Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

Automatic, Duplex, And Quadruplex Telegraphy
WORK of various kinds poured in upon the young manufacturer, busy also with his own
schemes and inventions, which soon began to follow so many distinct lines of inquiry
that it ceases to be easy or necessary for the historian to treat them all in chronological
sequence. Some notion of his ceaseless activity may be formed from the fact that he
started no fewer than three shops in Newark during 1870-71, and while directing these
was also engaged by the men who controlled the Automatic Telegraph Company of New
York, which had a circuit to Washington, to help it out of its difficulties. "Soon after
starting the large shop (10 and 12 Ward Street, Newark), I rented shop-room to the
inventor of a new rifle. I think it was the Berdan. In any event, it was a rifle which was
subsequently adopted by the British Army. The inventor employed a tool-maker who was
the finest and best tool-maker I had ever seen. I noticed that he worked pretty near the
whole of the twenty-four hours. This kind of application I was looking for. He was
getting $21.50 per week, and was also paid for overtime. I asked him if he could run the
shop. `I don't know; try me!' he said. `All right, I will give you $60 per week to run both
shifts.' He went at it. His executive ability was greater than that of any other man I have
yet seen. His memory was prodigious, conversation laconic, and movements rapid. He
doubled the production inside three months, without materially increasing the pay-roll, by
increasing the cutting speeds of tools, and by the use of various devices. When in need of
rest he would lie down on a work-bench, sleep twenty or thirty minutes, and wake up
fresh. As this was just what I could do, I naturally conceived a great pride in having such
a man in charge of my work. But almost everything has trouble connected with it. He
disappeared one day, and although I sent men everywhere that it was likely he could be
found, he was not discovered. After two weeks he came into the factory in a terrible
condition as to clothes and face. He sat down and, turning to me, said: `Edison, it's no
use, this is the third time; I can't stand prosperity. Put my salary back and give me a job.' I
was very sorry to learn that it was whiskey that spoiled such a career. I gave him an
inferior job and kept him for a long time."
Edison had now entered definitely upon that career as an inventor which has left so deep
an imprint on the records of the United States Patent Office, where from his first patent in
1869 up to the summer of 1910 no fewer than 1328 separate patents have been applied
for in his name, averaging thirty-two every year, and one about every eleven days; with a
substantially corresponding number issued. The height of this inventive activity was
attained about 1882, in which year no fewer than 141 pat- ents were applied for, and
seventy-five granted to him, or nearly nine times as many as in 1876, when invention as a
profession may be said to have been adopted by this prolific genius. It will be understood,
of course, that even these figures do not represent the full measure of actual invention, as
in every process and at every step there were many discoveries that were not brought to
patent registration, but remained "trade secrets." And furthermore, that in practically
every case the actual patented invention followed from one to a dozen or more gradually
developing forms of the same idea.