touched to the vibrator the larger the spark. We now connected a wire to X, the end of the vibrating rod, and we found we could get a spark from it by touching a piece of iron to it, and one of the most curious phenomena is that if you turn the wire around on itself and let the point of the wire touch any other portion of itself you get a spark. By connecting X to the gas-pipe we drew sparks from the gas-pipes in any part of the room by drawing an iron wire over the brass jet of the cock. This is simply wonderful, and a good proof that the cause of the spark is a TRUE UNKNOWN FORCE."

"November 23, 1815. New Force.—The following very curious result was obtained with it. The vibrator shown in Fig. 1 and battery were placed on insulated stands; and a wire connected to X (tried both copper and iron) carried over to the stove about twenty feet distant. When the end of the wire was rubbed on the stove it gave out splendid sparks. When permanently connected to the stove, sparks could be drawn from the stove by a piece of wire held in the hand. The point X of vibrator was now connected to the gas-pipe and still the sparks could be drawn from the stove."

. . . . . . . . .

"Put a coil of wire over the end of rod X and passed the ends of spool through galvanometer without affecting it in any way. Tried a 6-ohm spool add a 200-ohm. We now tried all the metals, touching each one in turn to the point X." [Here follows a list of metals and the character of spark obtained with each.]

. . . . . . . . .

"By increasing the battery from eight to twelve cells we get a spark when the vibrating magnet is shunted with 3 ohms. Cannot taste the least shock at B, yet between carbon points the spark is very vivid. As will be seen, X has no connection with anything. With a glass rod four feet long, well rubbed with a piece of silk over a hot stove, with a piece of battery carbon secured to one end, we received vivid sparks into the carbon when the other end was held in the hand with the handkerchief, yet the galvanometer, chemical paper, the sense of shock in the tongue, and a gold-leaf electroscope which would diverge at two feet from a half-inch spark plate-glass machine were not affected in the least by it.

"A piece of coal held to the wire showed faint sparks.

"We had a box made thus: whereby two points could be brought together within a dark box provided with an eyepiece. The points were iron, and we found the sparks were very irregular. After testing some time two lead-pencils found more regular and very much more vivid. We then substituted the graphite points instead of iron." [26]

[Footnote 26: The dark box had micrometer screws for delicate adjustment of the carbon points, and was thereafter largely used in this series of investigations for better study of the spark. When Mr. Edison's experiments were repeated by Mr. Batchelor, who represented him at the Paris Exposition of 1881, the dark box was employed for a similar purpose.]

. . . . . . . . .

After recording a considerable number of other experiments, the laboratory notes go on to state:

"November 30, 1875. Etheric Force.—We found the addition of battery to the Stubb's wire vibrator greatly increased the volume of spark. Several persons could obtain sparks from the gas-pipes at once, each spark being equal in volume and brilliancy to the spark drawn by a single person.... Edison now grasped the (gas) pipe, and with the other hand holding a piece of metal, he touched several other metallic substances, obtained sparks, showing that the force passed through his body."

. . . . . . . . .

"December 3, 1875. Etheric Force.—Charley Edison hung to the gas-pipe with feet above the floor, and with a knife got a spark from the pipe he was hanging on. We now took the wire from the vibrator in one hand and stood on a block of paraffin eighteen inches square and six inches thick; holding a knife in the other hand, we drew sparks from the stove-pipe. We now tried the crucial test of passing the etheric current through the sciatic nerve of a frog just killed. Previous to trying, we tested its sensibility by the current from a single Bunsen cell. We put in resistance up to 500,000 ohms, and the twitching was still perceptible. We tried the induced current from our induction coil having one cell on primary,, the spark jumping about one-fiftieth of an inch, the terminal of the secondary connected to the frog and it straightened out with violence. We arranged frog's legs to pass etheric force through. We placed legs on an inverted beaker, and held the two ends of the wires on glass rods eight inches long. On connecting one to the sciatic nerve and the other to the fleshy part of the leg no movement could be discerned, although brilliant sparks could be obtained on the graphite points when the frog was in circuit. Doctor Beard was present when this was tried."

. . . . . . . . .

"December 5, 1875. Etheric Force.—Three persons grasping hands and standing upon blocks of paraffin twelve inches square and six thick drew sparks from the adjoining stove when another person touched the sounder with any piece of metal.... A galvanoscopic frog giving contractions with one cell through two water rheostats was then placed in circuit. When the wires from the vibrator and the gas-pipe were connected, slight contractions were noted, sometimes very plain and marked, showing the apparent presence of electricity, which from the high insulation seemed improbable. Doctor Beard, who was present, inferred from the way the leg contracted that it moved on both opening and closing the circuit. To test this we disconnected the wire between the frog and battery, and placed, instead of a vibrating sounder, a simple Morse key and a sounder taking the 'etheric' from armature. The spark was now tested in dark box and found to be very strong. It was then connected to the nerves of the frog, BUT NO MOVEMENT OF ANY KIND COULD BE DETECTED UPON WORKING THE KEY, although the brilliancy and power of the spark were undiminished. The thought then occurred to Edison that the movement of the frog was due to mechanical vibrations from the vibrator (which gives probably two hundred and fifty vibrations per second), passing through the wires and irritating the sensitive nerves of the frog. Upon disconnecting the battery wires and holding a tuning-fork giving three hundred and twenty-six vibrations per second to the base of the sounder, the vibrations over the wire made the frog contract nearly every time.... The contraction of the frog's legs may with considerable safety be said to be caused by these mechanical vibrations being transmitted through the conducting wires."

Edison thought that the longitudinal vibrations caused by the sounder produced a more marked effect, and proceeded to try out his theory. The very next entry in the laboratory note-book bears the same date as the above (December 5, 1875), and is entitled "Longitudinal Vibrations," and reads as follows:

"We took a long iron wire one-sixteenth of an inch in diameter and rubbed it lengthways with a piece of leather with resin on for about three feet, backward and forward. About ten feet away we applied the wire to the back of the neck and it gives a horrible sensation, showing the vibrations conducted through the wire."

. . . . . . . . .

The following experiment illustrates notably the movement of the electric waves through free space:

"December 26, 1875. Etheric Force.—An experiment tried to-night gives a curious result. A is a vibrator, B, C, D, E are sheets of tin-foil hung on insulating stands. The sheets are about twelve by eight inches. B and C are twenty-six inches apart, C and D forty-eight inches and D and E twenty-six inches. B is connected to the vibrator and E to point in dark box, the other point to ground. We received sparks at intervals, although insulated by such space."

With the above our extracts must close, although we have given but a few of the interesting experiments tried at the time. It will be noticed, however, that these records show much progression in a little over a month. Just after the item last above extracted, the Edison shop became greatly rushed on telegraphic inventions, and not many months afterward came the removal to Menlo Park; hence the etheric-force investigations were side-tracked for other matters deemed to be more important at that time.

