Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Thomas A. Edison
by [?]

It was the general idea then that electricity traveled: Edison knew better–electricity merely rendered the wire sensitive.

Edison was getting a reputation among his associates. He had read everything, and when his key was not busy, there was in his hand a copy of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall.”

He wrote a hand like copperplate and could “take” as fast as the best could send. And when it came to “sending,” he had made the pride of Chicago cry quits.

The Western Union had need of a specially good man at Albany while the Legislature was in session, and Edison was sent there. He took the key and never looked at the clock–he cleaned up the stuff. He sat glued to his chair for ten hours, straight.

At one time, the line suddenly became blocked between Albany and New York. The manager was in distress, and after exhausting all known expedients went to Edison. The lanky youth called up a friend of his in Pittsburgh and ordered that New York give the Pittsburgh man the Albany wire. “Feel your way up the river until you find me,” were the orders.

Edison started feeling his way down the river.

In twenty minutes he called to the manager, “The break is two miles below Poughkeepsie–I’ve ordered the section-boss at Poughkeepsie to take a repairer on his handcar and go and fix it!”

Of course, this plain telegraph-operator had no right to order out a section-boss; but nevertheless he did it. He shouldered responsibility like Tom Potter of the C., B. & Q.

Not long after the Albany experience, Edison was in New York, not looking for work as some say, but nosing around Wall Street investigating the “Laws Automatic Ticker.” The machine he was looking at suddenly stopped, and this blocked all the tickers on the line. An expert was sent for, but he could not start it.

“I’ll fix it,” said a tall, awkward volunteer, the same which was Edison.

History is not yet clear as to whether Edison had not originally “fixed” it, and Edison so far has not confessed.

And there being no one else to start the machine, Edison was given a chance, and soon the tickers were going again. This gave him an introduction to the stock-ticker folks, and the Western Union people he already knew.

This was in Eighteen Hundred Seventy, and Edison was then twenty-three years old.

He studied out how stock-reporting could be bettered and invented a plan which he duly patented, and then laid his scheme before the Western Union managers.

A stock company was formed, and young Edison, aged twenty-four, was paid exactly forty thousand dollars for his patent, and retained by the Company as Electrical Adviser at three hundred dollars a month.

In Eighteen Hundred Seventy-four, when he was twenty-seven, he had perfected his duplex telegraph apparatus and had a factory turning out telegraph-instruments and appliances at Newark, New Jersey, where three hundred men were employed.

In Eighteen Hundred Seventy-six, the year of the Centennial Exposition, Edison told the Exposition Managers that if they would wait a year or so he would light their show with electricity.

He moved to the then secluded spot of Menlo Park to devote himself to experiments, spending an even hundred thousand dollars in equipment as a starter. Results followed fast, and soon we had the incandescent lamp, trolley-car, electric pen and many other inventions. It was on the night of October the Twenty-third, Eighteen Hundred Seventy-nine, that Edison first turned the current through an incandescent burner and got the perfect light. He sat and looked at the soft, mild, beautiful light and laughed a joyous peal of laughter that was heard in the adjoining rooms. “We’ve got it, boys!” he cried, and the boys, a dozen of them, came tumbling in. Arguments started as to how long it would last. One said an hour. “Twenty-four hours,” said Edison. They all vowed they would watch it without sleep until the carbon film was destroyed and the light went out. It lasted just forty hours.