Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

The Value Of Edison's Inventions To The World
IF the world were to take an account of stock, so to speak, and proceed in orderly fashion
to marshal its tangible assets in relation to dollars and cents, the natural resources of our
globe, from centre to circumference, would head the list. Next would come inventors,
whose value to the world as an asset could be readily estimated from an increase of its
wealth resulting from the actual transformations of these resources into items of
convenience and comfort through the exercise of their inventive ingenuity.
Inventors of practical devices may be broadly divided into two classes--first, those who
may be said to have made two blades of grass grow where only one grew before; and,
second, great inventors, who have made grass grow plentifully on hitherto unproductive
ground. The vast majority of practical inventors belong to and remain in the first of these
divisions, but there have been, and probably always will be, a less number who, by
reason of their greater achievements, are entitled to be included in both classes. Of these
latter, Thomas Alva Edison is one, but in the pages of history he stands conspicuously
pre-eminent--a commanding towering figure, even among giants.
The activities of Edison have been of such great range, and his conquests in the domains
of practical arts so extensive and varied, that it is somewhat difficult to estimate with any
satisfactory degree of accuracy the money value of his inventions to the world of to-day,
even after making due allowance for the work of other great inventors and the propulsive
effect of large amounts of capital thrown into the enterprises which took root, wholly or
in part, through the productions of his genius and energies. This difficulty will be
apparent, for instance, when we consider his telegraph and telephone inventions. These
were absorbed in enterprises already existing, and were the means of assisting their rapid
growth and expansion, particularly the telephone industry. Again, in considering the fact
that Edison was one of the first in the field to design and perfect a practical and operative
electric railway, the main features of which are used in all electric roads of to-day, we are
confronted with the problem as to what proportion of their colossal investment and
earnings should be ascribed to him.
Difficulties are multiplied when we pause for a moment to think of Edison's influence on
collateral branches of business. In the public mind he is credited with the invention of the
incandescent electric light, the phonograph, and other widely known devices; but how
few realize his actual influence on other trades that are not generally thought of in
connection with these things. For instance, let us note what a prominent engine builder,
the late Gardiner C. Sims, has said: "Watt, Corliss, and Porter brought forward steam-
engines to a high state of proficiency, yet it remained for Mr. Edison to force better
proportions, workmanship, designs, use of metals, regulation, the solving of the complex
problems of high speed and endurance, and the successful development of the shaft
governor. Mr. Edison is pre- eminent in the realm of engineering."
The phenomenal growth of the copper industry was due to a rapid and ever-increasing
demand, owing to the exploitation of the telephone, electric light, electric motor, and