It is easy to realize, therefore, that a character so thoroughly permeated with these ideas is not apt to stop and figure out expense when in hot pursuit of some desired object. When that object has been attained, however, and it passes from the experimental to the commercial stage, Edison's monetary views again come into strong play, but they take a diametrically opposite position, for he then begins immediately to plan the extreme of economy in the production of the article. A thousand and one instances could be quoted in illustration; but as they would tend to change the form of this narrative into a history of economy in manufacture, it will suffice to mention but one, and that a recent occurrence, which serves to illustrate how closely he keeps in touch with everything, and also how the inventive faculty and instinct of commercial economy run close together. It was during Edison's winter stay in Florida, in March, 1909. He had reports sent to him daily from various places, and studied them carefully, for he would write frequently with comments, instructions, and suggestions; and in one case, commenting on the oiling system at the cement plant, he wrote: "Your oil losses are now getting lower, I see." Then, after suggesting some changes to reduce them still further, he went on to say: "Here is a chance to save a mill per barrel based on your regular daily output."
This thorough consideration of the smallest detail is essentially characteristic of Edison, not only in economy of manufacture, but in all his work, no matter of what kind, whether it be experimenting, investigating, testing, or engineering. To follow him through the labyrinthine paths of investigation contained in the great array of laboratory note-books is to become involved in a mass of minutely detailed searches which seek to penetrate the inmost recesses of nature by an ultimate analysis of an infinite variety of parts. As the reader will obtain a fuller comprehension of this idea, and of Edison's methods, by concrete illustration rather than by generalization, the authors have thought it well to select at random two typical instances of specific investigations out of the thousands that are scattered through the notebooks. These will be found in the following extracts from one of the note-books, and consist of Edison's instructions to be carried out in detail by his experimenters:
"Take, say, 25 lbs. hard Cuban asphalt and separate all the different hydrocarbons, etc., as far as possible by means of solvents. It will be necessary first to dissolve everything out by, say, hot turpentine, then successively treat the residue with bisulphide carbon, benzol, ether, chloroform, naphtha, toluol, alcohol, and other probable solvents. After you can go no further, distil off all the solvents so the asphalt material has a tar-like consistency. Be sure all the ash is out of the turpentine portion; now, after distilling the turpentine off, act on the residue with all the solvents that were used on the residue, using for the first the solvent which is least likely to dissolve a great part of it. By thus manipulating the various solvents you will be enabled probably to separate the crude asphalt into several distinct hydrocarbons. Put each in a bottle after it has been dried, and label the bottle with the process, etc., so we may be able to duplicate it; also give bottle a number and describe everything fully in note-book."
" Destructively distil the following substances down to a point just short of carbonization, so that the residuum can be taken out of the retort, powdered, and acted on by all the solvents just as the asphalt in previous page. The distillation should be carried to, say, 600 degrees or 700 degrees Fahr., but not continued long enough to wholly reduce mass to charcoal, but always run to blackness. Separate the residuum in as many definite parts as possible, bottle and label, and keep accurate records as to process, weights, etc., so a reproduction of the experiment can at any time be made: Gelatine, 4 lbs.; asphalt, hard Cuban, 10 lbs.; coal-tar or pitch, 10 lbs.; wood-pitch, 10 lbs.; Syrian asphalt, 10 lbs.; bituminous coal, 10 lbs.; cane-sugar, 10 lbs.; glucose, 10 lbs.; dextrine, 10 lbs.; glycerine, 10 lbs.; tartaric acid, 5 lbs.; gum guiac, 5 lbs.; gum amber, 3 lbs.; gum tragacanth, 3 Lbs.; aniline red, 1 lb.; aniline oil, 1 lb.; crude anthracene, 5 lbs.; petroleum pitch, 10 lbs.; albumen from eggs, 2 lbs.; tar from passing chlorine through aniline oil, 2 lbs.; citric acid, 5 lbs.; sawdust of boxwood, 3 lbs.; starch, 5 lbs.; shellac, 3 lbs.; gum Arabic, 5 lbs.; castor oil, 5 lbs."
The empirical nature of his method will be apparent from an examination of the above items; but in pur- suing it he leaves all uncertainty behind and, trusting nothing to theory, he acquires absolute knowledge. Whatever may be the mental processes by which he arrives at the starting-point of any specific line of research, the final results almost invariably prove that he does not plunge in at random; indeed, as an old associate remarked: "When Edison takes up any proposition in natural science, his perceptions seem to be elementally broad and analytical, that is to say, in addition to the knowledge he has acquired from books and observation, he appears to have an intuitive apprehension of the general order of things, as they might be supposed to exist in natural relation to each other. It has always seemed to me that he goes to the core of things at once."
Although nothing less than results from actual experiments are acceptable to him as established facts, this view of Edison may also account for his peculiar and somewhat weird ability to "guess" correctly, a faculty which has frequently enabled him to take short cuts to lines of investigation whose outcome has verified in a most remarkable degree statements apparently made offhand and without calculation. Mr. Upton says: "One of the main impressions left upon me, after knowing Mr. Edison for many years, is the marvellous accuracy of his guesses. He will see the general nature of a result long before it can be reached by mathematical calculation." This was supplemented by one of his engineering staff, who remarked: "Mr. Edison can guess better than a good many men can figure, and so far as my experience goes, I have found that he is almost invariably correct. His guess is more than a mere starting- point, and often turns out to be the final solution of a problem. I can only account for it by his remarkable insight and wonderful natural sense of the proportion of things, in addition to which he seems to carry in his head determining factors of all kinds, and has the ability to apply them instantly in considering any mechanical problem."
While this mysterious intuitive power has been of the greatest advantage in connection with the vast number of technical problems that have entered into his life-work, there have been many remarkable instances in which it has seemed little less than prophecy, and it is deemed worth while to digress to the extent of relating two of them. One day in the summer of 1881, when the incandescent lamp-industry was still in swaddling clothes, Edison was seated in the room of Major Eaton, vice-president of the Edison Electric Light Company, talking over business matters, when Mr. Upton came in from the lamp factory at Menlo Park, and said: "Well, Mr. Edison, we completed a thousand lamps to-day." Edison looked up and said "Good," then relapsed into a thoughtful mood. In about two minutes he raised his head, and said: "Upton, in fifteen years you will be making forty thousand lamps a day." None of those present ventured to make any remark on this assertion, although all felt that it was merely a random guess, based on the sanguine dream of an inventor. The business had not then really made a start, and being entirely new was without precedent upon which to base any such statement, but, as a matter of fact, the records of the lamp factory show that in 1896 its daily output of lamps was actually about forty thousand.
The other instance referred to occurred shortly after the Edison Machine Works was moved up to Schenectady, in 1886. One day, when he was at the works, Edison sat down and wrote on a sheet of paper fifteen separate predictions of the growth and future of the electrical business. Notwithstanding the fact that the industry was then in an immature state, and that the great boom did not set in until a few years afterward, twelve of these predictions have been fully verified by the enormous growth and development in all branches of the art.
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