Wm. H. (William Henry) Meadowcroft.

The boy's life of Edison online

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some of the most brilliant engineering work



that has ever been done by Edison. During
this period he also made many important in-
ventions, of which several will now be men-

As he proposed to treat enormous masses
of material, one of the chief things to be done
was to provide for breaking the rock and
crushing it to powder rapidly and cheaply.
After some experimenting, he found there
was no machinery to be bought that would do
the work as it must be done. He was there-
fore compelled to invent a series of machines
for the purpose.

The first of these was an invention quite
characteristic of Edison's daring and boldness.
It embraced a gigantic piece of mechanism,
called the "Giant Rolls/' which was designed
to break up pieces of rock that might be as
large as an ordinary upright piano, and weigh-
ing as much as eight tons.

A pair of iron cylinders five feet long and
six feet in diameter, covered with steel knobs,
were set fifteen inches apart in a massive
frame. The rolls weighed about seventy tons.
By means of a steam engine these rolls were
revolved in opposite directions until they



attained a peripheral speed of about a mile
a minute. Then the rocks were dumped into
a hopper which guided them between the
rolls, and in a few seconds, with a thunderous
noise, they were reduced to pieces about the
size of a man's head. The belts were released
by means of slipping friction clutches when
the load was thrown on the rolls, the breaking
of the rocks being accomplished by momentum
and kinetic energy.

The broken rock then passed through
similar rolls of a lesser size, by means of which
it was reduced to much smaller pieces. These
in their turn passed through a series of other
machines in which they were crushed to fine
powder. Here again Edison made another
remarkable invention, called the ''Three-High
Rolls," for reducing the rock to fine powder.
The best crushers he had been able to buy had
an efficiency of only eighteen per cent, and a
loss by friction of eighty-two per cent. By
his invention he reversed these figures and
obtained a working efficiency of eighty-four
per cent, and reduced the loss to sixteen per

The problems of drying and screening the



broken and crushed material were also solved
most ingeniously by Edison's inventive skill
and engineering ability, and always with the
idea and purpose in mind of accomplishing
these results by availing himself to the utmost
of one of the great forces of Nature gravity.

The great extent of the concentrating
works may be imagined when we state that
two hundred and fifty tons of material per
hour could be treated. Altogether, there
were about four hundred and eighty immense
magnetic separators in the plant, through
which this crushed rock passed after going
through the numerous crushing, drying, and
screening processes.

If it had been necessary to transfer this
tremendous quantity of material from place
to place by hand the cost would have been
too great. Edison, therefore, designed an
original and ingenious system of mechanical
belt conveyors that would automatically re-
ceive and discharge their loads at appointed
places in the works, covering about a mile in
transit. They went up and down, winding
in and out, turning corners, delivering ma-
terial from one bin to another, making a



number of loops in the drying-oven, filling up
bins, and passing on to the next one when full.
In fact, these conveyors in automatic action
seemed to play their part with human in-

We have been able to take only a passing
glance at the great results achieved by Edison
in his nine years' work on this remarkable
plant a work deserving of most serious
study. The story would be incomplete, how-
ever, if we did not mention his labors on
putting the fine ore in the form of solid

When the separated iron was first put on the
market it was found that it could not be used
in that form in the furnaces. Edison was
therefore obliged to devise some other means
to make it available. After a long series of
experiments he found a way of putting it into
the form of small, solid briquettes. These
answered the purpose exactly.

This called for a line of new machinery,
which he had to invent to carry out the plan.
When this was completed, the great rocks
went in at one end of the works and a stream
of briquettes poured out of the other end,



being made by each briquetting machine at
the rate of sixty per minute.

Thus, with never-failing persistence, in-
finite patience, intense thought and hard
work, Edison met and conquered, one by one,
the difficulties that had confronted him.
Furnace trials of his briquettes proved that
they were even better than had been antici-
pated. He had received some large orders
for them and was shipping them regularly.
Everything was bright and promising, when
there came a fatal blow.

The discovery of rich Bessemer ore in the
Mesaba range of mountains in Minnesota a
few years before had been followed by the
opening of the mines there about this time.
As this rich ore could be sold for three dollars
and fifty cents per ton, as against six dollars
and fifty cents per ton for Edison's briquettes,
his great enterprise must be abandoned at
the very moment of success.

It was a sad blow to Edison's hopes. He
had spent nine years of hard work and about
two millions of his own money in the great
work that had thus been brought to nought
through no fault of his. The project had



lain close to his heart and ambition, indeed
he had put aside almost all other work and
inventions for a while.

For five of the nine years he had lived and
worked steadily at Edison (the name of the
place where the works were located), leaving
there only on Saturday night to spend Sun-
day at his home in Orange, and returning to
the plant by an early train on Monday morn-
ing. Life at Edison was of the simple kind
work, meals, and a few hours' sleep day by
day, but Mr. Edison often says he never felt
better than he did during those five years.