Doctor Beard in his previously mentioned treatise refers, on page 27, to the views of others who have repeated Edison's experiments and observed the phenomena, and in a foot-note says:

"Professor Houston, of Philadelphia, among others, has repeated some of these physical experiments, has adopted in full and after but a partial study of the subject, the hypothesis of rapidly reversed electricity as suggested in my letter to the Tribune of December 8th, and further claims priority of discovery, because he observed the spark of this when experimenting with a Ruhmkorff coil four years ago. To this claim, if it be seriously entertained, the obvious reply is that thousands of persons, probably, had seen this spark before it was DISCOVERED by Mr. Edison; it had been seen by Professor Nipher, who supposed, and still supposes, it is the spark of the extra current; it has been seen by my friend, Prof. J. E. Smith, who assumed, as he tells me, without examination, that it was inductive electricity breaking through bad insulation; it had been seen, as has been stated, by Mr. Edison many times before he thought it worthy of study, it was undoubtedly seen by Professor Houston, who, like so many others, failed to even suspect its meaning and thus missed an important discovery. The honor of a scientific discovery belongs, not to him who first sees a thing, but to him who first sees it with expert eyes; not to him even who drops an original suggestion, but to him who first makes, that suggestion fruitful of results. If to see with the eyes a phenomenon is to discover the law of which that phenomenon is a part, then every schoolboy who, before the time of Newton, ever saw an apple fall, was a discoverer of the law of gravitation...."

Edison took out only one patent on long-distance telegraphy without wires. While the principle involved therein (induction) was not precisely analogous to the above, or to the present system of wireless telegraphy, it was a step forward in the progress of the art. The application was filed May 23, 1885, at the time he was working on induction telegraphy (two years before the publication of the work of Hertz), but the patent (No. 465,971) was not issued until December 29, 1891. In 1903 it was purchased from him by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company. Edison has always had a great admiration for Marconi and his work, and a warm friendship exists between the two men. During the formative period of the Marconi Company attempts were made to influence Edison to sell this patent to an opposing concern, but his regard for Marconi and belief in the fundamental nature of his work were so strong that he refused flatly, because in the hands of an enemy the patent might be used inimically to Marconi's interests.

Edison's ideas, as expressed in the specifications of this patent, show very clearly the close analogy of his system to that now in vogue. As they were filed in the Patent Office several years before the possibility of wireless telegraphy was suspected, it will undoubtedly be of interest to give the following extract therefrom:

"I have discovered that if sufficient elevation be obtained to overcome the curvature of the earth's surface and to reduce to the minimum the earth's absorption, electric telegraphing or signalling between distant points can be carried on by induction without the use of wires connecting such distant points. This discovery is especially applicable to telegraphing across bodies of water, thus avoiding the use of submarine cables, or for communicating between vessels at sea, or between vessels at sea and points on land, but it is also applicable to electric communication between distant points on land, it being necessary, however, on land (with the exception of communication over open prairie) to increase the elevation in order to reduce to the minimum the induction-absorbing effect of houses, trees, and elevations in the land itself. At sea from an elevation of one hundred feet I can communicate electrically a great distance, and since this elevation or one sufficiently high can be had by utilizing the masts of ships, signals can be sent and received between ships separated a considerable distance, and by repeating the signals from ship to ship communication can be established between points at any distance apart or across the largest seas and even oceans. The collision of ships in fogs can be prevented by this character of signalling, by the use of which, also, the safety of a ship in approaching a dangerous coast in foggy weather can be assured. In communicating between points on land, poles of great height can be used, or captive balloons. At these elevated points, whether upon the masts of ships, upon poles or balloons, condensing surfaces of metal or other conductor of electricity are located. Each condensing surface is connected with earth by an electrical conducting wire. On land this earth connection would be one of usual character in telegraphy. At sea the wire would run to one or more metal plates on the bottom of the vessel, where the earth connection would be made with the water. The high-resistance secondary circuit of an induction coil is located in circuit between the condensing surface and the ground. The primary circuit of the induction coil includes a battery and a device for transmitting signals, which may be a revolving circuit-breaker operated continually by a motor of any suitable kind, either electrical or mechanical, and a key normally short-circuiting the circuit-breaker or secondary coil. For receiving signals I locate in said circuit between the condensing surface and the ground a diaphragm sounder, which is preferably one of my electromotograph telephone receivers. The key normally short-circuiting the revolving circuit-breaker, no impulses are produced in the induction coil until the key is depressed, when a large number of impulses are produced in the primary, and by means of the secondary corresponding impulses or variations in tension are produced at the elevated condensing surface, producing thereat electrostatic impulses. These electrostatic impulses are transmitted inductively to the elevated condensing surface at the distant point, and are made audible by the electromotograph connected in the ground circuit with such distant condensing surface."

The accompanying illustrations are reduced facsimiles of the drawings attached to the above patent, No. 465,971.


IN solving a problem that at the time was thought to be insurmountable, and in the adaptability of its principles to the successful overcoming of apparently insuperable difficulties subsequently arising in other lines of work, this invention is one of the most remarkable of the many that Edison has made in his long career as an inventor.

The object primarily sought to be accomplished was the repeating of telegraphic signals from a distance without the aid of a galvanometer or an electromagnetic relay, to overcome the claims of the Page patent referred to in the preceding narrative. This object was achieved in the device described in Edison's basic patent No. 158,787, issued January 19, 1875, by the substitution of friction and anti-friction for the presence and absence of magnetism in a regulation relay.

It may be observed, parenthetically, for the benefit of the lay reader, that in telegraphy the device known as the relay is a receiving instrument containing an electromagnet adapted to respond to the weak line-current. Its armature moves in accordance with electrical impulses, or signals, transmitted from a distance, and, in so responding, operates mechanically to alternately close and open a separate local circuit in which there is a sounder and a powerful battery. When used for true relaying purposes the signals received from a distance are in turn repeated over the next section of the line, the powerful local battery furnishing current for this purpose. As this causes a loud repetition of the original signals, it will be seen that relaying is an economic method of extending a telegraph circuit beyond the natural limits of its battery power.

At the time of Edison's invention, as related in Chapter IX of the preceding narrative, there existed no other known method than the one just described for the repetition of transmitted signals, thus limiting the application of telegraphy to the pleasure of those who might own any patent controlling the relay, except on simple circuits where a single battery was sufficient. Edison's previous discovery of differential friction of surfaces through electrochemical decomposition was now adapted by him to produce motion at the end of a circuit without the intervention of an electromagnet. In other words, he invented a telegraph instrument having a vibrator controlled by electrochemical decomposition, to take the place of a vibrating armature operated by an electromagnet, and thus opened an entirely new and unsuspected avenue in the art.

Edison's electromotograph comprised an ingeniously arranged apparatus in which two surfaces, normally in contact with each other, were caused to alternately adhere by friction or slip by reason of electrochemical decomposition. One of these surfaces consisted of a small drum or cylinder of chalk, which was kept in a moistened condition with a suitable chemical solution, and adapted to revolve continuously by clockwork. The other surface consisted of a small pad which rested with frictional pressure on the periphery of the drum. This pad was carried on the end of a vibrating arm whose lateral movement was limited between two adjustable points. Normally, the frictional pressure between the drum and pad would carry the latter with the former as it revolved, but if the friction were removed a spring on the end of the vibrator arm would draw it back to its starting-place.

In practice, the chalk drum was electrically connected with one pole of an incoming telegraph circuit, and the vibrating arm and pad with the other pole. When the drum rotated, the friction of the pad carried the vibrating arm forward, but an electrical impulse coming over the line would decompose the chemical solution with which the drum was moistened, causing an effect similar to lubrication, and thus allowing the pad to slip backward freely in response to the pull of its retractile spring. The frictional movements of the pad with the drum were comparatively long or short, and corresponded with the length of the impulses sent in over the line. Thus, the transmission of Morse dots and dashes by the distant operator resulted in movements of corresponding length by the frictional pad and vibrating arm.

