The Greatest Inventor in the World

Brief Glimpses into the marvellous career of Mr. Edison— Trials of his boyhood and repulses in early life — His wonderful perseverance and indomitable pluck.

April 1 1908

The Greatest Inventor in the World

Brief Glimpses into the marvellous career of Mr. Edison— Trials of his boyhood and repulses in early life — His wonderful perseverance and indomitable pluck.

April 1 1908

The Greatest Inventor in the World

Brief Glimpses into the marvellous career of Mr. Edison— Trials of his boyhood and repulses in early life — His wonderful perseverance and indomitable pluck.

THE dominaney of mind over matter, the eternal persistence and stick-to-itiveness of an energetic nature under most trying and untoward circumstances are strikingly demonstrated in the marvelous career of Thomas Alva Edison, who a few weeks ago, celebrated his sixty-first birthday.

Edison is known by many names : “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” “The

Electrical Genius,’ and “The World’s Greatest Inventor.”

A pocket edition of his life would iead something like this: “At twelve

a newsboy; at fifteen, telegraph operato: ; at twenty-one, inventor of the 112

stock-ticker, expecting $5,000 from his invention, receiving $40,000, fainting for the first time in his life, getting the cheque cashed, and stuffing every pocket full of money ; at sixtv-one, the highest honors conferred upon him—such is the record of the “famous American magician.”

Edison flung an arm Titanic into the Everywhere and snatched that which none understood. That Great Mystery—electricity—which none can touch, nor see, nor hear, nor smell, nor taste, Edison harnessed. He made it yield light and heat and power for all the civilized world.

He first saw the light of day in the little town of Milan, Ohio. It is not generally known, perhaps, that his father, Samuel Edison, was a Canadian, being a native of Nova Scotia. He emigrated to Ohio in 1S3S, having, as a recent biographer says, “fled thither from Canada where he had fallen into disgrace through taking too active a part in the Papineau Rebellion. He owned land in the Dominion which he had received as a gift from the British Government, and when it became known that he also was among the rebels, the grant was forfeited, and Mr. Samuel Edison found it wise to make hasty tracks for the St. Clair River. In his flight from Canadian territory he walked 182 miles without sleep, for his powers of endurance were no less remarkable than those which afterwards characterized his son.

On reaching Milan, Samuel Edison found that it was a town which would serve him well as a retreat, and he thereupon decided to adopt it as his future place of residence, eschew rebellions,» and live in har* mony both with government and neighbors. A few years later he married a pretty school teacher named Nancy Elliot, whom he had known in his Canadian days, rented a small house, busied himself in various enterprises and settled down to a peaceful, industrious and contented life.”

Canada has, therefore, the honor of being the birthplace of the renowned inventor’s parents, who did much to shape his character and mould his destiny. It is said that his father was fond of a good story, and that Edison inherited the humorous phase of his nature from him. The serious side came from his mother, for, during his early years he was always with her.


“I did not have my mother very long,” he said on one occasion, when talking to a newspaper representative, '“but in that length of time she cast over me an influence which has lasted all my life. The good effects of her early training I can never lose. If it had not been for her appreciation and her faith in me at a critical time in my experience I should very likely, never have become an inventor. You see my mother was a Canadian girl who used to teach school in Nova Scotia. She believed that many of the boys who turned out badly by the time they grew to manhood would have become valuable citizens if they had been handled in the right way when they were young. Her years of experience as a school teacher taught her many good things about human nature, and especially about boys. After she married my father and became a mother, she applied the same theoiy to me.

I was always a careless boy, and with a mother of different mental calibre, I should have probably turned out badly. But her firmness, her sweetness, her goodness, were potent powers to keep me in the right path. I remember I used never to be able to get along at school. I don’t know what it was, but I was always at the foot of the class. I used to feel that the teachers never sympathized with me and that my father thought that I was stupid, and at last I almost decided that I must really be a dunce. My mother was always kind, always sympathetic, and she never misunderstood or misjudged me. But I was afraid to tell her all my difficulties at school, for fear she, too, might lose her confidence in me.

“One day I overhead the teacher tell the inspector that I was ‘addled’ and that it would not be worth while keeping me in school any longer. I was so hurt with this last straw that I burst out crying and went home and told my mother about it. Then I found out what a good thing a good mother was. She came out. as my strong defender. Mother love was aroused, mother pride wounded to the quick. She brought me back to the school and angrily told the teacher that he did not know what he was talking abour, that I had more brains than he himself, and a lot more talk like that. In fact, she was the most enthusiastic champion a boy ever had, and I determined right then and there that I would be worthy of her and show her that her confidence was not misplaced. My mother was the making of me ; she was true ; so sure of me ; and I felt that I had some one to live for, some one I must not disappoint. The memory of her will always be a blessing to me.”


