Wm. H. (William Henry) Meadowcroft.

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with the paying teller, who was quite merry
over the incident, Edison was given the
amount in bundles of small bills " until there
certainly seemed to be one cubic foot." Un-
aware that he was the victim of a practical
joke, Edison proceeded gravely to stow away
the money in his overcoat pockets and all his
other pockets. He then went to Newark
and sat up all night with the money for fear it
might be stolen. Once more he sought help
next morning, when the General laughed
heartily, and, telling the clerk that the joke
must not be carried any further, enabled him
to deposit the currency in the bank and open
an account his first bank account.

Thus in a very brief time Edison had passed
from poverty to independence. Not only
that, but he had made a deep impression as to
his originality and ability on important people,
and had brought out valuable inventions.
Thus he lifted himself at one bound out of the



ranks and away from the drudgery of the

Many young men of twenty-two would
have been so dazzled by coming suddenly into
possession of forty thousand dollars after a
period of poverty, struggle, and hard work,
that their main ideas would have been of
recreation and pleasure. Not so with Edison,
however. Naturally enterprising and a pio-
neer, this money meant to him nothing but
means to an end.

He bought some machinery and opened a
small shop and got work for it. Very quickly
he was compelled to move to larger quarters,
Nos. 10 and 12 Ward Street, Newark, New
Jersey. He secured large orders from General
Lefferts to build stock tickers, and employed
fifty men.

As business increased he put on a night
force, and was his own foreman in both shifts.
Half an hour of sleep three or four times in the
twenty- four hours was all he needed. His
force increased to one hundred and fifty men,
and, besides superintending all the work
day and night, he was constantly making
new inventions in the lines on which he


was then working, which was chiefly stock

A glimpse at some of young Edison's first
methods as a manufacturer is interesting.
He says : ' ' Nearly all my men were on piece-
work, and I allowed them to make good wages,
and never cut until the pay became absurdly
high as they got more expert. I kept no
books. I had two hooks. All the bills and
accounts I owed I jabbed on one hook, and
memoranda of all owed to myself I put on the
other. When some of the bills fell due, and I
couldn't deliver tickers to get a supply of
money, I gave a note. When the notes were
due a messenger came around from the bank
with the note and a protest pinned to it for
one dollar and twenty-five cents. Then I
would go to New York and get an advance
or pay the note if I had the money. This
method of giving notes for my accounts and
having all notes protested I kept up over two
years, yet my credit was fine. Every store I
traded with was always glad to furnish goods,
perhaps in amazed admiration of my system
of doing business, which was certainly new."

After a while Edison got a bookkeeper,


whose vagaries made him look back with
regret on the earlier, primitive method. ' ' The
first three months I had him go over the books
to find out how much we had made. He re-
ported three thousand dollars. I gave a
supper to some of my men to celebrate this,
only to be told two days afterward that he had
made a mistake, and that we had lost five
hundred dollars; and then a few days after
that he came to me again and said he was all
mixed up, and now found that we had made
over seven thousand dollars. ' ' Edison changed
bookkeepers, but never afterward counted
anything real profit until he had paid all his
debts and had the profits in the bank.

Among the men who have worked with
Edison in his various shops from time to
time, there have always been those- who later
have risen to some notable degree of promi-
nence in the electrical arts. This early shop
was no exception.

At a single bench there worked three men
since rich or prominent. One was Sigmund
Bergmann, for a time partner with Edison in
his lighting developments in the United States,
and now head and principal owner of electrical


works in Berlin, employing ten thousand men.
The next man adjacent was John Kruesi,
afterward engineer of the great General Elec-
tric Works at Schenectady. A third was
Schuckert, who left the bench to settle up his
father's little estate at Nuremberg, stayed
there and founded electrical factories which
became the third largest in Germany, their
proprietor dying very wealthy.

" I gave them a good training as to working
hours and hustling," says Edison. And this is
equally true as applied to many scores of
others who have worked with him.