This brings us to the gist of the ingenious way in which Edison substituted the action of electrochemical decomposition for that of the electromagnet to operate a relay. The actual relaying was accomplished through the medium of two contacts making connection with the local or relay circuit. One of these contacts was fixed, while the other was carried by the vibrating arm; and, as the latter made its forward and backward movements, these contacts were alternately brought together or separated, thus throwing in and out of circuit the battery and sounder in the local circuit and causing a repetition of the incoming signals. The other side of the local circuit was permanently connected to an insulated block on the vibrator. This device not only worked with great rapidity, but was extremely sensitive, and would respond to currents too weak to affect the most delicate electromagnetic relay. It should be stated that Edison did not confine himself to the working of the electromotograph by the slipping of surfaces through the action of incoming current, but by varying the character of the surfaces in contact the frictional effect might be intensified by the electrical current. In such a case the movements would be the reverse of those above indicated, but the end sought—namely, the relaying of messages—would be attained with the same certainty.

While the principal object of this invention was to accomplish the repetition of signals without the aid of an electromagnetic relay, the instrument devised by Edison was capable of use as a recorder also, by employing a small wheel inked by a fountain wheel and attached to the vibrating arm through suitable mechanism. By means of this adjunct the dashes and dots of the transmitted impulses could be recorded upon a paper ribbon passing continuously over the drum.

The electromotograph is shown diagrammatically in Figs. 1 and 2, in plan and vertical section respectively. The reference letters in each case indicate identical parts: A being the chalk drum, B the paper tape, C the auxiliary cylinder, D the vibrating arm, E the frictional pad, F the spring, G and H the two contacts, I and J the two wires leading to local circuit, K a battery, and L an ordinary telegraph key. The two last named, K and L, are shown to make the sketch complete but in practice would be at the transmitting end, which might be hundreds of miles away. It will be understood, of course, that the electromotograph is a receiving and relaying instrument.

Another notable use of the electromotograph principle was in its adaptation to the receiver in Edison's loud-speaking telephone, on which United States Patent No. 221,957 was issued November 25, 1879. A chalk cylinder moistened with a chemical solution was revolved by hand or a small motor. Resting on the cylinder was a palladium-faced pen or spring, which was attached to a mica diaphragm in a resonator. The current passed from the main line through the pen to the chalk and to the battery. The sound-waves impinging upon the distant transmitter varied the resistance of the carbon button therein, thus causing corresponding variations in the strength of the battery current. These variations, passing through the chalk cylinder produced more or less electrochemical decomposition, which in turn caused differences of adhesion between the pen and cylinder and hence gave rise to mechanical vibrations of the diaphragm by reason of which the speaker's words were reproduced. Telephones so operated repeated speaking and singing in very loud tones. In one instance, spoken words and the singing of songs originating at a distance were heard perfectly by an audience of over five thousand people.

The loud-speaking telephone is shown in section, diagrammatically, in the sketch (Fig. 3), in which A is the chalk cylinder mounted on a shaft, B. The palladium-faced pen or spring, C, is connected to diaphragm D. The instrument in its commercial form is shown in Fig. 4.


ON April 27, 1877, Edison filed in the United States Patent Office an application for a patent on a telephone, and on May 3, 1892, more than fifteen years afterward, Patent No. 474,230 was granted thereon. Numerous other patents have been issued to him for improvements in telephones, but the one above specified may be considered as the most important of them, since it is the one that first discloses the principle of the carbon transmitter.

This patent embodies but two claims, which are as follows:

"1. In a speaking-telegraph transmitter, the combination of a metallic diaphragm and disk of plumbago or equivalent material, the contiguous faces of said disk and diaphragm being in contact, substantially as described.

"2. As a means for effecting a varying surface contact in the circuit of a speaking-telegraph transmitter, the combination of two electrodes, one of plumbago or similar material, and both having broad surfaces in vibratory contact with each other, substantially as described."

The advance that was brought about by Edison's carbon transmitter will be more apparent if we glance first at the state of the art of telephony prior to his invention.

Bell was undoubtedly the first inventor of the art of transmitting speech over an electric circuit, but, with his particular form of telephone, the field was circumscribed. Bell's telephone is shown in the diagrammatic sectional sketch (Fig. 1).

In the drawing M is a bar magnet contained in the rubber case, L. A bobbin, or coil of wire, B, surrounds one end of the magnet. A diaphragm of soft iron is shown at D, and E is the mouthpiece. The wire terminals of the coil, B, connect with the binding screws, C C.

The next illustration shows a pair of such telephones connected for use, the working parts only being designated by the above reference letters.

It will be noted that the wire terminals are here put to their proper uses, two being joined together to form a line of communication, and the other two being respectively connected to "ground."

Now, if we imagine a person at each one of the instruments (Fig. 2) we shall find that when one of them speaks the sound vibrations impinge upon the diaphragm and cause it to act as a vibrating armature. By reason of its vibrations, this diaphragm induces very weak electric impulses in the magnetic coil. These impulses, according to Bell's theory, correspond in form to the sound-waves, and, passing over the line, energize the magnet coil at the receiving end, thus giving rise to corresponding variations in magnetism by reason of which the receiving diaphragm is similarly vibrated so as to reproduce the sounds. A single apparatus at each end is therefore sufficient, performing the double function of transmitter and receiver. It will be noticed that in this arrangement no battery is used The strength of the impulses transmitted is therefore limited to that of the necessarily weak induction currents generated by the original sounds minus any loss arising by reason of resistance in the line.

Edison's carbon transmitter overcame this vital or limiting weakness by providing for independent power on the transmission circuit, and by introducing the principle of varying the resistance of that circuit with changes in the pressure. With Edison's telephone there is used a closed circuit on which a battery current constantly flows, and in that circuit is a pair of electrodes, one or both of which is carbon. These electrodes are always in contact with a certain initial pressure, so that current will be always flowing over the circuit. One of the electrodes is connected with the diaphragm on which the sound-waves impinge, and the vibrations of this diaphragm cause corresponding variations in pressure between the electrodes, and thereby effect similar variations in the current which is passing over the line to the receiving end. This current, flowing around the receiving magnet, causes corresponding impulses therein, which, acting upon its diaphragm, effect a reproduction of the original vibrations and hence of the original sounds.

In other words, the essential difference is that with Bell's telephone the sound-waves themselves generate the electric impulses, which are therefore extremely faint. With Edison's telephone the sound-waves simply actuate an electric valve, so to speak, and permit variations in a current of any desired strength.

A second distinction between the two telephones is this: With the Bell apparatus the very weak electric impulses generated by the vibration of the transmitting diaphragm pass over the entire line to the receiving end, and, in consequence, the possible length of line is limited to a few miles, even under ideal conditions. With Edison's telephone the battery current does not flow on the main line, but passes through the primary circuit of an induction-coil, from the secondary of which corresponding impulses of enormously higher potential are sent out on the main line to the receiving end. In consequence, the line may be hundreds of miles in length. No modern telephone system is in use to-day that does not use these characteristic features: the varying resistance and the induction-coil. The system inaugurated by Edison is shown by the diagram (Fig. 3), in which the carbon transmitter, the induction-coil, the line, and the distant receiver are respectively indicated.

In Fig. 4 an early form of the Edison carbon transmitter is represented in sectional view.

The carbon disk is represented by the black portion, E, near the diaphragm, A, placed between two platinum plates D and G, which are connected in the battery circuit, as shown by the lines. A small piece of rubber tubing, B, is attached to the centre of the metallic diaphragm, and presses lightly against an ivory piece, F, which is placed directly over one of the platinum plates. Whenever, therefore, any motion is given to the diaphragm, it is immediately followed by a corresponding pressure upon the carbon, and by a change of resistance in the latter, as described above.

