Thomas Alva Edison
In Menlo Park, NJ
HIS LIFE AND INVENTIONS
FRANK LEWIS DYER
GENERAL COUNSEL FOR THE EDISON LABORATORY
AND ALLIED INTERESTS
THOMAS COMMERFORD MARTIN
EX-PRESIDENT OF THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE
OF ELECTRICAL ENGINEERS
Published in New York by Harper Brothers, 1929
THE SOCIAL SIDE OF EDISON
THE title of this chapter might imply that there is an unsocial side to Edison. In a sense this is true, for no one is more impatient or intolerant of interruption when deeply engaged in some line of experiment. Then the caller, no matter how important or what his mission, is likely to realize his utter insignificance and be sent away without accomplishing his object. But, generally speaking, Edison is easy tolerance itself, with a peculiar weakness toward those who have the least right to make any demands on his time. Man is a social animal, and that describes Edison; but it does not describe accurately the inventor asking to be let alone.
Edison never sought Society; but "Society" has never ceased to seek him, and to-day, as ever, the pressure upon him to give up his work and receive honors, meet distinguished people, or attend public functions, is intense. Only two or three years ago, a flattering invitation came from one of the great English universities to receive a degree, but at that moment he was deep in experiments on his new storage battery, and nothing could budge him. He would not drop the work, and while highly appreciative of the proposed honor, let it go by rather than quit for a week or two the stern drudgery of probing for the fact and the truth. Whether one approves or not, it is at least admirable stoicism, of which the world has too little. A similar instance is that of a visit paid to the laboratory by some one bringing a gold medal from a foreign society. It was a very hot day in summer, the visitor was in full social regalia of silk hat and frock-coat, and insisted that he could deliver the medal only into Edison's hands. At that moment Edison, stripped pretty nearly down to the buff, was at the very crisis of an important experiment, and refused absolutely to be interrupted. He had neither sought nor expected the medal; and if the delegate didn't care to leave it he could take it away. At last Edison was overpersuaded, and, all dirty and perspiring as he was, received the medal rather than cause the visitor to come again. On one occasion, receiving a medal in New York, Edison forgot it on the ferry-boat and left it behind him. A few years ago, when Edison had received the Albert medal of the Royal Society of Arts, one of the present authors called at the laboratory to see it. Nobody knew where it was; hours passed before it could be found; and when at last the accompanying letter was produced, it had an office date stamp right over the signature of the royal president. A visitor to the laboratory with one of these medallic awards asked Edison if he had any others. "Oh yes," he said, "I have a couple of quarts more up at the house!" All this sounds like lack of appreciation, but it is anything else than that. While in Paris, in 1889, he wore the decoration of the Legion of Honor whenever occasion required, but at all other times turned the badge under his lapel "because he hated to have fellow-Americans think he was showing off." And any one who knows Edison will bear testimony to his utter absence of ostentation. It may be added that, in addition to the two quarts of medals up at the house, there will be found at Glenmont many other signal tokens of esteem and good-will--a beautiful cigar-case from the late Tsar of Russia, bronzes from the Government of Japan, steel trophies from Krupp, and a host of other mementos, to one of which he thus refers: "When the experiments with the light were going on at Menlo Park, Sarah Bernhardt came to America. One evening, Robert L. Cutting, of New York, brought her out to see the light. She was a terrific `rubberneck.' She jumped all over the machinery, and I had one man especially to guard her dress. She wanted to know everything. She would speak in French, and Cutting would translate into English. She stayed there about an hour and a half. Bernhardt gave me two pictures, painted by herself, which she sent me from Paris."
Reference has already been made to the callers upon Edison; and to give simply the names of persons of distinction would fill many pages of this record. Some were mere consumers of time; others were gladly welcomed, like Lord Kelvin, the greatest physicist of the last century, with whom Edison was always in friendly communication. "The first time I saw Lord Kelvin, he came to my laboratory at Menlo Park in 1876." (He reported most favorably on Edison's automatic telegraph system at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876.) "I was then experimenting with sending eight messages simultaneously over a wire by means of synchronizing tuning-forks. I would take a wire with similar apparatus at both ends, and would throw it over on one set of instruments, take it away, and get it back so quickly that you would not miss it, thereby taking advantage of the rapidity of electricity to perform operations. On my local wire I got it to work very nicely. When Sir William Thomson (Kelvin) came in the room, he was introduced to me, and had a number of friends with him. He said: `What have you here?' I told him briefly what it was. He then turned around, and to my great surprise explained the whole thing to his friends. Quite a different exhibition was given two weeks later by another well-known Englishman, also an electrician, who came in with his friends, and I was trying for two hours to explain it to him and failed."
After the introduction of the electric light, Edison was more than ever in demand socially, but he shunned functions like the plague, not only because of the serious interference with work, but because of his deafness. Some dinners he had to attend, but a man who ate little and heard less could derive practically no pleasure from them. "George Washington Childs was very anxious I should go down to Philadelphia to dine with him. I seldom went to dinners. He insisted I should go--that a special car would leave New York. It was for me to meet Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. We had the private car of Mr. Roberts, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. We had one of those celebrated dinners that only Mr. Childs could give, and I heard speeches from Charles Francis Adams and dif- ferent people. When I came back to the depot, Mr. Roberts was there, and insisted on carrying my satchel for me. I never could understand that."
Among the more distinguished visitors of the electric- lighting period was President Diaz, with whom Edison became quite intimate. "President Diaz, of Mexico, visited this country with Mrs. Diaz, a highly educated and beautiful woman. She spoke very good English. They both took a deep interest in all they saw. I don't know how it ever came about, as it is not in my line, but I seemed to be delegated to show them around. I took them to railroad buildings, electric-light plants, fire departments, and showed them a great variety of things. It lasted two days." Of another visit Edison says: "Sitting Bull and fifteen Sioux Indians came to Washington to see the Great Father, and then to New York, and went to the Goerck Street works. We could make some very good pyrotechnics there, so we determined to give the Indians a scare. But it didn't work. We had an arc there of a most terrifying character, but they never moved a muscle." Another episode at Goerck Street did not find the visitors quite so stoical. "In testing dynamos at Goerck Street we had a long flat belt running parallel with the floor, about four inches above it, and travelling four thousand feet a minute. One day one of the directors brought in three or four ladies to the works to see the new electric-light system. One of the ladies had a little poodle led by a string. The belt was running so smoothly and evenly, the poodle did not notice the difference between it and the floor, and got into the belt before we could do anything. The dog was whirled around forty or fifty times, and a little flat piece of leather came out--and the ladies fainted."
