Wm. H. (William Henry) Meadowcroft.

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he ordinary speed of telegraphic signals is
irty-five to forty words a minute; but with
is machine several hundred words were

"From my experiments on the telephone
knew of the power of a diaphragm to take up
und vibrations, as I had made a little toy
hich when you recited loudly in the funnel
ould work a pawl connected to the dia-
hragm; and this, engaging a ratchet-wheel,
rved to give continuous rotation to a pulley,
is pulley was connected by a cord to a little
aper toy representing a man sawing wood,
ence, if one shouted: 'Mary had a little
b,' etc., the paper man would start sawing
wood. I reached the conclusion that if I
e: could record the movements of the diaphragm
properly I could cause such records to repro-
duce the original movements imparted to the
diaphragm by the voice, and thus succeed in
;ts recording and reproducing the human voice.
" Instead of using a disk I designed a little
machine, using a cylinder provided with
grooves around the surface. Over this was
to be placed tin-foil, which easily received and
recorded the movements of the diaphragm.



A sketch was made, and the piecework price,
eighteen dollars, was marked on the sketch.
I was in the habit of marking the price I
would pay on each sketch. If the workman
lost, I would pay his regular wages; if he
made more than the wages, he kept it. The
workman who got the sketch was John Kruesi.
I didn't have much faith that it would work,
expecting that I might possibly hear a word
or so that would give hope of a future for the
idea. Kruesi, when he had nearly finished it,
asked what it was for. I told him I was
going to record talking, and then have the
machine talk back. He thought it absurd.
However, it was finished; the foil was put on;
I then shouted 'Mary had a little lamb/ etc.
I adjusted the reproducer, and the machine
reproduced it perfectly. I was never so taken
back in my life. Everybody was astonished.
I was always afraid of things that worked the
first time. Long experience proved that
there were great drawbacks found generally
before they could be made commercial; but
here was something there was no doubt of."
No wonder that John Kruesi, as he heard
the little machine repeat the words that had



been spoken into it, ejaculated in an awe-
stricken tone: "MeinGott im Himmel!" No
wonder the " boys " joined hands and danced
around Edison, singing and shouting. No
wonder that Edison and his associates sat up
all night fixing and adjusting it so as to get
better and better results reciting and singing
and trying one another's voices and listening
with awe and delight as the crude little
machine repeated the words spoken or sung
into it.

The news quickly became public, and the
newspapers of the world published columns
about this wonderful invention. Mr. Edison
was besieged with letters from every part of
the globe. Every one wanted to hear this
machine; and in order to satisfy a universal
demand for phonographs to be used for
exhibition purposes, he had a number of them
made and turned them over to various individ-
uals, who exhibited them to great crowds
around the country. These were the ma-
chines in which the record was made on a
sheet of tin-foil laid around the cylinder.
n) They created great excitement both in
HJ America and abroad. The announcement of



a phonograph concert was sufficient to fill
a hall with people who were curious to hear
a machine talk and sing.

In the next year, 1878, Edison entered
Upon his experiments in electric lighting. His
work in this field kept him intensely busy for
nearly ten years, and the phonograph was
laid aside so far as he was concerned.

He had not forgotten it, however, for he had
fully realized its tremendous possibilities very
quickly after its invention. This is shown by
an article he wrote for the North American
Review, which appeared in the summer of
1878. In that article he predicted the possible

uses of the phonograph, many of which have
since been fulfilled.

In 1887, having finished the greatest part
of his work on the electric light, he turned to
the phonograph once more. Realizing that
the tin-foil machine was not an ideal type and
could not come into common use, he deter-
mined to re-design it, and make it an instru-
ment that could be handled by any one.

This meant the design and construction of
an entirely different type of machine, and
resulted in the kind of phonograph with which

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every one is familiar in these modern days.
One of the chief differences was the use of a
wax cylinder instead of tin-foil, and, instead of
indenting with a pointed stylus, the record is
cut into the wax with a tiny sapphire, the
next hardest jewel to a diamond.

