THE VALUE OF EDISON'S INVENTIONS TO THE WORLD
IF the world were to take an account of stock, so to speak, and proceed in orderly fashion to marshal its tangible assets in relation to dollars and cents, the natural resources of our globe, from centre to circumference, would head the list. Next would come inventors, whose value to the world as an asset could be readily estimated from an increase of its wealth resulting from the actual transformations of these resources into items of convenience and comfort through the exercise of their inventive ingenuity.
Inventors of practical devices may be broadly divided into two classes--first, those who may be said to have made two blades of grass grow where only one grew before; and, second, great inventors, who have made grass grow plentifully on hitherto unproductive ground. The vast majority of practical inventors belong to and remain in the first of these divisions, but there have been, and probably always will be, a less number who, by reason of their greater achievements, are entitled to be included in both classes. Of these latter, Thomas Alva Edison is one, but in the pages of history he stands conspicuously pre-eminent--a commanding towering figure, even among giants.
The activities of Edison have been of such great range, and his conquests in the domains of practical arts so extensive and varied, that it is somewhat difficult to estimate with any satisfactory degree of accuracy the money value of his inventions to the world of to-day, even after making due allowance for the work of other great inventors and the propulsive effect of large amounts of capital thrown into the enterprises which took root, wholly or in part, through the productions of his genius and energies. This difficulty will be apparent, for instance, when we consider his telegraph and telephone inventions. These were absorbed in enterprises already existing, and were the means of assisting their rapid growth and expansion, particularly the telephone industry. Again, in considering the fact that Edison was one of the first in the field to design and perfect a practical and operative electric railway, the main features of which are used in all electric roads of to-day, we are confronted with the problem as to what proportion of their colossal investment and earnings should be ascribed to him.
Difficulties are multiplied when we pause for a moment to think of Edison's influence on collateral branches of business. In the public mind he is credited with the invention of the incandescent electric light, the phonograph, and other widely known devices; but how few realize his actual influence on other trades that are not generally thought of in connection with these things. For instance, let us note what a prominent engine builder, the late Gardiner C. Sims, has said: "Watt, Corliss, and Porter brought forward steam-engines to a high state of proficiency, yet it remained for Mr. Edison to force better proportions, workmanship, designs, use of metals, regulation, the solving of the complex problems of high speed and endurance, and the successful development of the shaft governor. Mr. Edison is pre- eminent in the realm of engineering."
The phenomenal growth of the copper industry was due to a rapid and ever-increasing demand, owing to the exploitation of the telephone, electric light, electric motor, and electric railway industries. Without these there might never have been the romance of "Coppers" and the rise and fall of countless fortunes. And although one cannot estimate in definite figures the extent of Edison's influence in the enormous increase of copper production, it is to be remembered that his basic inventions constitute a most important factor in the demand for the metal. Besides, one must also give him the credit, as already noted, for having recognized the necessity for a pure quality of copper for electric conductors, and for his persistence in having compelled the manufacturers of that period to introduce new and additional methods of refinement so as to bring about that result, which is now a sine qua non.
Still considering his influence on other staples and collateral trades, let us enumerate briefly and in a general manner some of the more important and additional ones that have been not merely stimulated, but in many cases the business and sales have been directly increased and new arts established through the inventions of this one man--namely, iron, steel, brass, zinc, nickel, platinum ($5 per ounce in 1878, now $26 an ounce), rubber, oils, wax, bitumen, various chemical compounds, belting, boilers, injectors, structural steel, iron tubing, glass, silk, cotton, porcelain, fine woods, slate, marble, electrical measuring instruments, miscellaneous machinery, coal, wire, paper, building materials, sapphires, and many others.
The question before us is, To what extent has Edison added to the wealth of the world by his inventions and his energy and perseverance? It will be noted from the foregoing that no categorical answer can be offered to such a question, but sufficient material can be gathered from a statistical review of the commercial arts directly influenced to afford an approximate idea of the increase in national wealth that has been affected by or has come into being through the practical application of his ideas.
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