Wm. H. (William Henry) Meadowcroft.

The boy's life of Edison online

. (page 11 of 15)
Online LibraryWm. H. (William Henry) MeadowcroftThe boy's life of Edison → online text (page 11 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


In the fall of 1881 the laying of the under-
ground conductors was begun and pushed



forward with frantic energy. Here again
Edison left nothing to chance. Although he
had a thousand things to occupy his mind he
also superintended this work. He did not
stand around and give orders, but worked
with the men in the trenches day and night
helping to lay tubes, filling up junction boxes,
and taking part in all the infinite detail.

He would work till he felt the need of a little
rest. Then he would go off to the station
building in Pearl Street, throw an overcoat
on a pile of iron tubes, lie down and sleep a few
lours, rising to resume work with the first

It is worth pausing just a moment to glance
at this man taking a fitful rest on a pile of iron
pipe in a dingy building. His name is on
the tip of the world's tongue. Distinguished
scientists from every part of Europe seek him
eagerly. He has just been decorated and
awarded high honors by the French govern-
ment. He is the inventor of wonderful new
apparatus and the exploiter of novel and
successful arts. The magic of his achieve-
ments and the rumors of what is being done
have caused a wild drop in gas securities

15 223


and a sensational rise in his own electric-light
stock from one hundred dollars to thirty-five
hundred a share. Yet these things do not at
all affect his slumber or his democratic sim-
plicity, for in that, as in everything else, he is
attending strictly to business, " doing the
thing that is next to him."

The laying of the underground conductors
was interrupted by frost in the winter of 1881,
but in the following spring the work was re-
newed with great energy until there had been
laid over eighty thousand feet. In the mean
time the buildings of the district were being
wired for lamps, and the machine-works had
been busy on the building of three of the
" Jumbo " dynamos for the station. These
were larger than the great dynamo that had
been sent to Paris.

These three dynamos were installed in the
station, and the other parts of the system were
completed. A bank of one thousand lamps
was placed in one of the buildings ; and in the
summer a whole month was spent in making
tests of the working of the system, using this
bank of lamps instead of sending current out
to customers' premises. Edison and his assis-



tants made the station their home during this
busy month. They even slept there on cots
that he had sent to the station for this purpose.

The system tested out satisfactorily, and
finally, on September 4, 1882, at three o'clock
in the afternoon, the station was started by
sending out current from one of the big dyna-
mos through the conductors laid in the streets,
and electric light was supplied for the first
time to a number of customers in the district.

The station was now started and everything
went well. New customers were added daily,
and very soon it became necessary to supply
more current. This called for the operation
of two dynamos at one time. As this in-
volved new problems, Edison chose a Sunday
to try it, when business places would be closed.
We will let him tell the story. He says:
"My heart was in my mouth at first, but
everything worked all right. . . . Then we
started another engine and threw the dyna-
mos in parallel. Of all the circuses since
Adam was born, we had the worst then!
One engine would stop, and the other would
run up to about a thousand revolutions, and
then they would see-saw. The trouble was



with the governors. When the circus com-
menced the gang that was standing around
ran out precipitately, and I guess some of
them kept running for a block or two. I
grabbed the throttle of one engine, and E. H.
Johnson, who was the only one present to
keep his wits, caught hold of the other, and we
shut them off."

One of the gang that ran, but, in this
case, only to the end of the room, afterward
said: " At the time it was a terrifying experi-
ence, as I didn't know what was going to
happen. The engines and dynamos made a
horrible racket, from loud and deep groans to
a hideous shriek, and the place seemed to be
filled with sparks and flames of all colors. It
was as if the gates of the infernal regions had
been suddenly opened."

Edison attacked this problem in his strenu-
ous way. Although it was Sunday, he sent
out and gathered his men and opened the
machine-works to make new appliances to
overcome this trouble.

Space will not permit of telling all the
methods he applied until the difficulty was
entirely conquered. It was only a short



time, however, before he was able to operate
two or any number of dynamos all together
as one, in parallel, without the least trouble.