Into his improvements of the phonograph
Mr. Edison has put an enormous amount of
time and work. He has never lost interest,
but has worked on it more or less through all
the intervening years up to the present time.
Even during the present year (1911) he has
expended a prodigious amount of energy in
improving the reproducer and other parts,
spending night after night, and frequently all
night, at the laboratory.

Inasmuch as great quantities of phono-
graphs were sold, requiring millions of records,
one of the difficulties to be overcome was to
make large numbers of duplicates from an
original record made by a singer, speaker, or
band of musicians.

This difficulty will be perceived when it is
stated that the record cut into the wax cylin-
der is hardly ever greater than one-thousandth
of an inch deep, which is less than the thick-



ness of a sheet of tissue paper, and in a single
phonograph record there are many millions
of sound-waves so recorded.

Through endless experiments of Edison
and his working force, and with many in-
genious inventions, however, these difficulties
were overcome one by one. At the present
time the machinery and processes for making
duplicate records has been so perfected that
the Edison factory at Orange has made as
many as one hundred and thirty thousand
in a day.

It may be added that the phonograph was
an invention so absolutely new that when Mr.
Edison applied for his original patent, in 1877,
the Patent Office could not find that any such
attempt had ever before been made to record
and reproduce speech or other sounds, and the
patent was granted immediately. He has
since taken out nearly one hundred patents on

The original patent has long since expired,
and many kinds of talking-machines are now
made by others also, but they all operate on
the identical principle which Edison was the
first to discover and put into actual practice.




IN these modern times an incandescent elec-
tric lamp is such an every-day affair as to
be a familiar object even to a small child.
But only a few years ago a little over thirty
the man who proposed and invented it was
derided in the newspapers, and called a mad-
man and a dreamer.

If among Edison 's numerous inventions
there should be selected one or a class that
might be considered the greatest, it seems
to be universal opinion that the palm would
be awarded to the incandescent lamp and his
complete system for the distribution of electric
light, heat, and power. These inventions as a
class, and what has sprung from them, have
brought about most wonderful changes in the

The year 1877 was a busy one at Edison's
laboratory at Menlo Park. He was engaged



on the telephone, on acoustic electrical trans-
mission, sextuplex telegraphs, duplex tele-
graphs, miscellaneous carbon articles, and
other things. He also commenced experi-
menting on the electric light.

Besides, as we have seen in the previous
chapter, he invented the phonograph. The
great interest and excitement caused by the
latter invention took up nearly all of his time
and attention for many months, and, indeed,
up to July, 1878. He then took a vacation
and went out to Wyoming with a party of
astronomers to observe an eclipse of the sun
and to make a test of his tasimeter.

He was absent about two months, coming
home rested and refreshed. Mr. Edison says :
" After my return from the trip to observe
the eclipse of the sun I went with Professor
Barker, professor of physics in the University
of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Chandler, professor
of chemistry in Columbia College, to see Mr.
Wallace, a large manufacturer of brass in
Ansonia, Connecticut. Wallace at this time
was experimenting on series arc lighting. Just
at that time I wanted to take up something
new, and Professor Barker suggested that I



go to work and see if I could subdivide the
electric light so it could be got in small units
like gas. This was not a new suggestion,
because I had made a number of experiments
on electric lighting a year before this. They
had been laid aside for the phonograph. I
determined to take up the search again and
continue it. On my return home I started
my usual course of collecting every kind of
data about gas; bought all the transactions of
the gas engineering societies, etc., all the back
volumes of gas journals, etc. Having ob-
tained all the data, and investigated gas-jet
distribution in New York by actual observa-
tions, I made up my mind that the problem
of the subdivision of the electric current
could be solved and made commercial."

The problem which Edison had undertaken
to solve was a gigantic one. The arc light was
then known and in use to a very small extent,
but the subdivision of the electric light as it
was then called had not been accomplished.
It had been the dream of scientists and in-
ventors for a long time.

