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Edison, His Life and Inventions
by Frank Lewis Dyer and Thomas Commerford Martin
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The invention of the phonograph was immediately followed, as usual, by the appearance of several other incidental and auxiliary devices, some patented, and others remaining simply the application of the principles of apparatus that had been worked out. One of these was the telephonograph, a combination of a telephone at a distant station with a phonograph. The diaphragm of the phonograph mouthpiece is actuated by an electromagnet in the same way as that of an ordinary telephone receiver, and in this manner a record of the message spoken from a distance can be obtained and turned into sound at will. Evidently such a process is reversible, and the phonograph can send a message to the distant receiver.

This idea was brilliantly demonstrated in practice in February, 1889, by Mr. W. J. Hammer, one of Edison's earliest and most capable associates, who carried on telephonographic communication between New York and an audience in Philadelphia. The record made in New York on the Edison phonograph was repeated into an Edison carbon transmitter, sent over one hundred and three miles of circuit, including six miles of underground cable; received by an Edison motograph; repeated by that on to a phonograph; transferred from the phonograph to an Edison carbon transmitter, and by that delivered to the Edison motograph receiver in the enthusiastic lecture-hall, where every one could hear each sound and syllable distinctly. In real practice this spectacular playing with sound vibrations, as if they were lacrosse balls to toss around between the goals, could be materially simplified.

The modern megaphone, now used universally in making announcements to large crowds, particularly at sporting events, is also due to this period as a perfection by Edison of many antecedent devices going back, perhaps, much further than the legendary funnels through which Alexander the Great is said to have sent commands to his outlying forces. The improved Edison megaphone for long-distance work comprised two horns of wood or metal about six feet long, tapering from a diameter of two feet six inches at the mouth to a small aperture provided with ear-tubes. These converging horns or funnels, with a large speaking-trumpet in between them, are mounted on a tripod, and the megaphone is complete. Conversation can be carried on with this megaphone at a distance of over two miles, as with a ship or the balloon. The modern megaphone now employs the receiver form thus introduced as its very effective transmitter, with which the old-fashioned speaking-trumpet cannot possibly compete; and the word "megaphone" is universally applied to the single, side-flaring horn.

A further step in this line brought Edison to the "aerophone," around which the Figaro weaved its fanciful description. In the construction of the aerophone the same kind of tympanum is used as in the phonograph, but the imitation of the human voice, or the transmission of sound, is effected by the quick opening and closing of valves placed within a steam-whistle or an organ-pipe. The vibrations of the diaphragm communicated to the valves cause them to operate in synchronism, so that the vibrations are thrown upon the escaping air or steam; and the result is an instrument with a capacity of magnifying the sounds two hundred times, and of hurling them to great distances intelligibly, like a huge fog-siren, but with immense clearness and penetration. All this study of sound transmission over long distances without wires led up to the consideration and invention of pioneer apparatus for wireless telegraphy—but that also is another chapter.

Yet one more ingenious device of this period must be noted—Edison's vocal engine, the patent application for which was executed in August, 1878, the patent being granted the following December. Reference to this by Edison himself has already been quoted. The "voice-engine," or "phonomotor," converts the vibrations of the voice or of music, acting on the diaphragm, into motion which is utilized to drive some secondary appliance, whether as a toy or for some useful purpose. Thus a man can actually talk a hole through a board.

Somewhat weary of all this work and excitement, and not having enjoyed any cessation from toil, or period of rest, for ten years, Edison jumped eagerly at the opportunity afforded him in the summer of 1878 of making a westward trip. Just thirty years later, on a similar trip over the same ground, he jotted down for this volume some of his reminiscences. The lure of 1878 was the opportunity to try the ability of his delicate tasimeter during the total eclipse of the sun, July 29. His admiring friend, Prof. George F. Barker, of the University of Pennsylvania, with whom he had now been on terms of intimacy for some years, suggested the holiday, and was himself a member of the excursion party that made its rendezvous at Rawlins, Wyoming Territory. Edison had tested his tasimeter, and was satisfied that it would measure down to the millionth part of a degree Fahrenheit. It was just ten years since he had left the West in poverty and obscurity, a penniless operator in search of a job; but now he was a great inventor and famous, a welcome addition to the band of astronomers and physicists assembled to observe the eclipse and the corona.

"There were astronomers from nearly every nation," says Mr. Edison. "We had a special car. The country at that time was rather new; game was in great abundance, and could be seen all day long from the car window, especially antelope. We arrived at Rawlins about 4 P.M. It had a small machine shop, and was the point where locomotives were changed for the next section. The hotel was a very small one, and by doubling up we were barely accommodated. My room-mate was Fox, the correspondent of the New York Herald. After we retired and were asleep a thundering knock on the door awakened us. Upon opening the door a tall, handsome man with flowing hair dressed in western style entered the room. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was somewhat inebriated. He introduced himself as 'Texas Jack'—Joe Chromondo—and said he wanted to see Edison, as he had read about me in the newspapers. Both Fox and I were rather scared, and didn't know what was to be the result of the interview. The landlord requested him not to make so much noise, and was thrown out into the hall. Jack explained that he had just come in with a party which had been hunting, and that he felt fine. He explained, also, that he was the boss pistol-shot of the West; that it was he who taught the celebrated Doctor Carver how to shoot. Then suddenly pointing to a weather-vane on the freight depot, he pulled out a Colt revolver and fired through the window, hitting the vane. The shot awakened all the people, and they rushed in to see who was killed. It was only after I told him I was tired and would see him in the morning that he left. Both Fox and I were so nervous we didn't sleep any that night.

"We were told in the morning that Jack was a pretty good fellow, and was not one of the 'bad men,' of whom they had a good supply. They had one in the jail, and Fox and I went over to see him. A few days before he had held up a Union Pacific train and robbed all the passengers. In the jail also was a half-breed horse-thief. We interviewed the bad man through bars as big as railroad rails. He looked like a 'bad man.' The rim of his ear all around came to a sharp edge and was serrated. His eyes were nearly white, and appeared as if made of glass and set in wrong, like the life-size figures of Indians in the Smithsonian Institution. His face was also extremely irregular. He wouldn't answer a single question. I learned afterward that he got seven years in prison, while the horse-thief was hanged. As horses ran wild, and there was no protection, it meant death to steal one."

This was one interlude among others. "The first thing the astronomers did was to determine with precision their exact locality upon the earth. A number of observations were made, and Watson, of Michigan University, with two others, worked all night computing, until they agreed. They said they were not in error more than one hundred feet, and that the station was twelve miles out of the position given on the maps. It seemed to take an immense amount of mathematics. I preserved one of the sheets, which looked like the time-table of a Chinese railroad. The instruments of the various parties were then set up in different parts of the little town, and got ready for the eclipse which was to occur in three or four days. Two days before the event we all got together, and obtaining an engine and car, went twelve miles farther west to visit the United States Government astronomers at a place called Separation, the apex of the Great Divide, where the waters run east to the Mississippi and west to the Pacific. Fox and I took our Winchester rifles with an idea of doing a little shooting. After calling on the Government people we started to interview the telegraph operator at this most lonely and desolate spot. After talking over old acquaintances I asked him if there was any game around. He said, 'Plenty of jack-rabbits.' These jack-rabbits are a very peculiar species. They have ears about six inches long and very slender legs, about three times as long as those of an ordinary rabbit, and travel at a great speed by a series of jumps, each about thirty feet long, as near as I could judge. The local people called them 'narrow-gauge mules.' Asking the operator the best direction, he pointed west, and noticing a rabbit in a clear space in the sage bushes, I said, 'There is one now.' I advanced cautiously to within one hundred feet and shot. The rabbit paid no attention. I then advanced to within ten feet and shot again—the rabbit was still immovable. On looking around, the whole crowd at the station were watching—and then I knew the rabbit was stuffed! However, we did shoot a number of live ones until Fox ran out of cartridges. On returning to the station I passed away the time shooting at cans set on a pile of tins. Finally the operator said to Fox: 'I have a fine Springfield musket, suppose you try it!' So Fox took the musket and fired. It knocked him nearly over. It seems that the musket had been run over by a handcar, which slightly bent the long barrel, but not sufficiently for an amateur like Fox to notice. After Fox had his shoulder treated with arnica at the Government hospital tent, we returned to Rawlins."

The eclipse was, however, the prime consideration, and Edison followed the example of his colleagues in making ready. The place which he secured for setting up his tasimeter was an enclosure hardly suitable for the purpose, and he describes the results as follows:

"I had my apparatus in a small yard enclosed by a board fence six feet high, at one end there was a house for hens. I noticed that they all went to roost just before totality. At the same time a slight wind arose, and at the moment of totality the atmosphere was filled with thistle-down and other light articles. I noticed one feather, whose weight was at least one hundred and fifty milligrams, rise perpendicularly to the top of the fence, where it floated away on the wind. My apparatus was entirely too sensitive, and I got no results." It was found that the heat from the corona of the sun was ten times the index capacity of the instrument; but this result did not leave the value of the device in doubt. The Scientific American remarked;

"Seeing that the tasimeter is affected by a wider range of etheric undulations than the eye can take cognizance of, and is withal far more acutely sensitive, the probabilities are that it will open up hitherto inaccessible regions of space, and possibly extend the range of aerial knowledge as far beyond the limit obtained by the telescope as that is beyond the narrow reach of unaided vision."