When he was about eleven years of age it occurred to him that he might assist the family exchequer by engaging in some work, and after considerable opposition on the part of his parents he applied for and obtained the privilege of selling newspapers,

books, magazines, candies, etc., on the trains of the Grand Trunk Railroad. Even at this early age his inventive genius was to the front, and he appropriated an unused compartment of the train for a printing office and chemical laboratory, and here he published the first newspaper printed on a train. “The Weekly Herald,” described as a little bit of a thing about the size of a ladies’ handkerchief. This portion of the book, treating of the inventor’s early upward career, though, perhaps, not the most important, it certainly was most entertaining. The author’s chatty and agreeable style renders the record very interesting indeed. One day Edison unfortunately set fire to the compartment in which his printing office was, with the result that he, his laboratory, and printing press were chucked out on the platform.

John Thomas, a well-known telegrapher, and a former resident of London, Ont., who died some time ago in Detroit, gave the “electrical wizard” his first start in life.

Shortly before his death, Mr. Thomas told the story of his acquaintance with the great inventor, a story that is of peculiar interest. The two first became acquainted when Thomas was a telegrapher at Fort Gratiot, now known as North Port Huron. Edison was about 15 years of age at that time and was selling papers on trains.


“He would run in and out of the station,” said Thomas, “and in that way I grew to know him and to like him. I always called him Al and he called me Johnny. One day while I was copying a message, I noticed that he was observing my work with more than ordinary interest. I asked him if he would like to be a telegrapher and he replied that he was very anxious to learn.

“I gave him a few lessons and he learned the game like greased lightning. I saw that he had the making of a first-class telegrapher and I informed the superintendent of my discovery. Edison was at once given a station at Stratford, Ont. That was his start as a telegrapher. In 1878 I

visited him at his home in Menlo Park, N.J., where he was living with his first wife. I was there for three days and he was the same old ‘Al’ we boys had used to know. The last time I visited him was at his home in Llewellyn Park, Orange, N.J. He had just completed the phonograph at that time and I remember what a comparatively crude affair it was.


“The first serious thing I invented,” says Edison, “was a machine which would count the votes in Congress in a very few moments. It was a good machine, too, but when I took it to Washington they said to me:

“ ‘Young man, that’s the last thing we want here ! Filibustering and the delay in counting the vote are the only means we have of defeating bad legislation.’

“My next practical invention was the quadruplex telegraph. I started in to work it on the Atlantic and Pacific telegraph line between Rochester and New York, but there was a chump at the other end of the wire, and the demonstration ended in a fizzle. It was years before the quadruplex was adopted.

“That landed me in New York wthout a cent in my pocket. I went to an operator and managed to borrow a dollar. I lived on that for a week, but I had to ‘park it’ a little. Oh, I didn’t mind it and I never did care much about eating, anyhow.

“Then I hustled for something to do. I could have got a job as an operator at $90 a month, but I wanted a chance to do something better. I happened one day into the office of a ‘gold ticket’ company which had about five hundred subscribers.

“I was standing beside the apparatus when it gave a terrific rip roar and suddenly stopped. In a few minutes hundreds of messenger boys blocked up the doorway and yelled for some one to fix the tickers in their office. ' The man in charge of the place was simply flabbergasted, so I stepped up to him and said :

“ T think I know what’s the matter.’

“I simply had to remove a loose contact spring which had fallen between the wheels. The result was that I was employed to take charge of the service at $300 a month. I almost fainted when I heard how much salary I was to get.

“Then I joined hands with a man named Callahan and we got up several improved types of stocK tickers. These improvements were a success.

“When the day of settlement for my inventions approached I began to wonder how much money I would get. I was pretty raw and knew nothing about business, but I hoped that I might get $5,000.

“I dreamed of what I could do with big money like that, of the tools and other things I could buy to work out inventions ; but I knew Wall Street to be a pretty bad place, and had a general suspicion that a man was apt to get beat out of his money there. So I tried to keep my hopes down ; but the thought of $5,000 kept rising in my mind.


“Well, one day I was sent for by the president of the Gold & Stock Telegraph Company to talk about a settlement for my improvements. He was General Marshal Lefferts, colonel of the Seventh Regiment.

“I tell you I was trembling all over with embarrassment, and when I got in his presence my vision of $5,000 began to vanish. When he asked me how much I wanted, I was afraid to speak. I feared if I mentioned $5,000 I might get nothing.

