Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

The Stock Ticker
"THE letters and figures used in the language of the tape," said a well-known Boston
stock speculator, "are very few, but they spell ruin in ninety-nine million ways." It is not
to be inferred, however, that the modern stock ticker has anything to do with the making
or losing of fortunes. There were regular daily stock-market reports in London
newspapers in 1825, and New York soon followed the example. As far back as 1692,
Houghton issued in London a weekly review of financial and commercial transactions,
upon which Macaulay based the lively narrative of stock speculation in the seventeenth
century, given in his famous history. That which the ubiquitous stock ticker has done is to
give instantaneity to the news of what the stock market is doing, so that at every minute,
thousands of miles apart, brokers, investors, and gamblers may learn the exact conditions.
The existence of such facilities is to be admired rather than deplored. News is vital to
Wall Street, and there is no living man on whom the doings in Wall Street are without
effect. The financial history of the United States and of the world, as shown by the prices
of government bonds and general securities, has been told daily for forty years on these
narrow strips of paper tape, of which thousands of miles are run yearly through the
"tickers" of New York alone. It is true that the record of the chattering little machine,
made in cabalistic abbreviations on the tape, can drive a man suddenly to the very verge
of insanity with joy or despair; but if there be blame for that, it attaches to the American
spirit of speculation and not to the ingenious mechanism which reads and registers the
beating of the financial pulse.
Edison came first to New York in 1868, with his early stock printer, which he tried
unsuccessfully to sell. He went back to Boston, and quite undismayed got up a duplex
telegraph. "Toward the end of my stay in Boston," he says, "I obtained a loan of money,
amounting to $800, to build a peculiar kind of duplex telegraph for sending two messages
over a single wire simultaneously. The apparatus was built, and I left the Western Union
employ and went to Rochester, New York, to test the apparatus on the lines of the
Atlantic & Pacific Telegraph between that city and New York. But the assistant at the
other end could not be made to understand anything, notwithstanding I had written out a
very minute description of just what to do. After trying for a week I gave it up and
returned to New York with but a few cents in my pocket." Thus he who has never
speculated in a stock in his life was destined to make the beginnings of his own fortune
by providing for others the apparatus that should bring to the eye, all over a great city, the
momentary fluctuations of stocks and bonds. No one could have been in direr poverty
than he when the steamboat landed him in New York in 1869. He was in debt, and his
few belongings in books and instruments had to be left behind. He was not far from
starving. Mr. W. S. Mallory, an associate of many years, quotes directly from him on this
point: "Some years ago we had a business negotiation in New York which made it
necessary for Mr. Edison and me to visit the city five or six times within a comparatively
short period. It was our custom to leave Orange about 11 A.M., and on arrival in New
York to get our lunch before keeping the appointments, which were usually made for two
o'clock. Several of these lunches were had at Delmonico's, Sherry's, and other places of
similar character, but one day, while en route, Mr. Edison said: `I have been to lunch with
you several times; now to-day I am going to take you to lunch with me, and give you the