The eclipse over, Edison, with Professor Barker, Major Thornberg, several soldiers, and a number of railroad officials, went hunting about one hundred miles south of the railroad in the Ute country. A few months later the Major and thirty soldiers were ambushed near the spot at which the hunting-party had camped, and all were killed. Through an introduction from Mr. Jay Gould, who then controlled the Union Pacific, Edison was allowed to ride on the cow-catchers of the locomotives. "The different engineers gave me a small cushion, and every day I rode in this manner, from Omaha to the Sacramento Valley, except through the snow-shed on the summit of the Sierras, without dust or anything else to obstruct the view. Only once was I in danger when the locomotive struck an animal about the size of a small cub bear—which I think was a badger. This animal struck the front of the locomotive just under the headlight with great violence, and was then thrown off by the rebound. I was sitting to one side grasping the angle brace, so no harm was done."

This welcome vacation lasted nearly two months; but Edison was back in his laboratory and hard at work before the end of August, gathering up many loose ends, and trying out many thoughts and ideas that had accumulated on the trip. One hot afternoon—August 30th, as shown by the document in the case—Mr. Edison was found by one of the authors of this biography employed most busily in making a mysterious series of tests on paper, using for ink acids that corrugated and blistered the paper where written upon. When interrogated as to his object, he stated that the plan was to afford blind people the means of writing directly to each other, especially if they were also deaf and could not hear a message on the phonograph. The characters which he was thus forming on the paper were high enough in relief to be legible to the delicate touch of a blind man's fingers, and with simple apparatus letters could be thus written, sent, and read. There was certainly no question as to the result obtained at the moment, which was all that was asked; but the Edison autograph thus and then written now shows the paper eaten out by the acid used, although covered with glass for many years. Mr. Edison does not remember that he ever recurred to this very interesting test.

He was, however, ready for anything new or novel, and no record can ever be made or presented that would do justice to a tithe of the thoughts and fancies daily and hourly put upon the rack. The famous note-books, to which reference will be made later, were not begun as a regular series, as it was only the profusion of these ideas that suggested the vital value of such systematic registration. Then as now, the propositions brought to Edison ranged over every conceivable subject, but the years have taught him caution in grappling with them. He tells an amusing story of one dilemma into which his good-nature led him at this period: "At Menlo Park one day, a farmer came in and asked if I knew any way to kill potato-bugs. He had twenty acres of potatoes, and the vines were being destroyed. I sent men out and culled two quarts of bugs, and tried every chemical I had to destroy them. Bisulphide of carbon was found to do it instantly. I got a drum and went over to the potato farm and sprinkled it on the vines with a pot. Every bug dropped dead. The next morning the farmer came in very excited and reported that the stuff had killed the vines as well. I had to pay $300 for not experimenting properly."

During this year, 1878, the phonograph made its way also to Europe, and various sums of money were paid there to secure the rights to its manufacture and exploitation. In England, for example, the Microscopic Company paid $7500 down and agreed to a royalty, while arrangements were effected also in France, Russia, and other countries. In every instance, as in this country, the commercial development had to wait several years, for in the mean time another great art had been brought into existence, demanding exclusive attention and exhaustive toil. And when the work was done the reward was a new heaven and a new earth—in the art of illumination.



CHAPTER XI

THE INVENTION OF THE INCANDESCENT LAMP

IT is possible to imagine a time to come when the hours of work and rest will once more be regulated by the sun. But the course of civilization has been marked by an artificial lengthening of the day, and by a constant striving after more perfect means of illumination. Why mankind should sleep through several hours of sunlight in the morning, and stay awake through a needless time in the evening, can probably only be attributed to total depravity. It is certainly a most stupid, expensive, and harmful habit. In no one thing has man shown greater fertility of invention than in lighting; to nothing does he cling more tenaciously than to his devices for furnishing light. Electricity to-day reigns supreme in the field of illumination, but every other kind of artificial light that has ever been known is still in use somewhere. Toward its light-bringers the race has assumed an attitude of veneration, though it has forgotten, if it ever heard, the names of those who first brightened its gloom and dissipated its darkness. If the tallow candle, hitherto unknown, were now invented, its creator would be hailed as one of the greatest benefactors of the present age.

Up to the close of the eighteenth century, the means of house and street illumination were of two generic kinds—grease and oil; but then came a swift and revolutionary change in the adoption of gas. The ideas and methods of Murdoch and Lebon soon took definite shape, and "coal smoke" was piped from its place of origin to distant points of consumption. As early as 1804, the first company ever organized for gas lighting was formed in London, one side of Pall Mall being lit up by the enthusiastic pioneer, Winsor, in 1807. Equal activity was shown in America, and Baltimore began the practice of gas lighting in 1816. It is true that there were explosions, and distinguished men like Davy and Watt opined that the illuminant was too dangerous; but the "spirit of coal" had demonstrated its usefulness convincingly, and a commercial development began, which, for extent and rapidity, was not inferior to that marking the concurrent adoption of steam in industry and transportation.

Meantime the wax candle and the Argand oil lamp held their own bravely. The whaling fleets, long after gas came into use, were one of the greatest sources of our national wealth. To New Bedford, Massachusetts, alone, some three or four hundred ships brought their whale and sperm oil, spermaceti, and whalebone; and at one time that port was accounted the richest city in the United States in proportion to its population. The ship-owners and refiners of that whaling metropolis were slow to believe that their monopoly could ever be threatened by newer sources of illumination; but gas had become available in the cities, and coal-oil and petroleum were now added to the list of illuminating materials. The American whaling fleet, which at the time of Edison's birth mustered over seven hundred sail, had dwindled probably to a bare tenth when he took up the problem of illumination; and the competition of oil from the ground with oil from the sea, and with coal-gas, had made the artificial production of light cheaper than ever before, when up to the middle of the century it had remained one of the heaviest items of domestic expense. Moreover, just about the time that Edison took up incandescent lighting, water-gas was being introduced on a large scale as a commercial illuminant that could be produced at a much lower cost than coal-gas.

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century the search for a practical electric light was almost wholly in the direction of employing methods analogous to those already familiar; in other words, obtaining the illumination from the actual consumption of the light-giving material. In the third quarter of the century these methods were brought to practicality, but all may be referred back to the brilliant demonstrations of Sir Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution, circa 1809-10, when, with the current from a battery of two thousand cells, he produced an intense voltaic arc between the points of consuming sticks of charcoal. For more than thirty years the arc light remained an expensive laboratory experiment; but the coming of the dynamo placed that illuminant on a commercial basis. The mere fact that electrical energy from the least expensive chemical battery using up zinc and acids costs twenty times as much as that from a dynamo—driven by steam-engine—is in itself enough to explain why so many of the electric arts lingered in embryo after their fundamental principles had been discovered. Here is seen also further proof of the great truth that one invention often waits for another.

From 1850 onward the improvements in both the arc lamp and the dynamo were rapid; and under the superintendence of the great Faraday, in 1858, protecting beams of intense electric light from the voltaic arc were shed over the waters of the Straits of Dover from the beacons of South Foreland and Dungeness. By 1878 the arc-lighting industry had sprung into existence in so promising a manner as to engender an extraordinary fever and furor of speculation. At the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, Wallace-Farmer dynamos built at Ansonia, Connecticut, were shown, with the current from which arc lamps were there put in actual service. A year or two later the work of Charles F. Brush and Edward Weston laid the deep foundation of modern arc lighting in America, securing as well substantial recognition abroad.

Thus the new era had been ushered in, but it was based altogether on the consumption of some material—carbon—in a lamp open to the air. Every lamp the world had ever known did this, in one way or another. Edison himself began at that point, and his note-books show that he made various experiments with this type of lamp at a very early stage. Indeed, his experiments had led him so far as to anticipate in 1875 what are now known as "flaming arcs," the exceedingly bright and generally orange or rose-colored lights which have been introduced within the last few years, and are now so frequently seen in streets and public places. While the arcs with plain carbons are bluish-white, those with carbons containing calcium fluoride have a notable golden glow.

He was convinced, however, that the greatest field of lighting lay in the illumination of houses and other comparatively enclosed areas, to replace the ordinary gas light, rather than in the illumination of streets and other outdoor places by lights of great volume and brilliancy. Dismissing from his mind quickly the commercial impossibility of using arc lights for general indoor illumination, he arrived at the conclusion that an electric lamp giving light by incandescence was the solution of the problem.

