It is hardly to be wondered at that Edison is rather frank and unsparing in some of his criticisms of shady modern business methods, and the mention of the following incident always provokes him to a fine scorn. "I had an interview with one of the wealthiest men in New York. He wanted me to sell out my associates in the electric lighting business, and offered me all I was going to get and $100,000 besides. Of course I would not do it. I found out that the reason for this offer was that he had had trouble with Mr. Morgan, and wanted to get even with him." Wall Street is, in fact, a frequent object of rather sarcastic reference, applying even to its regular and probably correct methods of banking. "When I was running my ore-mine," he says, "and got up to the point of making shipments to John Fritz, I didn't have capital enough to carry the ore, so I went to J. P. Morgan & Co. and said I wanted them to give me a letter to the City Bank. I wanted to raise some money. I got a letter to Mr. Stillman; and went over and told him I wanted to open an account and get some loans and discounts. He turned me down, and would not do it. `Well,' I said, `isn't it banking to help a man in this way?' He said: `What you want is a partner.' I felt very much crestfallen. I went over to a bank in Newark--the Merchants'--and told them what I wanted. They said: `Certainly, you can have the money.' I made my deposit, and they pulled me through all right. My idea of Wall Street banking has been very poor since that time. Merchant banking seems to be different."
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.
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