"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.
The nickel flake, which is Edison's ingenious solution of the conductivity problem, is of itself a most interesting product, intensely practical in its application and fascinating in its manufacture. The flake of nickel is obtained by electroplating upon a metallic cylinder alternate layers of copper and nickel, one hundred of each, after which the combined sheet is stripped from the cylinder. So thin are the layers that this sheet is only about the thickness of a visiting-card, and yet it is composed of two hundred layers of metal. The sheet is cut into tiny squares, each about one-sixteenth of an inch, and these squares are put into a bath where the copper is dissolved out. This releases the layers of nickel, so that each of these small squares becomes one hundred tiny sheets, or flakes, of pure metallic nickel, so thin that when they are dried they will float in the air, like thistle-down.
In their application to the manufacture of batteries, the flakes are used through the medium of a special machine, so arranged that small charges of nickel hydrate and nickel flake are alternately fed into the pockets intended for positives, and tamped down with a pressure equal to about four tons per square inch. This insures complete and perfect contact and consequent electrical conductivity throughout the entire unit.
The development of the nickel flake contains in itself a history of patient investigation, labor, and achievement, but we have not space for it, nor for tracing the great work that has been done in developing and perfecting the numerous other parts and adjuncts of this remarkable battery. Suffice it to say that when Edison went boldly out into new territory, after something entirely unknown, he was quite prepared for hard work and exploration. He encountered both in unstinted measure, but kept on going forward until, after long travel, he had found all that he expected and accomplished something more beside. Nature DID respond to his whole- hearted appeal, and, by the time the hunt was ended, revealed a good storage battery of entirely new type. Edison not only recognized and took advantage of the principles he had discovered, but in adapting them for commercial use developed most ingenious processes and mechanical appliances for carrying his discoveries into practical effect. Indeed, it may be said that the invention of an enormous variety of new machines and mechanical appliances rendered necessary by each change during the various stages of development of the battery, from first to last, stands as a lasting tribute to the range and versatility of his powers.
It is not within the scope of this narrative to enter into any description of the relative merits of the Edison storage battery, that being the province of a commercial catalogue. It does, however, seem entirely allowable to say that while at the present writing the tests that have been made extend over a few years only, their results and the intrinsic value of this characteristic Edison invention are of such a substantial nature as to point to the inevitable growth of another great industry arising from its manufacture, and to its wide-spread application to many uses.
The principal use that Edison has had in mind for his battery is transportation of freight and passengers by truck, automobile, and street-car. The greatly increased capacity in proportion to weight of the Edison cell makes it particularly adaptable for this class of work on account of the much greater radius of travel that is possible by its use. The latter point of advantage is the one that appeals most to the automobilist, as he is thus enabled to travel, it is asserted, more than three times farther than ever before on a single charge of the battery.
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