“That was one of the most painful and exciting moments of my life. My, how I beat my brains to know what to say ! Finally I said :

“ ‘Suppose you make me an offer.’

“By that time I was scared. I was more than scared, I was paralyzed.

“How would $40,000 do?’ asked Gen. Lefferts.

“It was all I could do to keep my face straight and my knees from giving way. I was afraid he would hear my heart beat.

“With a great effort I said that I guessed that would be all right. He said they would have the contract ready in a few days and I could come back and sign it. In the meantime I scarcely slept. I couldn’t believe it.

“When I went back the contract was ready and I signed it in a hurry. I don’t know even now what was in it. A check for $40,000 was handed me and I went to the bank as fast as my feet would carry me.

“It was the first time I was ever inside of a bank. I got in line and when my turn came I handed in my check. Of course I had not endorsed it.

“The teller looked at it, then pushed it back to me and roared out something which I could not understand, being partly deaf. My heart sank and my legs trembled. I handed the

check back to him, but again he pushed it back with the same unintelligible explosion of words.

“That settled it. I went out of the bank feeling miserable. I was the victim of another Wall Street skin game. I never felt worse in my life.

“I went around to the brother of the treasurer who had drawn the check and said : Tm skinned, all


“When I told him my story he burst out laughing, and when he went into the treasurer’s office to explain matters there was a loud roar of laughter at my expense. They sent somebody to the bank with me, and the bank officials thought it so great a joke that they played a trick on me by paying me the whole $40,000 in ten, twenty and fifty dollar bills.


“It made an enormous pile ol money. I stuffed the bills in my inside pockets and outside pockets, my trousers pockets and everywhere I could put them. Then I started foi my home in Newark. I wouldn’t sit on a seat with anybody on the train nor let anybody approach me. When I got to my room I couldn’t sleep for fear of being robbed.

“So the next day I took it back to Gen. Lefferts and told him I didn’t know where to keep it. He had it placed in a bank to my credit, and that was my first bank account. With that money I opened a new shop and worked out new apparatus.

“My automatic telegraph, which handled a thousand words a minute between New York and Washington, was brought out by Jay Gould and the Western Union Company. It is in litigation yet.

“Then the quadruplex was installed. I sold that to Jay Gould and the Western Union Company for $30,000. The next invention was the mimeograph, a copying machine.

“When Bell got out his telephone the transmitter and receiver were one. Prof. Orton, of (he Western Union Company, asked me to do something to make the telephone a commercial success.

“I tackled it and got up the present transmitter. The Western Union Company eventually made millions of dollars out of it. I got a hundred thousand dollars for it.

“At last President Orton sent for me and said: ‘Young man, how much do you want in full payment for all the inventions you have given the Western Union Company?’

“I had $40,000 in my mind, but my tongue wouldn’t move. I hadn’t the nerve to name such a sum.

“ ‘Make me an offer,’ I ventured.

“ ‘How would a hundred thousand dollars seem to you?’ he asked.

“I almost fell over. It made me dizzy, but I kept my face and answered, with as much coolness as I could muster, that the offer appeared to be a fair one. Then another thought occurred to me, and I said that I would accept a hundred thousand dollars if the company would keep it and pay me in seventeen yearly installments.

“I knew that if I got it all at once it would soon go in experiments. It took me seventeen years to get that money, and it was one of the wisest things I ever did. By putting a check on my extravagance I always had funds.”


The commonly accepted idea of Edison is that by brilliant flashes of intellect inventions spring fully developed from his brain, or that he has the singular good fortune to be the instrument whereby Nature communicates her discoveries. Neither of these views is correct. Edison draws a broad line between “discovery” and “invention.” In his parlance a discovery is a “scratch”—something that might be disclosed to any one, and for which he thinks little or no credit is due. Invention, on the other hand, is the result of that peculiar faculty which perceives the application of some phenomenon or action to a new use. As an inventor, therefore, Edison possesses two qualifications preeminently. First, the inventive faculty, or the special intuition by which the adaptability of some observed result to a useful end is pre* sented ; and, secondly, the physical energy and patience necessary for the investigation by which that result may be ascertained.

Edison once made a comical experiment on a German boy employed by his father at Port Huron. He liked chemistry and his father’s woodshed was filled with bottles filled with about everything of any value in that study. One day he called the boy to the woodshed and gave him two glasses, one containing the white portion of a seidlitz powder and the other the blue portion. He ordered the boy to drink one at a time. The result is best left to the imagination. It was a long time before Edison tried another experiment in chemistry.”