A very interesting period, on the social side, was the visit paid by Edison and his family to Europe in 1889, when he had made a splendid exhibit of his inventions and apparatus at the great Paris Centennial Exposition of that year, to the extreme delight of the French, who welcomed him with open arms. The political sentiments that the Exposition celebrated were not such as to find general sympathy in monarchical Europe, so that the "crowned heads" were conspicuous by their absence. It was not, of course, by way of theatrical antithesis that Edison appeared in Paris at such a time. But the contrast was none the less striking and effective. It was felt that, after all, that which the great exposition exemplified at its best --the triumph of genius over matter, over ignorance, over superstition--met with its due recognition when Edison came to participate, and to felicitate a noble nation that could show so much in the victories of civilization and the arts, despite its long trials and its long struggle for liberty. It is no exaggeration to say that Edison was greeted with the enthusiastic homage of the whole French people. They could find no praise warm enough for the man who had "organized the echoes" and "tamed the lightning," and whose career was so picturesque with eventful and romantic development. In fact, for weeks together it seemed as though no Parisian paper was considered complete and up to date without an article on Edison. The exuberant wit and fancy of the feuilletonists seized upon his various inventions evolving from them others of the most extraordinary nature with which to bedazzle and bewilder the reader. At the close of the Exposition Edison was created a Commander of the Legion of Honor. His own exhibit, made at a personal expense of over $100,000, covered several thousand square feet in the vast Machinery Hall, and was centred around a huge Edison lamp built of myriads of smaller lamps of the ordinary size. The great attraction, however, was the display of the perfected phonograph. Several instruments were provided, and every day, all day long, while the Exposition lasted, queues of eager visitors from every quarter of the globe were waiting to hear the little machine talk and sing and reproduce their own voices. Never before was such a collection of the languages of the world made. It was the first linguistic concourse since Babel times. We must let Edison tell the story of some of his experiences:
"At the Universal Exposition at Paris, in 1889, I made a personal exhibit covering about an acre. As I had no intention of offering to sell anything I was showing, and was pushing no companies, the whole exhibition was made for honor, and without any hope of profit. But the Paris newspapers came around and wanted pay for notices of it, which we promptly refused; whereupon there was rather a stormy time for a while, but nothing was published about it.
"While at the Exposition I visited the Opera-House. The President of France lent me his private box. The Opera-House was one of the first to be lighted by the incandescent lamp, and the managers took great pleasure in showing me down through the labyrinth containing the wiring, dynamos, etc. When I came into the box, the orchestra played the `Star-Spangled Banner,' and all the people in the house arose; whereupon I was very much embarrassed. After I had been an hour at the play, the manager came around and asked me to go underneath the stage, as they were putting on a ballet of 300 girls, the finest ballet in Europe. It seems there is a little hole on the stage with a hood over it, in which the prompter sits when opera is given. In this instance it was not occupied, and I was given the position in the prompter's seat, and saw the whole ballet at close range.
"The city of Paris gave me a dinner at the new Hotel de Ville, which was also lighted with the Edison system. They had a very fine installation of machinery. As I could not understand or speak a word of French, I went to see our minister, Mr. Whitelaw Reid, and got him to send a deputy to answer for me, which he did, with my grateful thanks. Then the telephone company gave me a dinner, and the engineers of France; and I attended the dinner celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of photography. Then they sent to Reid my decoration, and they tried to put a sash on me, but I could not stand for that. My wife had me wear the little red button, but when I saw Americans coming I would slip it out of my lapel, as I thought they would jolly me for wearing it."
Nor was this all. Edison naturally met many of the celebrities of France: "I visited the Eiffel Tower at the invitation of Eiffel. We went to the top, where there was an extension and a small place in which was Eiffel's private office. In this was a piano. When my wife and I arrived at the top, we found that Gounod, the composer, was there. We stayed a couple of hours, and Gounod sang and played for us. We spent a day at Meudon, an old palace given by the government to Jansen, the astronomer. He occupied three rooms, and there were 300. He had the grand dining-room for his laboratory. He showed me a gyroscope he had got up which made the incredible number of 4000 revolutions in a second. A modification of this was afterward used on the French Atlantic lines for making an artificial horizon to take observations for position at sea. In connection with this a gentleman came to me a number of years afterward, and I got out a part of some plans for him. He wanted to make a gigantic gyroscope weighing several tons, to be run by an electric motor and put on a sailing ship. He wanted this gyroscope to keep a platform perfectly horizontal, no matter how rough the sea was. Upon this platform he was going to mount a telescope to observe an eclipse off the Gold Coast of Africa. But for some reason it was never completed.
"Pasteur invited me to come down to the Institute, and I went and had quite a chat with him. I saw a large number of persons being inoculated, and also the whole modus operandi, which was very interesting. I saw one beautiful boy about ten, the son of an English lord. His father was with him. He had been bitten in the face, and was taking the treatment. I said to Pasteur, `Will he live?' `No,' said he, `the boy will be dead in six days. He was bitten too near the top of the spinal column, and came too late!' "
Edison has no opinion to offer as an expert on art, but has his own standard of taste: "Of course I visited the Louvre and saw the Old Masters, which I could not enjoy. And I attended the Luxembourg, with modern masters, which I enjoyed greatly. To my mind, the Old Masters are not art, and I suspect that many others are of the same opinion; and that their value is in their scarcity and in the variety of men with lots of money." Somewhat akin to this is a shrewd comment on one feature of the Exposition: "I spent several days in the Exposition at Paris. I remember going to the exhibit of the Kimberley diamond mines, and they kindly permitted me to take diamonds from some of the blue earth which they were washing by machinery to exhibit the mine operations. I found several beautiful diamonds, but they seemed a little light weight to me when I was picking them out. They were diamonds for exhibition purposes --probably glass."
This did not altogether complete the European trip of 1889, for Edison wished to see Helmholtz. "After leaving Paris we went to Berlin. The French papers then came out and attacked me because I went to Germany; and said I was now going over to the enemy. I visited all the things of interest in Berlin; and then on my way home I went with Helmholtz and Siemens in a private compartment to the meeting of the German Association of Science at Heidelberg, and spent two days there. When I started from Berlin on the trip, I began to tell American stories. Siemens was very fond of these stories and would laugh immensely at them, and could see the points and the humor, by his imagination; but Helmholtz could not see one of them. Siemens would quickly, in German, explain the point, but Helmholtz could not see it, although he understood English, which Siemens could speak. Still the explanations were made in German. I always wished I could have understood Siemens's explanations of the points of those stories. At Heidelberg, my assistant, Mr. Wangemann, an accomplished German- American, showed the phonograph before the Association."