EDISON had now plunged into the in-
tensely active life that has never since
ceased. Some idea of his activity may be
gained from the fact that he started no fewer
than three manufacturing shops in Newark
during 1870-71. All of these he directed
personally, besides busying himself with many
of his own schemes.

Speaking of those days, he says: "Soon
after starting the large shop (10 and 12 Ward
Street, Newark), I rented shop-ro6m to the
inventor of a new rifle. I think it was the
Berdan. In any event, it was a rifle which
was subsequently adopted by the British
army. The inventor employed a tool-maker
who was the finest and best I had ever seen.
I noticed that he worked pretty near the
whole of the twenty-four hours. This kind
of application I was looking for. He was



getting $21.50 a week, and was also paid for
overtime. I asked him if he could run the
shop. 'I don't know; try me!' he said.
'All right, I will give you sixty dollars a
week to run both shifts. ' He went at it. His
executive ability was greater than that of any
other man I have yet seen. His memory was
prodigious, conversation laconic, and move-
ments rapid. He doubled the production
inside three months, without materially in-
creasing the pay-roll, by increasing the cutting
speed of tools and by the use of various
devices. When in need of rest he would lie
down on a work-bench, sleep twenty or thirty
minutes, and wake up fresh. As this was just
what I could do, I naturally conceived a great
pride in having such a man in charge of my
work. But almost everything has trouble
connected with it. He disappeared one day,
and, although I sent men everywhere that it
was likely he could be found, he was not dis-
covered. After two weeks he came into the
factory in a terrible condition as to clothes and
face. He sat down, and, turning to me, said:
'Edison, it's no use, this is the third time;
I can't stand prosperity. Put my salary



back and give me a job. ' I was very sorry to
learn that it was whisky that spoiled such a
career. I gave him an inferior job and kept
him for a long time."

Those were indeed busy days, when, at one
time, Edison, besides directing the work of
his shops, was working on no less than forty-
five separate inventions of his own. He had
thus entered definitely upon that career as an
inventor which has left so deep an imprint
on the records of the Patent Office.

Soon after he commenced manufacturing
he was engaged by the Automatic Telegraph
Company, of New York, to help it out of its
difficulties. An Englishman named George
Little had brought over a system of automatic
telegraphy which worked well on a short line,
but was a failure when put upon the longer
circuits, for which automatic methods are
best adapted.

This principle of automatic telegraphy,
briefly described, was somewhat as follows:
A narrow paper ribbon was perforated with
groups of holes corresponding to Morse charac-
ters. This ribbon was passed over a cylinder,
and a metallic pen was so connected that it



would drop into the holes as they passed.
The pen and cylinder being' connected with
the telegraph line, a current would pass over
the line whenever the pen touched the cylin-
der. At the other end of the line the electri-
cal impulses passed through another metallic
pen, which rested upon another ribbon of
paper chemically prepared, and, through
electro-chemical action, would mark dots and
dashes upon the paper.

There were a great many very serious
difficulties to be overcome in order to make
this system practical on long lines, but Edison
applied himself to the work with tremendous
energy. His laboratory note-books of the
period show many thousands of experiments
in the three years that he was working on this
problem, and during this time he also took out
a long list of patents on the subject.

So successful were his efforts that with his
apparatus it became possible to send and
record one thousand words a minute be-
tween New York and Washington, and thirty-
five hundred words a minute between New
York and Philadelphia.

Later on, Edison improved this system by


further inventions, by means of which the
message at the receiving end was auto-
matically printed upon the paper ribbon in
Roman letters instead of dots and dashes.
Thus, the paper on which the message was
received could be torn off and sent out immedi-
ately to the person for whom it was intended.
This saved time and expense, for under the
previous system a clerk must first translate
the dots and dashes into words and write it
out before delivery. The apparatus worked
so perfectly that three thousand words a
minute were sent between New York and
Philadelphia and recorded in Roman letters.

After Edison's automatic system was put
into successful use in America by the Auto-
matic Telegraph Company, an arrangement
was made for a trial of the system in England,
involving its probable adoption if successful.
Edison went to England in 1873 to make the
demonstration. He was to report there to
Col. George E. Gouraud, through whom the
arrangement had been made.