This early station grew and prospered, and
continued in successful operation for more
than seven years, until January 2, 1890, when
it was partially destroyed by fire. This
occurrence caused a short interruption of
service, but in a few days current was again
supplied to customers as before, and the
service has never since ceased.

Increasing demands for service soon after-
ward led to the construction of other stations
on Manhattan Island, until at the present
time (1911) the New York Edison Company
(the successor to the Edison Electric Illumi-
nating Company of New York) is operating
thirty-three stations and sub-stations. These
supply current for about 108,500 customers,
wired for 4,600,000 incandescent lamps and
for about 287,800 horse -power in electric

The early success of the first central station
in New York led to the formation of new
companies in other cities, and the installation
of many similar plants. The business has



grown by leaps and bounds, until at the
present time there are many thousands of
central stations spread all over the United
States, furnishing electric light, heat, and
power, chiefly by use of the principles elabo-
rated so many years ago by Mr. Edison.

We ought to mention that this tremendous
growth has also been largely due to another
invention made by him in 1882, called the
" three- wire system." Its value consists in
the fact that it allowed a further saving of
sixty-two and one-half per cent, of copper
required for conductors. This invention is in
universal use all over the world.

It may be mentioned here that at the open-
ing ceremonies of the Electrical Exposition in
New York, on October n, 1911, the leading
producers and consumers of copper presented
Mr. Edison with an inscribed cubic foot of that
metal in recognition of the stimulus of his
inventions to the industry. The inscription
shows that the yearly output of copper was
377,644,000 pounds at the time of Edison's
first invention in 1868, and in October, 1911,
the yearly output had increased to 1,910,-
608,000 pounds.




IT is quite likely that many of our young
* readers have never seen a horse-car. This
is not strange, for in a little over twenty
years the victorious trolley has displaced the
old-time street-cars drawn by one or two
horses. Indeed, a horse-car is quite a curi-
osity in these modern days, for such vehicles
have almost entirely disappeared from the

The first horse railroad in the United States
was completed in 1827, and it was only seven
years afterward that a small model of a cir-
cular electric railroad was made and exhibited
by Thomas Davenport, of Brandon, Vermont.
Other inventors also worked on electric rail-
ways later on, but they did not make much
progress, because in their day there were no
dynamos, and they had to use primary bat-
teries to obtain current. This method of



generating current was far too cumbersome
and expensive for general use.

In 1879, after dynamos had become known,
the firm of Siemens exhibited at the Berlin
Exhibition a road about one-third of a mile
in length, over which an electric locomotive
hauled three small cars at a speed of about
eight miles an hour.

This was just before Edison had developed
the efficient commercial dynamo with low-
resistance armature and high-resistance field,
which made it possible to generate and use
electric power cheaply. Thus we see that
Edison was not the first to form the broad
idea of an electric railway, but his dynamo
and systems of distribution and regulation of
current first made the idea commercially

When Edison made his trip to Wyoming
with the astronomers in 1878 he noticed that
the farmers had to make long hauls of their
grain to the railroads or markets. He then
conceived the idea of building light electric
railways to perform this service.

As we have already noted, he started on his
electric-light experiments, including the dyna-



mo, when he returned from the West. He
had not forgotten his scheme for an electric
railway, however, for, early in 1880, after the
tremendous rush on the invention of the
incandescent lamp had begun to subside, he
commenced the construction of a stretch of
track at Menlo Park, and at the same time
began to build an electric locomotive to
operate over it.

The locomotive was an ordinary flat dump-
car on a four-wheeled iron truck. Upon this
was mounted one of his dynamos, used as a
motor. It had a capacity of about twelve
horse-power. Electric current was generated
by two dynamos in the machine-shop, and
carried to the rails by underground con-

The track was about a third of a mile in
length, the rails being of light weight and
spiked to ties laid on the ground. In this
short line there were some steep grades and
short curves. The locomotive pulled three
cars ; one a flat freight-car ; one an open awn-
ing-car, and one box-car, facetiously called
the " Pullman, " with which Edison illustrated
a system of electromagnetic braking.