Then came the trip from the Continent to England, of which this will certainly pass as a graphic picture: "When I crossed over to England I had heard a good deal about the terrors of the English Channel as regards seasickness. I had been over the ocean three times and did not know what seasickness was, so far as I was concerned myself. I was told that while a man might not get seasick on the ocean, if he met a good storm on the Channel it would do for him. When we arrived at Calais to cross over, everybody made for the restaurant. I did not care about eating, and did not go to the restaurant, but my family did. I walked out and tried to find the boat. Going along the dock I saw two small smokestacks sticking up, and looking down saw a little boat. `Where is the steamer that goes across the Channel?' `This is the boat.' There had been a storm in the North Sea that had carried away some of the boats on the German steamer, and it certainly looked awful tough outside. I said to the man: `Will that boat live in that sea?' `Oh yes,' he said, `but we've had a bad storm.' So I made up my mind that perhaps I would get sick this time. The managing director of the English railroad owning this line was Forbes, who heard I was coming over, and placed the private saloon at my disposal. The moment my family got in the room with the French lady's maid and the rest, they commenced to get sick, so I felt pretty sure I was in for it. We started out of the little inlet and got into the Channel, and that boat went in seventeen directions simultaneously. I waited awhile to see what was going to occur, and then went into the smoking-compartment. Nobody was there. By-and-by the fun began. Sounds of all kinds and varieties were heard in every direction. They were all sick. There must have been 100 people aboard. I didn't see a single exception except the waiters and myself. I asked one of the waiters concerning the boat itself, and was taken to see the engineer, and went down to look at the engines, and saw the captain. But I kept mostly in the smoking-room. I was smoking a big cigar, and when a man looked in I would give a big puff, and every time they saw that they would go away and begin again. The English Channel is a holy terror, all right, but it didn't affect me. I must be out of balance."
While in Paris, Edison had met Sir John Pender, the English "cable king," and had received an invitation from him to make a visit to his country residence: "Sir John Pender, the master of the cable system of the world at that time, I met in Paris. I think he must have lived among a lot of people who were very solemn, because I went out riding with him in the Bois de Boulogne and started in to tell him American stories. Although he was a Scotchman he laughed immoderately. He had the faculty of understanding and quickly seeing the point of the stories; and for three days after I could not get rid of him. Finally I made him a promise that I would go to his country house at Foot's Cray, near London. So I went there, and spent two or three days telling him stories.
"While at Foot's Cray, I met some of the backers of Ferranti, then putting up a gigantic alternating- current dynamo near London to send ten or fifteen thousand volts up into the main district of the city for electric lighting. I think Pender was interested. At any rate the people invited to dinner were very much interested, and they questioned me as to what I thought of the proposition. I said I hadn't any thought about it, and could not give any opinion until I saw it. So I was taken up to London to see the dynamo in course of construction and the methods employed; and they insisted I should give them some expression of my views. While I gave them my opinion, it was reluctantly; I did not want to do so. I thought that commercially the thing was too ambitious, that Ferranti's ideas were too big, just then; that he ought to have started a little smaller until he was sure. I understand that this installation was not commercially successful, as there were a great many troubles. But Ferranti had good ideas, and he was no small man."
Incidentally it may be noted here that during the same year (1889) the various manufacturing Edison lighting interests in America were brought together, under the leadership of Mr. Henry Villard, and consolidated in the Edison General Electric Company with a capital of no less than $12,000,000 on an eight- per-cent.-dividend basis. The numerous Edison central stations all over the country represented much more than that sum, and made a splendid outlet for the product of the factories. A few years later came the consolidation with the Thomson-Houston interests in the General Electric Company, which under the brilliant and vigorous management of President C. A. Coffin has become one of the greatest manufacturing institutions of the country, with an output of apparatus reaching toward $75,000,000 annually. The net result of both financial operations was, however, to detach Edison from the special field of invention to which he had given so many of his most fruitful years; and to close very definitely that chapter of his life, leaving him free to develop other ideas and interests as set forth in these volumes.
It might appear strange on the surface, but one of the reasons that most influenced Edison to regrets in connection with the "big trade" of 1889 was that it separated him from his old friend and ally, Bergmann, who, on selling out, saw a great future for himself in Germany, went there, and realized it. Edison has always had an amused admiration for Bergmann, and his "social side" is often made evident by his love of telling stories about those days of struggle. Some of the stories were told for this volume. "Bergmann came to work for me as a boy," says Edison. "He started in on stock-quotation printers. As he was a rapid workman and paid no attention to the clock, I took a fancy to him, and gave him piece-work. He contrived so many little tools to cheapen the work that he made lots of money. I even helped him get up tools until it occurred to me that this was too rapid a process of getting rid of my money, as I hadn't the heart to cut the price when it was originally fair. After a year or so, Bergmann got enough money to start a small shop in Wooster Street, New York, and it was at this shop that the first phonographs were made for sale. Then came the carbon telephone transmitter, a large number of which were made by Bergmann for the Western Union. Finally came the electric light. A dynamo was installed in Bergmann's shop to permit him to test the various small devices which he was then making for the system. He rented power from a Jew who owned the building. Power was supplied from a fifty-horse-power engine to other tenants on the several floors. Soon after the introduction of the big dynamo machine, the landlord appeared in the shop and insisted that Bergmann was using more power than he was paying for, and said that lately the belt on the engine was slipping and squealing. Bergmann maintained that he must be mistaken. The landlord kept going among his tenants and finally discovered the dynamo. `Oh! Mr. Bergmann, now I know where my power goes to,' pointing to the dynamo. Bergmann gave him a withering look of scorn, and said, `Come here and I will show you.' Throwing off the belt and disconnecting the wires, he spun the armature around by hand. `There,' said Bergmann, `you see it's not here that you must look for your loss.' This satisfied the landlord, and he started off to his other tenants. He did not know that that machine, when the wires were connected, could stop his engine.
"Soon after, the business had grown so large that E. H. Johnson and I went in as partners, and Bergmann rented an immense factory building at the corner of Avenue B and East Seventeenth Street, New York, six stories high and covering a quarter of a block. Here were made all the small things used on the electric-lighting system, such as sockets, chandeliers, switches, meters, etc. In addition, stock tickers, telephones, telephone switchboards, and typewriters were made the Hammond typewriters were perfected and made there. Over 1500 men were finally employed. This shop was very successful both scientifically and financially. Bergmann was a man of great executive ability and carried economy of manufacture to the limit. Among all the men I have had associated with me, he had the commercial instinct most highly developed."
