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Edison: His Life and Inventions
F. L. Dyer and T. C. Martin
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Boyhood At Port Huron, Michigan
THE new home found by the Edison family at Port Huron, where Alva spent his brief
boyhood before he became a telegraph operator and roamed the whole middle West of
that period, was unfortunately destroyed by fire just after the close of the Civil War. A
smaller but perhaps more comfortable home was then built by Edison's father on some
property he had bought at the near-by village of Gratiot, and there his mother spent the
remainder of her life in confirmed invalidism, dying in 1871. Hence the pictures and
postal cards sold largely to souvenir-hunters as the Port Huron home do not actually show
that in or around which the events now referred to took place.
It has been a romance of popular biographers, based upon the fact that Edison began his
career as a newsboy, to assume that these earlier years were spent in poverty and
privation, as indeed they usually are by the "newsies" who swarm and shout their papers
in our large cities. While it seems a pity to destroy this erroneous idea, suggestive of a
heroic climb from the depths to the heights, nothing could be further from the truth.
Socially the Edison family stood high in Port Huron at a time when there was relatively
more wealth and general activity than to-day. The town in its pristine prime was a great
lumber centre, and hummed with the industry of numerous sawmills. An incredible
quantity of lumber was made there yearly until the forests near-by vanished and the
industry with them. The wealth of the community, invested largely in this business and in
allied transportation companies, was accumulated rapidly and as freely spent during those
days of prosperity in St. Clair County, bringing with it a high standard of domestic
comfort. In all this the Edisons shared on equal terms.
Thus, contrary to the stories that have been so widely published, the Edisons, while not
rich by any means, were in comfortable circumstances, with a well-stocked farm and
large orchard to draw upon also for sustenance. Samuel Edison, on moving to Port
Huron, became a dealer in grain and feed, and gave attention to that business for many
years. But he was also active in the lumber industry in the Saginaw district and several
other things. It was difficult for a man of such mercurial, restless temperament to stay
constant to any one occupation; in fact, had he been less visionary he would have been
more prosperous, but might not have had a son so gifted with insight and imagination.
One instance of the optimistic vagaries which led him incessantly to spend time and
money on projects that would not have appealed to a man less sanguine was the
construction on his property of a wooden observation tower over a hundred feet high, the
top of which was reached toilsomely by winding stairs, after the pay-
ment of twenty-five cents. It is true that the tower commanded a pretty view by land and
water, but Colonel Sellers himself might have projected this enterprise as a possible
source of steady income. At first few visitors panted up the long flights of steps to the
breezy platform. During the first two months Edison's father took in three dollars, and felt
extremely blue over the prospect, and to young Edison and his relatives were left the
lonely pleasures of the lookout and the enjoyment of the telescope with which it was
equipped. But one fine day there came an excursion from an inland town to see the lake.
They picnicked in the grove, and six hundred of them went up the tower. After that the