Experiment was continued beyond the point of peradventure, and after some new machinery had been built, the manufacture of the new type of cell was begun in the early summer of 1909, and at the present writing is being extended as fast as the necessary additional machinery can be made. The product is shipped out as soon as it is completed.
The nickel flake, which is Edison's ingenious solution of the conductivity problem, is of itself a most interesting product, intensely practical in its application and fascinating in its manufacture. The flake of nickel is obtained by electroplating upon a metallic cylinder alternate layers of copper and nickel, one hundred of each, after which the combined sheet is stripped from the cylinder. So thin are the layers that this sheet is only about the thickness of a visiting-card, and yet it is composed of two hundred layers of metal. The sheet is cut into tiny squares, each about one-sixteenth of an inch, and these squares are put into a bath where the copper is dissolved out. This releases the layers of nickel, so that each of these small squares becomes one hundred tiny sheets, or flakes, of pure metallic nickel, so thin that when they are dried they will float in the air, like thistle-down.
In their application to the manufacture of batteries, the flakes are used through the medium of a special machine, so arranged that small charges of nickel hydrate and nickel flake are alternately fed into the pockets intended for positives, and tamped down with a pressure equal to about four tons per square inch. This insures complete and perfect contact and consequent electrical conductivity throughout the entire unit.
The development of the nickel flake contains in itself a history of patient investigation, labor, and achievement, but we have not space for it, nor for tracing the great work that has been done in developing and perfecting the numerous other parts and adjuncts of this remarkable battery. Suffice it to say that when Edison went boldly out into new territory, after something entirely unknown, he was quite prepared for hard work and exploration. He encountered both in unstinted measure, but kept on going forward until, after long travel, he had found all that he expected and accomplished something more beside. Nature DID respond to his whole- hearted appeal, and, by the time the hunt was ended, revealed a good storage battery of entirely new type. Edison not only recognized and took advantage of the principles he had discovered, but in adapting them for commercial use developed most ingenious processes and mechanical appliances for carrying his discoveries into practical effect. Indeed, it may be said that the invention of an enormous variety of new machines and mechanical appliances rendered necessary by each change during the various stages of development of the battery, from first to last, stands as a lasting tribute to the range and versatility of his powers.
It is not within the scope of this narrative to enter into any description of the relative merits of the Edison storage battery, that being the province of a commercial catalogue. It does, however, seem entirely allowable to say that while at the present writing the tests that have been made extend over a few years only, their results and the intrinsic value of this characteristic Edison invention are of such a substantial nature as to point to the inevitable growth of another great industry arising from its manufacture, and to its wide-spread application to many uses.
The principal use that Edison has had in mind for his battery is transportation of freight and passengers by truck, automobile, and street-car. The greatly increased capacity in proportion to weight of the Edison cell makes it particularly adaptable for this class of work on account of the much greater radius of travel that is possible by its use. The latter point of advantage is the one that appeals most to the automobilist, as he is thus enabled to travel, it is asserted, more than three times farther than ever before on a single charge of the battery.
Edison believes that there are important advantages possible in the employment of his storage battery for street-car propulsion. Under the present system of operation, a plant furnishing the electric power for street railways must be large enough to supply current for the maximum load during "rush hours," although much of the machinery may be lying idle and unproductive in the hours of minimum load. By the use of storage-battery cars, this immense and uneconomical maximum investment in plant can be cut down to proportions of true commercial economy, as the charging of the batteries can be conducted at a uniform rate with a reasonable expenditure for generating machinery. Not only this, but each car becomes an independently moving unit, not subject to delay by reason of a general breakdown of the power plant or of the line. In addition to these advantages, the streets would be freed from their burden of trolley wires or conduits. To put his ideas into practice, Edison built a short railway line at the Orange works in the winter of 1909-10, and, in co-operation with Mr. R. H. Beach, constructed a special type of street-car, and equipped it with motor, storage battery, and other necessary operating devices. This car was subsequently put upon the street-car lines in New York City, and demonstrated its efficiency so completely that it was purchased by one of the street-car companies, which has since ordered additional cars for its lines. The demonstration of this initial car has been watched with interest by many railroad officials, and its performance has been of so successful a nature that at the present writing (the summer of 1910) it has been necessary to organize and equip a preliminary factory in which to construct many other cars of a similar type that have been ordered by other street-railway companies. This enterprise will be conducted by a corporation which has been specially organized for the purpose. Thus, there has been initiated the development of a new and important industry whose possible ultimate proportions are beyond the range of present calculation. Extensive as this industry may become, however, Edison is firmly convinced that the greatest field for his storage battery lies in its adaptation to commercial trucking and hauling, and to pleasure vehicles, in comparison with which the street-car business even with its great possibilities--will not amount to more than 1 per cent.
Edison has pithily summed up his work and his views in an article on "The To-Morrows of Electricity and Invention" in Popular Electricity for June, 1910, in which he says: "For years past I have been trying to perfect a storage battery, and have now rendered it entirely suitable to automobile and other work. There is absolutely no reason why horses should be allowed within city limits; for between the gasoline and the electric car, no room is left for them. They are not needed. The cow and the pig have gone, and the horse is still more undesirable. A higher public ideal of health and cleanliness is working tow- ard such banishment very swiftly; and then we shall have decent streets, instead of stables made out of strips of cobblestones bordered by sidewalks. The worst use of money is to make a fine thoroughfare, and then turn it over to horses. Besides that, the change will put the humane societies out of business. Many people now charge their own batteries because of lack of facilities; but I believe central stations will find in this work very soon the largest part of their load. The New York Edison Company, or the Chicago Edison Company, should have as much current going out for storage batteries as for power motors; and it will be so some near day."
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