One need not wonder at Edison's reminiscent remark that, "In any trade any of my `boys' made with Bergmann he always got the best of them, no matter what it was. One time there was to be a convention of the managers of Edison illuminating companies at Chicago. There were a lot of representatives from the East, and a private car was hired. At Jersey City a poker game was started by one of the delegates. Bergmann was induced to enter the game. This was played right through to Chicago without any sleep, but the boys didn't mind that. I had gotten them immune to it. Bergmann had won all the money, and when the porter came in and said `Chicago,' Bergmann jumped up and said: `What! Chicago! I thought it was only Philadelphia!' "
But perhaps this further story is a better indication of developed humor and shrewdness: "A man by the name of Epstein had been in the habit of buying brass chips and trimmings from the lathes, and in some way Bergmann found out that he had been cheated. This hurt his pride, and he determined to get even. One day Epstein appeared and said: `Good-morning, Mr. Bergmann, have you any chips to-day?' `No,' said Bergmann, `I have none.' `That's strange, Mr. Bergmann; won't you look?' No, he wouldn't look; he knew he had none. Finally Epstein was so persistent that Bergmann called an assistant and told him to go and see if he had any chips. He returned and said they had the largest and finest lot they ever had. Epstein went up to several boxes piled full of chips, and so heavy that he could not lift even one end of a box. `Now, Mr. Bergmann,' said Epstein, `how much for the lot?' `Epstein,' said Bergmann, `you have cheated me, and I will no longer sell by the lot, but will sell only by the pound.' No amount of argument would apparently change Bergmann's determination to sell by the pound, but finally Epstein got up to $250 for the lot, and Bergmann, appearing as if disgusted, accepted and made him count out the money. Then he said: `Well, Epstein, good-bye, I've got to go down to Wall Street.' Epstein and his assistant then attempted to lift the boxes to carry them out, but couldn't; and then discovered that cal- culations as to quantity had been thrown out because the boxes had all been screwed down to the floor and mostly filled with boards with a veneer of brass chips. He made such a scene that he had to be removed by the police. I met him several days afterward and he said he had forgiven Mr. Bergmann, as he was such a smart business man, and the scheme was so ingenious.
"One day as a joke I filled three or four sheets of foolscap paper with a jumble of figures and told Bergmann they were calculations showing the great loss of power from blowing the factory whistle. Bergmann thought it real, and never after that would he permit the whistle to blow."
Another glimpse of the "social side" is afforded in the following little series of pen-pictures of the same place and time: "I had my laboratory at the top of the Bergmann works, after moving from Menlo Park. The building was six stories high. My father came there when he was eighty years of age. The old man had powerful lungs. In fact, when I was examined by the Mutual Life Insurance Company, in 1873, my lung expansion was taken by the doctor, and the old gentleman was there at the time. He said to the doctor: `I wish you would take my lung expansion, too.' The doctor took it, and his surprise was very great, as it was one of the largest on record. I think it was five and one-half inches. There were only three or four could beat it. Little Bergmann hadn't much lung power. The old man said to him, one day: `Let's run up-stairs.' Bergmann agreed and ran up. When they got there Bergmann was all done up, but my father never showed a sign of it. There was an elevator there, and each day while it was travelling up I held the stem of my Waterbury watch up against the column in the elevator shaft and it finished the winding by the time I got up the six stories." This original method of reducing the amount of physical labor involved in watch-winding brings to mind another instance of shrewdness mentioned by Edison, with regard to his newsboy days. Being asked whether he did not get imposed upon with bad bank-bills, he replied that he subscribed to a bank-note detector and consulted it closely whenever a note of any size fell into his hands. He was then less than fourteen years old.
The conversations with Edison that elicited these stories brought out some details as to peril that attends experimentation. He has confronted many a serious physical risk, and counts himself lucky to have come through without a scratch or scar. Four instances of personal danger may be noted in his own language: "When I started at Menlo, I had an electric furnace for welding rare metals that I did not know about very clearly. I was in the dark-room, where I had a lot of chloride of sulphur, a very corrosive liquid. I did not know that it would decompose by water. I poured in a beakerful of water, and the whole thing exploded and threw a lot of it into my eyes. I ran to the hydrant, leaned over backward, opened my eyes, and ran the hydrant water right into them. But it was two weeks before I could see.
"The next time we just saved ourselves. I was making some stuff to squirt into filaments for the incandescent lamp. I made about a pound of it. I had used ammonia and bromine. I did not know it at the time, but I had made bromide of nitrogen. I put the large bulk of it in three filters, and after it had been washed and all the water had come through the filter, I opened the three filters and laid them on a hot steam plate to dry with the stuff. While I and Mr. Sadler, one of my assistants, were working near it, there was a sudden flash of light, and a very smart explosion. I said to Sadler: `What is that?' `I don't know,' he said, and we paid no attention. In about half a minute there was a sharp concussion, and Sadler said: `See, it is that stuff on the steam plate.' I grabbed the whole thing and threw it in the sink, and poured water on it. I saved a little of it and found it was a terrific explosive. The reason why those little preliminary explosions took place was that a little had spattered out on the edge of the filter paper, and had dried first and exploded. Had the main body exploded there would have been nothing left of the laboratory I was working in.
"At another time, I had a briquetting machine for briquetting iron ore. I had a lever held down by a powerful spring, and a rod one inch in diameter and four feet long. While I was experimenting with it, and standing beside it, a washer broke, and that spring threw the rod right up to the ceiling with a blast; and it came down again just within an inch of my nose, and went clear through a two-inch plank. That was `within an inch of your life,' as they say. "In my experimental plant for concentrating iron ore in the northern part of New Jersey, we had a verti- cal drier, a column about nine feet square and eighty feet high. At the bottom there was a space where two men could go through a hole; and then all the rest of the column was filled with baffle plates. One day this drier got blocked, and the ore would not run down. So I and the vice-president of the company, Mr. Mallory, crowded through the manhole to see why the ore would not come down. After we got in, the ore did come down and there were fourteen tons of it above us. The men outside knew we were in there, and they had a great time digging us out and getting air to us."
Such incidents brought out in narration the fact that many of the men working with him had been less fortunate, particularly those who had experimented with the Roentgen X-ray, whose ravages, like those of leprosy, were responsible for the mutilation and death of at least one expert assistant. In the early days of work on the incandescent lamp, also, there was considerable trouble with mercury. "I had a series of vacuum-pumps worked by mercury and used for exhausting experimental incandescent lamps. The main pipe, which was full of mercury, was about seven and one-half feet from the floor. Along the length of the pipe were outlets to which thick rubber tubing was connected, each tube to a pump. One day, while experimenting with the mercury pump, my assistant, an awkward country lad from a farm on Staten Island, who had adenoids in his nose and breathed through his mouth, which was always wide open, was looking up at this pipe, at a small leak of mercury, when the rubber tube came off and probably two pounds of mercury went into his mouth and down his throat, and got through his system somehow. In a short time he became salivated, and his teeth got loose. He went home, and shortly his mother appeared at the laboratory with a horsewhip, which she proposed to use on the proprietor. I was fortunately absent, and she was mollified somehow by my other assistants. I had given the boy considerable iodide of potassium to prevent salivation, but it did no good in this case.
