Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

Magnetic Ore Milling Work
DURING the Hudson-Fulton celebration of October, 1909, Burgomaster Van Leeuwen,
of Amsterdam, member of the delegation sent officially from Holland to escort the Half
Moon and participate in the functions of the anniversary, paid a visit to the Edison
laboratory at Orange to see the inventor, who may be regarded as pre-eminent among
those of Dutch descent in this country. Found, as usual, hard at work--this time on his
cement house, of which he showed the iron molds--Edison took occasion to remark that if
he had achieved anything worth while, it was due to the obstinacy and pertinacity he had
inherited from his forefathers. To which it may be added that not less equally have the
nature of inheritance and the quality of atavism been exhibited in his extraordinary
predilection for the miller's art. While those Batavian ancestors on the low shores of the
Zuyder Zee devoted their energies to grinding grain, he has been not less assiduous than
they in reducing the rocks of the earth itself to flour.
Although this phase of Mr. Edison's diverse activities is not as generally known to the
world as many others of a more popular character, the milling of low-grade auriferous
ores and the magnetic separation of iron ores have been subjects of engrossing interest
and study to him for many years. Indeed, his comparatively unknown enterprise of
separating magnetically and putting into commercial form low- grade iron ore, as carried
on at Edison, New Jersey, proved to be the most colossal experiment that he has ever
If a person qualified to judge were asked to answer categorically as to whether or not that
enterprise was a failure, he could truthfully answer both yes and no. Yes, in that
circumstances over which Mr. Edison had no control compelled the shutting down of the
plant at the very moment of success; and no, in that the mechanically successful and
commercially practical results obtained, after the exercise of stupendous efforts and the
expenditure of a fortune, are so conclusive that they must inevitably be the reliance of
many future iron-masters. In other words, Mr. Edison was at least a quarter of a century
ahead of the times in the work now to be considered.
Before proceeding to a specific description of this remarkable enterprise, however, let us
glance at an early experiment in separating magnetic iron sands on the Atlantic sea-shore:
"Some years ago I heard one day that down at Quogue, Long Island, there were immense
deposits of black magnetic sand. This would be very valuable if the iron could be
separated from the sand. So I went down to Quogue with one of my assistants and saw
there for miles large beds of black sand on the beach in layers from one to six inches
thick--hundreds of thousands of tons. My first thought was that it would be a very easy
matter to concentrate this, and I found I could sell the stuff at a good price. I put up a
small plant, but just as I got it started a tremendous storm came up, and every bit of that
black sand went out to sea. During the twenty-eight years that have intervened it has
never come back." This incident was really the prelude to the development set forth in
this chapter.