Edison was familiar with the numerous but impracticable and commercially unsuccessful efforts that had been previously made by other inventors and investigators to produce electric light by incandescence, and at the time that he began his experiments, in 1877, almost the whole scientific world had pronounced such an idea as impossible of fulfilment. The leading electricians, physicists, and experts of the period had been studying the subject for more than a quarter of a century, and with but one known exception had proven mathematically and by close reasoning that the "Subdivision of the Electric Light," as it was then termed, was practically beyond attainment. Opinions of this nature have ever been but a stimulus to Edison when he has given deep thought to a subject, and has become impressed with strong convictions of possibility, and in this particular case he was satisfied that the subdivision of the electric light—or, more correctly, the subdivision of the electric current—was not only possible but entirely practicable.

It will have been perceived from the foregoing chapters that from the time of boyhood, when he first began to rub against the world, his commercial instincts were alert and predominated in almost all of the enterprises that he set in motion. This characteristic trait had grown stronger as he matured, having received, as it did, fresh impetus and strength from his one lapse in the case of his first patented invention, the vote-recorder. The lesson he then learned was to devote his inventive faculties only to things for which there was a real, genuine demand, and that would subserve the actual necessities of humanity; and it was probably a fortunate circumstance that this lesson was learned at the outset of his career as an inventor. He has never assumed to be a philosopher or "pure scientist."

In order that the reader may grasp an adequate idea of the magnitude and importance of Edison's invention of the incandescent lamp, it will be necessary to review briefly the "state of the art" at the time he began his experiments on that line. After the invention of the voltaic battery, early in the last century, experiments were made which determined that heat could be produced by the passage of the electric current through wires of platinum and other metals, and through pieces of carbon, as noted already, and it was, of course, also observed that if sufficient current were passed through these conductors they could be brought from the lower stage of redness up to the brilliant white heat of incandescence. As early as 1845 the results of these experiments were taken advantage of when Starr, a talented American who died at the early age of twenty-five, suggested, in his English patent of that year, two forms of small incandescent electric lamps, one having a burner made from platinum foil placed under a glass cover without excluding the air; and the other composed of a thin plate or pencil of carbon enclosed in a Torricellian vacuum. These suggestions of young Starr were followed by many other experimenters, whose improvements consisted principally in devices to increase the compactness and portability of the lamp, in the sealing of the lamp chamber to prevent the admission of air, and in means for renewing the carbon burner when it had been consumed. Thus Roberts, in 1852, proposed to cement the neck of the glass globe into a metallic cup, and to provide it with a tube or stop-cock for exhaustion by means of a hand-pump. Lodyguine, Konn, Kosloff, and Khotinsky, between 1872 and 1877, proposed various ingenious devices for perfecting the joint between the metal base and the glass globe, and also provided their lamps with several short carbon pencils, which were automatically brought into circuit successively as the pencils were consumed. In 1876 or 1877, Bouliguine proposed the employment of a long carbon pencil, a short section only of which was in circuit at any one time and formed the burner, the lamp being provided with a mechanism for automatically pushing other sections of the pencil into position between the contacts to renew the burner. Sawyer and Man proposed, in 1878, to make the bottom plate of glass instead of metal, and provided ingenious arrangements for charging the lamp chamber with an atmosphere of pure nitrogen gas which does not support combustion.

These lamps and many others of similar character, ingenious as they were, failed to become of any commercial value, due, among other things, to the brief life of the carbon burner. Even under the best conditions it was found that the carbon members were subject to a rapid disintegration or evaporation, which experimenters assumed was due to the disrupting action of the electric current; and hence the conclusion that carbon contained in itself the elements of its own destruction, and was not a suitable material for the burner of an incandescent lamp. On the other hand, platinum, although found to be the best of all materials for the purpose, aside from its great expense, and not combining with oxygen at high temperatures as does carbon, required to be brought so near the melting-point in order to give light, that a very slight increase in the temperature resulted in its destruction. It was assumed that the difficulty lay in the material of the burner itself, and not in its environment.

It was not realized up to such a comparatively recent date as 1879 that the solution of the great problem of subdivision of the electric current would not, however, be found merely in the production of a durable incandescent electric lamp—even if any of the lamps above referred to had fulfilled that requirement. The other principal features necessary to subdivide the electric current successfully were: the burning of an indefinite number of lights on the same circuit; each light to give a useful and economical degree of illumination; and each light to be independent of all the others in regard to its operation and extinguishment.

The opinions of scientific men of the period on the subject are well represented by the two following extracts—the first, from a lecture at the Royal United Service Institution, about February, 1879, by Mr. (Sir) W. H. Preece, one of the most eminent electricians in England, who, after discussing the question mathematically, said: "Hence the sub-division of the light is an absolute ignis fatuus." The other extract is from a book written by Paget Higgs, LL.D., D.Sc., published in London in 1879, in which he says: "Much nonsense has been talked in relation to this subject. Some inventors have claimed the power to 'indefinitely divide' the electric current, not knowing or forgetting that such a statement is incompatible with the well-proven law of conservation of energy."

"Some inventors," in the last sentence just quoted, probably—indeed, we think undoubtedly—refers to Edison, whose earlier work in electric lighting (1878) had been announced in this country and abroad, and who had then stated boldly his conviction of the practicability of the subdivision of the electrical current. The above extracts are good illustrations, however, of scientific opinions up to the end of 1879, when Mr. Edison's epoch-making invention rendered them entirely untenable. The eminent scientist, John Tyndall, while not sharing these precise views, at least as late as January 17, 1879, delivered a lecture before the Royal Institution on "The Electric Light," when, after pointing out the development of the art up to Edison's work, and showing the apparent hopelessness of the problem, he said: "Knowing something of the intricacy of the practical problem, I should certainly prefer seeing it in Edison's hands to having it in mine."

The reader may have deemed this sketch of the state of the art to be a considerable digression; but it is certainly due to the subject to present the facts in such a manner as to show that this great invention was neither the result of improving some process or device that was known or existing at the time, nor due to any unforeseen lucky chance, nor the accidental result of other experiments. On the contrary, it was the legitimate outcome of a series of exhaustive experiments founded upon logical and original reasoning in a mind that had the courage and hardihood to set at naught the confirmed opinions of the world, voiced by those generally acknowledged to be the best exponents of the art—experiments carried on amid a storm of jeers and derision, almost as contemptuous as if the search were for the discovery of perpetual motion. In this we see the man foreshadowed by the boy who, when he obtained his books on chemistry or physics, did not accept any statement of fact or experiment therein, but worked out every one of them himself to ascertain whether or not they were true.

Although this brings the reader up to the year 1879, one must turn back two years and accompany Edison in his first attack on the electric-light problem. In 1877 he sold his telephone invention (the carbon transmitter) to the Western Union Telegraph Company, which had previously come into possession also of his quadruplex inventions, as already related. He was still busily engaged on the telephone, on acoustic electrical transmission, sextuplex telegraphs, duplex telegraphs, miscellaneous carbon articles, and other inventions of a minor nature. During the whole of the previous year and until late in the summer of 1877, he had been working with characteristic energy and enthusiasm on the telephone; and, in developing this invention to a successful issue, had preferred the use of carbon and had employed it in numerous forms, especially in the form of carbonized paper.

Eighteen hundred and seventy-seven in Edison's laboratory was a veritable carbon year, for it was carbon in some shape or form for interpolation in electric circuits of various kinds that occupied the thoughts of the whole force from morning to night. It is not surprising, therefore, that in September of that year, when Edison turned his thoughts actively toward electric lighting by incandescence, his early experiments should be in the line of carbon as an illuminant. His originality of method was displayed at the very outset, for one of the first experiments was the bringing to incandescence of a strip of carbon in the open air to ascertain merely how much current was required. This conductor was a strip of carbonized paper about an inch long, one-sixteenth of an inch broad, and six or seven one-thousandths of an inch thick, the ends of which were secured to clamps that formed the poles of a battery. The carbon was lighted up to incandescence, and, of course, oxidized and disintegrated immediately. Within a few days this was followed by experiments with the same kind of carbon, but in vacuo by means of a hand-worked air-pump. This time the carbon strip burned at incandescence for about eight minutes. Various expedients to prevent oxidization were tried, such, for instance, as coating the carbon with powdered glass, which in melting would protect the carbon from the atmosphere, but without successful results.

Edison was inclined to concur in the prevailing opinion as to the easy destructibility of carbon, but, without actually settling the point in his mind, he laid aside temporarily this line of experiment and entered a new field. He had made previously some trials of platinum wire as an incandescent burner for a lamp, but left it for a time in favor of carbon. He now turned to the use of almost infusible metals—such as boron, ruthenium, chromium, etc.—as separators or tiny bridges between two carbon points, the current acting so as to bring these separators to a high degree of incandescence, at which point they would emit a brilliant light. He also placed some of these refractory metals directly in the circuit, bringing them to incandescence, and used silicon in powdered form in glass tubes placed in the electric circuit. His notes include the use of powdered silicon mixed with lime or other very infusible non-conductors or semi-conductors. Edison's conclusions on these substances were that, while in some respects they were within the bounds of possibility for the subdivision of the electric current, they did not reach the ideal that he had in mind for commercial results.

