Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

A World-Hunt For Filament Material
IN writing about the old experimenting days at Menlo Park, Mr. F. R. Upton says:
"Edison's day is twenty-four hours long, for he has always worked whenever there was
anything to do, whether day or night, and carried a force of night workers, so that his
experiments could go on continually. If he wanted material, he always made it a principle
to have it at once, and never hesitated to use special messengers to get it. I remember in
the early days of the electric light he wanted a mercury pump for exhausting the lamps.
He sent me to Princeton to get it. I got back to Metuchen late in the day, and had to carry
the pump over to the laboratory on my back that evening, set it up, and work all night and
the next day getting results."
This characteristic principle of obtaining desired material in the quickest and most
positive way manifested itself in the search that Edison instituted for the best kind of
bamboo for lamp filaments, immediately after the discovery related in a preceding
chapter. It is doubtful whether, in the annals of scientific research and experiment, there
is anything quite analogous to the story of this search and the various expeditions that
went out from the Edison laboratory in 1880 and subsequent years, to scour the earth for
a material so apparently simple as a homogeneous strip of bamboo, or other similar fibre.
Prolonged and exhaustive experiment, microscopic examination, and an intimate
knowledge of the nature of wood and plant fibres, however, had led Edison to the
conclusion that bamboo or similar fibrous filaments were more suitable than anything
else then known for commercial incandescent lamps, and he wanted the most perfect for
that purpose. Hence, the quickest way was to search the tropics until the proper material
was found.
The first emissary chosen for this purpose was the late William H. Moore, of Rahway,
New Jersey, who left New York in the summer of 1880, bound for China and Japan,
these being the countries pre- eminently noted for the production of abundant species of
bamboo. On arrival in the East he quickly left the cities behind and proceeded into the
interior, extending his search far into the more remote country districts, collecting
specimens on his way, and devoting much time to the study of the bamboo, and in
roughly testing the relative value of its fibre in canes of one, two, three, four, and five
year growths. Great bales of samples were sent to Edison, and after careful tests a certain
variety and growth of Japanese bamboo was determined to be the most satisfactory
material for filaments that had been found. Mr. Moore, who was continuing his searches
in that country, was instructed to arrange for the cultivation and shipment of regular
supplies of this particular species. Arrangements to this end were accordingly made with
a Japanese farmer, who began to make immediate shipments, and who subsequently
displayed so much ingenuity in fertilizing and cross- fertilizing that the homogeneity of
the product was constantly improved. The use of this bamboo for Edison lamp filaments
was continued for many years.