It is interesting to note the position which Edison occupies in the telephone art from a legal standpoint. To this end the reader's attention is called to a few extracts from a decision of Judge Brown in two suits brought in the United States Circuit Court, District of Massachusetts, by the American Bell Telephone Company against the National Telephone Manufacturing Company, et al., and Century Telephone Company, et al., reported in Federal Reporter, 109, page 976, et seq. These suits were brought on the Berliner patent, which, it was claimed, covered broadly the electrical transmission of speech by variations of pressure between opposing electrodes in constant contact. The Berliner patent was declared invalid, and in the course of a long and exhaustive opinion, in which the state of art and the work of Bell, Edison, Berliner, and others was fully discussed, the learned Judge made the following remarks: "The carbon electrode was the invention of Edison.... Edison preceded Berliner in the transmission of speech.... The carbon transmitter was an experimental invention of a very high order of merit.... Edison, by countless experiments, succeeded in advancing the art. . . . That Edison did produce speech with solid electrodes before Berliner is clearly proven.... The use of carbon in a transmitter is, beyond controversy, the invention of Edison. Edison was the first to make apparatus in which carbon was used as one of the electrodes.... The carbon transmitter displaced Bell's magnetic transmitter, and, under several forms of construction, remains the only commercial instrument.... The advance in the art was due to the carbon electrode of Edison.... It is conceded that the Edison transmitter as apparatus is a very important invention.... An immense amount of painstaking and highly ingenious experiment preceded Edison's successful result. The discovery of the availability of carbon was unquestionably invention, and it resulted in the 'first practical success in the art.'"


THIS interesting and remarkable device is one of Edison's many inventions not generally known to the public at large, chiefly because the range of its application has been limited to the higher branches of science. He never applied for a patent on the instrument, but dedicated it to the public.

The device was primarily intended for use in detecting and measuring infinitesimal degrees of temperature, however remote, and its conception followed Edison's researches on the carbon telephone transmitter. Its principle depends upon the variable resistance of carbon in accordance with the degree of pressure to which it is subjected. By means of this instrument, pressures that are otherwise inappreciable and undiscoverable may be observed and indicated.

The detection of small variations of temperatures is brought about through the changes which heat or cold will produce in a sensitive material placed in contact with a carbon button, which is put in circuit with a battery and delicate galvanometer. In the sketch (Fig. 1) there is illustrated, partly in section, the form of tasimeter which Edison took with him to Rawlins, Wyoming, in July, 1878, on the expedition to observe the total eclipse of the sun.

The substance on whose expansion the working of the instrument depends is a strip of some material extremely sensitive to heat, such as vulcanite. shown at A, and firmly clamped at B. Its lower end fits into a slot in a metal plate, C, which in turn rests upon a carbon button. This latter and the metal plate are connected in an electric circuit which includes a battery and a sensitive galvanometer. A vulcanite or other strip is easily affected by differences of temperature, expanding and contracting by reason of the minutest changes. Thus, an infinitesimal variation in its length through expansion or contraction changes the pressure on the carbon and affects the resistance of the circuit to a corresponding degree, thereby causing a deflection of the galvanometer; a movement of the needle in one direction denoting expansion, and in the other contraction. The strip, A, is first put under a slight pressure, deflecting the needle a few degrees from zero. Any subsequent expansion or contraction of the strip may readily be noted by further movements of the needle. In practice, and for measurements of a very delicate nature, the tasimeter is inserted in one arm of a Wheatstone bridge, as shown at A in the diagram (Fig. 2). The galvanometer is shown at B in the bridge wire, and at C, D, and E there are shown the resistances in the other arms of the bridge, which are adjusted to equal the resistance of the tasimeter circuit. The battery is shown at F. This arrangement tends to obviate any misleading deflections that might arise through changes in the battery.

The dial on the front of the instrument is intended to indicate the exact amount of physical expansion or contraction of the strip. This is ascertained by means of a micrometer screw, S, which moves a needle, T, in front of the dial. This screw engages with a second and similar screw which is so arranged as to move the strip of vulcanite up or down. After a galvanometer deflection has been obtained through the expansion or contraction of the strip by reason of a change of temperature, a similar deflection is obtained mechanically by turning the screw, S, one way or the other. This causes the vulcanite strip to press more or less upon the carbon button, and thus produces the desired change in the resistance of the circuit. When the galvanometer shows the desired deflection, the needle, T, will indicate upon the dial, in decimal fractions of an inch, the exact distance through which the strip has been moved.

With such an instrument as the above, Edison demonstrated the existence of heat in the corona at the above-mentioned total eclipse of the sun, but exact determinations could not be made at that time, because the tasimeter adjustment was too delicate, and at the best the galvanometer deflections were so marked that they could not be kept within the limits of the scale. The sensitiveness of the instrument may be easily comprehended when it is stated that the heat of the hand thirty feet away from the cone-like funnel of the tasimeter will so affect the galvanometer as to cause the spot of light to leave the scale.

This instrument can also be used to indicate minute changes of moisture in the air by substituting a strip of gelatine in place of the vulcanite. When so arranged a moistened piece of paper held several feet away will cause a minute expansion of the gelatine strip, which effects a pressure on the carbon, and causes a variation in the circuit sufficient to throw the spot of light from the galvanometer mirror off the scale.

The tasimeter has been used to demonstrate heat from remote stars (suns), such as Arcturus.


THE first patent that was ever granted on a device for permanently recording the human voice and other sounds, and for reproducing the same audibly at any future time, was United States Patent No. 200,251, issued to Thomas A. Edison on February 19, 1878, the application having been filed December 24, 1877. It is worthy of note that no references whatever were cited against the application while under examination in the Patent Office. This invention therefore, marked the very beginning of an entirely new art, which, with the new industries attendant upon its development, has since grown to occupy a position of worldwide reputation.

That the invention was of a truly fundamental character is also evident from the fact that although all "talking-machines" of to-day differ very widely in refinement from the first crude but successful phonograph of Edison, their performance is absolutely dependent upon the employment of the principles stated by him in his Patent No. 200,251. Quoting from the specification attached to this patent, we find that Edison said:

"The invention consists in arranging a plate, diaphragm or other flexible body capable of being vibrated by the human voice or other sounds, in conjunction with a material capable of registering the movements of such vibrating body by embossing or indenting or altering such material, in such a manner that such register marks will be sufficient to cause a second vibrating plate or body to be set in motion by them, and thus reproduce the motions of the first vibrating body."

It will be at once obvious that these words describe perfectly the basic principle of every modern phonograph or other talking-machine, irrespective of its manufacture or trade name.

Edison's first model of the phonograph is shown in the following illustration.

It consisted of a metallic cylinder having a helical indenting groove cut upon it from end to end. This cylinder was mounted on a shaft supported on two standards. This shaft at one end was fitted with a handle, by means of which the cylinder was rotated. There were two diaphragms, one on each side of the cylinder, one being for recording and the other for reproducing speech or other sounds. Each diaphragm had attached to it a needle. By means of the needle attached to the recording diaphragm, indentations were made in a sheet of tin-foil stretched over the peripheral surface of the cylinder when the diaphragm was vibrated by reason of speech or other sounds. The needle on the other diaphragm subsequently followed these indentations, thus reproducing the original sounds.

Crude as this first model appears in comparison with machines of later development and refinement, it embodied their fundamental essentials, and was in fact a complete, practical phonograph from the first moment of its operation.

The next step toward the evolution of the improved phonograph of to-day was another form of tin-foil machine, as seen in the illustration.

