“I don’t know what ails sister Pullet,” she continued.

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"I have designed a concentrating plant and built a machine shop, etc., etc. THOMAS A. EDISON."

“I don’t know what ails sister Pullet,” she continued.

Although in the foregoing pages the reader has been made acquainted with the tremendous import of the actualities lying behind those "etc., etc.," the narrative up to this point has revealed Edison chiefly in the light of inventor, experimenter, and investigator. There have been some side glimpses of the industries he has set on foot, and of their financial aspects, and a later chapter will endeavor to sum up the intrinsic value of Edison's work to the world. But there are some other interesting points that may be touched on now in regard to a few of Edison's financial and commercial ventures not generally known or appreciated.

“I don’t know what ails sister Pullet,” she continued.

It is a popular idea founded on experience that an inventor is not usually a business man. One of the exceptions proving the rule may perhaps be met in Edison, though all depends on the point of view. All his life he has had a great deal to do with finance and commerce, and as one looks at the magnitude of the vast industries he has helped to create, it would not be at all unreasonable to expect him to be among the multi-millionaires. That he is not is due to the absence of certain qualities, the lack of which Edison is himself the first to admit. Those qualities may not be amiable, but great wealth is hardly ever accumulated without them. If he had not been so intent on inventing he would have made more of his great opportunities for getting rich. If this utter detachment from any love of money for its own sake has not already been illustrated in some of the incidents narrated, one or two stories are available to emphasize the point. They do not involve any want of the higher business acumen that goes to the proper conduct of affairs. It was said of Gladstone that he was the greatest Chancellor of the Exchequer England ever saw, but that as a retail merchant he would soon have ruined himself by his bookkeeping.

“I don’t know what ails sister Pullet,” she continued.

Edison confesses that he has never made a cent out of his patents in electric light and power--in fact, that they have been an expense to him, and thus a free gift to the world.[18] This was true of the Euro- pean patents as well as the American. "I endeavored to sell my lighting patents in different countries of Europe, and made a contract with a couple of men. On account of their poor business capacity and lack of practicality, they conveyed under the patents all rights to different corporations but in such a way and with such confused wording of the contracts that I never got a cent. One of the companies started was the German Edison, now the great Allgemeine Elektricitaets Gesellschaft. The English company I never got anything for, because a lawyer had originally advised Drexel, Morgan & Co. as to the signing of a certain document, and said it was all right for me to sign. I signed, and I never got a cent because there was a clause in it which prevented me from ever getting anything." A certain easy-going belief in human nature, and even a certain carelessness of attitude toward business affairs, are here revealed. We have already pointed out two instances where in his dealings with the Western Union Company he stipulated that payments of $6000 per year for seventeen years were to be made instead of $100,000 in cash, evidently forgetful of the fact that the annual sum so received was nothing more than legal interest, which could have been earned indefinitely if the capital had been only insisted upon. In later life Edison has been more circumspect, but throughout his early career he was constantly getting into some kind of scrape. Of one experience he says:

[18] Edison received some stock from the parent lighting company, but as the capital stock of that company was increased from time to time, his proportion grew smaller, and he ultimately used it to obtain ready money with which to create and finance the various "shops" in which were manufactured the various items of electric- lighting apparatus necessary to exploit his system. Besides, he was obliged to raise additional large sums of money from other sources for this purpose. He thus became a manufacturer with capital raised by himself, and the stock that he received later, on the formation of the General Electric Company, was not for his electric-light patents, but was in payment for his manufacturing establishments, which had then grown to be of great commercial importance.

"In the early days I was experimenting with metallic filaments for the incandescent light, and sent a certain man out to California in search of platinum. He found a considerable quantity in the sluice-boxes of the Cherokee Valley Mining Company; but just then he found also that fruit-gardening was the thing, and dropped the subject. He then came to me and said that if he could raise $4000 he could go into some kind of orchard arrangement out there, and would give me half the profits. I was unwilling to do it, not having very much money just then, but his persistence was such that I raised the money and gave it to him. He went back to California, and got into mining claims and into fruit-growing, and became one of the politicians of the Coast, and, I believe, was on the staff of the Governor of the State. A couple of years ago he wounded his daughter and shot himself because he had become ruined financially. I never heard from him after he got the money."

Edison tells of another similar episode. "I had two men working for me--one a German, the other a Jew. They wanted me to put up a little money and start them in a shop in New York to make repairs, etc. I put up $800, and was to get half of the profits, and each of them one-quarter. I never got anything for it. A few years afterward I went to see them, and asked what they were doing, and said I would like to sell my interest. They said: `Sell out what?' `Why,' I said, `my interest in the machinery.' They said: `You don't own this machinery. This is our machinery. You have no papers to show anything. You had better get out.' I am inclined to think that the percentage of crooked people was smaller when I was young. It has been steadily rising, and has got up to a very respectable figure now. I hope it will never reach par." To which lugubrious episode so provocative of cynicism, Edison adds: "When I was a young fellow the first thing I did when I went to a town was to put something into the savings-bank and start an account. When I came to New York I put $30 into a savings-bank under the New York Sun office. After the money had been in about two weeks the bank busted. That was in 1870. In 1909 I got back $6.40, with a charge for $1.75 for law expenses. That shows the beauty of New York receiverships."

It is hardly to be wondered at that Edison is rather frank and unsparing in some of his criticisms of shady modern business methods, and the mention of the following incident always provokes him to a fine scorn. "I had an interview with one of the wealthiest men in New York. He wanted me to sell out my associates in the electric lighting business, and offered me all I was going to get and $100,000 besides. Of course I would not do it. I found out that the reason for this offer was that he had had trouble with Mr. Morgan, and wanted to get even with him." Wall Street is, in fact, a frequent object of rather sarcastic reference, applying even to its regular and probably correct methods of banking. "When I was running my ore-mine," he says, "and got up to the point of making shipments to John Fritz, I didn't have capital enough to carry the ore, so I went to J. P. Morgan & Co. and said I wanted them to give me a letter to the City Bank. I wanted to raise some money. I got a letter to Mr. Stillman; and went over and told him I wanted to open an account and get some loans and discounts. He turned me down, and would not do it. `Well,' I said, `isn't it banking to help a man in this way?' He said: `What you want is a partner.' I felt very much crestfallen. I went over to a bank in Newark--the Merchants'--and told them what I wanted. They said: `Certainly, you can have the money.' I made my deposit, and they pulled me through all right. My idea of Wall Street banking has been very poor since that time. Merchant banking seems to be different."

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