Innumerable trials and experiments had
been made in America and Europe for many



years, but without success. Although a great
number of ingenious lamps had been made
by the foremost inventors of the period, they
were utterly useless as part of a scheme for a
system of electric lighting. In fact, these
efforts had been so unsuccessful that many of
the leading scientists of the time, even as late
as 1879, declared that the subdivision of the
light was an impossibility.

The chief trouble was that the early experi-
menters did not conceive the idea of a system,
and worked only on a lamp. They all seemed
to have the idea that an electric lamp was the
main thing and that it should be of low resist-
ance and should be operated on a current of
very low voltage, or pressure. They, there-
fore experimented on lamps using short carbon
rods or strips for burners, which required a
large quantity of current.

Electric lighting with this kind of lamp
was indeed a practical impossibility. The
quantity of current required for a large num-
ber of them would have been prodigious,
giving rise to tremendous problems on account
of the heating effects. Besides, the most fatal
objection was the cost of copper for conduc-



tors, which for a city section of about half a mile
square would have cost not less than a hundred
million dollars, on account of the enormous
quantity of current that would be required.

Mr. Edison realized at the beginning that
previous experimenters had failed because
they had been following the wrong track.
He knew that electric lighting could not be a
success unless it could be sold to the public at
a reasonable price and pay a profit to those
who supplied it. With such lamps as had
been proposed, requiring such an enormous
outlay for copper, this would have been
impossible. Besides, there would not have
been enough copper in the world to supply
conductors for one large city.

Edison did what he has so often done before
and since. He turned about and went in the
opposite direction. He reasoned that in order
to develop a successful system of electric
lighting the cost of conductors must come
within very reasonable limits. To insure
this, he must invent a lamp of comparatively
high resistance, requiring only a small quan-
tity of current, and with a burner having a
small radiating surface.



Having the problem clearly in mind, Edison
went to work in the fall of 1878 with that
enthusiastic energy so characteristic of him.
His earliest experiments were made with
carbon as the burner for his lamp. In the
previous year he had also experimented on
this line, beginning with strips of carbon
burned in the open air, and then in vacuo by
means of a hand-worked air-pump. These
strips burned only a few minutes. On resum-
ing his work in 1878 he again commenced
with carbon, and made a very large number of
trials, all in vacuo. Not only did he try
ordinary strips of carbonized paper, but
tissue-paper coated with tar and lampblack
was rolled into thin sticks, like knitting-
needles, carbonized and raised to the white
heat of incandescence in vacuo.

He also tried hard carbon, wood carbon,
and almost every conceivable variety of paper
carbon in like manner. But with the best
vacuum that he could then get by means of
the ordinary hand-pump the carbons would
last at the most only from ten to fifteen
minutes in a state of incandescence.

It was evident to Edison that such results as


these were not of commercial value. He
feared that, after all, carbon was not the ideal
substance he had thought it was for an incan-
descent lamp-burner. The lamp that he had
in mind was one which should have a tough,
hair-like filament for a light-giving body
that could be maintained at a white heat for
a thousand hours before breaking.

He therefore turned his line of experiments
to wires made of refractory metals, such as
platinum and iridium, and their alloys. These
metals have very high fusing points, and
while they would last longer than the carbon
strips, they melted with a slight excess of
current after they had been lighted but a
short time.

Nevertheless, Edison continued to experi-
ment along this line, making some improve-
ments, until about April, 1879, ne made an
important discovery which led him to the
first step toward the modern incandescent
lamp. He discovered that if he introduced a
piece of platinum wire into an all-glass globe,
completely sealed and highly exhausted of
air, and passed a current through the platinum
wire while the vacuum was being made the



wire would give a light equal to twenty-five
candle-power without melting. Previously,
the same length of wire would melt in the
open air when giving a light equal to four

He thus discovered that the passing of
current through the platinum while the
vacuum was being obtained would drive out
occluded gases (i.e. gases mechanically held in
or upon the metal) . This was important and
soon led to greater results.