"When the first lamp-works were started at Menlo Park, one of my experiments seemed to show that hot mercury gave a better vacuum in the lamp than cold mercury. I thereupon started to heat it. Soon all the men got salivated, and things looked serious; but I found that in the mirror factories, where mercury was used extensively, the French Government made the giving of iodide of potassium compulsory to prevent salivation. I carried out this idea, and made every man take a dose every day, but there was great opposition, and hot mercury was finally abandoned."
It will have been gathered that Edison has owed his special immunity from "occupational diseases" not only to luck but to unusual powers of endurance, and a strong physique, inherited, no doubt, from his father. Mr. Mallory mentions a little fact that bears on this exceptional quality of bodily powers. "I have often been surprised at Edison's wonderful capacity for the instant visual perception of differences in materials that were invisible to others until he would patiently point them out. This had puzzled me for years, but one day I was unexpectedly let into part of the secret. For some little time past Mr. Edison had noticed that he was bothered somewhat in reading print, and I asked him to have an oculist give him reading-glasses. He partially promised, but never took time to attend to it. One day he and I were in the city, and as Mrs. Edison had spoken to me about it, and as we happened to have an hour to spare, I persuaded him to go to an oculist with me. Using no names, I asked the latter to examine the gentleman's eyes. He did so very conscientiously, and it was an interesting experience, for he was kept busy answering Mr. Edison's numerous questions. When the oculist finished, he turned to me and said: "I have been many years in the business, but have never seen an optic nerve like that of this gentleman. An ordinary optic nerve is about the thickness of a thread, but his is like a cord. He must be a remarkable man in some walk of life. Who is he?"
It has certainly required great bodily vigor and physical capacity to sustain such fatigue as Edison has all his life imposed upon himself, to the extent on one occasion of going five days without sleep. In a conversation during 1909, he remarked, as though it were nothing out of the way, that up to seven years previously his average of daily working hours was nineteen and one-half, but that since then he figured it at eighteen. He said he stood it easily, because he was interested in everything, and was reading and studying all the time. For instance, he had gone to bed the night before exactly at twelve and had arisen at 4.30 A. M. to read some New York law reports. It was suggested that the secret of it might be that he did not live in the past, but was always looking for- ward to a greater future, to which he replied: "Yes, that's it. I don't live with the past; I am living for to-day and to-morrow. I am interested in every department of science, arts, and manufacture. I read all the time on astronomy, chemistry, biology, physics, music, metaphysics, mechanics, and other branches-- political economy, electricity, and, in fact, all things that are making for progress in the world. I get all the proceedings of the scientific societies, the principal scientific and trade journals, and read them. I also read The Clipper, The Police Gazette, The Billboard, The Dramatic Mirror, and a lot of similar publications, for I like to know what is going on. In this way I keep up to date, and live in a great moving world of my own, and, what's more, I enjoy every minute of it." Referring to some event of the past, he said: "Spilt milk doesn't interest me. I have spilt lots of it, and while I have always felt it for a few days, it is quickly forgotten, and I turn again to the future." During another talk on kindred affairs it was suggested to Edison that, as he had worked so hard all his life, it was about time for him to think somewhat of the pleasures of travel and the social side of life. To which he replied laughingly: "I already have a schedule worked out. From now until I am seventy-five years of age, I expect to keep more or less busy with my regular work, not, however, working as many hours or as hard as I have in the past. At seventy five I expect to wear loud waistcoats with fancy buttons; also gaiter tops; at eighty I expect to learn how to play bridge whist and talk foolishly to the ladies. At eighty-five I expect to wear a full-dress suit every evening at dinner, and at ninety--well, I never plan more than thirty years ahead."
The reference to clothes is interesting, as it is one of the few subjects in which Edison has no interest. It rather bores him. His dress is always of the plainest; in fact, so plain that, at the Bergmann shops in New York, the children attending a parochial Catholic school were wont to salute him with the finger to the head, every time he went by. Upon inquiring, he found that they took him for a priest, with his dark garb, smooth-shaven face, and serious expression. Edison says: "I get a suit that fits me; then I compel the tailors to use that as a jig or pattern or blue-print to make others by. For many years a suit was used as a measurement; once or twice they took fresh measurements, but these didn't fit and they had to go back. I eat to keep my weight constant, hence I need never change measurements." In regard to this, Mr. Mallory furnishes a bit of chat as follows: "In a lawsuit in which I was a witness, I went out to lunch with the lawyers on both sides, and the lawyer who had been cross-examining me stated that he had for a client a Fifth Avenue tailor, who had told him that he had made all of Mr. Edison's clothes for the last twenty years, and that he had never seen him. He said that some twenty years ago a suit was sent to him from Orange, and measurements were made from it, and that every suit since had been made from these measurements. I may add, from my own personal observation, that in Mr. Edison's clothes there is no evidence but that every new suit that he has worn in that time looks as if he had been specially measured for it, which shows how very little he has changed physically in the last twenty years."
Edison has never had any taste for amusements, although he will indulge in the game of "Parchesi" and has a billiard-table in his house. The coming of the automobile was a great boon to him, because it gave him a form of outdoor sport in which he could indulge in a spirit of observation, without the guilty feeling that he was wasting valuable time. In his automobile he has made long tours, and with his family has particularly indulged his taste for botany. That he has had the usual experience in running machines will be evidenced by the following little story from Mr. Mallory: "About three years ago I had a motor-car of a make of which Mr. Edison had already two cars; and when the car was received I made inquiry as to whether any repair parts were carried by any of the various garages in Easton, Pennsylvania, near our cement works. I learned that this particular car was the only one in Easton. Knowing that Mr. Edison had had an experience lasting two or three years with this particular make of car, I determined to ask him for information relative to repair parts; so the next time I was at the laboratory I told him I was unable to get any repair parts in Easton, and that I wished to order some of the most necessary, so that, in case of breakdowns, I would not be compelled to lose the use of the car for several days until the parts came from the automobile factory. I asked his advice as to what I should order, to which he replied: `I don't think it will be necessary to order an extra top.' " Since that episode, which will probably be appreciated by most automobilists, Edison has taken up the electric automobile, and is now using it as well as developing it. One of the cars equipped with his battery is the Bailey, and Mr. Bee tells the following story in regard to it: "One day Colonel Bailey, of Amesbury, Massachusetts, who was visiting the Automobile Show in New York, came out to the laboratory to see Mr. Edison, as the latter had expressed a desire to talk with him on his next visit to the metropolis. When he arrived at the laboratory, Mr. Edison, who had been up all night experimenting, was asleep on the cot in the library. As a rule we never wake Mr. Edison from sleep, but as he wanted to see Colonel Bailey, who had to go, I felt that an exception should be made, so I went and tapped him on the shoulder. He awoke at once, smiling, jumped up, was instantly himself as usual, and advanced and greeted the visitor. His very first question was: `Well, Colonel, how did you come out on that experiment?'--referring to some suggestions he had made at their last meeting a year before. For a minute Colonel Bailey did not recall what was referred to; but a few words from Mr. Edison brought it back to his remembrance, and he reported that the results had justified Mr. Edison's expectations."
