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199



THE BOY'S LIFE OF EDISON

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."

To this roll of honor may be added the
names of a few others : The Carman brothers,
Stockton L. Griffin, Dr. A. Haid, John F. Ott
(still with Mr. Edison at Orange), John W.
Lawson, Edward H. Johnson, Charles L.
Clarke, William Holzer, James Hippie, Charles
T. Hughes, Samuel D. Mott, Charles T. Mott,
E. G. Acheson, Dr. E. L. Nichols, J. H. Vail,
W. S. Andrews, and Messrs. Worth, Crosby,
Herrick, Hill, Isaacs, Logan, and Swanson.

To these should be added the name of
Mr. Samuel Insull, who, in 1881, became
Mr. Edison's private secretary, and who for
many years afterward managed all his busi-
ness affairs.

Mr. Insull's position as secretary in the
Menlo Park days was not a "soft snap/' as

200



MENLO PARK

his own words will show. He says: " 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 invention 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 mid-
night luncheon, to get a few minutes of his
time to look over his correspondence and get

201



THE BOY'S LIFE OF EDISON

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 o
watching him at his work, and to learn some-
thing 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/ 1

It must not be supposed that the hard work
of these times made life a burden to the small
family of laborers associated with Edison.
On the contrary, they were a cheerful, happy
lot of men, always ready to brighten up their
strenuous lives by the enjoyment of anything
of a humorous nature that came along.

Often during the long, weary nights of
experimenting Edison would call a halt for
refreshments, which he had ordered always to
be sent in at midnight when night work was in
progress. Everything would be dropped, all

202



MENLO PARK

present would join in the meal, and the last
good story or joke would pass arqund.

Mr. Jehl has written some recollections of
this period, in which he 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 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 tinfoil 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 rendez-
vous 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 every one present

203



THE BOY'S LIFE OF EDISON

was always welcome to partake of the mid-
night 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 coulc
be seen now and then sleeping on a table in
the early morning hours. If their snoring be-
came objectionable to those still at work, the
'calmer' was applied. This machine con-
sisted 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 some-

204



MENLO PARK

thing 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 mani-
festation."

The "boys" were ever ready for a joke on
one of their number. Mr. Mackenzie, who
taught Edison telegraphy, spent a great deal
of time at the laboratory. He had a bushy
red beard, and was persuaded to give a few
hairs to be carbonized and used for filaments
in experimental lamps. When the lamps
were lighted the boys claimed that their
brightness was due to the rich color of the
hairs.

The history of the busy years at Menlo
Park would make a long story if told in full,
but only a hint can be given here of the
gradual development of many important
inventions. These include the innumerable
experiments on the lamp, on different kinds
and weights of iron for field magnets and
armatures, on magnetism, on windings and

205



THE BOY'S LIFE OF EDISON

connections for field magnets and armatures,
on distribution circuits, control, and regula-
tion, and so on through a long list.

All these things were new. There was
nothing in the books to serve as a guide in
solving these new problems, but Edison
patiently worked them out, one by one, until
a complete system was the result of his labors.

Menlo Park was historic in one other par-
ticular. It was the very first place in the
world to see incandescent electric lighting
from a central station.

The newspapers had been so full of the
wonderful invention that there was a great
demand to see the new light. Edison decided
to give a public exhibition, and for this pur-
pose put up over four hundred lights in the
streets and houses of Menlo Park, all con-
nected to underground conductors which ran
to the dynamos in one of the shop buildings.

On New Year's Eve, 1879, the Pennsylvania
Railroad ran special trains, and over three
thousand people availed themselves of the
opportunity to witness the demonstration.
It was a great success, and gave rise to a wide
public interest.

206



MENLO PARK

Edison's laboratory at Menlo Park had
never suffered for lack of visitors, but now
it became a center of attraction for scientific
and business men from all parts of the world.
Pages of this book could be filled with the
names of well-known visitors at this period,
but it would be of no practical use to give
them; besides we must now pass on to the
time when the light was introduced to the
to world.
14






XV

BEGINNING THE ELECTRIC LIGHT BUSINESS

*"THE close of the last two chapters found us
* attending the birth of an art that was
then absolutely and entirely new the art of
electric lighting by incandescent lamps. It
will now be interesting to take a brief glance
at the way in which it was introduced to the
world.

