Edison believes that there are important advantages possible in the employment of his storage battery for street-car propulsion. Under the present system of operation, a plant furnishing the electric power for street railways must be large enough to supply current for the maximum load during "rush hours," although much of the machinery may be lying idle and unproductive in the hours of minimum load. By the use of storage-battery cars, this immense and uneconomical maximum investment in plant can be cut down to proportions of true commercial economy, as the charging of the batteries can be conducted at a uniform rate with a reasonable expenditure for generating machinery. Not only this, but each car becomes an independently moving unit, not subject to delay by reason of a general breakdown of the power plant or of the line. In addition to these advantages, the streets would be freed from their burden of trolley wires or conduits. To put his ideas into practice, Edison built a short railway line at the Orange works in the winter of 1909-10, and, in co-operation with Mr. R. H. Beach, constructed a special type of street-car, and equipped it with motor, storage battery, and other necessary operating devices. This car was subsequently put upon the street-car lines in New York City, and demonstrated its efficiency so completely that it was purchased by one of the street-car companies, which has since ordered additional cars for its lines. The demonstration of this initial car has been watched with interest by many railroad officials, and its performance has been of so successful a nature that at the present writing (the summer of 1910) it has been necessary to organize and equip a preliminary factory in which to construct many other cars of a similar type that have been ordered by other street-railway companies. This enterprise will be conducted by a corporation which has been specially organized for the purpose. Thus, there has been initiated the development of a new and important industry whose possible ultimate proportions are beyond the range of present calculation. Extensive as this industry may become, however, Edison is firmly convinced that the greatest field for his storage battery lies in its adaptation to commercial trucking and hauling, and to pleasure vehicles, in comparison with which the street-car business even with its great possibilities--will not amount to more than 1 per cent.
Edison has pithily summed up his work and his views in an article on "The To-Morrows of Electricity and Invention" in Popular Electricity for June, 1910, in which he says: "For years past I have been trying to perfect a storage battery, and have now rendered it entirely suitable to automobile and other work. There is absolutely no reason why horses should be allowed within city limits; for between the gasoline and the electric car, no room is left for them. They are not needed. The cow and the pig have gone, and the horse is still more undesirable. A higher public ideal of health and cleanliness is working tow- ard such banishment very swiftly; and then we shall have decent streets, instead of stables made out of strips of cobblestones bordered by sidewalks. The worst use of money is to make a fine thoroughfare, and then turn it over to horses. Besides that, the change will put the humane societies out of business. Many people now charge their own batteries because of lack of facilities; but I believe central stations will find in this work very soon the largest part of their load. The New York Edison Company, or the Chicago Edison Company, should have as much current going out for storage batteries as for power motors; and it will be so some near day."
IT has been the endeavor in this narrative to group Edison's inventions and patents so that his work in the different fields can be studied independently and separately. The history of his career has therefore fallen naturally into a series of chapters, each aiming to describe some particular development or art; and, in a way, the plan has been helpful to the writers while probably useful to the readers. It happens, however, that the process has left a vast mass of discovery and invention wholly untouched, and relegates to a concluding brief chapter some of the most interesting episodes of a fruitful life. Any one who will turn to the list of Edison patents at the end of the book will find a large number of things of which not even casual mention has been made, but which at the time occupied no small amount of the inventor's time and attention, and many of which are now part and parcel of modern civilization. Edison has, indeed, touched nothing that he did not in some way improve. As Thoreau said: "The laws of the Universe are not indifferent, but are forever on the side of the most sensitive," and there never was any one more sensitive to the defects of every art and appliance, nor any one more active in applying the law of evolution. It is perhaps this many-sidedness of Edison that has impressed the multitude, and that in the "popular vote" taken a couple of years ago by the New York Herald placed his name at the head of the list of ten greatest living Americans. It is curious and pertinent to note that a similar plebiscite taken by a technical journal among its expert readers had exactly the same result. Evidently the public does not agree with the opinion expressed by the eccentric artist Blake in his "Marriage of Heaven and Hell," when he said: "Improvement makes strange roads; but the crooked roads without improvements are roads of Genius."