It might be expected that Edison would have extreme and even radical ideas on the subject of education--and he has, as well as a perfect readiness to express them, because he considers that time is wasted on things that are not essential: "What we need," he has said, "are men capable of doing work. I wouldn't give a penny for the ordinary college grad- uate, except those from the institutes of technology. Those coming up from the ranks are a darned sight better than the others. They aren't filled up with Latin, philosophy, and the rest of that ninny stuff." A further remark of his is: "What the country needs now is the practical skilled engineer, who is capable of doing everything. In three or four centuries, when the country is settled, and commercialism is diminished, there will be time for the literary men. At present we want engineers, industrial men, good business-like managers, and railroad men." It is hardly to be marvelled at that such views should elicit warm protest, summed up in the comment: "Mr. Edison and many like him see in reverse the course of human progress. Invention does not smooth the way for the practical men and make them possible. There is always too much danger of neglecting thoughts for things, ideas for machinery. No theory of education that aggravates this danger is consistent with national well-being."
Edison is slow to discuss the great mysteries of life, but is of reverential attitude of mind, and ever tolerant of others' beliefs. He is not a religious man in the sense of turning to forms and creeds, but, as might be expected, is inclined as an inventor and creator to argue from the basis of "design" and thence to infer a designer. "After years of watching the processes of nature," he says, "I can no more doubt the existence of an Intelligence that is running things than I do of the existence of myself. Take, for example, the substance water that forms the crystals known as ice. Now, there are hundreds of combinations that form crystals, and every one of them, save ice, sinks in water. Ice, I say, doesn't, and it is rather lucky for us mortals, for if it had done so, we would all be dead. Why? Simply because if ice sank to the bottoms of rivers, lakes, and oceans as fast as it froze, those places would be frozen up and there would be no water left. That is only one example out of thousands that to me prove beyond the possibility of a doubt that some vast Intelligence is governing this and other planets."
A few words as to the domestic and personal side of Edison's life, to which many incidental references have already been made in these pages. He was married in 1873 to Miss Mary Stillwell, who died in 1884, leaving three children--Thomas Alva, William Leslie, and Marion Estelle.
Mr. Edison was married again in 1886 to Miss Mina Miller, daughter of Mr. Lewis Miller, a distinguished pioneer inventor and manufacturer in the field of agricultural machinery, and equally entitled to fame as the father of the "Chautauqua idea," and the founder with Bishop Vincent of the original Chautauqua, which now has so many replicas all over the country, and which started in motion one of the great modern educational and moral forces in America. By this marriage there are three children--Charles, Madeline, and Theodore.
For over a score of years, dating from his marriage to Miss Miller, Edison's happy and perfect domestic life has been spent at Glenmont, a beautiful property acquired at that time in Llewellyn Park, on the higher slopes of Orange Mountain, New Jersey, within easy walking distance of the laboratory at the foot of the hill in West Orange. As noted already, the latter part of each winter is spent at Fort Myers, Florida, where Edison has, on the banks of the Calahoutchie River, a plantation home that is in many ways a miniature copy of the home and laboratory up North. Glenmont is a rather elaborate and florid building in Queen Anne English style, of brick, stone, and wooden beams showing on the exterior, with an abundance of gables and balconies. It is set in an environment of woods and sweeps of lawn, flanked by unusually large conservatories, and always bright in summer with glowing flower beds. It would be difficult to imagine Edison in a stiffly formal house, and this big, cozy, three-story, rambling mansion has an easy freedom about it, without and within, quite in keeping with the genius of the inventor, but revealing at every turn traces of feminine taste and culture. The ground floor, consisting chiefly of broad drawing-rooms, parlors, and dining-hall, is chiefly noteworthy for the "den," or lounging-room, at the end of the main axis, where the family and friends are likely to be found in the evening hours, unless the party has withdrawn for more intimate social intercourse to the interesting and fascinating private library on the floor above. The lounging-room on the ground floor is more or less of an Edison museum, for it is littered with souvenirs from great people, and with mementos of travel, all related to some event or episode. A large cabinet contains awards, decorations, and medals presented to Edison, accumulating in the course of a long career, some of which may be seen in the illustration opposite. Near by may be noticed a bronze replica of the Edison gold medal which was founded in the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, the first award of which was made to Elihu Thomson during the present year (1910). There are statues of serpentine marble, gifts of the late Tsar of Russia, whose admiration is also represented by a gorgeous inlaid and enamelled cigar-case.
There are typical bronze vases from the Society of Engineers of Japan, and a striking desk-set of writing apparatus from Krupp, all the pieces being made out of tiny but massive guns and shells of Krupp steel. In addition to such bric-a-brac and bibelots of all kinds are many pictures and photographs, including the original sketches of the reception given to Edison in 1889 by the Paris Figaro, and a letter from Madame Carnot, placing the Presidential opera-box at the disposal of Mr. and Mrs. Edison. One of the most conspicuous features of the room is a phonograph equipment on which the latest and best productions by the greatest singers and musicians can always be heard, but which Edison himself is everlastingly experimenting with, under the incurable delusion that this domestic retreat is but an extension of his laboratory.
The big library--semi-boudoir--up-stairs is also very expressive of the home life of Edison, but again typical of his nature and disposition, for it is difficult to overlay his many technical books and scientific periodicals with a sufficiently thick crust of popular magazines or current literature to prevent their outcropping into evidence. In like manner the chat and conversation here, however lightly it may begin, turns invariably to large questions and deep problems, especially in the fields of discovery and invention; and Edison, in an easy-chair, will sit through the long evenings till one or two in the morning, pulling meditatively at his eyebrows, quoting something he has just read pertinent to the discussion, hearing and telling new stories with gusto, offering all kinds of ingenious suggestions, and without fail getting hold of pads and sheets of paper on which to make illustrative sketches. He is wonderfully handy with the pencil, and will sometimes amuse himself, while chatting, with making all kinds of fancy bits of penmanship, twisting his signature into circles and squares, but always writing straight lines--so straight they could not be ruled truer. Many a night it is a question of getting Edison to bed, for he would much rather probe a problem than eat or sleep; but at whatever hour the visitor retires or gets up, he is sure to find the master of the house on hand, serene and reposeful, and just as brisk at dawn as when he allowed the conversation to break up at midnight. The ordinary routine of daily family life is of course often interrupted by receptions and parties, visits to the billiard-room, the entertainment of visitors, the departure to and return from college, at vacation periods, of the young people, and matters relating to the many social and philanthropic causes in which Mrs. Edison is actively interested; but, as a matter of fact, Edison's round of toil and relaxation is singularly uniform and free from agitation, and that is the way he would rather have it.