After careful investigations and calculations
it was decided to close the plant. Mr. W. S.
Mallory, his close associate during those years
of the concentrating work, says: "The plant
was heavily in debt, and, as Mr. Edison and
I rode on the train to Orange, plans were dis-
cussed as to how to make enough money to
pay off the debt. Mr. Edison stated most
positively that no company with which he
had been personally actively connected had
ever failed to pay its debts, and he did not
propose to have the concentrating company
any exception.



* We figured carefully over the probabilities
of financial returns from the phonograph
works and other enterprises, and, after dis-
cussing many plans, it was finally decided
that we would apply the knowledge we had
gained in the concentrating plant to building
a plant for manufacturing Portland cement,
and that Mr. Edison would devote his atten-
tion to the developing of a storage battery
which did not use lead and sulphuric acid.

" He started in with the maximum amount
of enthusiasm and ambition, and in the course
of about three years we succeeded in paying
off the indebtedness of the concentrating

" As to the state of Mr. Edison's mind when
the final decision was reached to close down,
if he was specially disappointed there was
nothing in his manner to indicate it, his every
thought being for the future."

In this attitude we find a true revelation of
one conspicuous trait in Mr. Edison. No one
ever cried less over spilled milk than he. He
had spent a fortune and had devoted nine
years of his life to the most intense thought
and labor in the creation and development of



this vast enterprise. He had made many re-
markable inventions and had achieved a very
great success, only to see the splendid results
swept away in a moment. He did not sit
down and bewail his lot, but with true phil-
osophy and greatness of mind applied him-
self with characteristic energy to new work
through which he might be able to open up a
more promising future.



ENG before Edison ever thought of going
into the manufacture of cement he had
very pronounced opinions of its value for
building purposes. More than twenty-five
years ago, during a discussion on ancient
buildings, he remarked: "Wood will rot,
stone will chip and crumble, bricks disinte-
grate, but a cement and iron structure is ap-
parently indestructible. Look at some of the
old Roman baths. They are as solid as when
they were built. "

With such convictions, and the vast fund of
practical knowledge and experience he had
gained at Edison in the crushing and handling
of enormous masses of finely divided material,
it is not surprising that he should have decided
to engage in the manufacture of cement.

He was fully aware of the fact that he was
proposing to "butt into" an old-established



industry, in which the principal manufactur-
ers were concerns which had been in business
for a long time. He knew there were great
problems to be solved, both in manufacturing
and selling the cement. These difficulties,
however, only made the proposition more in-
viting to him.

Edison followed his usual course of reading
up all the literature on the subject that he
could find, and seeking information from all
quarters. After thorough study he came to
the conclusion that with his improved meth-
ods of handling finely crushed material, and
with some new inventions and processes he
had in mind, he could go into the cement
business and succeed in making a finer quality
of product. As we shall see later, he "made

This study of the cement proposition took
place during the first few months of his ex-
perimenting on a new storage battery. In
the mean time Mr. Mallory had been busy
arranging for the formation of a company
with the necessary money to commence and
carry on the business. One day he went to
the laboratory and told Mr. Edison that



everything was ready and that it was now
time to engage engineers to lay out the works.

To this Edison replied that he intended to
do that himself, and invited Mr. Mallory to
go with him to one of the draughting-rooms
up-stairs. Here Edison placed a sheet of
paper on a draughting-table and immediately
began to draw out a plan of the proposed
works. He continued all day and away into
the evening, when he finished; thus com-
pleting within twenty-four hours the full lay-
out of the entire plant as it was subsequently
installed. If the plant were to be rebuilt
to-day no vital change would be necessary.

It will be granted that this was a remark-
able engineering feat, for Edison was then a
new-comer in the cement business. . But in
that one day's planning everything was con-
sidered and provided for, including crushing,
mixing, weighing, grinding, drying, screening,
sizing, burning, packing, storing, and other

From one end to the other the cement plant

is about half a mile long, and through the

various buildings there passes, automatically,

each day a vast quantity of material under

17 255


treatment. In practice this results in the
production of more than two and a quarter
million pounds of finished cement every
twenty-four hours.

Not only was all this provided for in that
one day's designing, but also smaller details,
such, for instance, as the carrying of all steam,
water and air pipes and electrical conductors
in a large subway extending from one end of
the plant to the other ; also a system by which
the ten thousand bearings in the plant are
oiled automatically, requiring the services of
only two men for the entire work.