Edison's systematized attacks on the problem were two in number, the first of which we have just related, which began in September, 1877, and continued until about January, 1878. Contemporaneously, he and his force of men were very busily engaged day and night on other important enterprises and inventions. Among the latter, the phonograph may be specially mentioned, as it was invented in the late fall of 1877. From that time until July, 1878, his time and attention day and night were almost completely absorbed by the excitement caused by the invention and exhibition of the machine. In July, feeling entitled to a brief vacation after several years of continuous labor, Edison went with the expedition to Wyoming to observe an eclipse of the sun, and incidentally to test his tasimeter, a delicate instrument devised by him for measuring heat transmitted through immense distances of space. His trip has been already described. He was absent about two months. Coming home rested and refreshed, Mr. Edison says: "After my return from the trip to observe the eclipse of the sun, I went with Professor Barker, Professor of Physics in the University of Pennsylvania, and Doctor Chandler, Professor of Chemistry in Columbia College, to see Mr. Wallace, a large manufacturer of brass in Ansonia, Connecticut. Wallace at this time was experimenting on series arc lighting. Just at that time I wanted to take up something new, and Professor Barker suggested that I go to work and see if I could subdivide the electric light so it could be got in small units like gas. This was not a new suggestion, because I had made a number of experiments on electric lighting a year before this. They had been laid aside for the phonograph. I determined to take up the search again and continue it. On my return home I started my usual course of collecting every kind of data about gas; bought all the transactions of the gas-engineering societies, etc., all the back volumes of gas journals, etc. Having obtained all the data, and investigated gas-jet distribution in New York by actual observations, I made up my mind that the problem of the subdivision of the electric current could be solved and made commercial." About the end of August, 1878, he began his second organized attack on the subdivision of the current, which was steadily maintained until he achieved signal victory a year and two months later.

The date of this interesting visit to Ansonia is fixed by an inscription made by Edison on a glass goblet which he used. The legend in diamond scratches runs: "Thomas A. Edison, September 8, 1878, made under the electric light." Other members of the party left similar memorials, which under the circumstances have come to be greatly prized. A number of experiments were witnessed in arc lighting, and Edison secured a small Wallace-Farmer dynamo for his own work, as well as a set of Wallace arc lamps for lighting the Menlo Park laboratory. Before leaving Ansonia, Edison remarked, significantly: "Wallace, I believe I can beat you making electric lights. I don't think you are working in the right direction." Another date which shows how promptly the work was resumed is October 14, 1878, when Edison filed an application for his first lighting patent: "Improvement in Electric Lights." In after years, discussing the work of Wallace, who was not only a great pioneer electrical manufacturer, but one of the founders of the wire-drawing and brass-working industry, Edison said: "Wallace was one of the earliest pioneers in electrical matters in this country. He has done a great deal of good work, for which others have received the credit; and the work which he did in the early days of electric lighting others have benefited by largely, and he has been crowded to one side and forgotten." Associated in all this work with Wallace at Ansonia was Prof. Moses G. Farmer, famous for the introduction of the fire-alarm system; as the discoverer of the self-exciting principle of the modern dynamo; as a pioneer experimenter in the electric-railway field; as a telegraph engineer, and as a lecturer on mines and explosives to naval classes at Newport. During 1858, Farmer, who, like Edison, was a ceaseless investigator, had made a series of studies upon the production of light by electricity, and had even invented an automatic regulator by which a number of platinum lamps in multiple arc could be kept at uniform voltage for any length of time. In July, 1859, he lit up one of the rooms of his house at Salem, Massachusetts, every evening with such lamps, using in them small pieces of platinum and iridium wire, which were made to incandesce by means of current from primary batteries. Farmer was not one of the party that memorable day in September, but his work was known through his intimate connection with Wallace, and there is no doubt that reference was made to it. Such work had not led very far, the "lamps" were hopelessly short-lived, and everything was obviously experimental; but it was all helpful and suggestive to one whose open mind refused no hint from any quarter.

At the commencement of his new attempts, Edison returned to his experiments with carbon as an incandescent burner for a lamp, and made a very large number of trials, all in vacuo. Not only were the ordinary strip paper carbons tried again, but tissue-paper coated with tar and lampblack was rolled into thin sticks, like knitting-needles, carbonized and raised to incandescence in vacuo. Edison also tried hard carbon, wood carbons, and almost every conceivable variety of paper carbon in like manner. With the best vacuum that he could then get by means of the ordinary air-pump, the carbons would last, at the most, only from ten to fifteen minutes in a state of incandescence. Such results were evidently not of commercial value.

Edison then turned his attention in other directions. In his earliest consideration of the problem of subdividing the electric current, he had decided that the only possible solution lay in the employment of a lamp whose incandescing body should have a high resistance combined with a small radiating surface, and be capable of being used in what is called "multiple arc," so that each unit, or lamp, could be turned on or off without interfering with any other unit or lamp. No other arrangement could possibly be considered as commercially practicable.

The full significance of the three last preceding sentences will not be obvious to laymen, as undoubtedly many of the readers of this book may be; and now being on the threshold of the series of Edison's experiments that led up to the basic invention, we interpolate a brief explanation, in order that the reader may comprehend the logical reasoning and work that in this case produced such far-reaching results.

If we consider a simple circuit in which a current is flowing, and include in the circuit a carbon horseshoe-like conductor which it is desired to bring to incandescence by the heat generated by the current passing through it, it is first evident that the resistance offered to the current by the wires themselves must be less than that offered by the burner, because, otherwise current would be wasted as heat in the conducting wires. At the very foundation of the electric-lighting art is the essentially commercial consideration that one cannot spend very much for conductors, and Edison determined that, in order to use wires of a practicable size, the voltage of the current (i.e., its pressure or the characteristic that overcomes resistance to its flow) should be one hundred and ten volts, which since its adoption has been the standard. To use a lower voltage or pressure, while making the solution of the lighting problem a simple one as we shall see, would make it necessary to increase the size of the conducting wires to a prohibitive extent. To increase the voltage or pressure materially, while permitting some saving in the cost of conductors, would enormously increase the difficulties of making a sufficiently high resistance conductor to secure light by incandescence. This apparently remote consideration —weight of copper used—was really the commercial key to the problem, just as the incandescent burner was the scientific key to that problem. Before Edison's invention incandescent lamps had been suggested as a possibility, but they were provided with carbon rods or strips of relatively low resistance, and to bring these to incandescence required a current of low pressure, because a current of high voltage would pass through them so readily as not to generate heat; and to carry a current of low pressure through wires without loss would require wires of enormous size. [8] Having a current of relatively high pressure to contend with, it was necessary to provide a carbon burner which, as compared with what had previously been suggested, should have a very great resistance. Carbon as a material, determined after patient search, apparently offered the greatest hope, but even with this substance the necessary high resistance could be obtained only by making the burner of extremely small cross-section, thereby also reducing its radiating surface. Therefore, the crucial point was the production of a hair-like carbon filament, with a relatively great resistance and small radiating surface, capable of withstanding mechanical shock, and susceptible of being maintained at a temperature of over two thousand degrees for a thousand hours or more before breaking. And this filamentary conductor required to be supported in a vacuum chamber so perfectly formed and constructed that during all those hours, and subjected as it is to varying temperatures, not a particle of air should enter to disintegrate the filament. And not only so, but the lamp after its design must not be a mere laboratory possibility, but a practical commercial article capable of being manufactured at low cost and in large quantities. A statement of what had to be done in those days of actual as well as scientific electrical darkness is quite sufficient to explain Tyndall's attitude of mind in preferring that the problem should be in Edison's hands rather than in his own. To say that the solution of the problem lay merely in reducing the size of the carbon burner to a mere hair, is to state a half-truth only; but who, we ask, would have had the temerity even to suggest that such an attenuated body could be maintained at a white heat, without disintegration, for a thousand hours? The solution consisted not only in that, but in the enormous mass of patiently worked-out details—the manufacture of the filaments, their uniform carbonization, making the globes, producing a perfect vacuum, and countless other factors, the omission of any one of which would probably have resulted eventually in failure.

[Footnote 8: As a practical illustration of these facts it was calculated by Professor Barker, of the University of Pennsylvania (after Edison had invented the incandescent lamp), that if it should cost $100,000 for copper conductors to supply current to Edison lamps in a given area, it would cost about $200,000,000 for copper conductors for lighting the same area by lamps of the earlier experimenters—such, for instance, as the lamp invented by Konn in 1875. This enormous difference would be accounted for by the fact that Edison's lamp was one having a high resistance and relatively small radiating surface, while Konn's lamp was one having a very low resistance and large radiating surface.]