Edison invented not only a lamp and a
dynamo, but a complete system of distributing
electric light, heat, and power from central
stations. This included a properly devised
network of conductors fed with electricity
from several directions and capable of being
tapped to supply current to each building;
a lamp that would be cheap, lasting, take
little current, be easy to handle, and each to
be independent of every other lamp; means
for measuring electricity by meter; means for
regulating the current so that every

208



THE ELECTRIC LIGHT

whether near to or far away from the station,
would give an equal light; the designing of
new and efficient dynamos, with means for
connecting and disconnecting and for regulat-
ing and equalizing their loads; the providing
of devices that would prevent fires from
excessive current, and the providing of
switches, lamp-holders, fixtures, and the like.

This was a large program to fill, for it was
all new, and there was nothing in the world
from which to draw ideas, but Edison carried
out his scheme in full, and much more besides.
By the end of 1880 he was ready to launch his
electric light system for commercial use, and
the Edison Electric Light Company, that had
been organized for the purpose, rented a
mansion at No. 65 Fifth Avenue, New York,
to be used for offices. Edison now moved
some of his Menlo Park staff into that city to
pursue the work.

Right at the very beginning a most serious
difficulty was met with. None of the appli-
ances necessary for use in the lighting system
could be purchased anywhere in the world.

They were all new and novel dynamos,
switchboards, regulators, pressure and current

209



THE BOY'S LIFE OF EDISON

indicators, incandescent lamps, sockets, small
switches, meters, fixtures, underground con-
ductors, junction boxes, service boxes, man-
hole boxes, connectors, and even specially
made wire. Not one of these things was in
existence ; and no outsider knew enough about
such devices to make them on order, except
the wire.

Edison himself solved the difficulty by
raising some money and establishing several
manufacturing shops in which these articles
could be made. The first of all was a small
factory at Menlo Park to make the lamps, Mr.
Upton taking charge of that branch.

For making the dynamos he secured a
large works on Goerck Street, New York, and
gave its management to Mr. Batchelor. For
the underground conductors and their parts
a building on Washington Street was rented
and the work done under the superintendence
of Mr. Kruesi. In still another factory build-
ing there was made the smaller appliances,
such as sockets, switches, fixtures, meters,
safety fuses and other details. This latter
plant was at first owned by Mr. Sigmund
Bergmann, who had worked with Edison on

210



THE ELECTRIC LIGHT

telephones and phonographs, but later Mr.
Edison and E. H. Johnson became partners.

Still another difficulty presented itself.
There were no men who knew how to do wiring
for electric lights, except those who had been
with Edison at Menlo Park. This problem
was solved by opening a night-school at
No. 65 Fifth Avenue, in which a large number
of men were educated and trained for the
work by Edison's associates. Many of these
men have since become very prominent in
electrical circles.

Thus, in planning these matters, and in
guiding the operations in these four shops in
New York, and with all the work he was doing
on new experiments and inventions there and
at Menlo Park, and in making preparations for
the first central station in New York City,
Edison was a prodigiously busy man. He
worked incessantly, and it is safe to say that
he did not average more than four hours' sleep
a day.

He was the center and the guiding spirit of
those intensely busy times. The aid of his
faithful associates was invaluable in the build-
ing up of the business, but he was the great

211



THE BOY'S LIFE OF EDISON

central storehouse of ideas, and it is owing to
his undaunted courage, energy, perseverance,
knowledge and foresight, that the foundations
of so great an art have been so well laid.

As has been well said by Major S. B. Eaton,
who was president and general manager of the
Edison Electric Light Company in its earliest
years: "In looking back on those days and
scrutinizing them through the years, I am
impressed by the greatness, the solitary great-
ness, I may say, of Mr. Edison. We all felt
then that we were of importance, and that
our contribution of effort and zeal was vital.
I can see now, however, that the best of us
was nothing but the fly on the wheel. Sup-
pose anything had happened to Edison ? All
would have been chaos and ruin. To him,
therefore, be the glory, if not the profit."

Early in 1881 comparatively few people
had seen the incandescent light. In order
to make the public familiar with it, the Edison
company equipped its office building with
fixtures and lamps, the latter being lighted by
current from a dynamo in the cellar. In the
evenings the house was thrown open to visitors
until ten or eleven o'clock. Thousands of

212






THE ELECTRIC LIGHT

people flocked to see the new light, which in
those days was regarded as wonderful and
mysterious, for while the lamps gave a soft,
steady illumination, there was no open flame,
practically no heat, no danger of fire, and no
vitiation of air. For the most part of four
years the writer spent his evenings receiving
these visitors if no important business was in
progress at the moment.