Following this general outline plan of the
whole plant by Edison himself there came the
preparation of the detail plans by his engineers.
As the manufacture of cement also involves
the breaking and grinding of rocks, the scheme,
of course, included using the giant rolls and
other crushing, drying, and screening ma-
chinery invented by him for the iron-con-
centrating work, as mentioned in our last

No magnetic separator is necessary in ce-
ment-making, but there were other processes
to provide for that did not occur in concen-



trating iron ore. One of them relates to
burning the material, which is one of the most
important processes in manufacturing cement.

Perhaps it may be well to state for the in-
formation of the reader that in cement-
making, generally speaking, cement-rock and
limestone in the rough are mixed together
and ground to a fine powder. This powder
is "burned" in a kiln and comes out in the
form of balls, called "clinker." This again is
crushed to a fine powder, which is the cement
of commerce.

It will be seen, therefore, that the quantity
of finished cement produced depends largely
upon the capacity of the kilns. When Edison
first thought of going into cement-making he
expected to use the old style of kilns, which
were about sixty feet long and six feet in
diameter, and had a capacity of turning out
about two hundred barrels of clinker every
twenty-four hours. He is never satisfied,
however, to take the experience of others as
final, and thought he could improve on what
had been done before.

He discussed the project with Mr. Mallory,
who says: "After having gone over this

2 57


matter several times, Mr. Edison said, * I be-
lieve I can make a kiln which will give an
output of one thousand barrels in twenty-four
hours.* Although I had then been closely
associated with him for ten years and was
accustomed to see him accomplish great
things, I could not help feeling the improb-
ability of his being able to jump into an old-
established industry as a novice and start
by improving the 'heart* of the production
so as to increase its capacity four hundred
per cent. But Mr. Edison went to work
immediately and very soon completed the de-
sign of a new type of kiln which was to be one
hundred and fifty feet long and nine feet in
diameter, made up in ten-foot sections of cast
iron bolted together and arranged to be re-
volved on fifteen bearings. He had a wooden
model made, and studied it very carefully
through a series of experiments. These re-
sulted so satisfactorily that this form was
finally decided upon, and ultimately installed
as part of the plant.

" Well, for a year or so the kiln problem was
a nightmare to me. We could only obtain
four hundred barrels at first, but gradually



crept up through a series of heart-breaking
trials until we got over eleven hundred barrels
a day. Mr. Edison never lost his confidence
throughout the trials, but on receiving a dis-
appointing report would order us to try it

Although the older cement manufacturers
predicted utter failure, they have since recog-
nized the success of Edison's long kiln, and it
is now being used quite generally in the trade.

Another invention of minor nature but
worthy of note relates to the weighing of the
proportions of cement-rock and limestone.
In most cases the measurement is usually by
barrow loads, but Edison determined that it
must be done accurately to the pound, and
devised a means of doing it automatically,
for, as he remarked, "The man at the scales
might get to thinking of the other fellow's
best girl, so fifty or a hundred pounds of rock,
more or less, wouldn't make much difference
to him. "

With Edison's device the scales are set at
certain weights and the materials are fed
from hoppers. The moment the scale-beam
tips an electrical connection automatically



stops the feed and no more can be put on the
scale until the load is withdrawn.

Another and important new feature in-
troduced by Edison was in raising the stand-
ard of fine grinding of cement ten points above
the regular standard of seventy-five per cent,
through a two-hundred-mesh screen. By rea-
son of the great improvements he had made in
grinding machinery he could grind cement so
that eighty-five per cent, passed through a
two-hundred-mesh screen. As cement is valu-
able in proportion to its fineness, it will be seen
that he has thus made an advance of great
importance to the trade.

We cannot enter into all the details of the
numerous inventions and improvements that
Edison has introduced into his cement plant
during the last eight or nine years. It is suf-
ficient to say that by his persistent and
energetic labors during that period he has
raised his plant from the position of a new-
comer to the rank of the fifth largest producer
of cement in this country.

A remarkable instance of the power of
Edison's memory may be related here. Some
years ago, when the cement plant was nearly



finished and getting ready to start, he went up
to look it over and see what needed to be done.

On the arrival of the train at ten-forty in
the morning he went to the mill, and, starting
at one end, went through the plant to the
other end, examining every detail. He made
no notes or memoranda, but the examination
required all day.

In the afternoon, at five-thirty, he took a
train for home, and on arriving there a few
hours later got out some note-books and began
to write from memory the things needing
change or attention. He continued on this
work all night and right along until the next
afternoon, when he completed a list of nearly
six hundred items. This memory "stunt"
was the more remarkable because many of the
items included all the figures of new dimen-
sions he had decided upon for some of the
machinery in the plant.

Each item was numbered consecutively,
and the list copied and sent up to the super-
intendent, who was instructed to make the
changes and report by number as they were
done. These changes were made and their
value was proven by later experience.



Edison's achievements have made a deep
impression on the cement industry, but it is
likely that it will become still deeper when his
"Poured Cement House" is exploited.