With one small satchel of clothes, three
large boxes of instruments, and a bright
fellow-telegrapher named Jack Wright, he



took voyage on the Jumping Java, as she was
humorously known, of the Cunard line. The
voyage was rough, and the little Java justified
her reputation by jumping all over the ocean.
"At the table," says Edison, "there were
never more than ten or twelve people. I
wondered at the time how it could pay to run
an ocean steamer with so few people; but
when we got into calm water and could see the
green fields, I was astounded to see the num-
ber of people who appeared. There were
certainly two or three hundred. Only two
days could I get on deck, and on one of these
a gentleman had a bad scalp wound from
being thrown against the iron wall of a small
smoking-room erected over a freight hatch.' 1
Arrived in London. Edison set up his
apparatus at the Telegraph Street head-
quarters, and sent his companion to Liverpool
with the instruments for that end. The con-
dition of the test was that he was to record
at the rate of one thousand words a minute,
five hundred words to be sent every half hour
for six hours. Edison was given a wire and
batteries to operate with, but a preliminary
test soon showed that he was going to fail.



Both wire and batteries were poor, and one
of the men detailed by the authorities to
watch the test remarked quietly, in a friendly
way : ' You are not going to have much show.
They are going to give you an old Bridge-
water Canal wire that is so poor we don't
work it, and a lot of ' sand batteries ' at Liver-
pool." l

The situation was rather depressing to the
young American, but "I thanked him," says
Edison, "and hoped to reciprocate somehow.
I knew I was in a hole. I had been staying
at a little hotel in Covent Garden called the
Hummums, and got nothing but roast beef
and flounders, and my imagination was getting
into a coma. What I needed was pastry.
That night I found a French pastry shop in
High Holborn Street and filled up. My
imagination got all right. Early in the morn-
ing I saw Gouraud, stated my case, and
asked if he would stand for the purchase of a
powerful battery to send to Liverpool. He
said 'Yes.' I went immediately to Apps, on

1 The sand battery is now obsolete. In this type the cell
containing the elements was filled with sand, which was kept
moist with an electrolyte.

10 143


the Strand, and asked if he had a powerful
battery. He said he hadn't; that all that he
had was Tyndall's Royal Institution battery,
which he supposed w r ould not serve. I saw
it one hundred cells and getting the price
one hundred guineas hurried to Gouraud.
He said 'Go ahead.' I telegraphed to the
man in Liverpool. He came on, and got the
battery to Liverpool, set up and ready just
two hours before the test commenced. One
of the principal things that made the system a
success was that the line was put to earth at
the sending end through a magnet, and the
extra current from this passed to the line
served to sharpen the recording waves. This
new battery was strong enough to pass a
powerful current through the magnet without
materially diminishing the strength of the cur-
rent." The test under these more favorable
circumstances was a success. "The record
was as perfect as copper plate, and not a
single remark was made in the 'time lost'

Edison was now asked if he thought he
could get a better speed through submarine
cables with this system, and replied that he



would like a chance to try it. For this pur-
pose twenty-two hundred miles of /cable
stored under water in tanks was placed at his
disposal from 8 P.M. until 6 A.M. He says:
"This just suited me, as I preferred night
work. I got my apparatus down and set up,
and then to get a preliminary idea of what
the distortion of the signal would be I sent a
single dot, which should have been recorded
upon my automatic paper by a mark about
one thirty-second of an inch long. Instead
of that it was twenty-seven feet long. If I
ever had any conceit, it vanished from my
boots up ! I worked on this cable more than
two weeks, and the best I could do was two
words per minute, which was only one-seventh
of what the guaranteed speed of the cable
should be when laid. What I did 'not know
at the time was that a coiled cable, owing to
induction, was infinitely worse than when laid
out straight, and that my speed was as good
as, if not better than, the regular system;
but no one told me this."

