This is well illustrated in a story relating to his invention of the type of storage battery bearing his name. Mr. W. S. Mallory, one of his closest associates for many years, is the authority for the following: "When Mr. Edison decided to shut down the ore- milling plant at Edison, New Jersey, in which I had been associated with him, it became a problem as to what he could profitably take up next, and we had several discussions about it. He finally thought that a good storage battery was a great requisite, and decided to try and devise a new type, for he declared emphatically he would make no battery requiring sulphuric acid. After a little thought he conceived the nickel-iron idea, and started to work at once with characteristic energy. About 7 or 7.30 A.M. he would go down to the laboratory and experiment, only stopping for a short time at noon to eat a lunch sent down from the house. About 6 o'clock the carriage would call to take him to dinner, from which he would return by 7.30 or 8 o'clock to resume work. The carriage came again at midnight to take him home, but frequently had to wait until 2 or 3 o'clock, and sometimes return without him, as he had decided to continue all night.
"This had been going on more than five months, seven days a week, when I was called down to the laboratory to see him. I found him at a bench about three feet wide and twelve to fifteen feet long, on which there were hundreds of little test cells that had been made up by his corps of chemists and experimenters. He was seated at this bench testing, figuring, and planning. I then learned that he had thus made over nine thousand experiments in trying to devise this new type of storage battery, but had not produced a single thing that promised to solve the question. In view of this immense amount of thought and labor, my sympathy got the better of my judgment, and I said: `Isn't it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven't been able to get any results?' Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: `Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won't work.'
"At that time he sent me out West on a special mission. On my return, a few weeks later, his experiments had run up to over ten thousand, but he had discovered the missing link in the combination sought for. Of course, we all remember how the battery was completed and put on the market. Then, because he was dissatisfied with it, he stopped the sales and commenced a new line of investigation, which has recently culminated successfully. I shouldn't wonder if his experiments on the battery ran up pretty near to fifty thousand, for they fill more than one hundred and fifty of the note-books, to say nothing of some thousands of tests in curve sheets."
Although Edison has an absolute disregard for the total outlay of money in investigation, he is particular to keep down the cost of individual experiments to a minimum, for, as he observed to one of his assistants: "A good many inventors try to develop things life- size, and thus spend all their money, instead of first experimenting more freely on a small scale." To Edison life is not only a grand opportunity to find out things by experiment, but, when found, to improve them by further experiment. One night, after receiving a satisfactory report of progress from Mr. Mason, superintendent of the cement plant, he said: "The only way to keep ahead of the procession is to experiment. If you don't, the other fellow will. When there's no experimenting there's no progress. Stop experimenting and you go backward. If anything goes wrong, experiment until you get to the very bottom of the trouble."
It is easy to realize, therefore, that a character so thoroughly permeated with these ideas is not apt to stop and figure out expense when in hot pursuit of some desired object. When that object has been attained, however, and it passes from the experimental to the commercial stage, Edison's monetary views again come into strong play, but they take a diametrically opposite position, for he then begins immediately to plan the extreme of economy in the production of the article. A thousand and one instances could be quoted in illustration; but as they would tend to change the form of this narrative into a history of economy in manufacture, it will suffice to mention but one, and that a recent occurrence, which serves to illustrate how closely he keeps in touch with everything, and also how the inventive faculty and instinct of commercial economy run close together. It was during Edison's winter stay in Florida, in March, 1909. He had reports sent to him daily from various places, and studied them carefully, for he would write frequently with comments, instructions, and suggestions; and in one case, commenting on the oiling system at the cement plant, he wrote: "Your oil losses are now getting lower, I see." Then, after suggesting some changes to reduce them still further, he went on to say: "Here is a chance to save a mill per barrel based on your regular daily output."
This thorough consideration of the smallest detail is essentially characteristic of Edison, not only in economy of manufacture, but in all his work, no matter of what kind, whether it be experimenting, investigating, testing, or engineering. To follow him through the labyrinthine paths of investigation contained in the great array of laboratory note-books is to become involved in a mass of minutely detailed searches which seek to penetrate the inmost recesses of nature by an ultimate analysis of an infinite variety of parts. As the reader will obtain a fuller comprehension of this idea, and of Edison's methods, by concrete illustration rather than by generalization, the authors have thought it well to select at random two typical instances of specific investigations out of the thousands that are scattered through the notebooks. These will be found in the following extracts from one of the note-books, and consist of Edison's instructions to be carried out in detail by his experimenters:
"Take, say, 25 lbs. hard Cuban asphalt and separate all the different hydrocarbons, etc., as far as possible by means of solvents. It will be necessary first to dissolve everything out by, say, hot turpentine, then successively treat the residue with bisulphide carbon, benzol, ether, chloroform, naphtha, toluol, alcohol, and other probable solvents. After you can go no further, distil off all the solvents so the asphalt material has a tar-like consistency. Be sure all the ash is out of the turpentine portion; now, after distilling the turpentine off, act on the residue with all the solvents that were used on the residue, using for the first the solvent which is least likely to dissolve a great part of it. By thus manipulating the various solvents you will be enabled probably to separate the crude asphalt into several distinct hydrocarbons. Put each in a bottle after it has been dried, and label the bottle with the process, etc., so we may be able to duplicate it; also give bottle a number and describe everything fully in note-book."
" Destructively distil the following substances down to a point just short of carbonization, so that the residuum can be taken out of the retort, powdered, and acted on by all the solvents just as the asphalt in previous page. The distillation should be carried to, say, 600 degrees or 700 degrees Fahr., but not continued long enough to wholly reduce mass to charcoal, but always run to blackness. Separate the residuum in as many definite parts as possible, bottle and label, and keep accurate records as to process, weights, etc., so a reproduction of the experiment can at any time be made: Gelatine, 4 lbs.; asphalt, hard Cuban, 10 lbs.; coal-tar or pitch, 10 lbs.; wood-pitch, 10 lbs.; Syrian asphalt, 10 lbs.; bituminous coal, 10 lbs.; cane-sugar, 10 lbs.; glucose, 10 lbs.; dextrine, 10 lbs.; glycerine, 10 lbs.; tartaric acid, 5 lbs.; gum guiac, 5 lbs.; gum amber, 3 lbs.; gum tragacanth, 3 Lbs.; aniline red, 1 lb.; aniline oil, 1 lb.; crude anthracene, 5 lbs.; petroleum pitch, 10 lbs.; albumen from eggs, 2 lbs.; tar from passing chlorine through aniline oil, 2 lbs.; citric acid, 5 lbs.; sawdust of boxwood, 3 lbs.; starch, 5 lbs.; shellac, 3 lbs.; gum Arabic, 5 lbs.; castor oil, 5 lbs."
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