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.
Among the complex and numerous problems that presented themselves in the evolution of the battery was the one concerning the internal conductivity of the positive unit. The nickel hydrate was a poor electrical conductor, and although a metallic nickel pocket might be filled with it, there would not be the desired electrical action unless a conducting substance were mixed with it, and so incorporated and packed that there would be good electrical contact throughout. This proved to be a most knotty and intricate puzzle--tricky and evasive--always leading on and promising something, and at the last slipping away leaving the work undone. Edison's remarkable patience and persistence in dealing with this trying problem and in finally solving it successfully won for him more than ordinary admiration from his associates. One of them, in speaking of the seemingly interminable experiments to overcome this trouble, said: "I guess that question of conductivity of the positive pocket brought lots of gray hairs to his head. I never dreamed a man could have such patience and perseverance. Any other man than Edison would have given the whole thing up a thousand times, but not he! Things looked awfully blue to the whole bunch of us many a time, but he was always hopeful. I remember one time things looked so dark to me that I had just about made up my mind to throw up my job, but some good turn came just then and I didn't. Now I'm glad I held on, for we've got a great future."
The difficulty of obtaining good electrical contact in the positive element was indeed Edison's chief trouble for many years. After a great amount of work and experimentation he decided upon a certain form of graphite, which seemed to be suitable for the purpose, and then proceeded to the commercial manufacture of the battery at a special factory in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, installed for the purpose. There was no lack of buyers, but, on the contrary, the factory was unable to turn out batteries enough. The newspapers had previously published articles showing the unusual capacity and performance of the battery, and public interest had thus been greatly awakened.
Notwithstanding the establishment of a regular routine of manufacture and sale, Edison did not cease to experiment for improvement. Although the graphite apparently did the work desired of it, he was not altogether satisfied with its performance and made extended trials of other substances, but at that time found nothing that on the whole served the purpose better. Continuous tests of the commercial cells were carried on at the laboratory, as well as more practical and heavy tests in automobiles, which were constantly kept running around the adjoining country over all kinds of roads. All these tests were very closely watched by Edison, who demanded rigorously that the various trials of the battery should be carried on with all strenuousness so as to get the utmost results and develop any possible weakness. So insistent was he on this, that if any automobile should run several days without bursting a tire or breaking some part of the machine, he would accuse the chauffeur of picking out easy roads.
After these tests had been going on for some time, and some thousands of cells had been sold and were giving satisfactory results to the purchasers, the test sheets and experience gathered from various sources pointed to the fact that occasionally a cell here and there would show up as being short in capacity. Inasmuch as the factory processes were very exact and carefully guarded, and every cell was made as uniform as human skill and care could provide, there thus arose a serious problem. Edison concentrated his powers on the investigation of this trouble, and found that the chief cause lay in the graphite. Some other minor matters also attracted his attention. What to do, was the important question that confronted him. To shut down the factory meant great loss and apparent failure. He realized this fully, but he also knew that to go on would simply be to increase the number of defective batteries in circulation, which would ultimately result in a permanent closure and real failure. Hence he took the course which one would expect of Edison's common sense and directness of action. He was not satisfied that the battery was a complete success, so he shut down and went to experimenting once more.
"And then," says one of the laboratory men, "we started on another series of record-breaking experiments that lasted over five years. I might almost say heart-breaking, too, for of all the elusive, disappointing things one ever hunted for that was the worst. But secrets have to be long-winded and roost high if they want to get away when the `Old Man' goes hunting for them. He doesn't get mad when he misses them, but just keeps on smiling and firing, and usually brings them into camp. That's what he did on the battery, for after a whole lot of work he perfected the nickel-flake idea and process, besides making the great improvement of using tubes instead of flat pockets for the positive. He also added a minor improvement here and there, and now we have a finer battery than we ever expected."
In the interim, while the experimentation of these last five years was in progress, many customers who had purchased batteries of the original type came knocking at the door with orders in their hands for additional outfits wherewith to equip more wagons and trucks. Edison expressed his regrets, but said he was not satisfied with the old cells and was engaged in improving them. To which the customers replied that THEY were entirely satisfied and ready and willing to pay for more batteries of the same kind; but Edison could not be moved from his determination, although considerable pressure was at times brought to bear to sway his decision.
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.
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