After a short stay in England Edison re-
turned to America. He states that the
Automatic was finally adopted in England



and used for many years; indeed, it is still
in use there. But they took whatever they
needed from his system, and he "has never
had a cent from them."

On arriving home he resumed arduous work
on many of his inventions chiefly those
relating to duplex telegraphy. This subject
had interested him at various times for four
or five years previously, and he now returned
to it with great vigor.

Many inventors had been working on mul-
tiple transmission, and at this period a system
of sending two messages in opposite directions
at the same time over one wire had been in-
vented by Joseph Stearns, and had then
lately come into use.

The subject of multiple transmission gave
plenty of play for ingenuity and was one that
had great fascination for Edison. He worked
out many plans, and in April, 1873, filed two
applications for patents. One of these
covered an invention by which not only
could two messages be sent in opposite direc-
tions over one wire at the same time, but, if
desired, two separate messages could be sent
simultaneously in ike same direction over a



single wire. The former method was called
the ''duplex," and the latter the "diplex."

Duplexing was accomplished by varying the
strength of the current, and diplexing by also
varying the direction of the current. In this
invention there was the germ of the quad-
ruplex, and now Edison redoubled his efforts
toward completing the latter system, for, while
duplexing doubled the capacity of a line, the
quadruplex would increase it four times.

He was working also on other inventions,
but the quadruplex claimed most of his
attention. He says: "This problem was of
the most difficult and complicated kind, and I
bent all my energies toward its solution. It
required a peculiar effort of the mind, such as
the imagining of eight different things moving
simultaneously on a mental plane without
anything to demonstrate their efficiency."

It is, perhaps, hardly to be wondered at
that, when notified he would have to pay
twelve and one-half per cent, extra if his
taxes in Newark were not at once paid, he
actually forgot his own name when asked for
it suddenly at the City Hall, and lost his place
in the line!



He succeeded, however, in inventing a
successful quadruplex system by a skilful
combination of the duplex and diplex with
other ingenious devices. The immense value
of this invention may be realized when it is
stated that it has been estimated to have
saved from fifteen million to twenty million
dollars in the cost of line construction in
America. But Mr. Edison received only a
small amount for it. We will let him tell the
story in his own words :

"About this time I invented the quad-
ruplex. I wanted to interest the Western
Union Telegraph Company in it, with a view
of selling it, but was unsuccessful until I made
an arrangement with the chief electrician of
the company, so that he could be known as a
joint inventor and receive a portion of the
money. At that time I was very short of
money, and needed it more than glory. This
electrician appeared to want glory more than
money, so it was an easy trade. I brought
my apparatus over and was given a separate
room with a marble-tiled floor which, by the
way, was a very hard kind of floor to sleep on
and started in putting on the finishing touches.



Reproduction of a cartoon issued by the Operator in 1875


"After two months of very hard work I
got a detail at regular times of eight operators,
and we got it working nicely from one room
to another over a wire which ran to Albany
and back. Under certain conditions of
weather one side of the quadruplex would
work very shakily, and I had not succeeded
in ascertaining the cause of the trouble. On
a certain day, when there was a board meeting
of the company, I was to make an exhibition
test. The day arrived. I had picked the
best operators in New York, and they were
familiar with the apparatus. I arranged that,
if a storm occurred and the bad side got
shaky, they should do the best they could and
draw freely on their imaginations. They
were sending old messages. About twelve
o'clock everything went wrong, as there was
a storm somewhere near Albany, and the bad
side got shaky. Mr. Orton, the president,
and William H. Vanderbilt and the other
directors came in. I had my heart trying to
climb up around my oesophagus. I was paying
a sheriff five dollars a day to withhold execu-
tion of judgment which had been entered
against me in a case which I had paid no at-



tention to; and if the quadruplex had not
worked before the president I knew I was to
have trouble and might lose my machinery.
The New York Times came out next day with
a full account. I was given five thousand
dollars as part payment for the invention,
which made me easy, and I expected the whole
thing would be closed up. But Mr. Orton
went on an extended tour just about that
time. I had paid for all the experiments on
the quadruplex and exhausted the money,
and I was again in straits. In the mean time
I had introduced the apparatus on the lines of
the company, where it was very successful.