Continuing the digression one step farther in order to explain the term "multiple arc," it may be stated that there are two principal systems of distributing electric current, one termed "series," and the other "multiple arc." The two are illustrated, diagrammatically, side by side, the arrows indicating flow of current. The series system, it will be seen, presents one continuous path for the current. The current for the last lamp must pass through the first and all the intermediate lamps. Hence, if any one light goes out, the continuity of the path is broken, current cannot flow, and all the lamps are extinguished unless a loop or by-path is provided. It is quite obvious that such a system would be commercially impracticable where small units, similar to gas jets, were employed. On the other hand, in the multiple-arc system, current may be considered as flowing in two parallel conductors like the vertical sides of a ladder, the ends of which never come together. Each lamp is placed in a separate circuit across these two conductors, like a rung in the ladder, thus making a separate and independent path for the current in each case. Hence, if a lamp goes out, only that individual subdivision, or ladder step, is affected; just that one particular path for the current is interrupted, but none of the other lamps is interfered with. They remain lighted, each one independent of the other. The reader will quite readily understand, therefore, that a multiple-arc system is the only one practically commercial where electric light is to be used in small units like those of gas or oil.

Such was the nature of the problem that confronted Edison at the outset. There was nothing in the whole world that in any way approximated a solution, although the most brilliant minds in the electrical art had been assiduously working on the subject for a quarter of a century preceding. As already seen, he came early to the conclusion that the only solution lay in the use of a lamp of high resistance and small radiating surface, and, with characteristic fervor and energy, he attacked the problem from this standpoint, having absolute faith in a successful outcome. The mere fact that even with the successful production of the electric lamp the assault on the complete problem of commercial lighting would hardly be begun did not deter him in the slightest. To one of Edison's enthusiastic self-confidence the long vista of difficulties ahead—we say it in all sincerity—must have been alluring.

After having devoted several months to experimental trials of carbon, at the end of 1878, as already detailed, he turned his attention to the platinum group of metals and began a series of experiments in which he used chiefly platinum wire and iridium wire, and alloys of refractory metals in the form of wire burners for incandescent lamps. These metals have very high fusing-points, and were found to last longer than the carbon strips previously used when heated up to incandescence by the electric current, although under such conditions as were then possible they were melted by excess of current after they had been lighted a comparatively short time, either in the open air or in such a vacuum as could be obtained by means of the ordinary air-pump.

Nevertheless, Edison continued along this line of experiment with unremitting vigor, making improvement after improvement, until about April, 1879, he devised a means whereby platinum wire of a given length, which would melt in the open air when giving a light equal to four candles, would emit a light of twenty-five candle-power without fusion. This was accomplished by introducing the platinum wire into an all-glass globe, completely sealed and highly exhausted of air, and passing a current through the platinum wire while the vacuum was being made. In this, which was a new and radical invention, we see the first step toward the modern incandescent lamp. The knowledge thus obtained that current passing through the platinum during exhaustion would drive out occluded gases (i.e., gases mechanically held in or upon the metal), and increase the infusibility of the platinum, led him to aim at securing greater perfection in the vacuum, on the theory that the higher the vacuum obtained, the higher would be the infusibility of the platinum burner. And this fact also was of the greatest importance in making successful the final use of carbon, because without the subjection of the carbon to the heating effect of current during the formation of the vacuum, the presence of occluded gases would have been a fatal obstacle.

Continuing these experiments with most fervent zeal, taking no account of the passage of time, with an utter disregard for meals, and but scanty hours of sleep snatched reluctantly at odd periods of the day or night, Edison kept his laboratory going without cessation. A great variety of lamps was made of the platinum-iridium type, mostly with thermal devices to regulate the temperature of the burner and prevent its being melted by an excess of current. The study of apparatus for obtaining more perfect vacua was unceasingly carried on, for Edison realized that in this there lay a potent factor of ultimate success. About August he had obtained a pump that would produce a vacuum up to about the one-hundred-thousandth part of an atmosphere, and some time during the next month, or beginning of October, had obtained one that would produce a vacuum up to the one-millionth part of an atmosphere. It must be remembered that the conditions necessary for MAINTAINING this high vacuum were only made possible by his invention of the one-piece all-glass globe, in which all the joints were hermetically sealed during its manufacture into a lamp, whereby a high vacuum could be retained continuously for any length of time.

In obtaining this perfection of vacuum apparatus, Edison realized that he was approaching much nearer to a solution of the problem. In his experiments with the platinum-iridium lamps, he had been working all the time toward the proposition of high resistance and small radiating surface, until he had made a lamp having thirty feet of fine platinum wire wound upon a small bobbin of infusible material; but the desired economy, simplicity, and durability were not obtained in this manner, although at all times the burner was maintained at a critically high temperature. After attaining a high degree of perfection with these lamps, he recognized their impracticable character, and his mind reverted to the opinion he had formed in his early experiments two years before—viz., that carbon had the requisite resistance to permit a very simple conductor to accomplish the object if it could be used in the form of a hair-like "filament," provided the filament itself could be made sufficiently homogeneous. As we have already seen, he could not use carbon successfully in his earlier experiments, for the strips of carbon he then employed, although they were much larger than "filaments," would not stand, but were consumed in a few minutes under the imperfect conditions then at his command.

Now, however, that he had found means for obtaining and maintaining high vacua, Edison immediately went back to carbon, which from the first he had conceived of as the ideal substance for a burner. His next step proved conclusively the correctness of his old deductions. On October 21, 1879, after many patient trials, he carbonized a piece of cotton sewing-thread bent into a loop or horseshoe form, and had it sealed into a glass globe from which he exhausted the air until a vacuum up to one-millionth of an atmosphere was produced. This lamp, when put on the circuit, lighted up brightly to incandescence and maintained its integrity for over forty hours, and lo! the practical incandescent lamp was born. The impossible, so called, had been attained; subdivision of the electric-light current was made practicable; the goal had been reached; and one of the greatest inventions of the century was completed. Up to this time Edison had spent over $40,000 in his electric-light experiments, but the results far more than justified the expenditure, for with this lamp he made the discovery that the FILAMENT of carbon, under the conditions of high vacuum, was commercially stable and would stand high temperatures without the disintegration and oxidation that took place in all previous attempts that he knew of for making an incandescent burner out of carbon. Besides, this lamp possessed the characteristics of high resistance and small radiating surface, permitting economy in the outlay for conductors, and requiring only a small current for each unit of light—conditions that were absolutely necessary of fulfilment in order to accomplish commercially the subdivision of the electric-light current.

This slender, fragile, tenuous thread of brittle carbon, glowing steadily and continuously with a soft light agreeable to the eyes, was the tiny key that opened the door to a world revolutionized in its interior illumination. It was a triumphant vindication of Edison's reasoning powers, his clear perceptions, his insight into possibilities, and his inventive faculty, all of which had already been productive of so many startling, practical, and epoch-making inventions. And now he had stepped over the threshold of a new art which has since become so world-wide in its application as to be an integral part of modern human experience. [9]

[Footnote 9: The following extract from Walker on Patents (4th edition) will probably be of interest to the reader:

"Sec. 31a. A meritorious exception, to the rule of the last section, is involved in the adjudicated validity of the Edison incandescent-light patent. The carbon filament, which constitutes the only new part of the combination of the second claim of that patent, differs from the earlier carbon burners of Sawyer and Man, only in having a diameter of one- sixty-fourth of an inch or less, whereas the burners of Sawyer and Man had a diameter of one-thirty-second of an inch or more. But that reduction of one-half in diameter increased the resistance of the burner FOURFOLD, and reduced its radiating surface TWOFOLD, and thus increased eightfold, its ratio of resistance to radiating surface. That eightfold increase of proportion enabled the resistance of the conductor of electricity from the generator to the burner to be increased eightfold, without any increase of percentage of loss of energy in that conductor, or decrease of percentage of development of heat in the burner; and thus enabled the area of the cross-section of that conductor to be reduced eightfold, and thus to be made with one-eighth of the amount of copper or other metal, which would be required if the reduction of diameter of the burner from one-thirty- second to one-sixty-fourth of an inch had not been made. And that great reduction in the size and cost of conductors, involved also a great difference in the composition of the electric energy employed in the system; that difference consisting in generating the necessary amount of electrical energy with comparatively high electromotive force, and comparatively low current, instead of contrariwise. For this reason, the use of carbon filaments, one-sixty-fourth of an inch in diameter or less, instead of carbon burners one- thirty-second of an inch in diameter or more, not only worked an enormous economy in conductors, but also necessitated a great change in generators, and did both according to a philosophy, which Edison was the first to know, and which is stated in this paragraph in its simplest form and aspect, and which lies at the foundation of the incandescent electric lighting of the world."]

No sooner had the truth of this new principle been established than the work to establish it firmly and commercially was carried on more assiduously than ever. The next immediate step was a further investigation of the possibilities of improving the quality of the carbon filament. Edison had previously made a vast number of experiments with carbonized paper for various electrical purposes, with such good results that he once more turned to it and now made fine filament-like loops of this material which were put into other lamps. These proved even more successful (commercially considered) than the carbonized thread—so much so that after a number of such lamps had been made and put through severe tests, the manufacture of lamps from these paper carbons was begun and carried on continuously. This necessitated first the devising and making of a large number of special tools for cutting the carbon filaments and for making and putting together the various parts of the lamps. Meantime, great excitement had been caused in this country and in Europe by the announcement of Edison's success. In the Old World, scientists generally still declared the impossibility of subdividing the electric-light current, and in the public press Mr. Edison was denounced as a dreamer. Other names of a less complimentary nature were applied to him, even though his lamp were actually in use, and the principle of commercial incandescent lighting had been established.