Mr. Edison and his shops had scarcely time
to get well on their feet before a rush of busi-
ness set in. How this business rapidly de-
veloped and grew until it became of very great
magnitude is a matter of history, which we
shall not attempt to relate here.

Some idea of this wonderful development,
as it has gone on through the years that have
passed since 1880, may be formed when it is
stated that at this time (1911) there are about
forty-five millions of incandescent lamps in
daily use in the United States alone. Every
one of these lamps and the fundamental prin-
ciples upon which they are operated rest upon
the foundations which Edison laid so well
more than thirty years ago.

One of Mr. Edison's interesting stories of
213



THE BOY'S LIFE OF EDISON

the early days relates to the making of the
lamps. He says:

" When we first started the electric light we
had to have a factory for manufacturing
lamps. As the Edison light company did
not seem disposed to go into manufacturing,
we started a small lamp factory at Menlo
Park with what money I could raise from my
other inventions and royalties and some
assistance. The lamps at that time were
costing about one dollar and twenty-five cents
each to make, so I said to the company: 'If
you will give me a contract during the life of
the patents I will make all the lamps re-
quired by the company and deliver them for
forty cents/ The company jumped at the
chance of this offer, and a contract was drawn
up. We then bought at a receiver's sale at
Harrison, New Jersey, a very large brick
factory building which had been used as an
oil-cloth works. We got it at a great bargain,
and only paid a small sum down, and the
balance on mortgage. We moved the lamp
works from Menlo Park to Harrison. The
first year the lamps cost us about one dollar
and ten cents each. We sold them for forty

214



THE ELECTRIC LIGHT

cents ; but there were only about twenty or
thirty thousand of them. The next year they
cost us about seventy cents, and we sold them
for forty. There were a good many, and we
lost more money the second year than the
first. The third year I succeeded in getting
up machinery and in changing the processes,
until it got down so that they cost somewhere
around fifty cents. I still sold them for forty
cents, and lost more money that year than
any other, because the sales were increasing
rapidly. The fourth year I got it down to
thirty-seven cents, and I made all the money
in one year that I had lost previously. I
finally got it down to twenty-two cents, and
sold them for forty cents ; and they were made
by the million. Whereupon the Wall Street
people thought it was a very lucrative busi-
ness, so they concluded they would like to
have it, and bought us out.

"When we formed the works at Harrison
we divided the interests into one hundred
shares or parts at one hundred dollars par.
One of the boys was hard up after a time, and
sold two shares to Bob Cutting. Up to that
time we had never paid anything, but we got

215



THE BOY'S LIFE OF EDISON

around to the point where the board declared
a dividend every Saturday night. We had
never declared a dividend when Cutting
bought his shares, and after getting his divi-
dends for three weeks in succession he called
up on the telephone and wanted to know what
kind of a concern this was that paid a weekly
dividend. The works sold for $1,085,000."

We have been obliged to confine ourselves to
a very brief and general description of the
beginnings of the art of electric lighting, but
this chapter would not be complete without
reference to Edison's design and construction
of the greatest dynamo that had ever been
made up to that time.

The earliest dynamos he made would
furnish current only for sixty lamps of sixteen
candle-power each. These machines were
belted up to an engine or countershaft. He
realized that much larger dynamos would be
needed for central stations, and in 1880 con-
structed one in Menlo Park, but it was not
entirely successful.

In the spring of 1881, however, he designed
a still larger one, to be connected direct to its
own engine and operated without belting.

216



THE ELECTRIC LIGHT

Its capacity was to be twelve hundred lamps,
instead of sixty.

At that time such a project was not dreamed
of outside the Edison laboratory, and once
more he was the subject of much ridicule and
criticism by those who were considered as
experts. They said the thing was impossible
and absolutely impracticable.

Such opinions, however, have never caused
a moment's hesitation to Edison when he has
made up his mind that a thing can be done.
He calmly went ahead with his plans, and
although he found many difficulties, he over-
came them all. He worked the shops night
and day, until he had built this great machine
and operated it successfully.

The dynamo was finished in the summer of
1 88 1. At that time there was in progress an
international Electrical Exposition in Paris,
at which Edison was exhibiting his system
of electric lighting. He had promised to send
this great dynamo over to Paris.