It will be noted that this was merely an elaborated form of the first model, and embodied several mechanical modifications, among which was the employment of only one diaphragm for recording and reproducing. Such was the general type of phonograph used for exhibition purposes in America and other countries in the three or four years immediately succeeding the date of this invention.

In operating the machine the recording diaphragm was advanced nearly to the cylinder, so that as the diaphragm was vibrated by the voice the needle would prick or indent a wave-like record in the tin-foil that was on the cylinder. The cylinder was constantly turned during the recording, and in turning, was simultaneously moved forward. Thus the record would be formed on the tin-foil in a continuous spiral line. To reproduce this record it was only necessary to again start at the beginning and cause the needle to retrace its path in the spiral line. The needle, in passing rapidly in contact with the recorded waves, was vibrated up and down, causing corresponding vibrations of the diaphragm. In this way sound-waves similar to those caused by the original sounds would be set up in the air, thus reproducing the original speech.

The modern phonograph operates in a precisely similar way, the only difference being in details of refinement. Instead of tin-foil, a wax cylinder is employed, the record being cut thereon by a cutting-tool attached to a diaphragm, while the reproduction is effected by means of a blunt stylus similarly attached.

The cutting-tool and stylus are devices made of sapphire, a gem next in hardness to a diamond, and they have to be cut and formed to an exact nicety by means of diamond dust, most of the work being performed under high-powered microscopes. The minute proportions of these devices will be apparent by a glance at the accompanying illustrations, in which the object on the left represents a common pin, and the objects on the right the cutting-tool and reproducing stylus, all actual sizes.

In the next illustration (Fig. 4) there is shown in the upper sketch, greatly magnified, the cutting or recording tool in the act of forming the record, being vibrated rapidly by the diaphragm; and in the lower sketch, similarly enlarged, a representation of the stylus travelling over the record thus made, in the act of effecting a reproduction.

From the late summer of 1878 and to the fall of 1887 Edison was intensely busy on the electric light, electric railway, and other problems, and virtually gave no attention to the phonograph. Hence, just prior to the latter-named period the instrument was still in its tin-foil age; but he then began to devote serious attention to the development of an improved type that should be of greater commercial importance. The practical results are too well known to call for further comment. That his efforts were not limited in extent may be inferred from the fact that since the fall of 1887 to the present writing he has been granted in the United States one hundred and four patents relating to the phonograph and its accessories.

Interesting as the numerous inventions are, it would be a work of supererogation to digest all these patents in the present pages, as they represent not only the inception but also the gradual development and growth of the wax-record type of phonograph from its infancy to the present perfected machine and records now so widely known all over the world. From among these many inventions, however, we will select two or three as examples of ingenuity and importance in their bearing upon present perfection of results.

One of the difficulties of reproduction for many years was the trouble experienced in keeping the stylus in perfect engagement with the wave-like record, so that every minute vibration would be reproduced. It should be remembered that the deepest cut of the recording tool is only about one-third the thickness of tissue-paper. Hence, it will be quite apparent that the slightest inequality in the surface of the wax would be sufficient to cause false vibration, and thus give rise to distorted effects in such music or other sounds as were being reproduced. To remedy this, Edison added an attachment which is called a "floating weight," and is shown at A in the illustration above.

The function of the floating weight is to automatically keep the stylus in close engagement with the record, thus insuring accuracy of reproduction. The weight presses the stylus to its work, but because of its mass it cannot respond to the extremely rapid vibrations of the stylus. They are therefore communicated to the diaphragm.

Some of Edison's most remarkable inventions are revealed in a number of interesting patents relating to the duplication of phonograph records. It would be obviously impossible, from a commercial standpoint, to obtain a musical record from a high-class artist and sell such an original to the public, as its cost might be from one hundred to several thousand dollars. Consequently, it is necessary to provide some way by which duplicates may be made cheaply enough to permit their purchase by the public at a reasonable price.

The making of a perfect original musical or other record is a matter of no small difficulty, as it requires special technical knowledge and skill gathered from many years of actual experience; but in the exact copying, or duplication, of such a record, with its many millions of microscopic waves and sub-waves, the difficulties are enormously increased. The duplicates must be microscopically identical with the original, they must be free from false vibrations or other defects, although both original and duplicates are of such easily defacable material as wax; and the process must be cheap and commercial not a scientific laboratory possibility.

For making duplicates it was obviously necessary to first secure a mold carrying the record in negative or reversed form. From this could be molded, or cast, positive copies which would be identical with the original. While the art of electroplating would naturally suggest itself as the means of making such a mold, an apparently insurmountable obstacle appeared on the very threshold. Wax, being a non-conductor, cannot be electroplated unless a conducting surface be first applied. The coatings ordinarily used in electro-deposition were entirely out of the question on account of coarseness, the deepest waves of the record being less than one-thousandth of an inch in depth, and many of them probably ten to one hundred times as shallow. Edison finally decided to apply a preliminary metallic coating of infinitesimal thinness, and accomplished this object by a remarkable process known as the vacuous deposit. With this he applied to the original record a film of gold probably no thicker than one three-hundred-thousandth of an inch, or several hundred times less than the depth of an average wave. Three hundred such layers placed one on top of the other would make a sheet no thicker than tissue-paper.

The process consists in placing in a vacuum two leaves, or electrodes, of gold, and between them the original record. A constant discharge of electricity of high tension between the electrodes is effected by means of an induction-coil. The metal is vaporized by this discharge, and is carried by it directly toward and deposited upon the original record, thus forming the minute film of gold above mentioned. The record is constantly rotated until its entire surface is coated. A sectional diagram of the apparatus (Fig. 6.) will aid to a clearer understanding of this ingenious process.

After the gold film is formed in the manner described above, a heavy backing of baser metal is electroplated upon it, thus forming a substantial mold, from which the original record is extracted by breakage or shrinkage.

Duplicate records in any quantity may now be made from this mold by surrounding it with a cold-water jacket and dipping it in a molten wax-like material. This congeals on the record surface just as melted butter would collect on a cold knife, and when the mold is removed the surplus wax falls out, leaving a heavy deposit of the material which forms the duplicate record. Numerous ingenious inventions have been made by Edison providing for a variety of rapid and economical methods of duplication, including methods of shrinking a newly made copy to facilitate its quick removal from the mold; methods of reaming, of forming ribs on the interior, and for many other important and essential details, which limits of space will not permit of elaboration. Those mentioned above are but fair examples of the persistent and effective work he has done to bring the phonograph to its present state of perfection.

In perusing Chapter X of the foregoing narrative, the reader undoubtedly noted Edison's clear apprehension of the practical uses of the phonograph, as evidenced by his prophetic utterances in the article written by him for the North American Review in June, 1878. In view of the crudity of the instrument at that time, it must be acknowledged that Edison's foresight, as vindicated by later events was most remarkable. No less remarkable was his intensely practical grasp of mechanical possibilities of future types of the machine, for we find in one of his early English patents (No. 1644 of 1878) the disk form of phonograph which, some ten to fifteen years later, was supposed to be a new development in the art. This disk form was also covered by Edison's application for a United States patent, filed in 1879. This application met with some merely minor technical objections in the Patent Office, and seems to have passed into the "abandoned" class for want of prosecution, probably because of being overlooked in the tremendous pressure arising from his development of his electric-lighting system.