Between October 21, 1879, and December 21, 1879, some hundreds of these paper-carbon lamps had been made and put into actual use, not only in the laboratory, but in the streets and several residences at Menlo Park, New Jersey, causing great excitement and bringing many visitors from far and near. On the latter date a full-page article appeared in the New York Herald which so intensified the excited feeling that Mr. Edison deemed it advisable to make a public exhibition. On New Year's Eve, 1879, special trains were run to Menlo Park by the Pennsylvania Railroad, and over three thousand persons took advantage of the opportunity to go out there and witness this demonstration for themselves. In this great crowd were many public officials and men of prominence in all walks of life, who were enthusiastic in their praises.

In the mean time, the mind that conceived and made practical this invention could not rest content with anything less than perfection, so far as it could be realized. Edison was not satisfied with paper carbons. They were not fully up to the ideal that he had in mind. What he sought was a perfectly uniform and homogeneous carbon, one like the "One-Hoss Shay," that had no weak spots to break down at inopportune times. He began to carbonize everything in nature that he could lay hands on. In his laboratory note-books are innumerable jottings of the things that were carbonized and tried, such as tissue-paper, soft paper, all kinds of cardboards, drawing-paper of all grades, paper saturated with tar, all kinds of threads, fish-line, threads rubbed with tarred lampblack, fine threads plaited together in strands, cotton soaked in boiling tar, lamp-wick, twine, tar and lampblack mixed with a proportion of lime, vulcanized fibre, celluloid, boxwood, cocoanut hair and shell, spruce, hickory, baywood, cedar and maple shavings, rosewood, punk, cork, bagging, flax, and a host of other things. He also extended his searches far into the realms of nature in the line of grasses, plants, canes, and similar products, and in these experiments at that time and later he carbonized, made into lamps, and tested no fewer than six thousand different species of vegetable growths.

The reasons for such prodigious research are not apparent on the face of the subject, nor is this the occasion to enter into an explanation, as that alone would be sufficient to fill a fair-sized book. Suffice it to say that Edison's omnivorous reading, keen observation, power of assimilating facts and natural phenomena, and skill in applying the knowledge thus attained to whatever was in hand, now came into full play in determining that the results he desired could only be obtained in certain directions.

At this time he was investigating everything with a microscope, and one day in the early part of 1880 he noticed upon a table in the laboratory an ordinary palm-leaf fan. He picked it up and, looking it over, observed that it had a binding rim made of bamboo, cut from the outer edge of the cane; a very long strip. He examined this, and then gave it to one of his assistants, telling him to cut it up and get out of it all the filaments he could, carbonize them, put them into lamps, and try them. The results of this trial were exceedingly successful, far better than with anything else thus far used; indeed, so much so, that after further experiments and microscopic examinations Edison was convinced that he was now on the right track for making a thoroughly stable, commercial lamp; and shortly afterward he sent a man to Japan to procure further supplies of bamboo. The fascinating story of the bamboo hunt will be told later; but even this bamboo lamp was only one item of a complete system to be devised—a system that has since completely revolutionized the art of interior illumination.

Reference has been made in this chapter to the preliminary study that Edison brought to bear on the development of the gas art and industry. This study was so exhaustive that one can only compare it to the careful investigation made in advance by any competent war staff of the elements of strength and weakness, on both sides, in a possible campaign. A popular idea of Edison that dies hard, pictures a breezy, slap-dash, energetic inventor arriving at new results by luck and intuition, making boastful assertions and then winning out by mere chance. The native simplicity of the man, the absence of pose and ceremony, do much to strengthen this notion; but the real truth is that while gifted with unusual imagination, Edison's march to the goal of a new invention is positively humdrum and monotonous in its steady progress. No one ever saw Edison in a hurry; no one ever saw him lazy; and that which he did with slow, careful scrutiny six months ago, he will be doing with just as much calm deliberation of research six months hence—and six years hence if necessary. If, for instance, he were asked to find the most perfect pebble on the Atlantic shore of New Jersey, instead of hunting here, there, and everywhere for the desired object, we would no doubt find him patiently screening the entire beach, sifting out the most perfect stones and eventually, by gradual exclusion, reaching the long-sought-for pebble; and the mere fact that in this search years might be taken, would not lessen his enthusiasm to the slightest extent.

In the "prospectus book" among the series of famous note-books, all the references and data apply to gas. The book is numbered 184, falls into the period now dealt with, and runs along casually with items spread out over two or three years. All these notes refer specifically to "Electricity vs. Gas as General Illuminants," and cover an astounding range of inquiry and comment. One of the very first notes tells the whole story: "Object, Edison to effect exact imitation of all done by gas, so as to replace lighting by gas by lighting by electricity. To improve the illumination to such an extent as to meet all requirements of natural, artificial, and commercial conditions." A large programme, but fully executed! The notes, it will be understood, are all in Edison's handwriting. They go on to observe that "a general system of distribution is the only possible means of economical illumination," and they dismiss isolated-plant lighting as in mills and factories as of so little importance to the public—"we shall leave the consideration of this out of this book." The shrewd prophecy is made that gas will be manufactured less for lighting, as the result of electrical competition, and more and more for heating, etc., thus enlarging its market and increasing its income. Comment is made on kerosene and its cost, and all kinds of general statistics are jotted down as desirable. Data are to be obtained on lamp and dynamo efficiency, and "Another review of the whole thing as worked out upon pure science principles by Rowland, Young, Trowbridge; also Rowland on the possibilities and probabilities of cheaper production by better manufacture—higher incandescence without decrease of life of lamps." Notes are also made on meters and motors. "It doesn't matter if electricity is used for light or for power"; while small motors, it is observed, can be used night or day, and small steam-engines are inconvenient. Again the shrewd comment: "Generally poorest district for light, best for power, thus evening up whole city—the effect of this on investment."

It is pointed out that "Previous inventions failed—necessities for commercial success and accomplishment by Edison. Edison's great effort—not to make a large light or a blinding light, but a small light having the mildness of gas." Curves are then called for of iron and copper investment—also energy line—curves of candle-power and electromotive force; curves on motors; graphic representation of the consumption of gas January to December; tables and formulae; representations graphically of what one dollar will buy in different kinds of light; "table, weight of copper required different distance, 100-ohm lamp, 16 candles"; table with curves showing increased economy by larger engine, higher power, etc. There is not much that is dilettante about all this. Note is made of an article in April, 1879, putting the total amount of gas investment in the whole world at that time at $1,500,000,000; which is now (1910) about the amount of the electric-lighting investment in the United States. Incidentally a note remarks: "So unpleasant is the effect of the products of gas that in the new Madison Square Theatre every gas jet is ventilated by special tubes to carry away the products of combustion." In short, there is no aspect of the new problem to which Edison failed to apply his acutest powers; and the speed with which the new system was worked out and introduced was simply due to his initial mastery of all the factors in the older art. Luther Stieringer, an expert gas engineer and inventor, whose services were early enlisted, once said that Edison knew more about gas than any other man he had ever met. The remark is an evidence of the kind of preparation Edison gave himself for his new task.



CHAPTER XII

MEMORIES OF MENLO PARK

FROM the spring of 1876 to 1886 Edison lived and did his work at Menlo Park; and at this stage of the narrative, midway in that interesting and eventful period, it is appropriate to offer a few notes and jottings on the place itself, around which tradition is already weaving its fancies, just as at the time the outpouring of new inventions from it invested the name with sudden prominence and with the glamour of romance. "In 1876 I moved," says Edison, "to Menlo Park, New Jersey, on the Pennsylvania Railroad, several miles below Elizabeth. The move was due to trouble I had about rent. I had rented a small shop in Newark, on the top floor of a padlock factory, by the month. I gave notice that I would give it up at the end of the month, paid the rent, moved out, and delivered the keys. Shortly afterward I was served with a paper, probably a judgment, wherein I was to pay nine months' rent. There was some law, it seems, that made a monthly renter liable for a year. This seemed so unjust that I determined to get out of a place that permitted such injustice." For several Sundays he walked through different parts of New Jersey with two of his assistants before he decided on Menlo Park. The change was a fortunate one, for the inventor had married Miss Mary E. Stillwell, and was now able to establish himself comfortably with his wife and family while enjoying immediate access to the new laboratory. Every moment thus saved was valuable.

