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.
Very soon after he had decided upon the use of nickel and iron as the elemental metals for his storage battery, Edison established a chemical plant at Silver Lake, New Jersey, a few miles from the Orange laboratory, on land purchased some time previously. This place was the scene of the further experiments to develop the various chemical forms of nickel and iron, and to determine by tests what would be best adapted for use in cells manufactured on a com- mercial scale. With a little handful of selected experimenters gathered about him, Edison settled down to one of his characteristic struggles for supremacy. To some extent it was a revival of the old Menlo Park days (or, rather, nights). Some of these who had worked on the preliminary experiments, with the addition of a few new-comers, toiled together regardless of passing time and often under most discouraging circumstances, but with that remarkable esprit de corps that has ever marked Edison's relations with his co-workers, and that has contributed so largely to the successful carrying out of his ideas.
The group that took part in these early years of Edison's arduous labors included his old-time assistant, Fred Ott, together with his chemist, J. W. Aylsworth, as well as E. J. Ross, Jr., W. E. Holland, and Ralph Arbogast, and a little later W. G. Bee, all of whom have grown up with the battery and still devote their energies to its commercial development. One of these workers, relating the strenuous experiences of these few years, says: "It was hard work and long hours, but still there were some things that made life pleasant. One of them was the supper-hour we enjoyed when we worked nights. Mr. Edison would have supper sent in about midnight, and we all sat down together, including himself. Work was forgotten for the time, and all hands were ready for fun. I have very pleasant recollections of Mr. Edison at these times. He would always relax and help to make a good time, and on some occasions I have seen him fairly overflow with animal spirits, just like a boy let out from school. After the supper-hour was over, however, he again became the serious, energetic inventor, deeply immersed in the work at hand.
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