The product of Edison's brain may be divided into three classes. The first embraces such arts and industries, or such apparatus, as have already been treated. The second includes devices like the tasimeter, phonomotor, odoroscope, etc., and others now to be noted. The third embraces a number of projected inventions, partially completed investigations, inventions in use but not patented, and a great many caveats filed in the Patent Office at various times during the last forty years for the purpose of protecting his ideas pending their contemplated realization in practice. These caveats served their purpose thoroughly in many instances, but there have remained a great variety of projects upon which no definite action was ever taken. One ought to add the contents of an unfinished piece of extraordinary fiction based wholly on new inventions and devices utterly unknown to mankind. Some day the novel may be finished, but Edison has no inclination to go back to it, and says he cannot under- stand how any man is able to make a speech or write a book, for he simply can't do it.
After what has been said in previous chapters, it will not seem so strange that Edison should have hundreds of dormant inventions on his hands. There are human limitations even for such a tireless worker as he is. While the preparation of data for this chapter was going on, one of the writers in discussing with him the vast array of unexploited things said: "Don't you feel a sense of regret in being obliged to leave so many things uncompleted?" To which he replied: "What's the use? One lifetime is too short, and I am busy every day improving essential parts of my established industries." It must suffice to speak briefly of a few leading inventions that have been worked out, and to dismiss with scant mention all the rest, taking just a few items, as typical and suggestive, especially when Edison can himself be quoted as to them. Incidentally it may be noted that things, not words, are referred to; for Edison, in addition to inventing the apparatus, has often had to coin the word to describe it. A large number of the words and phrases in modern electrical parlance owe their origin to him. Even the "call-word" of the telephone, "Hello!" sent tingling over the wire a few million times daily was taken from Menlo Park by men installing telephones in different parts of the world, men who had just learned it at the laboratory, and thus made it a universal sesame for telephonic conversation.
It is hard to determine where to begin with Edison's miscellaneous inventions, but perhaps telegraphy has the "right of line," and Edison's work in that field puts him abreast of the latest wireless developments that fill the world with wonder. "I perfected a system of train telegraphy between stations and trains in motion whereby messages could be sent from the moving train to the central office; and this was the forerunner of wireless telegraphy. This system was used for a number of years on the Lehigh Valley Railroad on their construction trains. The electric wave passed from a piece of metal on top of the car across the air to the telegraph wires; and then proceeded to the despatcher's office. In my first experiments with this system I tried it on the Staten Island Railroad, and employed an operator named King to do the experimenting. He reported results every day, and received instructions by mail; but for some reason he could send messages all right when the train went in one direction, but could not make it go in the contrary direction. I made suggestions of every kind to get around this phenomenon. Finally I telegraphed King to find out if he had any suggestions himself; and I received a reply that the only way he could propose to get around the difficulty was to put the island on a pivot so it could be turned around! I found the trouble finally, and the practical introduction on the Lehigh Valley road was the result. The system was sold to a very wealthy man, and he would never sell any rights or answer letters. He became a spiritualist subsequently, which probably explains it." It is interesting to note that Edison became greatly interested in the later developments by Marconi, and is an admiring friend and adviser of that well-known inventor.
The earlier experiments with wireless telegraphy at Menlo Park were made at a time when Edison was greatly occupied with his electric-light interests, and it was not until the beginning of 1886 that he was able to spare the time to make a public demonstration of the system as applied to moving trains. Ezra T. Gilliland, of Boston, had become associated with him in his experiments, and they took out several joint patents subsequently. The first practical use of the system took place on a thirteen-mile stretch of the Staten Island Railroad with the results mentioned by Edison above.
A little later, Edison and Gilliland joined forces with Lucius J. Phelps, another investigator, who had been experimenting along the same lines and had taken out several patents. The various interests were combined in a corporation under whose auspices the system was installed on the Lehigh Valley Railroad, where it was used for several years. The official demonstration trip on this road took place on October 6, 1887, on a six-car train running to Easton, Pennsylvania, a distance of fifty-four miles. A great many telegrams were sent and received while the train was at full speed, including a despatch to the "cable king," John Pender. London, England, and a reply from him.
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