ALTHOUGH Edison's contributions to human comfort and progress are extensive in number and extraordinarily vast and comprehensive in scope and variety, the universal verdict of the world points to his incandescent lamp and system of distribution of electrical current as the central and crowning achievements of his life up to this time. This view would seem entirely justifiable when we consider the wonderful changes in the conditions of modern life that have been brought about by the wide-spread employment of these inventions, and the gigantic industries that have grown up and been nourished by their world-wide application. That he was in this instance a true pioneer and creator is evident as we consider the subject, for the United States Patent No. 223,898, issued to Edison on January 27, 1880, for an incandescent lamp, was of such fundamental character that it opened up an entirely new and tremendously important art—the art of incandescent electric lighting. This statement cannot be successfully controverted, for it has been abundantly verified after many years of costly litigation. If further proof were desired, it is only necessary to point to the fact that, after thirty years of most strenuous and practical application in the art by the keenest intellects of the world, every incandescent lamp that has ever since been made, including those of modern days, is still dependent upon the employment of the essentials disclosed in the above-named patent—namely, a filament of high resistance enclosed in a sealed glass globe exhausted of air, with conducting wires passing through the glass.

An incandescent lamp is such a simple-appearing article—merely a filament sealed into a glass globe—that its intrinsic relation to the art of electric lighting is far from being apparent at sight. To the lay mind it would seem that this must have been THE obvious device to make in order to obtain electric light by incandescence of carbon or other material. But the reader has already learned from the preceding narrative that prior to its invention by Edison such a device was NOT obvious, even to the most highly trained experts of the world at that period; indeed, it was so far from being obvious that, for some time after he had completed practical lamps and was actually lighting them up twenty-four hours a day, such a device and such a result were declared by these same experts to be an utter impossibility. For a short while the world outside of Menlo Park held Edison's claims in derision. His lamp was pronounced a fake, a myth, possibly a momentary success magnified to the dignity of a permanent device by an overenthusiastic inventor.

Such criticism, however, did not disturb Edison. He KNEW that he had reached the goal. Long ago, by a close process of reasoning, he had clearly seen that the only road to it was through the path he had travelled, and which was now embodied in the philosophy of his incandescent lamp—namely, a filament, or carbon, of high resistance and small radiating surface, sealed into a glass globe exhausted of air to a high degree of vacuum. In originally committing himself to this line of investigation he was well aware that he was going in a direction diametrically opposite to that followed by previous investigators. Their efforts had been confined to low-resistance burners of large radiating surface for their lamps, but he realized the utter futility of such devices. The tremendous problems of heat and the prohibitive quantities of copper that would be required for conductors for such lamps would be absolutely out of the question in commercial practice.

He was convinced from the first that the true solution of the problem lay in a lamp which should have as its illuminating body a strip of material which would offer such a resistance to the flow of electric current that it could be raised to a high temperature—incandescence—and be of such small cross-section that it would radiate but little heat. At the same time such a lamp must require a relatively small amount of current, in order that comparatively small conductors could be used, and its burner must be capable of withstanding the necessarily high temperatures without disintegration.

It is interesting to note that these conceptions were in Edison's mind at an early period of his investigations, when the best expert opinion was that the subdivision of the electric current was an ignis fatuus. Hence we quote the following notes he made, November 15, 1878, in one of the laboratory note-books:

"A given straight wire having 1 ohm resistance and certain length is brought to a given degree of temperature by given battery. If the same wire be coiled in such a manner that but one-quarter of its surface radiates, its temperature will be increased four times with the same battery, or, one-quarter of this battery will bring it to the temperature of straight wire. Or the same given battery will bring a wire whose total resistance is 4 ohms to the same temperature as straight wire.

"This was actually determined by trial.

"The amount of heat lost by a body is in proportion to the radiating surface of that body. If one square inch of platina be heated to 100 degrees it will fall to, say, zero in one second, whereas, if it was at 200 degrees it would require two seconds.

"Hence, in the case of incandescent conductors, if the radiating surface be twelve inches and the temperature on each inch be 100, or 1200 for all, if it is so coiled or arranged that there is but one-quarter, or three inches, of radiating surface, then the temperature on each inch will be 400. If reduced to three-quarters of an inch it will have on that three-quarters of an inch 1600 degrees Fahr., notwithstanding the original total amount was but 1200, because the radiation has been reduced to three-quarters, or 75 units; hence, the effect of the lessening of the radiation is to raise the temperature of each remaining inch not radiating to 125 degrees. If the radiating surface should be reduced to three-thirty-seconds of an inch, the temperature would reach 6400 degrees Fahr. To carry out this law to the best advantage in regard to platina, etc., then with a given length of wire to quadruple the heat we must lessen the radiating surface to one-quarter, and to do this in a spiral, three-quarters must be within the spiral and one-quarter outside for radiating; hence, a square wire or other means, such as a spiral within a spiral, must be used. These results account for the enormous temperature of the Electric Arc with one horse-power; as, for instance, if one horse-power will heat twelve inches of wire to 1000 degrees Fahr., and this is concentrated to have one-quarter of the radiating surface, it would reach a temperature of 4000 degrees or sufficient to melt it; but, supposing it infusible, the further concentration to one-eighth its surface, it would reach a temperature of 16,000 degrees, and to one-thirty-second its surface, which would be about the radiating surface of the Electric Arc, it would reach 64,000 degrees Fahr. Of course, when Light is radiated in great quantities not quite these temperatures would be reached.

"Another curious law is this: It will require a greater initial battery to bring an iron wire of the same size and resistance to a given temperature than it will a platina wire in proportion to their specific heats, and in the case of Carbon, a piece of Carbon three inches long and one-eighth diameter, with a resistance of 1 ohm, will require a greater battery power to bring it to a given temperature than a cylinder of thin platina foil of the same length, diameter, and resistance, because the specific heat of Carbon is many times greater; besides, if I am not mistaken, the radiation of a roughened body for heat is greater than a polished one like platina."

Proceeding logically upon these lines of thought and following them out through many ramifications, we have seen how he at length made a filament of carbon of high resistance and small radiating surface, and through a concurrent investigation of the phenomena of high vacua and occluded gases was able to produce a true incandescent lamp. Not only was it a lamp as a mere article—a device to give light—but it was also an integral part of his great and complete system of lighting, to every part of which it bore a fixed and definite ratio, and in relation to which it was the keystone that held the structure firmly in place.

The work of Edison on incandescent lamps did not stop at this fundamental invention, but extended through more than eighteen years of a most intense portion of his busy life. During that period he was granted one hundred and forty-nine other patents on the lamp and its manufacture. Although very many of these inventions were of the utmost importance and value, we cannot attempt to offer a detailed exposition of them in this necessarily brief article, but must refer the reader, if interested, to the patents themselves, a full list being given at the end of this Appendix. The outline sketch will indicate the principal patents covering the basic features of the lamp.

The litigation on the Edison lamp patents was one of the most determined and stubbornly fought contests in the history of modern jurisprudence. Vast interests were at stake. All of the technical, expert, and professional skill and knowledge that money could procure or experience devise were availed of in the bitter fights that raged in the courts for many years. And although the Edison interests had spent from first to last nearly $2,000,000, and had only about three years left in the life of the fundamental patent, Edison was thoroughly sustained as to priority by the decisions in the various suits. We shall offer a few brief extracts from some of these decisions.

