Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

The Electric Railway
EDISON had no sooner designed his dynamo in 1879 than he adopted the same form of
machine for use as a motor. The two are shown in the Scientific American of October 18,
1879, and are alike, except that the dynamo is vertical and the motor lies in a horizontal
position, the article remarking: "Its construction differs but slightly from the electric
generator." This was but an evidence of his early appreciation of the importance of
electricity as a motive power; but it will probably surprise many people to know that he
was the inventor of an electric motor before he perfected his incandescent lamp. His
interest in the subject went back to his connection with General Lefferts in the days of the
evolution of the stock ticker. While Edison was carrying on his shop at Newark, New
Jersey, there was considerable excitement in electrical circles over the Payne motor, in
regard to the alleged performance of which Governor Cornell of New York and other
wealthy capitalists were quite enthusiastic. Payne had a shop in Newark, and in one small
room was the motor, weighing perhaps six hundred pounds. It was of circular form,
incased in iron, with the ends of several small magnets sticking through the floor. A
pulley and belt, con- nected to a circular saw larger than the motor, permitted large logs
of oak timber to be sawed with ease with the use of two small cells of battery. Edison's
friend, General Lefferts, had become excited and was determined to invest a large sum of
money in the motor company, but knowing Edison's intimate familiarity with all
electrical subjects he was wise enough to ask his young expert to go and see the motor
with him. At an appointed hour Edison went to the office of the motor company and
found there the venerable Professor Morse, Governor Cornell, General Lefferts, and
many others who had been invited to witness a performance of the motor. They all
proceeded to the room where the motor was at work. Payne put a wire in the binding-post
of the battery, the motor started, and an assistant began sawing a heavy oak log. It
worked beautifully, and so great was the power developed, apparently, from the small
battery, that Morse exclaimed: "I am thankful that I have lived to see this day." But
Edison kept a close watch on the motor. The results were so foreign to his experience that
he knew there was a trick in it. He soon discovered it. While holding his hand on the
frame of the motor he noticed a tremble coincident with the exhaust of an engine across
the alleyway, and he then knew that the power came from the engine by a belt under the
floor, shifted on and off by a magnet, the other magnets being a blind. He whispered to
the General to put his hand on the frame of the motor, watch the exhaust, and note the
coincident tremor. The General did so, and in about fifteen seconds he said: "Well,
Edison, I must go now. This thing is a fraud." And thus he saved his money, although
others not so shrewdly advised were easily persuaded to invest by such a demonstration.
A few years later, in 1878, Edison went to Wyoming with a group of astronomers, to test
his tasimeter during an eclipse of the sun, and saw the land white to harvest. He noticed
the long hauls to market or elevator that the farmers had to make with their loads of grain
at great expense, and conceived the idea that as ordinary steam-railroad service was too
costly, light electric railways might be constructed that could be operated automatically
over simple tracks, the propelling motors being controlled at various points. Cheap to
build and cheap to maintain, such roads would be a great boon to the newer farming
regions of the West, where the highways were still of the crudest character, and where