Edison and his associates had been working
night and day at the Menlo Park laboratory,
and now that promising results were ahead
their efforts went on with greater vigor than
ever. Taking no account of the passage of
time, with an utter disregard of meal-times,
and with but scanty hours of sleep snatched
reluctantly at odd periods, Edison labored on,
and the laboratory was kept going without

Following up the progress he had made,
Edison made improvement after improve-
ment, especially in the line of high vacua, and
about the beginning of October had so im-
proved his pumps that he could produce a



vacuum up to the one-millionth part of an
atmosphere. It should be understood that
the maintaining of such a high vacuum was
only rendered possible by Edison 's invention
of a one-piece all-glass globe, hermetically
sealed during its manufacture into a lamp.

In obtaining this perfection of vacuum
apparatus Edison realized that he was draw-
ing nearer to a solution of the problem. For
many reasons, however, he was dissatisfied
with platino-iridium filaments for burners,
and went back to carbon, which from the first
he had thought of as an ideal substance for
a burner.

His next step proved that he was correct.
On October 21, 1879, after many patient trials,
he carbonized a piece of cotton sewing-thread
bent into a loop or horseshoe form, and had it
sealed into a glass globe from which he ex-
hausted the air until a vacuum up to one-
millionth of an atmosphere was produced.
This lamp, when put on the circuit, lighted up
brightly to incandescence and maintained its
integrity for over forty hours, and lo! the
practical incandescent "IampT~Wa"S born. The

impossible, so called, had been attained; sub-
is 191


division of the electric current was made
practicable; the goal had been reached, and
one of the greatest inventions of the century
was completed.

Edison and his helpers stayed by the lamp
during the whole forty hours watching it,
some of the men making bets as to how long
it would burn. It may well be imagined that
there was great jubilation throughout the
laboratory during those two days of delight
and anxiety.

But now that the principle was established
work was renewed with great fervor in making
other lamps. A vast number of experiments
were made with carbons made of paper, and
the manufacture of lamps with these paper
carbons was carried on continuously. A great
number of these were made and put into
actual use.

Edison was not satisfied, however. He
wanted something better. He began to car-
bonize everything that he could lay hands on.
In his laboratory note-books are innumerable
jottings of the things that were carbonized
and tried, such as tissue-paper, soft paper, all
kinds of cardboards, drawing paper of all



grades, paper saturated with tar, all kinds of
threads, fish-line, threads rubbed with tarred
lampblack, fine threads plaited together in
strands, cotton soaked in boiling tar, lamp-
wick, twine, tar and lampblack mixed with a
proportion of lime, vulcanized fiber, celluloid,
boxwood, cocoanut hair and shell, spruce,
hickory, baywood, cedar, and maple shavings,
rosewood, punk, cork, bagging, flax, and a
host of other things.

He also extended his searches far into the
realms of nature in the line of grasses, plants,
canes, and similar products, and in these
experiments at that time and later he car-
bonized, made into lamps, and tested no fewer
than six thousand different species of vege-
table growths.

At this time Edison was investigating
everything with a microscope. One day he
picked up a palm-leaf fan and examined the
long strip of cane binding on its edge. He
gave it to one of his assistants, telling him to
cut it up into filaments, carbonize them, and
put them into lamps.

These proved to be the best thus far ob-
tained, and on further examination Edison



decided that he had now found the best
material so far tried, and a material entirely
suitable for his lamps.

Within a very short time he sent a man off
to China and Japan to search for bamboo,
with instructions to keep on sending samples
until the right one was found. This man did
his work well, and among the species of bam-
boo he sent was one that was found satis-
factory. Mr. Edison obtained a quantity of
this and arranged with a farmer in Japan to
grow it for him and to ship regular supplies.
This was done for a number of years, and
during that time millions of Edison lamps were
regularly made from that particular species
of Japanese bamboo.