In a suit against the United States Electric Lighting Company, United States Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York, July 14, 1891, Judge Wallace said, in his opinion: "The futility of hoping to maintain a burner in vacuo with any permanency had discouraged prior inventors, and Mr. Edison is entitled to the credit of obviating the mechanical difficulties which disheartened them.... He was the first to make a carbon of materials, and by a process which was especially designed to impart high specific resistance to it; the first to make a carbon in the special form for the special purpose of imparting to it high total resistance; and the first to combine such a burner with the necessary adjuncts of lamp construction to prevent its disintegration and give it sufficiently long life. By doing these things he made a lamp which was practically operative and successful, the embryo of the best lamps now in commercial use, and but for which the subdivision of the electric light by incandescence would still be nothing but the ignis fatuus which it was proclaimed to be in 1879 by some of the reamed experts who are now witnesses to belittle his achievement and show that it did not rise to the dignity of an invention.... It is impossible to resist the conclusion that the invention of the slender thread of carbon as a substitute for the burners previously employed opened the path to the practical subdivision of the electric light."

An appeal was taken in the above suit to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals, and on October 4, 1892, the decree of the lower court was affirmed. The judges (Lacombe and Shipman), in a long opinion reviewed the facts and the art, and said, inter alia: "Edison's invention was practically made when he ascertained the theretofore unknown fact that carbon would stand high temperature, even when very attenuated, if operated in a high vacuum, without the phenomenon of disintegration. This fact he utilized by the means which he has described, a lamp having a filamentary carbon burner in a nearly perfect vacuum."

In a suit against the Boston Incandescent Lamp Company et al., in the United States Circuit Court for the District of Massachusetts, decided in favor of Edison on June 11, 1894, Judge Colt, in his opinion, said, among other things: "Edison made an important invention; he produced the first practical incandescent electric lamp; the patent is a pioneer in the sense of the patent law; it may be said that his invention created the art of incandescent electric lighting."

Opinions of other courts, similar in tenor to the foregoing, might be cited, but it would be merely in the nature of reiteration. The above are sufficient to illustrate the direct clearness of judicial decision on Edison's position as the founder of the art of electric lighting by incandescence.


AT the present writing, when, after the phenomenally rapid electrical development of thirty years, we find on the market a great variety of modern forms of efficient current generators advertised under the names of different inventors (none, however, bearing the name of Edison), a young electrical engineer of the present generation might well inquire whether the great inventor had ever contributed anything to the art beyond a mere TYPE of machine formerly made and bearing his name, but not now marketed except second hand.

For adequate information he might search in vain the books usually regarded as authorities on the subject of dynamo-electric machinery, for with slight exceptions there has been a singular unanimity in the omission of writers to give Edison credit for his great and basic contributions to heavy-current technics, although they have been universally acknowledged by scientific and practical men to have laid the foundation for the efficiency of, and to be embodied in all modern generators of current.

It might naturally be expected that the essential facts of Edison's work would appear on the face of his numerous patents on dynamo-electric machinery, but such is not necessarily the case, unless they are carefully studied in the light of the state of the art as it existed at the time. While some of these patents (especially the earlier ones) cover specific devices embodying fundamental principles that not only survive to the present day, but actually lie at the foundation of the art as it now exists, there is no revelation therein of Edison's preceding studies of magnets, which extended over many years, nor of his later systematic investigations and deductions.

Dynamo-electric machines of a primitive kind had been invented and were in use to a very limited extent for arc lighting and electroplating for some years prior to the summer of 1819, when Edison, with an embryonic lighting SYSTEM in mind, cast about for a type of machine technically and commercially suitable for the successful carrying out of his plans. He found absolutely none. On the contrary, all of the few types then obtainable were uneconomical, indeed wasteful, in regard to efficiency. The art, if indeed there can be said to have been an art at that time, was in chaotic confusion, and only because of Edison's many years' study of the magnet was he enabled to conclude that insufficiency in quantity of iron in the magnets of such machines, together with poor surface contacts, rendered the cost of magnetization abnormally high. The heating of solid armatures, the only kind then known, and poor insulation in the commutators, also gave rise to serious losses. But perhaps the most serious drawback lay in the high-resistance armature, based upon the highest scientific dictum of the time that in order to obtain the maximum amount of work from a machine, the internal resistance of the armature must equal the resistance of the exterior circuit, although the application of this principle entailed the useless expenditure of at least 50 per cent. of the applied energy.

It seems almost incredible that only a little over thirty years ago the sum of scientific knowledge in regard to dynamo-electric machines was so meagre that the experts of the period should settle upon such a dictum as this, but such was the fact, as will presently appear. Mechanical generators of electricity were comparatively new at that time; their theory and practice were very imperfectly understood; indeed, it is quite within the bounds of truth to say that the correct principles were befogged by reason of the lack of practical knowledge of their actual use. Electricians and scientists of the period had been accustomed for many years past to look to the chemical battery as the source from which to obtain electrical energy; and in the practical application of such energy to telegraphy and kindred uses, much thought and ingenuity had been expended in studying combinations of connecting such cells so as to get the best results. In the text-books of the period it was stated as a settled principle that, in order to obtain the maximum work out of a set of batteries, the internal resistance must approximately equal the resistance of the exterior circuit. This principle and its application in practice were quite correct as regards chemical batteries, but not as regards dynamo machines. Both were generators of electrical current, but so different in construction and operation, that rules applicable to the practical use of the one did not apply with proper commercial efficiency to the other. At the period under consideration, which may be said to have been just before dawn of the day of electric light, the philosophy of the dynamo was seen only in mysterious, hazy outlines—just emerging from the darkness of departing night. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that the dynamo was loosely regarded by electricians as the practical equivalent of a chemical battery; that many of the characteristics of performance of the chemical cell were also attributed to it, and that if the maximum work could be gotten out of a set of batteries when the internal and external resistances were equal (and this was commercially the best thing to do), so must it be also with a dynamo.

It was by no miracle that Edison was far and away ahead of his time when he undertook to improve the dynamo. He was possessed of absolute KNOWLEDGE far beyond that of his contemporaries. This he ad acquired by the hardest kind of work and incessant experiment with magnets of all kinds during several years preceding, particularly in connection with his study of automatic telegraphy. His knowledge of magnets was tremendous. He had studied and experimented with electromagnets in enormous variety, and knew their peculiarities in charge and discharge, lag, self-induction, static effects, condenser effects, and the various other phenomena connected therewith. He had also made collateral studies of iron, steel, and copper, insulation, winding, etc. Hence, by reason of this extensive work and knowledge, Edison was naturally in a position to realize the utter commercial impossibility of the then best dynamo machine in existence, which had an efficiency of only about 40 per cent., and was constructed on the "cut-and-try" principle.

He was also naturally in a position to assume the task he set out to accomplish, of undertaking to plan and-build an improved type of machine that should be commercial in having an efficiency of at least 90 per cent. Truly a prodigious undertaking in those dark days, when from the standpoint of Edison's large experience the most practical and correct electrical treatise was contained in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and in a German publication which Mr. Upton had brought with him after he had finished his studies with the illustrious Helmholtz. It was at this period that Mr. Upton commenced his association with Edison, bringing to the great work the very latest scientific views and the assistance of the higher mathematics, to which he had devoted his attention for several years previously.

