Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

Edison In Commerce And Manufacture
AN applicant for membership in the Engineers' Club of Philadelphia is required to give a
brief statement of the professional work he has done. Some years ago a certain
application was made, and contained the following terse and modest sentence:
"I have designed a concentrating plant and built a machine shop, etc., etc. --- THOMAS
Although in the foregoing pages the reader has been made acquainted with the
tremendous import of the actualities lying behind those "etc., etc.," the narrative up to this
point has revealed Edison chiefly in the light of inventor, experimenter, and investigator.
There have been some side glimpses of the industries he has set on foot, and of their
financial aspects, and a later chapter will endeavor to sum up the intrinsic value of
Edison's work to the world. But there are some other interesting points that may be
touched on now in regard to a few of Edison's financial and commercial ventures not
generally known or appreciated.
It is a popular idea founded on experience that an inventor is not usually a business man.
One of the exceptions proving the rule may perhaps be met in Edison, though all depends
on the point of view. All his life he has had a great deal to do with finance and
commerce, and as one looks at the magnitude of the vast industries he has helped to
create, it would not be at all unreasonable to expect him to be among the multi-
millionaires. That he is not is due to the absence of certain qualities, the lack of which
Edison is himself the first to admit. Those qualities may not be amiable, but great wealth
is hardly ever accumulated without them. If he had not been so intent on inventing he
would have made more of his great opportunities for getting rich. If this utter detachment
from any love of money for its own sake has not already been illustrated in some of the
incidents narrated, one or two stories are available to emphasize the point. They do not
involve any want of the higher business acumen that goes to the proper conduct of affairs.
It was said of Gladstone that he was the greatest Chancellor of the Exchequer England
ever saw, but that as a retail merchant he would soon have ruined himself by his
Edison confesses that he has never made a cent out of his patents in electric light and
power--in fact, that they have been an expense to him, and thus a free gift to the
world.[18] This was true of the Euro- pean patents as well as the American. "I
endeavored to sell my lighting patents in different countries of Europe, and made a
contract with a couple of men. On account of their poor business capacity and lack of
practicality, they conveyed under the patents all rights to different corporations but in
such a way and with such confused wording of the contracts that I never got a cent. One
of the companies started was the German Edison, now the great Allgemeine Elektricitaets
Gesellschaft. The English company I never got anything for, because a lawyer had
originally advised Drexel, Morgan & Co. as to the signing of a certain document, and
said it was all right for me to sign. I signed, and I never got a cent because there was a