On May 13, 1880, this road went into
operation. All the laboratory "boys" made
holiday and scrambled aboard for a trip.
Things went well for a while, but presently
a weakness developed and it became necessary
to return the locomotive to the shop to make
changes in the mechanism. And so it was for
a short time afterward. Imperfections of one
kind and another were disclosed as the road
was operated, but Edison was equal to the
occasion and overcame them, one by one.
Before long he had his locomotive running
regularly, hauling the three cars with freight
and passengers back and forth over the full
length of the track. Incidentally, the writer
remembers enjoying a ride over the road one
summer afternoon.

The details of the various improvements
made during these months are too many and
too technical to be given here. It is a fact,
however, that at this time Edison was doing
some heavy electric railway engineering, each
improvement representing a step which ad-
vanced the art toward the perfection it has
reached in these modern days.

The newspapers and technical journals lost


no time in publishing accounts of this electric
railroad, and once again Menlo Park received
great numbers of visitors, including many rail-
road men, who came to see and test this new
method of locomotion.

Of course, in operating this early road there
were a few mishaps, fortunately none of them
of a serious nature. In the correspondence
of the late Grosvenor P. Lowry, a friend and
legal adviser of Mr. Edison, is a letter dated
June 5, 1880, giving an account of one experi-
ence. The letter reads as follows: "Goddard
and I have spent a part of the day at Menlo,
and all is glorious. I have ridden at forty
miles an hour on Mr. Edison's electric railway
and we ran off the track. I protested at
the rate of speed over the sharp curves, de-
signed to show the power of the engine, but
Edison said they had done it often. Finally,
when the last trip was to be taken, I said I did
not like it, but would go along. The train
jumped the track on a short curve, throwing
Kruesi, who was driving the engine, with his
face down in the dirt, and another man in a
comical somersault through some underbrush.
Edison was off in a minute, jumping and


laughing, and declaring it a most beautiful
accident. Kruesi got up, his face bleeding,
and a good deal shaken; and I shall never
forget the expression of voice and face in which
he said, with some foreign accent: 'Oh yes!
pairfeckly safe.' Fortunately no other hurts
were suffered, and in a few minutes we had
the train on the track and running again.*'

This first electric railway was continued in
operation right along through 1881. In the
fall of that year Edison was requested by the
late Mr. Henry Villard to build a longer road
at Menlo Park, equipped with more powerful
locomotives, to demonstrate the feasibility of
putting electric railroads in the Western wheat

Work was commenced at once, and early in
1882 the road and its equipment were finished.
It was three miles long, and had sidings, turn-
tables, freight platform and car-house. It
was much more complete and substantial
than the first railroad. There were two
locomotives, one for freight and the other for
passenger service.

The passenger locomotive was very speedy
and hauled as many as ninety persons at a

2 34


ime. Many thousands of passengers traveled
iver the road during 1882. The freight
ocomotive was not so speedy, but could pull
eavy trains at a good speed. Taken alto-
ther, this early electric railway made a great
vance toward modern practice as it exists

There are many interesting stories of the
ilway period at Menlo Park. One of them,
,s told by the late Charles T. Hughes, who
orked with Edison on the experimental roads,
as follows: "Mr. Villard sent J. C. Hender-
n, one of his mechanical engineers, to see the
ad when it was in operation, and we went
own one day Edison, Henderson, and I
nd went on the locomotive. Edison ran it,
and just after we started there was a trestle
sixty feet long and seven feet deep, and Edison
Q ' put on all the power. When we went over it
we must have been going forty miles an hour,
and I could see the perspiration come out on
Henderson. After we got over the trestle
and started on down the track Henderson
said : ' When we go back I will walk. If there
is any more of that kind of running I won't be
:a in it myself/"


