Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

The Age Of Electricity
THE year 1847 marked a period of great territorial acquisition by the American people,
with incalculable additions to their actual and potential wealth. By the rational
compromise with England in the dispute over the Oregon region, President Polk had
secured during 1846, for undisturbed settlement, three hundred thousand square miles of
forest, fertile land, and fisheries, including the whole fair Columbia Valley. Our active
"policy of the Pacific" dated from that hour. With swift and clinching succession came
the melodramatic Mexican War, and February, 1848, saw another vast territory south of
Oregon and west of the Rocky Mountains added by treaty to the United States. Thus in
about eighteen months there had been pieced into the national domain for quick
development and exploitation a region as large as the entire Union of Thirteen States at
the close of the War of Independence. Moreover, within its boundaries was embraced all
the great American gold-field, just on the eve of discovery, for Marshall had detected the
shining particles in the mill-race at the foot of the Sierra Nevada nine days before Mexico
signed away her rights in California and in all the vague, remote hinterland facing
Equally momentous were the times in Europe, where the attempt to secure opportunities
of expansion as well as larger liberty for the individual took quite different form. The old
absolutist system of government was fast breaking up, and ancient thrones were tottering.
The red lava of deep revolutionary fires oozed up through many glowing cracks in the
political crust, and all the social strata were shaken. That the wild outbursts of
insurrection midway in the fifth decade failed and died away was not surprising, for the
superincumbent deposits of tradition and convention were thick. But the retrospect
indicates that many reforms and political changes were accomplished, although the
process involved the exile of not a few ardent spirits to America, to become leading
statesmen, inventors, journalists, and financiers. In 1847, too, Russia began her
tremendous march eastward into Central Asia, just as France was solidifying her first
gains on the littoral of northern Africa. In England the fierce fervor of the Chartist
movement, with its violent rhetoric as to the rights of man, was sobering down and
passing pervasively into numerous practical schemes for social and political amelioration,
constituting in their entirety a most profound change throughout every part of the national
Into such times Thomas Alva Edison was born, and his relations to them and to the
events of the past sixty years are the subject of this narrative. Aside from the personal
interest that attaches to the picturesque career, so typically American, there is a broader
aspect in which the work of the "Franklin of the Nineteenth Century" touches the welfare
and progress of the race. It is difficult at any time to determine the effect of any single
invention, and the investigation becomes more difficult where inventions of the first class
have been crowded upon each other in rapid and bewildering succession. But it will be
admitted that in Edison one deals with a central figure of the great age that saw the
invention and introduction in practical form of the telegraph, the submarine cable, the
telephone, the electric light, the electric railway, the electric trolley-car, the storage
battery, the electric motor, the phonograph, the wireless telegraph; and that the influence