"At that time the general superintendent
of the Western Union was Gen. T. T. Eckert
(who hafl been Assistant Secretary of War
with Stanton). Eckert was secretly nego-
tiating with Gould to leave the Western
Union and take charge of the Atlantic and
Pacific Gould's company. One day Eckert
called me into his office and made inquiries
about money matters. I told him Mr. Orton
had gone off and left me without means, and
I was in straits. He told me I would never
get another cent, but that he knew a man



who would buy it. I told him of my arrange-
ment with the electrician, and said I could not
sell it as a whole to anybody; but if I got
enough for it I would sell all my interest in
any share I might have. He seemed to think
his party would agree to this. I had a set of
quadruplex over in my shop, 10 and 12 Ward
Street, Newark, and he arranged to bring him
over next evening to see the apparatus. So
the next day Eckert came over with Jay
Gould and introduced him to me. This was
the first time I had ever seen him. I exhibited
and explained the apparatus, and they de-
parted. The next day Eckert sent for me,
and I was taken up to Gould's house, which
was near the Windsor Hotel, Fifth Avenue.
In the basement he had kn office. It was in
the evening, and we went\in by the 'servants'
entrance, as Eckert probably feared that he
was watched. Gould started in at once and
asked me how much I wanted. I said,
'Make me an offer.' Then he said, 'I will
give you thirty thousand dollars.' I said,
' I will sell any interest I may have for that
money/ which was something more than I
thought I could get. The next morning I


went with Gould to the office of his lawyers,
Sherman & Sterling, and received a check
for thirty thousand dollars, with a remark by
Gould that I had got the steamboat Plymouth
Rock, as he had sold her for thirty thousand
dollars, and had just received the check.
There was a big fight on between Gould's
company and the Western Union, and this
caused litigation. The electrician, on account
of the testimony involved, lost his glory.
The judge never decided the case, but went
crazy a few months afterward."

Mr. Gould controlled the Atlantic and Pacific
Telegraph Company and was aiming to get
control of the Western Union Company, and
his purchase of Edison's share in the quad-
ruplex was an important move in this direction.

Having learned of the success of Edison's
automatic system, mentioned in the early
part of this chapter, Mr. Gould's next move
was to get control of that. It was owned by
Mr. Edison and his associates of the Auto-
matic Telegraph Company, and that company
was bought by Mr. Gould under an agreement
to pay four million dollars in stock. As to
this, Mr. Edison says: " After this, Gould


wanted me to help install the automatic
system in the Atlantic and Pacific Company, of
which General Eckert had been elected presi-
dent, the company having bought the Auto-
matic Telegraph Company. I did a lot of
work for this company making automatic
apparatus in my shop at Newark."

Unfortunately for the inventor and his as-
sociates, the terms of the contract have never
been carried out. Mr. Edison remarks in
regard to this: "He" (Gould) "took no pride
in building up an enterprise. He was after
money, and money only. Whether the com-
pany was a success or a failure mattered not
to him. After he had hammered the Western
Union through his opposition company and
had tired out Mr. Vanderbilt, the latter retired
from control, and Gould went in and consoli-
dated his company and controlled the Western
Union. He then repudiated the contract
with the Automatic Telegraph people, and
they never received a cent for their wires or
patents, and I lost three years of very hard
labor. But I never had any grudge against
him, because he was so able in his line, and as
long as my part was successful the money


with me was a secondary consideration. When
Gould got the Western Union I knew no
further progress in telegraphy was possible,
and I went into other lines."

One of the most remarkable suits in the
history of American jurisprudence arose out of
this transaction. Mr. Edison and his asso-
ciates sued Mr. Gould in 1876 for the recovery
of the contract price of these inventions, and,
at this writing, thirty-five years later, the
suit has not been finally decided. It is now
on appeal to the United States Supreme

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Online LibraryWm. H. (William Henry) MeadowcroftThe boy's life of Edison → online text (page 7 of 15)