The young reader, who is now living in an
age in which the electric railway is regarded
as a matter of course, will find it difficult to
comprehend that there should ever have been
any doubt on the part of engineering experts
as to the practicability of electric railroads.
But in the days of which we are writing such
was the case, as the following remarks of
Mr. Edison will show: "At one time Mr.
Villard got the idea that he would run the
mountain division of the Northern Pacific
Railroad by electricity. He asked me if it
could be done. I said: * Certainly; it is too
easy for me to undertake ; let some one else do
it.' He said: 'I want you to tackle the
problem/ and he insisted on it. So I got up a
scheme of a third rail and shoe and erected it
in my yard here in Orange. When I got it all
ready he had all his division engineers come
on to New York, and they came over here.
I showed them my plans, and the unanimous
decision of the engineers was that it was
absolutely and utterly impracticable. That
system is on the New York Central now, and
was also used on the New Haven road in its
first work with electricity. ' ?


Mr. Edison knew at the time that these
engineers were wrong. They were prejudiced
and lacking in foresight, and had no faith in
electric railroading. Indeed, these particular
engineers were not by any means the only
persons who could see no future for electric
methods of transportation. Their doubts
were shared by capitalists and others, and it
was not until several years afterward that the
business of electrifying street railroads was

rmmenced in real earnest.
In the mean time, however, Edison's faith
did not waver, and he continued his work on
electric railways, making innumerable experi-
ments and taking out a great many patents,
including a far-sighted one covering a sliding
contact in a slot. This principle and many of
those covered by his earlier work are in use
to-day on the street railways in large cities.

The early railroad at Menlo Park has gone to
ruin and decay, but the crude locomotive built
by Edison has become the property of the
Pratt Institute, of Brooklyn, New York, to
whose students it is a constant example and

Down to the present moment Edison has


kept up an active interest in transporation
problems. His latest work has been in the
line of operating street-cars with his improved
storage battery. During the time that this
book has been in course of preparation he has
given a great deal of time to this question.

Some years ago there were a number of
street-cars in various cities operated by storage
batteries of a class entirely different from the
battery invented by Edison. We refer to
storage batteries containing lead and sulphuric
acid. These were found to be so costly to
operate and maintain that their use was

Mr. Edison's new nickel and iron storage
battery with alkaline solution has been found
by practical use to be entirely satisfactory
for operating street-cars, not only at a low
cost, but also with ease of operation and at a
trifling expense for maintenance. Of course
there have been many problems, but he has
surmounted the principal difficulties, and there
are now quite a number of street-cars operated
by his storage battery in various cities. These
cars are earning profits and their number is
steadily increasing.




f^vN walking along the sea-shore the reader
^^ may have noticed occasional streaks or
patches of bluish-black sand, somewhat like
gunpowder in appearance. It is carried up
from the bed of the sea and deposited by the
waves on the shore to a greater or lesser ex-
tent on many beaches.

If a magnet be brought near to this " black
sand" the particles will be immediately at-
tracted to it, just as iron filings would be in
such a case. As a matter of fact, these par-
ticles of black sand are grains of finely di-
vided magnetic iron in a very pure state.

Now, if we should take a piece of magnetic
iron ore in the form of a rock and grind it to
powder the particles of iron could be separated
from the ground-up mass by drawing them
out with a magnet, just as they could be

drawn out of a heap of sea-shore sand. If
16 239


all the grains of iron were thus separated
and put together, or concentrated, they would
be called concentrates.

During the last century a great many ex-
perimenters besides Edison attempted to
perfect various cheap methods of magnetic-
ally separating iron ores, but until he took up
the work on a large scale no one seems to have
realized the real meaning of the tremendous
problems involved.

The beginning of this work on the part of
Edison was his invention in 1880 of a peculiar
form of magnetic separator. It consisted of
a suspended V-shaped hopper with an ad-
justable slit along the pointed end. A long
electromagnet was placed, edgewise, a little
below the hopper, and a bin with a dividing
partition in the center was placed on the
floor below.