As some account of Edison's investigations in this connection has already been given in Chapter XII of the narrative, we shall not enlarge upon them here, but quote from An Historical Review, by Charles L. Clarke, Laboratory Assistant at Menlo Park, 1880-81; Chief Engineer of the Edison Electric Light Company, 1881-84:

"In June, 1879, was published the account of the Edison dynamo-electric machine that survived in the art. This machine went into extensive commercial use, and was notable for its very massive and powerful field-magnets and armature of extremely low resistance as compared with the combined external resistance of the supply-mains and lamps. By means of the large masses of iron in the field-magnets, and closely fitted joints between the several parts thereof, the magnetic resistance (reluctance) of the iron parts of the magnetic circuit was reduced to a minimum, and the required magnetization effected with the maximum economy. At the same time Mr. Edison announced the commercial necessity of having the armature of the dynamo of low resistance, as compared with the external resistance, in order that a large percentage of the electrical energy developed should be utilized in the lamps, and only a small percentage lost in the armature, albeit this procedure reduced the total generating capacity of the machine. He also proposed to make the resistance of the supply-mains small, as compared with the combined resistance of the lamps in multiple arc, in order to still further increase the percentage of energy utilized in the lamps. And likewise to this end the combined resistance of the generator armatures in multiple arc was kept relatively small by adjusting the number of generators operating in multiple at any time to the number of lamps then in use. The field-magnet circuits of the dynamos were connected in multiple with a separate energizing source; and the field-current; and strength of field, were regulated to maintain the required amount of electromotive force upon the supply-mains under all conditions of load from the maximum to the minimum number of lamps in use, and to keep the electromotive force of all machines alike."

Among the earliest of Edison's dynamo experiments were those relating to the core of the armature. He realized at once that the heat generated in a solid core was a prolific source of loss. He experimented with bundles of iron wires variously insulated, also with sheet-iron rolled cylindrically and covered with iron wire wound concentrically. These experiments and many others were tried in a great variety of ways, until, as the result of all this work, Edison arrived at the principle which has remained in the art to this day. He split up the iron core of the armature into thin laminations, separated by paper, thus practically suppressing Foucault currents therein and resulting heating effect. It was in his machine also that mica was used for the first time as an insulating medium in a commutator. [27]

[Footnote 27: The commercial manufacture of built-up sheets of mica for electrical purposes was first established at the Edison Machine Works, Goerck Street, New York, in 1881.]

Elementary as these principles will appear to the modern student or engineer, they were denounced as nothing short of absurdity at the time of their promulgation—especially so with regard to Edison's proposal to upset the then settled dictum that the armature resistance should be equal to the external resistance. His proposition was derided in the technical press of the period, both at home and abroad. As public opinion can be best illustrated by actual quotation, we shall present a characteristic instance.

In the Scientific American of October 18, 1879, there appeared an illustrated article by Mr. Upton on Edison's dynamo machine, in which Edison's views and claims were set forth. A subsequent issue contained a somewhat acrimonious letter of criticism by a well-known maker of dynamo machines. At the risk of being lengthy, we must quote nearly all this letter: "I can scarcely conceive it as possible that the article on the above subject '(Edison's Electric Generator)' in last week's Scientific American could have been written from statements derived from Mr. Edison himself, inasmuch as so many of the advantages claimed for the machine described and statements of the results obtained are so manifestly absurd as to indicate on the part of both writer and prompter a positive want of knowledge of the electric circuit and the principles governing the construction and operation of electric machines.

"It is not my intention to criticise the design or construction of the machine (not because they are not open to criticism), as I am now and have been for many years engaged in the manufacture of electric machines, but rather to call attention to the impossibility of obtaining the described results without destroying the doctrine of the conservation and correlation of forces.

. . . . .

"It is stated that 'the internal resistance of the armature' of this machine 'is only 1/2 ohm.' On this fact and the disproportion between this resistance and that of the external circuit, the theory of the alleged efficiency of the machine is stated to be based, for we are informed that, 'while this generator in general principle is the same as in the best well-known forms, still there is an all-important difference, which is that it will convert and deliver for useful work nearly double the number of foot-pounds that any other machine will under like conditions.'" The writer of this critical letter then proceeds to quote Mr. Upton's statement of this efficiency: "'Now the energy converted is distributed over the whole resistance, hence if the resistance of the machine be represented by 1 and the exterior circuit by 9, then of the total energy converted nine-tenths will be useful, as it is outside of the machine, and one-tenth is lost in the resistance of the machine.'"

After this the critic goes on to say:

"How any one acquainted with the laws of the electric circuit can make such statements is what I cannot understand. The statement last quoted is mathematically absurd. It implies either that the machine is CAPABLE OF INCREASING ITS OWN ELECTROMOTIVE FORCE NINE TIMES WITHOUT AN INCREASED EXPENDITURE OF POWER, or that external resistance is NOT resistance to the current induced in the Edison machine.

"Does Mr. Edison, or any one for him, mean to say that r/n enables him to obtain nE, and that C IS NOT = E / (r/n + R)? If so Mr. Edison has discovered something MORE than perpetual motion, and Mr. Keely had better retire from the field.

"Further on the writer (Mr. Upton) gives us another example of this mode of reasoning when, emboldened and satisfied with the absurd theory above exposed, he endeavors to prove the cause of the inefficiency of the Siemens and other machines. Couldn't the writer of the article see that since C = E/(r + R) that by R/n or by making R = r, the machine would, according to his theory, have returned more useful current to the circuit than could be due to the power employed (and in the ratio indicated), so that there would actually be a creation of force! . . . .

"In conclusion allow me to say that if Mr Edison thinks he has accomplished so much by the REDUCTION OF THE INTERNAL RESISTANCE of his machine, that he has much more to do in this direction before his machine will equal IN THIS RESPECT others already in the market."

Another participant in the controversy on Edison's generator was a scientific gentleman, who in a long article published in the Scientific American, in November, 1879, gravely undertook to instruct Edison in the A B C of electrical principles, and then proceeded to demonstrate mathematically the IMPOSSIBILITY of doing WHAT EDISON HAD ACTUALLY DONE. This critic concludes with a gentle rebuke to the inventor for ill-timed jesting, and a suggestion to furnish AUTHENTIC information!

In the light of facts, as they were and are, this article is so full of humor that we shall indulge in a few quotations It commences in A B C fashion as follows: "Electric machines convert mechanical into electrical energy.... The ratio of yield to consumption is the expression of the efficiency of the machine.... How many foot-pounds of electricity can be got out of 100 foot-pounds of mechanical energy? Certainly not more than 100: certainly less.... The facts and laws of physics, with the assistance of mathematical logic, never fail to furnish precious answers to such questions."

The would-be critic then goes on to tabulate tests of certain other dynamo machines by a committee of the Franklin Institute in 1879, the results of which showed that these machines returned about 50 per cent. of the applied mechanical energy, ingenuously remarking: "Why is it that when we have produced the electricity, half of it must slip away? Some persons will be content if they are told simply that it is a way which electricity has of behaving. But there is a satisfactory rational explanation which I believe can be made plain to persons of ordinary intelligence. It ought to be known to all those who are making or using machines. I am grieved to observe that many persons who talk and write glibly about electricity do not understand it; some even ignore or deny the fact to be explained."

Here follows HIS explanation, after which he goes on to say: "At this point plausibly comes in a suggestion that the internal part of the circuit be made very small and the external part very large. Why not (say) make the internal part 1 and the external 9, thus saving nine-tenths and losing only one-tenth? Unfortunately, the suggestion is not practical; a fallacy is concealed in it."

He then goes on to prove his case mathematically, to his own satisfaction, following it sadly by condoling with and a warning to Edison: "But about Edison's electric generator! . . . No one capable of making the improvements in the telegraph and telephone, for which we are indebted to Mr. Edison, could be other than an accomplished electrician. His reputation as a scientist, indeed, is smirched by the newspaper exaggerations, and no doubt he will be more careful in future. But there is a danger nearer home, indeed, among his own friends and in his very household.

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