In view of the successful outcome of the problem which, in 1900, he undertook to solve, it will be interesting to review his mental attitude at that period. It has already been noted at the end of a previous chapter that on closing the magnetic iron-ore concentrating plant at Edison, New Jersey, he resolved to work on a new type of storage battery. It was about this time that, in the course of a conversation with Mr. R. H. Beach, then of the street-railway department of the General Electric Company, he said: "Beach, I don't think Nature would be so unkind as to withhold the secret of a GOOD storage battery if a real earnest hunt for it is made. I'm going to hunt."
Frequently Edison has been asked what he considers the secret of achievement. To this query he has invariably replied: "Hard work, based on hard thinking." The laboratory records bear the fullest witness that he has consistently followed out this prescription to the utmost. The perfection of all his great inventions has been signalized by patient, persistent, and incessant effort which, recognizing noth- ing short of success, has resulted in the ultimate accomplishment of his ideas. Optimistic and hopeful to a high degree, Edison has the happy faculty of beginning the day as open-minded as a child--yesterday's disappointments and failures discarded and discounted by the alluring possibilities of to-morrow.
Of all his inventions, it is doubtful whether any one of them has called forth more original thought, work, perseverance, ingenuity, and monumental patience than the one we are now dealing with. One of his associates who has been through the many years of the storage-battery drudgery with him said: "If Edison's experiments, investigations, and work on this storage battery were all that he had ever done, I should say that he was not only a notable inventor, but also a great man. It is almost impossible to appreciate the enormous difficulties that have been overcome."
From a beginning which was made practically in the dark, it was not until he had completed more than ten thousand experiments that he obtained any positive preliminary results whatever. Through all this vast amount of research there had been no previous signs of the electrical action he was looking for. These experiments had extended over many months of constant work by day and night, but there was no breakdown of Edison's faith in ultimate success-- no diminution of his sanguine and confident expectations. The failure of an experiment simply meant to him that he had found something else that would not work, thus bringing the possible goal a little nearer by a process of painstaking elimination.
Now, however, after these many months of arduous toil, in which he had examined and tested practically all the known elements in numerous chemical combinations, the electric action he sought for had been obtained, thus affording him the first inkling of the secret that he had industriously tried to wrest from Nature. It should be borne in mind that from the very outset Edison had disdained any intention of following in the only tracks then known by employing lead and sulphuric acid as the components of a successful storage battery. Impressed with what he considered the serious inherent defects of batteries made of these materials, and the tremendously complex nature of the chemical reactions taking place in all types of such cells, he determined boldly at the start that he would devise a battery without lead, and one in which an alkaline solution could be used-- a form which would, he firmly believed, be inherently less subject to decay and dissolution than the standard type, which after many setbacks had finally won its way to an annual production of many thousands of cells, worth millions of dollars.
Two or three thousand of the first experiments followed the line of his well-known primary battery in the attempted employment of copper oxide as an element in a new type of storage cell; but its use offered no advantages, and the hunt was continued in other directions and pursued until Edison satisfied himself by a vast number of experiments that nickel and iron possessed the desirable qualifications he was in search of.
This immense amount of investigation which had consumed so many months of time, and which had culminated in the discovery of a series of reactions between nickel and iron that bore great promise, brought Edison merely within sight of a strange and hitherto unexplored country. Slowly but surely the results of the last few thousands of his preliminary experiments had pointed inevitably to a new and fruitful region ahead. He had discovered the hidden passage and held the clew which he had so industriously sought. And now, having outlined a definite path, Edison was all afire to push ahead vigorously in order that he might enter in and possess the land.
It is a trite saying that "history repeats itself," and certainly no axiom carries more truth than this when applied to the history of each of Edison's important inventions. The development of the storage battery has been no exception; indeed, far from otherwise, for in the ten years that have elapsed since the time he set himself and his mechanics, chemists, machinists, and experimenters at work to develop a practical commercial cell, the old story of incessant and persistent efforts so manifest in the working out of other inventions was fully repeated.
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