Crushed ore, or sand, was placed in the
hopper. If there was no magnetism this
fine material would flow down in a straight
line past the magnet and fill the bin on one
side of the partition. If, however, the mag-
net were active the particles of iron would be
attracted out of the line of the falling



terial, but their weight would carry them
beyond the magnet and they would fall to the
other side of the partition. Thus, the ma-
terial would be separated, the grains of iron
going to one side and the grains of rock or
sand to the other side.

This separator, as afterward modified, was
the basis of a colossal enterprise conducted by
Mr. Edison, as we shall presently relate. But
first let us glance at an early experiment on
the Atlantic sea-shore in 1881, as mentioned
by him. He says:

" Some years ago I heard one day that down
at Quogue, Long Island, there were immense
deposits of black magnetic sand. This would
be very valuable if the iron could be separated
from the sand. So I went down to. Quogue
with one of my assistants and saw there for
miles large beds of black sand on the beach
in layers from one to six inches thick hun-
dreds of thousands of tons. My first thought
was that it would be a very easy matter to
concentrate this, and I found I could sell the
stuff at a good price. I put up a small mag-
netic separating plant, but just as I got it
started a tremendous storm came up, and



every bit of that black sand went out to sea.
During the twenty-eight years that have in-
tervened it has never come back."

In the same year a similar separating plant
was put up and worked on the Rhode Island
shore by the writer under Mr. Edison's direc-
tion. More than one thousand tons of con-
centrated iron ore of fine quality were sepa-
rated from sea-shore sand and sold. It was
found, however, that it could not be success-
fully used on account of being so finely
divided. Had this occurred a few years
later, when Edison invented a system of put-
ting this fine ore into briquettes, that part of
the story might have been different.

Magnetic separation of ores was allowed to
rest for many years after this, so far as
Edison was concerned. He was intensely
busy on the electric light, electric railway, and
other similar problems until 1888, and then
undertook the perfecting and manufacturing
of his improved phonograph, and other mat-
ters. Somewhere about 1890, however, he
again took up the subject of ore-separation.

For some years previous to that time the
Eastern iron-mills had been suffering because



of the scarcity of low-priced high-grade ores.
If low-grade ores could be crushed and the
iron therein concentrated and sold at a reason-
able price the furnaces would be benefited.
Edison decided, after mature deliberation, that
if these low-grade ores were magnetically
separated on a colossal scale at a low cost the
furnace-men could be supplied with the much-
desired high quality of iron ore at a price
which would be practicable.

He appreciated the fact that it was a serious
and gigantic problem, but was fully satisfied
that he could solve it. He first planned a
great magnetic survey of the East, with the
object of locating large bodies of magnetic
iron ore. This survey was the greatest and
most comprehensive of the kind ever made.
With a peculiarly sensitive magnetic needle
to indicate the presence of magnetic ore in the
earth, he sent out men who made a survey of
twenty-five miles across country, all the way
from lower Canada to North Carolina.

Edison says : " The amount of ore disclosed
by this survey was simply fabulous. How
much so may be judged from the fact that in
the three thousand acres immediately sur-



rounding the mills that I afterward established
at Edison, New Jersey, there were over two
hundred million tons of low-grade ore. I also
secured sixteen thousand acres in which the
deposit was proportionately as large. These
few acres alone contained sufficient ore to
supply the whole United States iron trade,
including exports, for seventy years/'

Given a mountain of rock containing only
one-fifth to one-fourth magnetic iron, the
broad problem confronting Edison resolved
itself into three distinct parts first, to tear
down the mountain bodily and grind it to
powder; second, to extract from this powder
the particles of iron mingled in its mass; and
third, to accomplish these results at a cost
sufficiently low to give the product a com-
mercial value.

From the start Edison realized that in order
to carry out this program there would have
to be automatic and continuous treatment of
the material, and that he would have to make
the fullest possible use of natural forces, such
as gravity and momentum. The carrying
out of these principles and ideas gave rise to

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15

Online LibraryWm. H. (William Henry) MeadowcroftThe boy's life of Edison → online text (page 11 of 15)