To-day the place and region have gone back to the insignificance from which Edison's genius lifted them so startlingly. A glance from the car windows reveals only a gently rolling landscape dotted with modest residences and unpretentious barns; and there is nothing in sight by way of memorial to suggest that for nearly a decade this spot was the scene of the most concentrated and fruitful inventive activity the world has ever known. Close to the Menlo Park railway station is a group of gaunt and deserted buildings, shelter of the casual tramp, and slowly crumbling away when not destroyed by the carelessness of some ragged smoker. This silent group of buildings comprises the famous old laboratory and workshops of Mr. Edison, historic as being the birthplace of the carbon transmitter, the phonograph, the incandescent lamp, and the spot where Edison also worked out his systems of electrical distribution, his commercial dynamo, his electric railway, his megaphone, his tasimeter, and many other inventions of greater or lesser degree. Here he continued, moreover, his earlier work on the quadruplex, sextuplex, multiplex, and automatic telegraphs, and did his notable pioneer work in wireless telegraphy. As the reader knows, it had been a master passion with Edison from boyhood up to possess a laboratory, in which with free use of his own time and powers, and with command of abundant material resources, he could wrestle with Nature and probe her closest secrets. Thus, from the little cellar at Port Huron, from the scant shelves in a baggage car, from the nooks and corners of dingy telegraph offices, and the grimy little shops in New York and Newark, he had now come to the proud ownership of an establishment to which his favorite word "laboratory" might justly be applied. Here he could experiment to his heart's content and invent on a larger, bolder scale than ever—and he did!

Menlo Park was the merest hamlet. Omitting the laboratory structures, it had only about seven houses, the best looking of which Edison lived in, a place that had a windmill pumping water into a reservoir. One of the stories of the day was that Edison had his front gate so connected with the pumping plant that every visitor as he opened or closed the gate added involuntarily to the supply in the reservoir. Two or three of the houses were occupied by the families of members of the staff; in the others boarders were taken, the laboratory, of course, furnishing all the patrons. Near the railway station was a small saloon kept by an old Scotchman named Davis, where billiards were played in idle moments, and where in the long winter evenings the hot stove was a centre of attraction to loungers and story-tellers. The truth is that there was very little social life of any kind possible under the strenuous conditions prevailing at the laboratory, where, if anywhere, relaxation was enjoyed at odd intervals of fatigue and waiting.

The main laboratory was a spacious wooden building of two floors. The office was in this building at first, until removed to the brick library when that was finished. There S. L. Griffin, an old telegraph friend of Edison, acted as his secretary and had charge of a voluminous and amazing correspondence. The office employees were the Carman brothers and the late John F. Randolph, afterwards secretary. According to Mr. Francis Jehl, of Budapest, then one of the staff, to whom the writers are indebted for a great deal of valuable data on this period: "It was on the upper story of this laboratory that the most important experiments were executed, and where the incandescent lamp was born. This floor consisted of a large hall containing several long tables, upon which could be found all the various instruments, scientific and chemical apparatus that the arts at that time could produce. Books lay promiscuously about, while here and there long lines of bichromate-of-potash cells could be seen, together with experimental models of ideas that Edison or his assistants were engaged upon. The side walls of this hall were lined with shelves filled with bottles, phials, and other receptacles containing every imaginable chemical and other material that could be obtained, while at the end of this hall, and near the organ which stood in the rear, was a large glass case containing the world's most precious metals in sheet and wire form, together with very rare and costly chemicals. When evening came on, and the last rays of the setting sun penetrated through the side windows, this hall looked like a veritable Faust laboratory.

"On the ground floor we had our testing-table, which stood on two large pillars of brick built deep into the earth in order to get rid of all vibrations on account of the sensitive instruments that were upon it. There was the Thomson reflecting mirror galvanometer and electrometer, while nearby were the standard cells by which the galvanometers were adjusted and standardized. This testing-table was connected by means of wires with all parts of the laboratory and machine-shop, so that measurements could be conveniently made from a distance, as in those days we had no portable and direct-reading instruments, such as now exist. Opposite this table we installed, later on, our photometrical chamber, which was constructed on the Bunsen principle. A little way from this table, and separated by a partition, we had the chemical laboratory with its furnaces and stink-chambers. Later on another chemical laboratory was installed near the photometer-room, and this Dr. A. Haid had charge of."

Next to the laboratory in importance was the machine-shop, a large and well-lighted building of brick, at one end of which there was the boiler and engine-room. This shop contained light and heavy lathes, boring and drilling machines, all kinds of planing machines; in fact, tools of all descriptions, so that any apparatus, however delicate or heavy, could be made and built as might be required by Edison in experimenting. Mr. John Kruesi had charge of this shop, and was assisted by a number of skilled mechanics, notably John Ott, whose deft fingers and quick intuitive grasp of the master's ideas are still in demand under the more recent conditions at the Llewellyn Park laboratory in Orange.

Between the machine-shop and the laboratory was a small building of wood used as a carpenter-shop, where Tom Logan plied his art. Nearby was the gasoline plant. Before the incandescent lamp was perfected, the only illumination was from gasoline gas; and that was used later for incandescent-lamp glass-blowing, which was done in another small building on one side of the laboratory. Apparently little or no lighting service was obtained from the Wallace-Farmer arc lamps secured from Ansonia, Connecticut. The dynamo was probably needed for Edison's own experiments.

On the outskirts of the property was a small building in which lampblack was crudely but carefully manufactured and pressed into very small cakes, for use in the Edison carbon transmitters of that time. The night-watchman, Alfred Swanson, took care of this curious plant, which consisted of a battery of petroleum lamps that were forced to burn to the sooting point. During his rounds in the night Swanson would find time to collect from the chimneys the soot that the lamps gave. It was then weighed out into very small portions, which were pressed into cakes or buttons by means of a hand-press. These little cakes were delicately packed away between layers of cotton in small, light boxes and shipped to Bergmann in New York, by whom the telephone transmitters were being made. A little later the Edison electric railway was built on the confines of the property out through the woods, at first only a third of a mile in length, but reaching ultimately to Pumptown, almost three miles away.

Mr. Edison's own words may be quoted as to the men with whom he surrounded himself here and upon whose services he depended principally for help in the accomplishment of his aims. In an autobiographical article in the Electrical World of March 5, 1904, he says: "It is interesting to note that in addition to those mentioned above (Charles Batchelor and Frank Upton), I had around me other men who ever since have remained active in the field, such as Messrs. Francis Jehl, William J. Hammer, Martin Force, Ludwig K. Boehm, not forgetting that good friend and co-worker, the late John Kruesi. They found plenty to do in the various developments of the art, and as I now look back I sometimes wonder how we did so much in so short a time." Mr. Jehl in his reminiscences adds another name to the above—namely, that of John W. Lawson, and then goes on to say: "These are the names of the pioneers of incandescent lighting, who were continuously at the side of Edison day and night for some years, and who, under his guidance, worked upon the carbon-filament lamp from its birth to ripe maturity. These men all had complete faith in his ability and stood by him as on a rock, guarding their work with the secretiveness of a burglar-proof safe. Whenever it leaked out in the world that Edison was succeeding in his work on the electric light, spies and others came to the Park; so it was of the utmost importance that the experiments and their results should be kept a secret until Edison had secured the protection of the Patent Office." With this staff was associated from the first Mr. E. H. Johnson, whose work with Mr. Edison lay chiefly, however, outside the laboratory, taking him to all parts of the country and to Europe. There were also to be regarded as detached members of it the Bergmann brothers, manufacturing for Mr. Edison in New York, and incessantly experimenting for him. In addition there must be included Mr. Samuel Insull, whose activities for many years as private secretary and financial manager were devoted solely to Mr. Edison's interests, with Menlo Park as a centre and main source of anxiety as to pay-rolls and other constantly recurring obligations. The names of yet other associates occur from time to time in this narrative—"Edison men" who have been very proud of their close relationship to the inventor and his work at old Menlo. "There was also Mr. Charles L. Clarke, who devoted himself mainly to engineering matters, and later on acted as chief engineer of the Edison Electric Light Company for some years. Then there were William Holzer and James Hipple, both of whom took an active part in the practical development of the glass-blowing department of the laboratory, and, subsequently, at the first Edison lamp factory at Menlo Park. Later on Messrs. Jehl, Hipple, and Force assisted Mr. Batchelor to install the lamp-works of the French Edison Company at Ivry-sur-Seine. Then there were Messrs. Charles T. Hughes, Samuel D. Mott, and Charles T. Mott, who devoted their time chiefly to commercial affairs. Mr. Hughes conducted most of this work, and later on took a prominent part in Edison's electric-railway experiments. His business ability was on a high level, while his personal character endeared him to us all."

Among other now well-known men who came to us and assisted in various kinds of work were Messrs. Acheson, Worth, Crosby, Herrick, and Hill, while Doctor Haid was placed by Mr. Edison in charge of a special chemical laboratory. Dr. E. L. Nichols was also with us for a short time conducting a special series of experiments. There was also Mr. Isaacs, who did a great deal of photographic work, and to whom we must be thankful for the pictures of Menlo Park in connection with Edison's work.

"Among others who were added to Mr. Kruesi's staff in the machine-shop were Messrs. J. H. Vail and W. S. Andrews. Mr. Vail had charge of the dynamo-room. He had a good general knowledge of machinery, and very soon acquired such familiarity with the dynamos that he could skip about among them with astonishing agility to regulate their brushes or to throw rosin on the belts when they began to squeal. Later on he took an active part in the affairs and installations of the Edison Light Company. Mr. Andrews stayed on Mr. Kruesi's staff as long as the laboratory machine-shop was kept open, after which he went into the employ of the Edison Electric Light Company and became actively engaged in the commercial and technical exploitation of the system. Another man who was with us at Menlo Park was Mr. Herman Claudius, an Austrian, who at one time was employed in connection with the State Telegraphs of his country. To him Mr. Edison assigned the task of making a complete model of the network of conductors for the contemplated first station in New York."

