As a general thing, Edison has had no trouble in raising money when he needed it, the reason being that people have faith in him as soon as they come to know him. A little incident bears on this point. "In operating the Schenectady works Mr. Insull and I had a terrible burden. We had enormous orders and little money, and had great difficulty to meet our pay- rolls and buy supplies. At one time we had so many orders on hand we wanted $200,000 worth of copper, and didn't have a cent to buy it. We went down to the Ansonia Brass and Copper Company, and told Mr. Cowles just how we stood. He said: `I will see what I can do. Will you let my bookkeeper look at your books?' We said: `Come right up and look them over.' He sent his man up and found we had the orders and were all right, although we didn't have the money. He said: `I will let you have the copper.' And for years he trusted us for all the copper we wanted, even if we didn't have the money to pay for it."
It is not generally known that Edison, in addition to being a newsboy and a contributor to the technical press, has also been a backer and an "angel" for various publications. This is perhaps the right place at which to refer to the matter, as it belongs in the list of his financial or commercial enterprises. Edison sums up this chapter of his life very pithily. "I was interested, as a telegrapher, in journalism, and started the Telegraph Journal, and got out about a dozen numbers when it was taken over by W. J. Johnston, who afterward founded the Electrical World on it as an offshoot from the Operator. I also started Science, and ran it for a year and a half. It cost me too much money to maintain, and I sold it to Gardiner Hubbard, the father-in-law of Alexander Graham Bell. He carried it along for years." Both these papers are still in prosperous existence, particularly the Electrical World, as the recognized exponent of electrical development in America, where now the public spends as much annually for electricity as it does for daily bread.
From all that has been said above it will be understood that Edison's real and remarkable capacity for business does not lie in ability to "take care of himself," nor in the direction of routine office practice, nor even in ordinary administrative affairs. In short, he would and does regard it as a foolish waste of his time to give attention to the mere occupancy of a desk.
His commercial strength manifests itself rather in the outlining of matters relating to organization and broad policy with a sagacity arising from a shrewd perception and appreciation of general business requirements and conditions, to which should be added his intensely comprehensive grasp of manufacturing possibilities and details, and an unceasing vigilance in devising means of improving the quality of products and increasing the economy of their manufacture.
Like other successful commanders, Edison also possesses the happy faculty of choosing suitable lieutenants to carry out his policies and to manage the industries he has created, such, for instance, as those with which this chapter has to deal--namely, the phonograph, motion picture, primary battery, and storage battery enterprises.
The Portland cement business has already been dealt with separately, and although the above remarks are appropriate to it also, Edison being its head and informing spirit, the following pages are intended to be devoted to those industries that are grouped around the laboratory at Orange, and that may be taken as typical of Edison's methods on the manufacturing side.
Within a few months after establishing himself at the present laboratory, in 1887, Edison entered upon one of those intensely active periods of work that have been so characteristic of his methods in commercializing his other inventions. In this case his labors were directed toward improving the phonograph so as to put it into thoroughly practicable form, capable of ordinary use by the public at large. The net result of this work was the general type of machine of which the well-known phonograph of today is a refinement evolved through many years of sustained experiment and improvement.
After a considerable period of strenuous activity in the eighties, the phonograph and its wax records were developed to a sufficient degree of perfection to warrant him in making arrangements for their manufacture and commercial introduction. At this time the surroundings of the Orange laboratory were distinctly rural in character. Immediately adjacent to the main building and the four smaller structures, constituting the laboratory plant, were grass meadows that stretched away for some considerable distance in all directions, and at its back door, so to speak, ducks paddled around and quacked in a pond undisturbed. Being now ready for manufacturing, but requiring more facilities, Edison increased his real-estate holdings by purchasing a large tract of land lying contiguous to what he already owned. At one end of the newly acquired land two unpretentious brick structures were erected, equipped with first- class machinery, and put into commission as shops for manufacturing phonographs and their record blanks; while the capacious hall forming the third story of the laboratory, over the library, was fitted up and used as a music-room where records were made.
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