With regard to the conditions attendant upon the manufacture of the lamps, Edison says: "When we first started the electric light we had to have a factory for manufacturing lamps. As the Edison Light Company did not seem disposed to go into manufacturing, we started a small lamp factory at Menlo Park with what money I could raise from my other inventions and royalties, and some assistance. The lamps at that time were costing about $1.25 each to make, so I said to the company: `If you will give me a contract during the life of the patents, I will make all the lamps required by the company and deliver them for forty cents.' The company jumped at the chance of this offer, and a contract was drawn up. We then bought at a receiver's sale at Harrison, New Jersey, a very large brick factory building which had been used as an oil-cloth works. We got it at a great bargain, and only paid a small sum down, and the balance on mortgage. We moved the lamp works from Menlo Park to Harrison. The first year the lamps cost us about $1.10 each. We sold them for forty cents; but there were only about twenty or thirty thousand of them. The next year they cost us about seventy cents, and we sold them for forty. There were a good many, and we lost more money the second year than the first. The third year I succeeded in getting up machinery and in changing the processes, until it got down so that they cost somewhere around fifty cents. I still sold them for forty cents, and lost more money that year than any other, because the sales were increasing rapidly. The fourth year I got it down to thirty-seven cents, and I made all the money up in one year that I had lost previously. I finally got it down to twenty-two cents, and sold them for forty cents; and they were made by the million. Whereupon the Wall Street people thought it was a very lucrative business, so they concluded they would like to have it, and bought us out.
"One of the incidents which caused a very great cheapening was that, when we started, one of the important processes had to be done by experts. This was the sealing on of the part carrying the filament into the globe, which was rather a delicate operation in those days, and required several months of training before any one could seal in a fair number of parts in a day. When we got to the point where we employed eighty of these experts they formed a union; and knowing it was impossible to manufacture lamps without them, they became very insolent. One instance was that the son of one of these experts was employed in the office, and when he was told to do anything would not do it, or would give an insolent reply. He was discharged, whereupon the union notified us that unless the boy was taken back the whole body would go out. It got so bad that the manager came to me and said he could not stand it any longer; something had got to be done. They were not only more surly; they were diminishing the output, and it became impossible to manage the works. He got me enthused on the subject, so I started in to see if it were not possible to do that operation by machinery. After feeling around for some days I got a clew how to do it. I then put men on it I could trust, and made the preliminary machinery. That seemed to work pretty well. I then made another machine which did the work nicely. I then made a third machine, and would bring in yard men, ordinary laborers, etc., and when I could get these men to put the parts together as well as the trained experts, in an hour, I considered the machine complete. I then went secretly to work and made thirty of the machines. Up in the top loft of the factory we stored those machines, and at night we put up the benches and got everything all ready. Then we discharged the office-boy. Then the union went out. It has been out ever since.
"When we formed the works at Harrison we divided the interests into one hundred shares or parts at $100 par. One of the boys was hard up after a time, and sold two shares to Bob Cutting. Up to that time we had never paid anything; but we got around to the point where the board declared a dividend every Saturday night. We had never declared a dividend when Cutting bought his shares, and after getting his dividends for three weeks in succession, he called up on the telephone and wanted to know what kind of a concern this was that paid a weekly dividend. The works sold for $1,085,000."
Incidentally it may be noted, as illustrative of the problems brought to Edison, that while he had the factory at Harrison an importer in the Chinese trade went to him and wanted a dynamo to be run by hand power. The importer explained that in China human labor was cheaper than steam power. Edison devised a machine to answer the purpose, and put long spokes on it, fitted it up, and shipped it to China. He has not, however, heard of it since.
For making the dynamos Edison secured, as noted in the preceding chapter, the Roach Iron Works on Goerck Street, New York, and this was also equipped. A building was rented on Washington Street, where machinery and tools were put in specially designed for making the underground tube conductors and their various paraphernalia; and the faithful John Kruesi was given charge of that branch of production. To Sigmund Bergmann, who had worked previously with Edison on telephone apparatus and phonographs, and was already making Edison specialties in a small way in a loft on Wooster Street, New York, was assigned the task of constructing sockets, fixtures, meters, safety fuses, and numerous other details.
Thus, broadly, the manufacturing end of the problem of introduction was cared for. In the early part of 1881 the Edison Electric Light Company leased the old Bishop mansion at 65 Fifth Avenue, close to Fourteenth Street, for its headquarters and show- rooms. This was one of the finest homes in the city of that period, and its acquisition was a premonitory sign of the surrender of the famous residential avenue to commerce. The company needed not only offices, but, even more, such an interior as would display to advantage the new light in everyday use; and this house with its liberal lines, spacious halls, lofty ceilings, wide parlors, and graceful, winding stairway was ideal for the purpose. In fact, in undergoing this violent change, it did not cease to be a home in the real sense, for to this day many an Edison veteran's pulse is quickened by some chance reference to "65," where through many years the work of development by a loyal and devoted band of workers was centred. Here Edison and a few of his assistants from Menlo Park installed immediately in the basement a small generating plant, at first with a gas-engine which was not successful, and then with a Hampson high-speed engine and boiler, constituting a complete isolated plant. The building was wired from top to bottom, and equipped with all the appliances of the art. The experience with the little gas-engine was rather startling. "At an early period at `65' we decided," says Edison, "to light it up with the Edison system, and put a gas- engine in the cellar, using city gas. One day it was not going very well, and I went down to the man in charge and got exploring around. Finally I opened the pedestal--a storehouse for tools, etc. We had an open lamp, and when we opened the pedestal, it blew the doors off, and blew out the windows, and knocked me down, and the other man."
For the next four or five years "65" was a veritable beehive, day and night. The routine was very much the same as that at the laboratory, in its utter neglect of the clock. The evenings were not only devoted to the continuance of regular business, but the house was thrown open to the public until late at night, never closing before ten o'clock, so as to give everybody who wished an opportunity to see that great novelty of the time--the incandescent light--whose fame had meanwhile been spreading all over the globe. The first year, 1881, was naturally that which witnessed the greatest rush of visitors; and the building hardly ever closed its doors till midnight. During the day business was carried on under great stress, and Mr. Insull has described how Edison was to be found there trying to lead the life of a man of affairs in the conventional garb of polite society, instead of pursuing inventions and researches in his laboratory. But the disagreeable ordeal could not be dodged. After the experience Edison could never again be tempted to quit his laboratory and work for any length of time; but in this instance there were some advantages attached to the sacrifice, for the crowds of lion-hunters and people seeking business arrangements would only have gone out to Menlo Park; while, on the other hand, the great plans for lighting New York demanded very close personal attention on the spot.
As it was, not only Edison, but all the company's directors, officers, and employees, were kept busy exhibiting and explaining the light. To the public of that day, when the highest known form of house illuminant was gas, the incandescent lamp, with its ability to burn in any position, its lack of heat so that you could put your hand on the brilliant glass globe; the absence of any vitiating effect on the atmosphere, the obvious safety from fire; the curious fact that you needed no matches to light it, and that it was under absolute control from a distance-- these and many other features came as a distinct revelation and marvel, while promising so much additional comfort, convenience, and beauty in the home, that inspection was almost invariably followed by a request for installation.