Edison at sixty-three has a fine physique, and being free from serious ailments of any kind, should carry on the traditions of his long-lived ancestors as to a vigorous old age. His hair has whitened, but is still thick and abundant, and though he uses glasses for certain work, his gray-blue eyes are as keen and bright and deeply lustrous as ever, with the direct, searching look in them that they have ever worn. He stands five feet nine and one-half inches high, weighs one hundred and seventy-five pounds, and has not varied as to weight in a quarter of a century, although as a young man he was slim to gauntness. He is very abstemious, hardly ever touching alcohol, caring little for meat, but fond of fruit, and never averse to a strong cup of coffee or a good cigar. He takes extremely little exercise, although his good color and quickness of step would suggest to those who do not know better that he is in the best of training, and one who lives in the open air.
His simplicity as to clothes has already been described. One would be startled to see him with a bright tie, a loud checked suit, or a fancy waistcoat, and yet there is a curious sense of fastidiousness about the plain things he delights in. Perhaps he is not wholly responsible personally for this state of affairs. In conversation Edison is direct, courteous, ready to discuss a topic with anybody worth talking to, and, in spite of his sore deafness, an excellent listener. No one ever goes away from Edison in doubt as to what he thinks or means, but he is ever shy and diffident to a degree if the talk turns on himself rather than on his work.
If the authors were asked, after having written the foregoing pages, to explain here the reason for Edison's success, based upon their observations so far made, they would first answer that he combines with a vigorous and normal physical structure a mind capable of clear and logical thinking, and an imagination of unusual activity. But this would by no means offer a complete explanation. There are many men of equal bodily and mental vigor who have not achieved a tithe of his accomplishment. What other factors are there to be taken into consideration to explain this phenomenon? First, a stolid, almost phlegmatic, nervous system which takes absolutely no notice of ennui--a system like that of a Chinese ivory-carver who works day after day and month after month on a piece of material no larger than your hand. No better illustration of this characteristic can be found than in the development of the nickel pocket for the storage battery, an element the size of a short lead-pencil, on which upward of five years were spent in experiments, costing over a million dollars, day after day, always apparently with the same tubes but with small variations carefully tabulated in the note-books. To an ordinary person the mere sight of such a tube would have been as distasteful, certainly after a week or so, as the smell of a quail to a man striving to eat one every day for a month, near the end of his gastronomic ordeal. But to Edison these small perforated steel tubes held out as much of a fascination at the end of five years as when the search was first begun, and every morning found him as eager to begin the investigation anew as if the battery was an absolutely novel problem to which his thoughts had just been directed.
Another and second characteristic of Edison's personality contributing so strongly to his achievements is an intense, not to say courageous, optimism in which no thought of failure can enter, an optimism born of self-confidence, and becoming--after forty or fifty years of experience more and more a sense of certainty in the accomplishment of success. In the overcoming of difficulties he has the same intellectual pleasure as the chess-master when confronted with a problem requiring all the efforts of his skill and experience to solve. To advance along smooth and pleasant paths, to encounter no obstacles, to wrestle with no difficulties and hardships--such has absolutely no fascination to him. He meets obstruction with the keen delight of a strong man battling with the waves and opposing them in sheer enjoyment, and the greater and more apparently overwhelming the forces that may tend to sweep him back, the more vigorous his own efforts to forge through them. At the conclusion of the ore-milling experiments, when practically his entire fortune was sunk in an enterprise that had to be considered an impossibility, when at the age of fifty he looked back upon five or six years of intense activity expended apparently for naught, when everything seemed most black and the financial clouds were quickly gathering on the horizon, not the slightest idea of repining entered his mind. The main experiment had succeeded--he had accomplished what he sought for. Nature at another point had outstripped him, yet he had broadened his own sum of knowledge to a prodigious extent. It was only during the past summer (1910) that one of the writers spent a Sunday with him riding over the beautiful New Jersey roads in an automobile, Edison in the highest spirits and pointing out with the keenest enjoyment the many beautiful views of valley and wood. The wanderings led to the old ore-milling plant at Edison, now practically a mass of deserted buildings all going to decay. It was a depressing sight, marking such titanic but futile struggles with nature. To Edison, however, no trace of sentiment or regret occurred, and the whole ruins were apparently as much a matter of unconcern as if he were viewing the remains of Pompeii. Sitting on the porch of the White House, where he lived during that period, in the light of the setting sun, his fine face in repose, he looked as placidly over the scene as a happy farmer over a field of ripening corn. All that he said was: "I never felt better in my life than during the five years I worked here. Hard work, nothing to divert my thought, clear air and simple food made my life very pleasant. We learned a great deal. It will be of benefit to some one some time." Similarly, in connection with the storage battery, after having experimented continuously for three years, it was found to fall below his expectations, and its manufacture had to be stopped. Hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent on the experiments, and, largely without Edison's consent, the battery had been very generally exploited in the press. To stop meant not only to pocket a great loss already incurred, facing a dark and uncertain future, but to most men animated by ordinary human feelings, it meant more than anything else, an injury to personal pride. Pride? Pooh! that had nothing to do with the really serious practical problem, and the writers can testify that at the moment when his decision was reached, work stopped and the long vista ahead was peered into, Edison was as little concerned as if he had concluded that, after all, perhaps peach-pie might be better for present diet than apple-pie. He has often said that time meant very little to him, that he had but a small realization of its passage, and that ten or twenty years were as nothing when considering the development of a vital invention.
These references to personal pride recall another characteristic of Edison wherein he differs from most men. There are many individuals who derive an intense and not improper pleasure in regalia or military garments, with plenty of gold braid and brass buttons, and thus arrayed, in appearing before their friends and neighbors. Putting at the head of the procession the man who makes his appeal to public attention solely because of the brilliancy of his plumage, and passing down the ranks through the multitudes having a gradually decreasing sense of vanity in their personal accomplishment, Edison would be placed at the very end. Reference herein has been made to the fact that one of the two great English universities wished to confer a degree upon him, but that he was unable to leave his work for the brief time necessary to accept the honor. At that occasion it was pointed out to him that he should make every possible sacrifice to go, that the compliment was great, and that but few Americans had been so recognized. It was hope- less--an appeal based on sentiment. Before him was something real--work to be accomplished--a problem to be solved. Beyond, was a prize as intangible as the button of the Legion of Honor, which he concealed from his friends that they might not feel he was "showing off." The fact is that Edison cares little for the approval of the world, but that he cares everything for the approval of himself. Difficult as it may be--perhaps impossible--to trace its origin, Edison possesses what he would probably call a well-developed case of New England conscience, for whose approval he is incessantly occupied.
