Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

Arduous Years In The Central West
IN 1903, when accepting the position of honorary electrician to the International
Exposition held in St. Louis in 1904, to commemorate the centenary of the Louisiana
Purchase, Mr. Edison spoke in his letter of the Central West as a "region where as a
young telegraph operator I spent many arduous years before moving East." The term of
probation thus referred to did not end until 1868, and while it lasted Edison's wanderings
carried him from Detroit to New Orleans, and took him, among other cities, to
Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Memphis, some of which he visited twice in his
peregrinations to secure work. From Canada, after the episodes noted in the last chapter,
he went to Adrian, Michigan, and of what happened there Edison tells a story typical of
his wanderings for several years to come. "After leaving my first job at Stratford
Junction, I got a position as operator on the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern at Adrian,
Michigan, in the division superintendent's office. As usual, I took the `night trick,' which
most operators disliked, but which I preferred, as it gave me more leisure to experiment. I
had obtained from the station agent a small room, and had established a little shop of my
own. One day the day operator wanted to get off, and I was on duty. About 9 o'clock the
superintendent handed me a despatch which he said was very important, and which I
must get off at once. The wire at the time was very busy, and I asked if I should break in.
I got orders to do so, and acting under those orders of the superintendent, I broke in and
tried to send the despatch; but the other operator would not permit it, and the struggle
continued for ten minutes. Finally I got possession of the wire and sent the message. The
superintendent of telegraph, who then lived in Adrian and went to his office in Toledo
every day, happened that day to be in the Western Union office up-town--and it was the
superintendent I was really struggling with! In about twenty minutes he arrived livid with
rage, and I was discharged on the spot. I informed him that the general superintendent
had told me to break in and send the despatch, but the general superintendent then and
there repudiated the whole thing. Their families were socially close, so I was sacrificed.
My faith in human nature got a slight jar."
Edison then went to Toledo and secured a position at Fort Wayne, on the Pittsburg, Fort
Wayne & Chicago Railroad, now leased to the Pennsylvania system. This was a "day
job," and he did not like it. He drifted two months later to Indianapolis, arriving there in
the fall of 1864, when he was at first assigned to duty at the Union Station at a salary of
$75 a month for the Western Union Telegraph Company, whose service he now entered,
and with which he has been destined to maintain highly im- portent and close
relationships throughout a large part of his life. Superintendent Wallick appears to have
treated him generously and to have loaned him instruments, a kindness that was greatly
appreciated, for twenty years later the inventor called on his old employer, and together
they visited the scene where the borrowed apparatus had been mounted on a rough board
in the depot. Edison did not stay long in Indianapolis, however, resigning in February,
1865, and proceeding to Cincinnati. The transfer was possibly due to trouble caused by
one of his early inventions embodying what has been characterized by an expert as
"probably the most simple and ingenious arrangement of connections for a repeater." His
ambition was to take "press report," but finding, even after considerable practice, that he
"broke" frequently, he adjusted two embossing Morse registers --one to receive the press