Mr. Edison’s deafness is directly due to his early love of science. When he was a newsboy on the train he used to carry on experiments at leisure moments.

One day a bottle of phosphorus became uncorked and set the car on fire. The indignant conductor boxed the ears of the youthful scientist and threw the boy and his paraphernalia off the train. It was this box on the ears which caused the deafness which has troubled him ever since.

To Edison nearly a thousand inventions are credited, and as a famous writer so well expresses it, “To tell of his inventions in a few lines is like seeking to condense a library into an epigram ; but mention must be made of multiplex telegraphy, incandescent electric lighting, the phonograph, moving pictures, the microphone, the tasimeter, the odoroscope, electric pen, his storage battery, the megaphone, which list faintly suggests a host of others.


Edison’s latest invention is a plan for producing concrete houses for working men to cost $1,000 each.

“Rent strikes” in the cities, inspired by overzealous agitators, at least serve this purpose : they bring the housing problem home to the minds of the people. Fortunately, too. The old story of eviction, as true and poignant as ever, lacks life as it is written briefly in the day’s newspapers. The reader passes it over with the trite reflection that the poor we have always with us. But wholesale evictions, following a “rent strike,” make better copy; they rouse the jaded interest anew.

One thinks of the pertinence of such happenings just now, when Thomas A. Edison is perfecting his plans for building in wholesale lots concrete houses for working men for $1,000 apiece. Mr. Edison is clear in the statement of his purpose. He wants to make his $1,000 concrete houses successful for the single reason that they may help to abolish city slums. He does not claim an inventor’s credit for working out the idea. “There's nothing essentially novel in my plan,” he says. “It’s like making a complicated casting in iron, with the difference that concrete is not so fluid as molten iron. Some one was bound to work this idea out, and I thought I might as well be the one.”

It is fortunate that Mr. Edison took up the problem. Once he demonstrates that habitable, well-appearing houses can be built by use of his molds for $1,000, he will license without cost any responsible builder who wants to use his patents to build such houses. Again, Edison’s mere announcement that he can build good houses to rent for $7.50 a month will set many a man to wondering if he might not live decently at the same price he now pays for squalor. ,

When asked in what particulars his idea was novel, Mr. Edison said: “There is nothing particularly novel about my plan ; it amounts to the same thing as making a very complicated casting in iron, except that the medium is not so fluid. Some one was bound to do it, and I thought that I might as well be the man, that’s all.”

The method consists in the use of molds, costing $25,000 the set, made of 34-inch cast iron, planed, nickelplated, and polished. The different pieces vary in size, some of the interior parts being but two feet square.

When in position, the units are held in place by trusses and dowel pins. Into the top of these molds concrete is pumped continuously by compressed air, using two cylinders. The concrete itself acts as a piston, and the two cylinders are alternately filled and emptied. The delivery of the mixture must be continuous, for wherever it is stopped a line appears. To secure this rapid and continuous flow, at the rate of 175 cubic yards per day, a very efficient mixer is required. It has not yet been decided whether a Ransome or a specially designed machine will be used. No rubbing up is necessary, although a few flaws may be present, owing to the difficulty of expelling all air. The escape of air is permitted by the special design of the house, or, when necessary, by a temporary pipe, which may be removed later.

The concrete used is mixed according to the ordinary proportions of one part of cement high in lime, three parts of sand, and five parts of crushed stone. The cement is so finely ground that it readily takes up the requisite quantity of water to make it flow. Another result of the fine grinding, to which the possibility of reproducing minute details is due, is the absolute water-tightness of this material, since there are none of the intergranular openings that are present when coarse ingredients are used. Great strength is assured at the points of stress by wire reinforcements set in the body of the material.

Bath-tubs and similar fixtures will be cast in place. Pipes for the steam heat, conduits for the electric wiring, and the iron tubing through which the lead pipes for the plumbing are to be afterward drawn, are all set in the molds before the cement is run in. The only wood present will be the doors, window sashes, and, perhaps, a few strips to which to attach carpets.

Some Old Proverbs

Everybody’s business is nobody’s business.

Deeds are the fruits ; words are but leaves.

Constant occupation prevents temptation.

Business is the salt of life.

Better to be alone than in bad company.

Conscience is the chamber of justice.

Dependence is a poor trade to follow.

An honest man’s word is as good as his bond.

A guilty conscience needs no accuser.

A fool can make money, but it takes a wise man to save it.

A contented mind is a continual feast.

An idle brain is the devil’s workshop.

He laughs best who laughs last.

Honest confession is salve to the soul.

Do not whistle till you are out of the woods.