These, then, may be taken as the characteristics of Edison that have enabled him to accomplish more than most men--a strong body, a clear and active mind, a developed imagination, a capacity of great mental and physical concentration, an iron-clad nervous system that knows no ennui, intense optimism, and courageous self-confidence. Any one having these capacities developed to the same extent, with the same opportunities for use, would probably accomplish as much. And yet there is a peculiarity about him that so far as is known has never been referred to before in print. He seems to be conscientiously afraid of appearing indolent, and in consequence subjects himself regularly to unnecessary hardship. Working all night is seldom necessary, or until two or three o'clock in the morning, yet even now he persists in such tests upon his strength. Recently one of the writers had occasion to present to him a long type- written document of upward of thirty pages for his approval. It was taken home to Glenmont. Edison had a few minor corrections to make, probably not more than a dozen all told. They could have been embodied by interlineations and marginal notes in the ordinary way, and certainly would not have required more than ten or fifteen minutes of his time. Yet what did he do? HE COPIED OUT PAINSTAKINGLY THE ENTIRE PAPER IN LONG HAND, embodying the corrections as he went along, and presented the result of his work the following morning. At the very least such a task must have occupied several hours. How can such a trait--and scores of similar experiences could be given --be explained except by the fact that, evidently, he felt the need of special schooling in industry--that under no circumstances must he allow a thought of indolence to enter his mind?
Undoubtedly in the days to come Edison will not only be recognized as an intellectual prodigy, but as a prodigy of industry--of hard work. In his field as inventor and man of science he stands as clear-cut and secure as the lighthouse on a rock, and as indifferent to the tumult around. But as the "old man"-- and before he was thirty years old he was affectionately so called by his laboratory associates--he is a normal, fun-loving, typical American. His sense of humor is intense, but not of the hothouse, over- developed variety. One of his favorite jokes is to enter the legal department with an air of great humility and apply for a job as an inventor! Never is he so preoccupied or fretted with cares as not to drop all thought of his work for a few moments to listen to a new story, with a ready smile all the while, and a hearty, boyish laugh at the end. His laugh, in fact, is sometimes almost aboriginal; slapping his hands delightedly on his knees, he rocks back and forth and fairly shouts his pleasure. Recently a daily report of one of his companies that had just been started contained a large order amounting to several thousand dollars, and was returned by him with a miniature sketch of a small individual viewing that particular item through a telescope! His facility in making hasty but intensely graphic sketches is proverbial. He takes great delight in imitating the lingo of the New York street gamin. A dignified person named James may be greeted with: "Hully Gee! Chimmy, when did youse blow in?" He likes to mimic and imitate types, generally, that are distasteful to him. The sanctimonious hypocrite, the sleek speculator, and others whom he has probably encountered in life are done "to the queen's taste."
One very cold winter's day he entered the laboratory library in fine spirits, "doing" the decayed dandy, with imaginary cane under his arm, struggling to put on a pair of tattered imaginary gloves, with a self- satisfied smirk and leer that would have done credit to a real comedian. This particular bit of acting was heightened by the fact that even in the coldest weather he wears thin summer clothes, generally acid-worn and more or less disreputable. For protection he varies the number of his suits of underclothing, sometimes wearing three or four sets, according to the thermometer.
If one could divorce Edison from the idea of work, and could regard him separate and apart from his embodiment as an inventor and man of science, it might truly be asserted that his temperament is essentially mercurial. Often he is in the highest spirits, with all the spontaneity of youth, and again he is depressed, moody, and violently angry. Anger with him, however, is a good deal like the story attributed to Napoleon:
"Sire, how is it that your judgment is not affected by your great rage?" asked one of his courtiers.
"Because," said the Emperor, "I never allow it to rise above this line," drawing his hand across his throat. Edison has been seen sometimes almost beside himself with anger at a stupid mistake or inexcusable oversight on the part of an assistant, his voice raised to a high pitch, sneeringly expressing his feelings of contempt for the offender; and yet when the culprit, like a bad school-boy, has left the room, Edison has immediately returned to his normal poise, and the incident is a thing of the past. At other times the unsettled condition persists, and his spleen is vented not only on the original instigator but upon others who may have occasion to see him, sometimes hours afterward. When such a fit is on him the word is quickly passed around, and but few of his associates find it necessary to consult with him at the time. The genuine anger can generally be distinguished from the imitation article by those who know him intimately by the fact that when really enraged his forehead between the eyes partakes of a curious rotary movement that cannot be adequately described in words. It is as if the storm-clouds within are moving like a whirling cyclone. As a general rule, Edison does not get genuinely angry at mistakes and other human weaknesses of his subordinates; at best he merely simulates anger. But woe betide the one who has committed an act of bad faith, treachery, dishonesty, or ingratitude; THEN Edison can show what it is for a strong man to get downright mad. But in this respect he is singularly free, and his spells of anger are really few. In fact, those who know him best are continually surprised at his moderation and patience, often when there has been great provocation. People who come in contact with him and who may have occasion to oppose his views, may leave with the impression that he is hot-tempered; nothing could be further from the truth. He argues his point with great vehemence, pounds on the table to emphasize his views, and illustrates his theme with a wealth of apt similes; but, on account of his deafness, it is difficult to make the argument really two-sided. Before the visitor can fully explain his side of the matter some point is brought up that starts Edison off again, and new arguments from his viewpoint are poured forth. This constant interruption is taken by many to mean that Edison has a small opinion of any arguments that oppose him; but he is only intensely in earnest in presenting his own side. If the visitor persists until Edison has seen both sides of the controversy, he is always willing to frankly admit that his own views may be unsound and that his opponent is right. In fact, after such a controversy, both parties going after each other hammer and tongs, the arguments TO HIM being carried on at the very top of one's voice to enable him to hear, and FROM HIM being equally loud in the excitement of the discussion, he has often said: "I see now that my position was absolutely rotten. "
Obviously, however, all of these personal characteristics have nothing to do with Edison's position in the world of affairs. They show him to be a plain, easy- going, placid American, with no sense of self-importance, and ready at all times to have his mind turned into a lighter channel. In private life they show him to be a good citizen, a good family man, absolutely moral, temperate in all things, and of great charitableness to all mankind. But what of his position in the age in which he lives? Where does he rank in the mountain range of great Americans?
It is believed that from the other chapters of this book the reader can formulate his own answer to the question.
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Last updated by Jim Halpin on 9/17/99.