When the dynamo was finished and tested
there were only four hours to take it and the
engine apart and get all the parts on board
the steamer. Edison had foreseen all this,

217



THE BOY'S LIFE OF EDISON

and had arranged to have sixty men get to
work all at once to take it apart. Each
man had written instructions just what to do,
and when the machine was stopped every
man did his own particular work and the job
was quickly accomplished

Arrangements had been made with the
police for rapid passage through the streets
from the shops to the steamship. The trucks
made quick time of it, being preceded by a
wagon with a clanging bell. Street traffic was
held up for them, just as it is for engines and
hose-carts going to a fire. The dynamo and
engine got safely down to the dock without
delay and were loaded on the steamer an hour
before she sailed.

This dynamo and engine weighed twenty-
seven tons, and was then, and for a long time
after, the eighth wonder of the scientific
world. Its arrival and installation in Paris
were eagerly watched by the most famous
scientists and electricians in Europe.



XVI

THE FIRST EDISON CENTRAL STATION

PROM the beginning of his experiments on
* the electric light Edison had one idea
ever in mind, and that was to develop a sys-
tem of lighting cities from central stations.
His plan was to supply electric light and power
in much the same way that gas is furnished.

He never forsook this idea for a moment.
Indeed, it formed the basis of all his plans,
although the scientific experts of the time
predicted utter failure. While the experi-
ments were going on at Menlo Park he had
Mr. Upton and others at work making calcula-
tions and plans for city systems.

Soon after he had invented the incandescent
lamp he began to take definite steps toward
preparing for the first central station in the
city of New York. After some consideration,
he decided upon the district included between
Wall, Nassau, Spruce and Ferry streets, Peck

219



THE BOY'S LIFE OF EDISON

Slip and the East River, covering nearly a
square mile in extent.

He sent into this district a number of men,
who visited every building, counted every gas-
jet and found out how many hours per day
or night they were burned.

These men also ascertained the number of
business houses using power and how much
they consumed. All this information was
marked in colored inks on large maps, so that
Edison could study the question with all the
details before him.

All this work had taken several months, but,
with this information to guide him, the main
conductors to be laid in the streets of this
district were figured, block by block, and the
results were marked upon the maps. It was
found, however, that the quantity of copper
required for these conductors would be ex-
ceedingly large and costly, and, if ever, Edi-
son was somewhat dismayed.

This difficulty only spurred him on to still
greater effort. Before long he solved the
problem by inventing the "feeder and main"
system, for which he signed an application for
patent on August 4, 1880.

32P



EDISON CENTRAL STATION

By this invention he saved seven-eighths of
the amount of copper previously required.
So the main conductors were figured again,
at only one-eighth the size they were before,
and the results were marked upon enormous
new maps which were now prepared for the
actual installation.

It should be remembered that from the
very start Edison had determined that his
conductors should be placed underground.
He knew that this was the only method for
permanent and satisfactory service to the
public.

Our young readers can scarcely imagine the
condition of New York streets at that time.
They were filled with lines of ugly wooden
poles carrying great masses of telegraph, tele-
phone, stock ticker, burglar alarm and other
wires, in all conditions of sag and decay. The
introduction of the arc-lamp added another
series of wires which with their high potentials
carried a menace to life. Edison was the
first to put conductors underground, and the
wisdom of so doing became so clear that a few
years later laws were made compelling others
to do likewise.

221






THE BOY'S LIFE OF EDISON

But to return to our story. Just before
Christmas in 1880 the Edison Electric Illumi-
nating Company of New York was organized,
and a license was issued to it for the use of the
Edison patents on Manhattan Island.

The work for the new station now com-
menced in real earnest. A double building at
255 and 257 Pearl Street was purchased, and
the inside of one half was taken out and a
strong steel structure was erected inside the
walls.

Work on the maps and plans for the under-
ground network of conductors was continued
at Menlo Park. Mr. Edison started his
factories for making dynamos, lamps, under-
ground conductors, sockets, switches, meters,
and other details. Thus, the wheels of in-
dustry were humming merrily in preparation
for the installation of the system. Every
detail received Edison's personal care and
consideration. He had plenty of competent
men, but he deemed nothing too small or
insignificant for his attention in this important


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Online LibraryWm. H. (William Henry) MeadowcroftThe boy's life of Edison → online text (page 10 of 15)