Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

Introduction Of The Edison Electric Light
IN the previous chapter on the invention of a system, the narrative has been carried along
for several years of activity up to the verge of the successful and commercial application
of Edison's ideas and devices for incandescent electric lighting. The story of any one year
in this period, if treated chronologically, would branch off in a great many different
directions, some going back to earlier work, others forward to arts not yet within the
general survey; and the effect of such treatment would be confusing. In like manner the
development of the Edison lighting system followed several concurrent, simultaneous
lines of advance; and an effort was therefore made in the last chapter to give a rapid
glance over the whole movement, embracing a term of nearly five years, and including in
its scope both the Old World and the New. What is necessary to the completeness of the
story at this stage is not to recapitulate, but to take up some of the loose ends of threads
woven in and follow them through until the clear and comprehensive picture of events
can be seen.
Some things it would be difficult to reproduce in any picture of the art and the times. One
of the greatest delusions of the public in regard to any notable invention is the belief that
the world is waiting for it with open arms and an eager welcome. The exact contrary is
the truth. There is not a single new art or device the world has ever enjoyed of which it
can be said that it was given an immediate and enthusiastic reception. The way of the
inventor is hard. He can sometimes raise capital to help him in working out his crude
conceptions, but even then it is frequently done at a distressful cost of personal surrender.
When the result is achieved the invention makes its appeal on the score of economy of
material or of effort; and then "labor" often awaits with crushing and tyrannical spirit to
smash the apparatus or forbid its very use. Where both capital and labor are agreed that
the object is worthy of encouragement, there is the supreme indifference of the public to
overcome, and the stubborn resistance of pre-existing devices to combat. The years of
hardship and struggle are thus prolonged, the chagrin of poverty and neglect too
frequently embitters the inventor's scanty bread; and one great spirit after another has
succumbed to the defeat beyond which lay the procrastinated triumph so dearly earned.
Even in America, where the adoption of improvements and innovations is regarded as so
prompt and sure, and where the huge tolls of the Patent Office and the courts bear witness
to the ceaseless efforts of the inventor, it is impossible to deny the sad truth that
unconsciously society discourages invention rather than invites it. Possibly our national
optimism as revealed in invention--the seeking a higher good--needs some check.
Possibly the leaders would travel too fast and too far on the road to perfection if
conservatism did not also play its salutary part in insisting that the procession move
forward as a whole.
Edison and his electric light were happily more fortunate than other men and inventions,
in the relative cordiality of the reception given them. The merit was too obvious to
remain unrecognized. Nevertheless, it was through intense hostility and opposition that
the young art made its way, pushed forward by Edison's own strong personality and by
his unbounded, unwavering faith in the ultimate success of his system. It may seem
strange that great effort was required to introduce a light so manifestly convenient, safe,