"He was very fond of telling and hearing stories, and always appreciated a joke. I remember one that he liked to get off on us once in a while. Our lighting plant was in duplicate, and about 12.30 or 1 o'clock in the morning, at the close of the supper-hour, a change would be made from one plant to the other, involving the gradual extinction of the electric lights and their slowly coming up to candle-power again, the whole change requiring probably about thirty seconds. Sometimes, as this was taking place, Edison would fold his hands, compose himself as if he were in sound sleep, and when the lights were full again would apparently wake up, with the remark, `Well, boys, we've had a fine rest; now let's pitch into work again.' "
Another interesting and amusing reminiscence of this period of activity has been gathered from another of the family of experimenters: "Sometimes, when Mr. Edison had been working long hours, he would want to have a short sleep. It was one of the funniest things I ever witnessed to see him crawl into an ordinary roll-top desk and curl up and take a nap. If there was a sight that was still more funny, it was to see him turn over on his other side, all the time remaining in the desk. He would use several volumes of Watts's Dictionary of Chemistry for a pillow, and we fellows used to say that he absorbed the contents during his sleep, judging from the flow of new ideas he had on waking."
Such incidents as these serve merely to illustrate the lighter moments that stand out in relief against the more sombre background of the strenuous years, for, of all the absorbingly busy periods of Edison's inventive life, the first five years of the storage- battery era was one of the very busiest of them all. It was not that there remained any basic principle to be discovered or simplified, for that had already been done; but it was in the effort to carry these principles into practice that there arose the numerous difficulties that at times seemed insurmountable. But, according to another co-worker, "Edison seemed pleased when he used to run up against a serious difficulty. It would seem to stiffen his backbone and make him more prolific of new ideas. For a time I thought I was foolish to imagine such a thing, but I could never get away from the impression that he really appeared happy when he ran up against a serious snag. That was in my green days, and I soon learned that the failure of an experiment never discourages him unless it is by reason of the carelessness of the man making it. Then Edison gets disgusted. If it fails on its merits, he doesn't worry or fret about it, but, on the contrary, regards it as a useful fact learned; remains cheerful and tries something else. I have known him to reverse an unsuccessful experiment and come out all right."
To follow Edison's trail in detail through the innumerable twists and turns of his experimentation and research on the storage battery, during the past ten years, would not be in keeping with the scope of this narrative, nor would it serve any useful purpose. Besides, such details would fill a big volume. The narrative, however, would not be complete without some mention of the general outline of his work, and reference may be made briefly to a few of the chief items. And lest the reader think that the word "innumerable" may have been carelessly or hastily used above, we would quote the reply of one of the laboratory assistants when asked how many experiments had been made on the Edison storage battery since the year 1900: "Goodness only knows! We used to number our experiments consecutively from 1 to 10,000, and when we got up to 10,000 we turned back to 1 and ran up to 10,000 again, and so on. We ran through several series--I don't know how many, and have lost track of them now, but it was not far from fifty thousand."
From the very first, Edison's broad idea of his storage battery was to make perforated metallic containers having the active materials packed therein; nickel hydrate for the positive and iron oxide for the negative plate. This plan has been adhered to throughout, and has found its consummation in the present form of the completed commercial cell, but in the middle ground which stands between the early crude beginnings and the perfected type of to-day there lies a world of original thought, patient plodding, and achievement.
The first necessity was naturally to obtain the best and purest compounds for active materials. Edison found that comparatively little was known by manufacturing chemists about nickel and iron oxides of the high grade and purity he required. Hence it became necessary for him to establish his own chemical works and put them in charge of men specially trained by himself, with whom he worked. This was the plant at Silver Lake, above referred to. Here, for several years, there was ceaseless activity in the preparation of these chemical compounds by every imaginable process and subsequent testing. Edison's chief chemist says: "We left no stone unturned to find a way of making those chemicals so that they would give the highest results. We carried on the experiments with the two chemicals together. Sometimes the nickel would be ahead in the tests, and then again it would fall behind. To stimulate us to greater improvement, Edison hung up a card which showed the results of tests in milliampere-hours given by the experimental elements as we tried them with the various grades of nickel and iron we had made. This stirred up a great deal of ambition among the boys to push the figures up. Some of our earliest tests showed around 300, but as we improved the material, they gradually crept up to over 500. Just about that time Edison made a trip to Canada, and when he came back we had made such good progress that the figures had crept up to about 1000. I well remember how greatly he was pleased."
In speaking of the development of the negative element of the battery, Mr. Aylsworth said: "In like manner the iron element had to be developed and improved; and finally the iron, which had generally enjoyed superiority in capacity over its companion, the nickel element, had to go in training in order to retain its lead, which was imperative, in order to produce a uniform and constant voltage curve. In talking with me one day about the difficulties under which we were working and contrasting them with the phonograph experimentation, Edison said: `In phonographic work we can use our ears and our eyes, aided with powerful microscopes; but in the battery our difficulties cannot be seen or heard, but must be observed by our mind's eye!' And by reason of the employment of such vision in the past, Edison is now able to see quite clearly through the forest of difficulties after eliminating them one by one."
The size and shape of the containing pockets in the battery plates or elements and the degree of their perforation were matters that received many years of close study and experiment; indeed, there is still to- day constant work expended on their perfection, although their present general form was decided upon several years ago. The mechanical construction of the battery, as a whole, in its present form, compels instant admiration on account of its beauty and completeness. Mr. Edison has spared neither thought, ingenuity, labor, nor money in the effort to make it the most complete and efficient storage cell obtainable, and the results show that his skill, judgment, and foresight have lost nothing of the power that laid the foundation of, and built up, other great arts at each earlier stage of his career.
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