Mr. Edison did not stop at this, however.
He was continually in search of the best, and
sent other men out to Cuba, Florida, and all
through South America to hunt for something
that might be superior to what he was using.
Another man was sent on a trip around the
world for the same purpose.

Some of these explorers met with striking
adventures during their travels, and all of
them sent vast quantities of bamboos, palms,



and fibrous grasses to the laboratory for
examination, but Edison never found any of
them better for his purposes than the bamboo
from Japan.

In this remarkable exploration of the world
for such a material will be found an example
of the thoroughness of Edison's methods.
He is not satisfied to believe he has the best
until he has proved it, and this search for the
best bamboo was so thorough that it cost
him altogether about one hundred thousand

In the mean time he was experimenting to
manufacture an artificial filament that would
be better than bamboo. He finally succeeded
in his efforts, and brought out what is known
as a "squirted" filament. This was made of
a cellulose mixture and pressed out in the
form of a thread through dies. This kind of
filament has gradually superseded the bamboo
in the manufacture of lamps.

We have been obliged to confine ourselves
to a very brief outline history of the invention
and development of the incandescent lamp.
To tell the detailed story of the intense labors
of the inventor and his staff of faithful workers


would require a volume as large as the present

All that could be done in the space at our
disposal was to try and give the reader a
general idea of the clear thinking, logical
reasoning, endless experimenting, hard work,
and thoroughness of method of Edison in the
creation of a new art.



TN the history of the world's progress, Menlo
* Park, New Jersey, will ever be famous as
the birthplace of the carbon transmitter, the
phonograph, the incandescent lamp, the com-
mercial dynamo, and the fundamental systems
of distributing electric light, heat, and power.

In this list might also be included the
electric railway, for while others had previ-
ously made some progress in this direction, it
was in this historic spot that Edison did his
pioneer work that advanced the art to a stage
of practicability.

The name of Menlo Park will not have as
striking a significance to the younger readers
as to their elders whose recollections carry
them back to the years between 1876 and
1886. During that period the place became
invested with the glamor of romance by
reason of the many startling and wonderful



inventions coming out of it from time to

Edison worked there during these ten
years. He had adopted Invention as a
profession. As we have seen, he had always
had a passion for a laboratory. Thus, from
the little cellar at Port Huron, from the scant
shelves in a baggage car, from the nooks and
corners of dingy telegraph offices, and the
grimy little shops in New York and Newark,
he had come to the proud ownership of a real
laboratory where he could wrestle with Nature
for her secrets.

Here he could experiment to his heart's
content, and invent on a bolder and larger
scale than ever before. All the world knows
that he did.

Menlo Park was the merest hamlet, located
a few miles below Elizabeth. Besides the
laboratory buildings, it had only a few houses,
the best-looking of which Edison lived in.
Two or three of the others were occupied by
the families of members of his staff; in the
others boarders were taken.

During the ten years that Edison occupied
his laboratory there, life in Menlo Park could



be summed up in one short word work.
Through the days and through the nights,
year in and year out, for the most part, he and
his associates labored on unceasingly, snatch-
ing only a few hours of sleep here and there
when tired nature positively demanded it.
Such a scene of concentrated and fruitful
activity the world has probably never seen.

The laboratory buildings consisted of the
laboratory proper, the library and office,
a machine shop, carpenter shop, and some
smaller buildings, and, later on, a wooden
building, which was used for a short time as an
incandescent lamp factory.

Here Edison worked through those busy
years, surrounded by a band of chosen assist-
ants, whose individual abilities and never-
failing loyalty were of invaluable aid to him in
accomplishing the purposes that he had in

As to these associates, we quote Mr. Edi-
son's own words from an autobiographical
article in the Electrical World of March 5,
1904: "It is interesting to note that in addi-
tion to those mentioned above (Charles
Batchelor and Francis R. Upton), I had

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Online LibraryWm. H. (William Henry) MeadowcroftThe boy's life of Edison → online text (page 9 of 15)