Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

Miscellaneous Inventions
IT has been the endeavor in this narrative to group Edison's inventions and patents so that
his work in the different fields can be studied independently and separately. The history
of his career has therefore fallen naturally into a series of chapters, each aiming to
describe some particular development or art; and, in a way, the plan has been helpful to
the writers while probably useful to the readers. It happens, however, that the process has
left a vast mass of discovery and invention wholly untouched, and relegates to a
concluding brief chapter some of the most interesting episodes of a fruitful life. Any one
who will turn to the list of Edison patents at the end of the book will find a large number
of things of which not even casual mention has been made, but which at the time
occupied no small amount of the inventor's time and attention, and many of which are
now part and parcel of modern civilization. Edison has, indeed, touched nothing that he
did not in some way improve. As Thoreau said: "The laws of the Universe are not
indifferent, but are forever on the side of the most sensitive," and there never was any one
more sensitive to the defects of every art and appliance, nor any one more active in
applying the law of evolution. It is perhaps this many-sidedness of Edison that has
impressed the multitude, and that in the "popular vote" taken a couple of years ago by the
New York Herald placed his name at the head of the list of ten greatest living Americans.
It is curious and pertinent to note that a similar plebiscite taken by a technical journal
among its expert readers had exactly the same result. Evidently the public does not agree
with the opinion expressed by the eccentric artist Blake in his "Marriage of Heaven and
Hell," when he said: "Improvement makes strange roads; but the crooked roads without
improvements are roads of Genius."
The product of Edison's brain may be divided into three classes. The first embraces such
arts and industries, or such apparatus, as have already been treated. The second includes
devices like the tasimeter, phonomotor, odoroscope, etc., and others now to be noted. The
third embraces a number of projected inventions, partially completed investigations,
inventions in use but not patented, and a great many caveats filed in the Patent Office at
various times during the last forty years for the purpose of protecting his ideas pending
their contemplated realization in practice. These caveats served their purpose thoroughly
in many instances, but there have remained a great variety of projects upon which no
definite action was ever taken. One ought to add the contents of an unfinished piece of
extraordinary fiction based wholly on new inventions and devices utterly unknown to
mankind. Some day the novel may be finished, but Edison has no inclination to go back
to it, and says he cannot under- stand how any man is able to make a speech or write a
book, for he simply can't do it.
After what has been said in previous chapters, it will not seem so strange that Edison
should have hundreds of dormant inventions on his hands. There are human limitations
even for such a tireless worker as he is. While the preparation of data for this chapter was
going on, one of the writers in discussing with him the vast array of unexploited things
said: "Don't you feel a sense of regret in being obliged to leave so many things
uncompleted?" To which he replied: "What's the use? One lifetime is too short, and I am
busy every day improving essential parts of my established industries." It must suffice to