Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

Edison Portland Cement
NEW developments in recent years have been more striking than the general adoption of
cement for structural purposes of all kinds in the United States; or than the increase in its
manufacture here. As a material for the construction of office buildings, factories, and
dwellings, it has lately enjoyed an extraordinary vogue; yet every indication is
confirmatory of the belief that such use has barely begun. Various reasons may be cited,
such as the growing scarcity of wood, once the favorite building material in many parts of
the country, and the increasing dearness of brick and stone. The fact remains,
indisputable, and demonstrated flatly by the statistics of production. In 1902 the
American output of cement was placed at about 21,000,000 barrels, valued at over
$17,000,000. In 1907 the production is given as nearly 49,000,000 barrels. Here then is
an industry that doubled in five years. The average rate of industrial growth in the United
States is 10 per cent. a year, or doubling every ten years. It is a singular fact that
electricity also so far exceeds the normal rate as to double in value and quantity of output
and investment every five years. There is perhaps more than ordinary coincidence in the
as- sociation of Edison with two such active departments of progress.
As a purely manufacturing business the general cement industry is one of even remote
antiquity, and if Edison had entered into it merely as a commercial enterprise by
following paths already so well trodden, the fact would hardly have been worthy of even
passing notice. It is not in his nature, however, to follow a beaten track except in regard
to the recognition of basic principles; so that while the manufacture of Edison Portland
cement embraces the main essentials and familiar processes of cement- making, such as
crushing, drying, mixing, roasting, and grinding, his versatility and originality, as
exemplified in the conception and introduction of some bold and revolutionary methods
and devices, have resulted in raising his plant from the position of an outsider to the rank
of the fifth largest producer in the United States, in the short space of five years after
starting to manufacture.
Long before his advent in cement production, Edison had held very pronounced views on
the value of that material as the one which would obtain largely for future building
purposes on account of its stability. More than twenty-five years ago one of the writers of
this narrative heard him remark during a discussion on ancient buildings: "Wood will rot,
stone will chip and crumble, bricks disintegrate, but a cement and iron structure is
apparently indestructible. Look at some of the old Roman baths. They are as solid as
when they were built." With such convictions, and the vast fund of practical knowledge
and experience he had gained at Edison in the crushing and manipulation of large masses
of magnetic iron ore during the preceding nine years, it is not surprising that on that
homeward railway journey, mentioned at the close of the preceding chapter, he should
have decided to go into the manufacture of cement, especially in view of the enormous
growth of its use for structural purposes during recent times.
The field being a new one to him, Edison followed his usual course of reading up every
page of authoritative literature on the subject, and seeking information from all quarters.
In the mean time, while he was busy also with his new storage battery, Mr. Mallory, who