EDISON IN COMMERCE AND MANUFACTURE
AN applicant for membership in the Engineers' Club of Philadelphia is required to give a brief statement of the professional work he has done. Some years ago a certain application was made, and contained the following terse and modest sentence:
"I have designed a concentrating plant and built a machine shop, etc., etc. THOMAS A. EDISON."
Although in the foregoing pages the reader has been made acquainted with the tremendous import of the actualities lying behind those "etc., etc.," the narrative up to this point has revealed Edison chiefly in the light of inventor, experimenter, and investigator. There have been some side glimpses of the industries he has set on foot, and of their financial aspects, and a later chapter will endeavor to sum up the intrinsic value of Edison's work to the world. But there are some other interesting points that may be touched on now in regard to a few of Edison's financial and commercial ventures not generally known or appreciated.
It is a popular idea founded on experience that an inventor is not usually a business man. One of the exceptions proving the rule may perhaps be met in Edison, though all depends on the point of view. All his life he has had a great deal to do with finance and commerce, and as one looks at the magnitude of the vast industries he has helped to create, it would not be at all unreasonable to expect him to be among the multi-millionaires. That he is not is due to the absence of certain qualities, the lack of which Edison is himself the first to admit. Those qualities may not be amiable, but great wealth is hardly ever accumulated without them. If he had not been so intent on inventing he would have made more of his great opportunities for getting rich. If this utter detachment from any love of money for its own sake has not already been illustrated in some of the incidents narrated, one or two stories are available to emphasize the point. They do not involve any want of the higher business acumen that goes to the proper conduct of affairs. It was said of Gladstone that he was the greatest Chancellor of the Exchequer England ever saw, but that as a retail merchant he would soon have ruined himself by his bookkeeping.
Edison confesses that he has never made a cent out of his patents in electric light and power--in fact, that they have been an expense to him, and thus a free gift to the world. This was true of the Euro- pean patents as well as the American. "I endeavored to sell my lighting patents in different countries of Europe, and made a contract with a couple of men. On account of their poor business capacity and lack of practicality, they conveyed under the patents all rights to different corporations but in such a way and with such confused wording of the contracts that I never got a cent. One of the companies started was the German Edison, now the great Allgemeine Elektricitaets Gesellschaft. The English company I never got anything for, because a lawyer had originally advised Drexel, Morgan & Co. as to the signing of a certain document, and said it was all right for me to sign. I signed, and I never got a cent because there was a clause in it which prevented me from ever getting anything." A certain easy-going belief in human nature, and even a certain carelessness of attitude toward business affairs, are here revealed. We have already pointed out two instances where in his dealings with the Western Union Company he stipulated that payments of $6000 per year for seventeen years were to be made instead of $100,000 in cash, evidently forgetful of the fact that the annual sum so received was nothing more than legal interest, which could have been earned indefinitely if the capital had been only insisted upon. In later life Edison has been more circumspect, but throughout his early career he was constantly getting into some kind of scrape. Of one experience he says:
 Edison received some stock from the parent lighting company, but as the capital stock of that company was increased from time to time, his proportion grew smaller, and he ultimately used it to obtain ready money with which to create and finance the various "shops" in which were manufactured the various items of electric- lighting apparatus necessary to exploit his system. Besides, he was obliged to raise additional large sums of money from other sources for this purpose. He thus became a manufacturer with capital raised by himself, and the stock that he received later, on the formation of the General Electric Company, was not for his electric-light patents, but was in payment for his manufacturing establishments, which had then grown to be of great commercial importance.
"In the early days I was experimenting with metallic filaments for the incandescent light, and sent a certain man out to California in search of platinum. He found a considerable quantity in the sluice-boxes of the Cherokee Valley Mining Company; but just then he found also that fruit-gardening was the thing, and dropped the subject. He then came to me and said that if he could raise $4000 he could go into some kind of orchard arrangement out there, and would give me half the profits. I was unwilling to do it, not having very much money just then, but his persistence was such that I raised the money and gave it to him. He went back to California, and got into mining claims and into fruit-growing, and became one of the politicians of the Coast, and, I believe, was on the staff of the Governor of the State. A couple of years ago he wounded his daughter and shot himself because he had become ruined financially. I never heard from him after he got the money."
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