A few years ago he conceived the idea of
pouring a complete concrete house in a few
hours. He made a long series of experiments
for producing a free-flowing combination of
the necessary materials, and at length found
one that satisfied him that his idea was
feasible, although experts said it could not be

His plan is to provide two sets of iron
molds, one inside the other, with an open
space between. These molds are made in
small pieces and set up by being bolted
together. When erected, the concrete mix-
ture is poured in from the top in a continuous
stream until the space between the molds is

The pouring will be done in about six hours,
after which the molds will be left in position
about four days in order that the concrete may
harden. When the molds are removed there
will remain standing an entire house, com-
plete from cellar to roof, with walls, floors,



stairways, bath and laundry tubs, all in one
solid piece. These houses, when built in
quantity, will probably cost about twelve
hundred dollars each.

Mr. Edison intends this house for the work-
ingman, and in its design has insisted on its
being ornamental as well as substantial. As
he expressed it: " We will give the working-
man and his family ornamentation in their
house. They deserve it, and besides, it costs
no more after the pattern is made to give
decorative effects than it would to make
everything plain."

The molds for the first type of the Edison
poured house are nearly completed, and it is
probable that in the near future he may be
able to find sufficient time to carry this
project into actual practice.



T^HROUGH his invention and introduction
* of the phonograph and of his apparatus
for taking and exhibiting motion - pictures
Edison has probably done more to interest
and amuse the world than any other living
man. These two forms of amusement have
more audiences in a week than all the theaters
in America in a year.

It is a curious fact that while instantaneous
photography is necessary to produce motion
pictures, the suggestion of producing them was
made many years before the instantaneous
photograph became possible.

One of the earliest efforts in this direction
was made before Edison was born, and shown
by a toy called the Zoetrope, or " Wheel of
Life." A number of figures showing frac-
tional parts of the motion of an object such,
for instance, as a boy skating were boldly



drawn in silhouette on a strip of paper. This
paper was put inside an open cylinder having
small openings around its circumference. The
cylinder was mounted on a pivot, and, when
revolved, the figures on the paper seemed to
be in motion when viewed through the

The success of this and similar toys, as well
as of modern motion-pictures, depends upon a
phenomenon known as the " persistence of
vision." This means that if an object be pre-
sented to the vision for a moment and then
withdrawn, the image of that object will re-
main impressed on the retina of the eye for a
period of one-tenth to one-seventh of a second.

If, for instance, a bright light be moved
rapidly up and down in front of the eye in a
dark room it appears not as a single light,
but as a line of fire, because there is not time
for the eye to lose the image of the light be-
tween the rapid phases of its motion. For the
same reason, if a number of pictures exactly
alike were rapidly presented to the eye in
succession it would seem as if a single picture
were being viewed.

Thus, if a number of photographs, say at


the rate of fifteen per second, be taken of a
moving object, each successive photograph
will show a fraction of the movements. Now
if these photographs be thrown on a screen
in the same order and at the same rate at
which they were taken the movements of the
object would apparently again take place,
because the eye does not have time to lose the
image of one fractional movement before the
next follows.

One of the earliest suggestions of reproduc-
ing animate motion was made by a Frenchman
named Ducos about 1864. He was followed
by others, but they were all handicapped by
the fact that dry-plates and sensitized film
were entirely unknown, and the wet plates
then used were entirely out of the question
for the development of a practical commercial

The first serious attempt to secure photo-
graphs of objects in motion was made in 1878
by Edward Muybridge. At this time very
rapid wet-plates were known. By arranging
a line of cameras along a track and causing
a horse in trotting past them to strike wires
or strings attached to the shutters, the plates



were exposed and a series of clear instantan-
eous photographs of the horse in motion was

Positive prints were made which were
mounted in a modified form of Zoetrope and
projected upon a screen. The horse in mo-
tion was thus reproduced, but, differing from
the motion - pictures of to - day, always re-
mained in the center of the screen in violent
movement and making no progress.

Early in the eighties dry-plates were intro- i
duced, and other experimenters took up the
work, but they were handicapped by the fact
that plates were heavy and only a limited
number could be used. This difficulty may
be easily understood when it is realized that a
modern motion - picture play lasting fifteen
minutes comprises about sixteen thousand
separate and distinct photographs. The im-
possibility of manipulating this large number
of glass plates to show one motion-picture
play will be seen at once.

This was the condition of the art when
Edison entered upon the work. He himself
says, " In the year 1887 the idea occurred to
me that it was possible to devise an instrument



which should do for the eye what the phono-
graph does for the ear, and that by a combina-
tion of the two all motion and sound could
be recorded and reproduced simultaneously."

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Online LibraryWm. H. (William Henry) MeadowcroftThe boy's life of Edison → online text (page 12 of 15)