Mr. Francis R. Upton, who was early employed by Mr. Edison as his mathematician, furnishes a pleasant, vivid picture of his chief associates engaged on the memorable work at Menlo Park. He says: "Mr. Charles Batchelor was Mr. Edison's principal assistant at that time. He was an Englishman, and came to this country to set up the thread-weaving machinery for the Clark thread-works. He was a most intelligent, patient, competent, and loyal assistant to Mr. Edison. I remember distinctly seeing him work many hours to mount a small filament; and his hand would be as steady and his patience as unyielding at the end of those many hours as it was at the beginning, in spite of repeated failures. He was a wonderful mechanic; the control that he had of his fingers was marvellous, and his eyesight was sharp. Mr. Batchelor's judgment and good sense were always in evidence.

"Mr. Kruesi was the superintendent, a Swiss trained in the best Swiss ideas of accuracy. He was a splendid mechanic with a vigorous temper, and wonderful ability to work continuously and to get work out of men. It was an ideal combination, that of Edison, Batchelor, and Kruesi. Mr. Edison with his wonderful flow of ideas which were sharply defined in his mind, as can be seen by any of the sketches that he made, as he evidently always thinks in three dimensions; Mr. Kruesi, willing to take the ideas, and capable of comprehending them, would distribute the work so as to get it done with marvellous quickness and great accuracy. Mr. Batchelor was always ready for any special fine experimenting or observation, and could hold to whatever he was at as long as Mr. Edison wished; and always brought to bear on what he was at the greatest skill."

While Edison depended upon Upton for his mathematical work, he was wont to check it up in a very practical manner, as evidenced by the following incident described by Mr. Jehl: "I was once with Mr. Upton calculating some tables which he had put me on, when Mr. Edison appeared with a glass bulb having a pear-shaped appearance in his hand. It was the kind that we were going to use for our lamp experiments; and Mr. Edison asked Mr. Upton to please calculate for him its cubic contents in centimetres. Now Mr. Upton was a very able mathematician, who, after he finished his studies at Princeton, went to Germany and got his final gloss under that great master, Helmholtz. Whatever he did and worked on was executed in a pure mathematical manner, and any wrangler at Oxford would have been delighted to see him juggle with integral and differential equations, with a dexterity that was surprising. He drew the shape of the bulb exactly on paper, and got the equation of its lines with which he was going to calculate its contents, when Mr. Edison again appeared and asked him what it was. He showed Edison the work he had already done on the subject, and told him that he would very soon finish calculating it. 'Why,' said Edison, 'I would simply take that bulb and fill it with mercury and weigh it; and from the weight of the mercury and its specific gravity I'll get it in five minutes, and use less mental energy than is necessary in such a fatiguing operation.'"

Menlo Park became ultimately the centre of Edison's business life as it was of his inventing. After the short distasteful period during the introduction of his lighting system, when he spent a large part of his time at the offices at 65 Fifth Avenue, New York, or on the actual work connected with the New York Edison installation, he settled back again in Menlo Park altogether. Mr. Samuel Insull describes the business methods which prevailed throughout the earlier Menlo Park days of "storm and stress," and the curious conditions with which he had to deal as private secretary: "I never attempted to systematize Edison's business life. Edison's whole method of work would upset the system of any office. He was just as likely to be at work in his laboratory at midnight as midday. He cared not for the hours of the day or the days of the week. If he was exhausted he might more likely be asleep in the middle of the day than in the middle of the night, as most of his work in the way of inventions was done at night. I used to run his office on as close business methods as my experience admitted; and I would get at him whenever it suited his convenience. Sometimes he would not go over his mail for days at a time; but other times he would go regularly to his office in the morning. At other times my engagements used to be with him to go over his business affairs at Menlo Park at night, if I was occupied in New York during the day. In fact, as a matter of convenience I used more often to get at him at night, as it left my days free to transact his affairs, and enabled me, probably at a midnight luncheon, to get a few minutes of his time to look over his correspondence and get his directions as to what I should do in some particular negotiation or matter of finance. While it was a matter of suiting Edison's convenience as to when I should transact business with him, it also suited my own ideas, as it enabled me after getting through my business with him to enjoy the privilege of watching him at his work, and to learn something about the technical side of matters. Whatever knowledge I may have of the electric light and power industry I feel I owe it to the tuition of Edison. He was about the most willing tutor, and I must confess that he had to be a patient one."

Here again occurs the reference to the incessant night-work at Menlo Park, a note that is struck in every reminiscence and in every record of the time. But it is not to be inferred that the atmosphere of grim determination and persistent pursuit of the new invention characteristic of this period made life a burden to the small family of laborers associated with Edison. Many a time during the long, weary nights of experimenting Edison would call a halt for refreshments, which he had ordered always to be sent in when night-work was in progress. Everything would be dropped, all present would join in the meal, and the last good story or joke would pass around. In his notes Mr. Jehl says: "Our lunch always ended with a cigar, and I may mention here that although Edison was never fastidious in eating, he always relished a good cigar, and seemed to find in it consolation and solace.... It often happened that while we were enjoying the cigars after our midnight repast, one of the boys would start up a tune on the organ and we would all sing together, or one of the others would give a solo. Another of the boys had a voice that sounded like something between the ring of an old tomato can and a pewter jug. He had one song that he would sing while we roared with laughter. He was also great in imitating the tin-foil phonograph.... When Boehm was in good-humor he would play his zither now and then, and amuse us by singing pretty German songs. On many of these occasions the laboratory was the rendezvous of jolly and convivial visitors, mostly old friends and acquaintances of Mr. Edison. Some of the office employees would also drop in once in a while, and as everybody present was always welcome to partake of the midnight meal, we all enjoyed these gatherings. After a while, when we were ready to resume work, our visitors would intimate that they were going home to bed, but we fellows could stay up and work, and they would depart, generally singing some song like Good-night, ladies! . . . It often happened that when Edison had been working up to three or four o'clock in the morning, he would lie down on one of the laboratory tables, and with nothing but a couple of books for a pillow, would fall into a sound sleep. He said it did him more good than being in a soft bed, which spoils a man. Some of the laboratory assistants could be seen now and then sleeping on a table in the early morning hours. If their snoring became objectionable to those still at work, the 'calmer' was applied. This machine consisted of a Babbitt's soap box without a cover. Upon it was mounted a broad ratchet-wheel with a crank, while into the teeth of the wheel there played a stout, elastic slab of wood. The box would be placed on the table where the snorer was sleeping and the crank turned rapidly. The racket thus produced was something terrible, and the sleeper would jump up as though a typhoon had struck the laboratory. The irrepressible spirit of humor in the old days, although somewhat strenuous at times, caused many a moment of hilarity which seemed to refresh the boys, and enabled them to work with renewed vigor after its manifestation." Mr. Upton remarks that often during the period of the invention of the incandescent lamp, when under great strain and fatigue, Edison would go to the organ and play tunes in a primitive way, and come back to crack jokes with the staff. "But I have often felt that Mr. Edison never could comprehend the limitations of the strength of other men, as his own physical and mental strength have always seemed to be without limit. He could work continuously as long as he wished, and had sleep at his command. His sleep was always instant, profound, and restful. He has told me that he never dreamed. I have known Mr. Edison now for thirty-one years, and feel that he has always kept his mind direct and simple, going straight to the root of troubles. One of the peculiarities I have noticed is that I have never known him to break into a conversation going on around him, and ask what people were talking about. The nearest he would ever come to it was when there had evidently been some story told, and his face would express a desire to join in the laugh, which would immediately invite telling the story to him."

Next to those who worked with Edison at the laboratory and were with him constantly at Menlo Park were the visitors, some of whom were his business associates, some of them scientific men, and some of them hero-worshippers and curiosity-hunters. Foremost in the first category was Mr. E. H. Johnson, who was in reality Edison's most intimate friend, and was required for constant consultation; but whose intense activity, remarkable grasp of electrical principles, and unusual powers of exposition, led to his frequent detachment for long trips, including those which resulted in the introduction of the telephone, phonograph, and electric light in England and on the Continent. A less frequent visitor was Mr. S. Bergmann, who had all he needed to occupy his time in experimenting and manufacturing, and whose contemporaneous Wooster Street letter-heads advertised Edison's inventions as being made there, Among the scientists were Prof. George F. Barker, of Philadelphia, a big, good-natured philosopher, whose valuable advice Edison esteemed highly. In sharp contrast to him was the earnest, serious Rowland, of Johns Hopkins University, afterward the leading American physicist of his day. Profs. C. F. Brackett and C. F. Young, of Princeton University, were often received, always interested in what Edison was doing, and proud that one of their own students, Mr. Upton, was taking such a prominent part in the development of the work.

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