The question before us is, To what extent has Edison added to the wealth of the world by his inventions and his energy and perseverance? It will be noted from the foregoing that no categorical answer can be offered to such a question, but sufficient material can be gathered from a statistical review of the commercial arts directly influenced to afford an approximate idea of the increase in national wealth that has been affected by or has come into being through the practical application of his ideas.
First of all, as to inventions capable of fairly definite estimate, let us mention the incandescent electric light and systems of distribution of electric light, heat, and power, which may justly be considered as the crowning inventions of Edison's life. Until October 21, 1879, there was nothing in existence resembling our modern incandescent lamp. On that date, as we have seen in a previous chapter, Edison's labors culminated in his invention of a practical incandescent electric lamp embodying absolutely all the essentials of the lamp of to-day, thus opening to the world the doors of a new art and industry. To-day there are in the United States more than 41,000,000 of these lamps, connected to existing central-station circuits in active operation.
Such circuits necessarily imply the existence of central stations with their equipment. Until the beginning of 1882 there were only a few arc-lighting stations in existence for the limited distribution of current. At the present time there are over 6000 central stations in this country for the distribution of electric current for light, heat, and power, with capital obligations amounting to not less than $1,000,000,000. Besides the above-named 41,000,000 incandescent lamps connected to their mains, there are about 500,000 arc lamps and 150,000 motors, using 750,000 horse-power, besides countless fan motors and electric heating and cooking appliances.
When it is stated that the gross earnings of these central stations approximate the sum of $225,000,000 yearly, the significant import of these statistics of an art that came so largely from Edison's laboratory about thirty years ago will undoubtedly be apparent.
But the above are not by any means all the facts relating to incandescent electric lighting in the United States, for in addition to central stations there are upward of 100,000 isolated or private plants in mills, factories, steamships, hotels, theatres, etc., owned by the persons or concerns who operate them. These plants represent an approximate investment of $500,000,000, and the connection of not less than 25,000,000 incandescent lamps or their equivalent.
Then there are the factories where these incandescent lamps are made, about forty in number, repre- sensing a total investment that may be approximated at $25,000,000. It is true that many of these factories are operated by other than the interests which came into control of the Edison patents (General Electric Company), but the 150,000,000 incandescent electric lamps now annually made are broadly covered in principle by Edison's fundamental ideas and patents.
It will be noted that these figures are all in round numbers, but they are believed to be well within the mark, being primarily founded upon the special reports of the Census Bureau issued in 1902 and 1907, with the natural increase from that time computed by experts who are in position to obtain the facts. It would be manifestly impossible to give exact figures of such a gigantic and swiftly moving industry, whose totals increase from week to week.
The reader will naturally be disposed to ask whether it is intended to claim that Edison has brought about all this magnificent growth of the electric-lighting art. The answer to this is decidedly in the negative, for the fact is that he laid some of the foundation and erected a building thereon, and in the natural progressive order of things other inventors of more or less fame have laid substructures or added a wing here and a story there until the resultant great structure has attained such proportions as to evoke the admiration of the beholder; but the old foundation and the fundamental building still remain to support other parts. In other words, Edison created the incandescent electric lamp, and invented certain broad and fundamental systems of distribution of current, with all the essential devices of detail necessary for successful operation. These formed a foundation. He also spent great sums of money and devoted several years of patient labor in the early practical exploitation of the dynamo and central station and isolated plants, often under, adverse and depressing circumstances, with a dogged determination that outlived an opposition steadily threatening defeat. These efforts resulted in the firm commercial establishment of modern electric lighting. It is true that many important inventions of others have a distinguished place in the art as it is exploited today, but the fact remains that the broad essentials, such as the incandescent lamp, systems of distribution, and some important details, are not only universally used, but are as necessary to-day for successful commercial practice as they were when Edison invented them many years ago.
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