In this connection it may be noted that with remarkable prescience Edison saw the coming of the modern lamps of to-day, which, by reason of their small consumption of energy to produce a given candle-power, have dismayed central-station managers. A few years ago a consumption of 3.1 watts per candle-power might safely be assumed as an excellent average, and many stations fixed their rates and business on such a basis. The results on income when the consumption, as in the new metallic- filament lamps, drops to 1.25 watts per candle can readily be imagined. Edison has insisted that central stations are selling light and not current; and he points to the predicament now confronting them as truth of his assertion that when selling light they share in all the benefits of improvement, but that when they sell current the consumer gets all those benefits without division. The dilemma is encountered by central stations in a bewildered way, as a novel and unexpected experience; but Edison foresaw the situation and warned against it long ago. It is one of the greatest gifts of statesmanship to see new social problems years before they arise and solve them in advance. It is one of the greatest attributes of invention to foresee and meet its own problems in exactly the same way.
THE LABORATORY AT ORANGE AND THE STAFF
A LIVING interrogation-point and a born investigator from childhood, Edison has never been without a laboratory of some kind for upward of half a century.
In youthful years, as already described in this book, he became ardently interested in chemistry, and even at the early age of twelve felt the necessity for a special nook of his own, where he could satisfy his unconvinced mind of the correctness or inaccuracy of statements and experiments contained in the few technical books then at his command.
Ordinarily he was like other normal lads of his age --full of boyish, hearty enjoyments--but withal possessed of an unquenchable spirit of inquiry and an insatiable desire for knowledge. Being blessed with a wise and discerning mother, his aspirations were encouraged; and he was allowed a corner in her cellar. It is fair to offer tribute here to her bravery as well as to her wisdom, for at times she was in mortal terror lest the precocious experimenter below should, in his inexperience, make some awful combination that would explode and bring down the house in ruins on himself and the rest of the family.
Fortunately no such catastrophe happened, but young Edison worked away in his embryonic laboratory, satisfying his soul and incidentally depleting his limited pocket-money to the vanishing-point. It was, indeed, owing to this latter circumstance that in a year or two his aspirations necessitated an increase of revenue; and a consequent determination to earn some money for himself led to his first real commercial enterprise as "candy butcher" on the Grand Trunk Railroad, already mentioned in a previous chapter. It has also been related how his precious laboratory was transferred to the train; how he and it were subsequently expelled; and how it was re-established in his home, where he continued studies and experiments until the beginning of his career as a telegraph operator.
The nomadic life of the next few years did not lessen his devotion to study; but it stood seriously in the way of satisfying the ever-present craving for a laboratory. The lack of such a place never prevented experimentation, however, as long as he had a dollar in his pocket and some available "hole in the wall." With the turning of the tide of fortune that suddenly carried him, in New York in 1869, from poverty to the opulence of $300 a month, he drew nearer to a realization of his cherished ambition in having money, place, and some time (stolen from sleep) for more serious experimenting. Thus matters continued until, at about the age of twenty-two, Edison's inventions had brought him a relatively large sum of money, and he became a very busy manufacturer, and lessee of a large shop in Newark, New Jersey.
Now, for the first time since leaving that boyish laboratory in the old home at Port Huron, Edison had a place of his own to work in, to think in; but no one in any way acquainted with Newark as a swarming centre of miscellaneous and multitudinous industries would recommend it as a cloistered retreat for brooding reverie and introspection, favorable to creative effort. Some people revel in surroundings of hustle and bustle, and find therein no hindrance to great accomplishment. The electrical genius of Newark is Edward Weston, who has thriven amid its turmoil and there has developed his beautiful instruments of precision; just as Brush worked out his arc-lighting system in Cleveland; or even as Faraday, surrounded by the din and roar of London, laid the intellectual foundations of the whole modern science of dynamic electricity. But Edison, though deaf, could not make too hurried a retreat from Newark to Menlo Park, where, as if to justify his change of base, vital inventions soon came thick and fast, year after year. The story of Menlo has been told in another chapter, but the point was not emphasized that Edison then, as later, tried hard to drop manufacturing. He would infinitely rather be philosopher than producer; but somehow the necessity of manufacturing is constantly thrust back upon him by a profound--perhaps finical--sense of dissatisfaction with what other people make for him. The world never saw a man more deeply and desperately convinced that nothing in it approaches perfection. Edison is the doctrine of evolution incarnate, applied to mechanics. As to the removal from Newark, he may be allowed to tell his own story: "I had a shop at Newark in which I manufactured stock tickers and such things. When I moved to Menlo Park I took out only the machinery that would be necessary for experimental purposes and left the manufacturing machinery in the place. It consisted of many milling machines and other tools for duplicating. I rented this to a man who had formerly been my bookkeeper, and who thought he could make money out of manufacturing. There was about $10,000 worth of machinery. He was to pay me $2000 a year for the rent of the machinery and keep it in good order. After I moved to Menlo Park, I was very busy with the telephone and phonograph, and I paid no attention to this little arrangement. About three years afterward, it occurred to me that I had not heard at all from the man who had rented this machinery, so I thought I would go over to Newark and see how things were going. When I got there, I found that instead of being a machine shop it was a hotel! I have since been utterly unable to find out what be came of the man or the machinery." Such incidents tend to justify Edison in his rather cynical remark that he has always been able to improve machinery much quicker than men. All the way up he has had discouraging experiences. "One day while I was carrying on my work in Newark, a Wall Street broker came from the city and said he was tired of the `Street,' and wanted to go into something real. He said he had plenty of money. He wanted some kind of a job to keep his mind off Wall Street. So we gave him a job as a `mucker' in chemical experiments. The second night he was there he could not stand the long hours and fell asleep on a sofa. One of the boys took a bottle of bromine and opened it under the sofa. It floated up and produced a violent effect on the mucous membrane. The broker was taken with such a fit of coughing he burst a blood-vessel, and the man who let the bromine out got away and never came back. I suppose he thought there was going to be a death. But the broker lived, and left the next day; and I have never seen him since, either." Edison tells also of another foolhardy laboratory trick of the same kind: "Some of my assistants in those days were very green in the business, as I did not care whether they had had any experience or not. I generally tried to turn them loose. One day I got a new man, and told him to conduct a certain experiment. He got a quart of ether and started to boil it over a naked flame. Of course it caught fire. The flame was about four feet in diameter and eleven feet high. We had to call out the fire department; and they came down and put a stream through the window. That let all the fumes and chemicals out and overcame the firemen; and there was the devil to pay. Another time we experimented with a tub full of soapy water, and put hydrogen into it to make large bubbles. One of the boys, who was washing bottles in the place, had read in some book that hydrogen was explosive, so he proceeded to blow the tub up. There was about four inches of soap in the bottom of the tub, fourteen inches high; and he filled it with soap bubbles up to the brim. Then he took a bamboo fish-pole, put a piece of paper at the end, and touched it off. It blew every window out of the place."
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