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Thomas A. Edison
by [?]

Around Edison grew up a group of great workers–proud to be called “Edison Men”–and some of these went out and made for themselves names and fortunes.

Edison was born in Eighteen Hundred Forty-seven. Consequently, at this writing he is sixty-three years old. He is big and looks awkward, because his dusty-gray clothes do not fit, and he walks with a slight stoop. When he wants clothes he telephones for them. His necktie is worn by the right oblique, his iron-gray hair is combed by the wind. On his cherubic face usually sits a half-quizzical, pleased smile, that fades into a look plaintive and very gentle. The face is that of a man who has borne burdens and known sorrow, of one who has overcome only after mighty effort. I was going to say that Edison looks like a Roman Emperor, but I recall that no Roman Emperor deserves to rank with him–not even Julius Caesar! The face is that of Napoleon at Saint Helena, unsubdued.

The predominant characteristics of the man are his faith, hope, good-cheer and courage. But at all times his humor is apt to be near the surface.

Had Edison been as keen a businessman as Rockefeller, and kept his own in his own hands, he would today be as rich as Rockefeller.

But Edison is worth, oh, say, two million dollars, and that is all any man should be worth–it is all he needs. Yet there are at least a hundred men in the world today, far richer than Edison, who have made their fortunes wholly and solely by appropriating his ideas.

Edison has trusted people, and some of them have taken advantage of his great, big, generous, boyish spirit to do him grievous wrong. But the nearest I ever heard him come to making a complaint was when he said to me, “Fra Elbertus, you never wrote but one really true thing!”

“Well, what was that, Mr. Edison?”

“You said, ‘There is one thing worse than to be deceived by men, and that is to distrust them.’ Now people say I have been successful, and so I have, in degree, and it has been through trusting men. There are a few fellows who always know just what I am doing–I confide in them–I explain things to them just to straighten the matter out in my own mind.”

But of the men who have used Edison’s money and ideas, who have made it a life business to study his patents and then use them, evading the law, not a word!

From Eighteen Hundred Seventy to Eighteen Hundred Ninety, Edison secured over nine hundred patents, or at the rate of one patent every ten days. Very few indeed of these patents ever brought him any direct return, and now his plan is to invent and keep the matter a secret in his “family.”

“The value of an idea lies in the using of it,” he said to me. “You patent a thing and the other fellow starts even with you. Keep it to yourself and you have the machinery going before the other fellow is awake. Patents may protect some things, and still others they only advertise. Up in Buffalo you have a great lawyer who says he can drive a coach and four through any will that was ever made–and I guess he can. All good lawyers know how to break wills and contracts, and there are now specialists who secure goodly fees for busting patents. If you have an idea, go ahead and invent a way to use it and keep your process secret.”

* * * * *

The Edison factories at West Orange cover a space of about thirty acres, all fenced in with high pickets and barb-wire. Over two thousand people are employed inside that fence. There are guards at the gates, and the would-be visitor is challenged as if he were an enemy. If you want to see any particular person, you do not go in and see him–he comes to you and you sit in a place like the visitors’ dock at Sing-Sing.