Since Edison completed his final series of investigations on his storage battery and brought it to its present state of perfection, the commercial values have increased by leaps and bounds. The battery, as it was originally put out some years ago, made for itself an enviable reputation; but with its improved form there has come a vast increase of business. Although the largest of the concrete buildings where its manufacture is carried on is over four hundred feet long and four stories in height, it has already become necessary to plan extensions and enlargements of the plant in order to provide for the production of batteries to fill the present demands. It was not until the summer of 1909 that Edison was willing to pronounce the final verdict of satisfaction with regard to this improved form of storage battery; but subsequent commercial results have justified his judgment, and it is not too much to predict that in all probability the business will assume gigantic proportions within a very few years. At the present time (1910) the Edison storage-battery enterprise is in its early stages of growth, and its status may be compared with that of the electric-light system about the year 1881.
There is one more industry, though of comparatively small extent, that is included in the activities of the Orange works, namely, the manufacture and sale of the Bates numbering machine. This is a well- known article of commerce, used in mercantile establishments for the stamping of consecutive, duplicate, and manifold numbers on checks and other documents. It is not an invention of Edison, but the organization owning it, together with the patent rights, were acquired by him some years ago, and he has since continued and enlarged the business both in scope and volume, besides, of course, improving and perfecting the apparatus itself. These machines are known everywhere throughout the country, and while the annual sales are of comparatively moderate amount in comparison with the totals of the other Edison industries at Orange, they represent in the aggregate a comfortable and encouraging business.
In this brief outline review of the flourishing and extensive commercial enterprises centred around the Orange laboratory, the facts, it is believed, contain a complete refutation of the idea that an inventor cannot be a business man. They also bear abundant evidence of the compatibility of these two widely divergent gifts existing, even to a high degree, in the same person. A striking example of the correctness of this proposition is afforded in the present case, when it is borne in mind that these various industries above described (whose annual sales run into many millions of dollars) owe not only their very creation (except the Bates machine) and existence to Edison's inventive originality and commercial initiative, but also their continued growth and prosperity to his incessant activities in dealing with their multifarious business problems. In publishing a portrait of Edison this year, one of the popular magazines placed under it this caption: "Were the Age called upon to pay Thomas A. Edison all it owes to him, the Age would have to make an assignment." The present chapter will have thrown some light on the idiosyncrasies of Edison as financier and as manufacturer, and will have shown that while the claim thus suggested may be quite good, it will certainly never be pressed or collected.
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."
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