It is pointed out that "Previous inventions failed-- necessities for commercial success and accomplishment by Edison. Edison's great effort--not to make a large light or a blinding light, but a small light having the mildness of gas." Curves are then called for of iron and copper investment--also energy line--curves of candle-power and electromotive force; curves on motors; graphic representation of the consumption of gas January to December; tables and formulae; representations graphically of what one dollar will buy in different kinds of light; "table, weight of copper required different distance, 100-ohm lamp, 16 candles"; table with curves showing increased economy by larger engine, higher power, etc. There is not much that is dilettante about all this. Note is made of an article in April, 1879, putting the total amount of gas investment in the whole world at that time at $1,500,000,000; which is now (1910) about the amount of the electric-lighting investment in the United States. Incidentally a note remarks: "So unpleasant is the effect of the products of gas that in the new Madison Square Theatre every gas jet is ventilated by special tubes to carry away the products of combustion." In short, there is no aspect of the new problem to which Edison failed to apply his acutest powers; and the speed with which the new system was worked out and introduced was simply due to his initial mastery of all the factors in the older art. Luther Stieringer, an expert gas engineer and inventor, whose services were early enlisted, once said that Edison knew more about gas than any other man he had ever met. The remark is an evidence of the kind of preparation Edison gave himself for his new task.
FROM the spring of 1876 to 1886 Edison lived and did his work at Menlo Park; and at this stage of the narrative, midway in that interesting and eventful period, it is appropriate to offer a few notes and jottings on the place itself, around which tradition is already weaving its fancies, just as at the time the outpouring of new inventions from it invested the name with sudden prominence and with the glamour of romance. "In 1876 I moved," says Edison, "to Menlo Park, New Jersey, on the Pennsylvania Railroad, several miles below Elizabeth. The move was due to trouble I had about rent. I had rented a small shop in Newark, on the top floor of a padlock factory, by the month. I gave notice that I would give it up at the end of the month, paid the rent, moved out, and delivered the keys. Shortly afterward I was served with a paper, probably a judgment, wherein I was to pay nine months' rent. There was some law, it seems, that made a monthly renter liable for a year. This seemed so unjust that I determined to get out of a place that permitted such injustice." For several Sundays he walked through different parts of New Jersey with two of his assistants before he decided on Menlo Park. The change was a fortunate one, for the inventor had married Miss Mary E. Stillwell, and was now able to establish himself comfortably with his wife and family while enjoying immediate access to the new laboratory. Every moment thus saved was valuable.
To-day the place and region have gone back to the insignificance from which Edison's genius lifted them so startlingly. A glance from the car windows reveals only a gently rolling landscape dotted with modest residences and unpretentious barns; and there is nothing in sight by way of memorial to suggest that for nearly a decade this spot was the scene of the most concentrated and fruitful inventive activity the world has ever known. Close to the Menlo Park railway station is a group of gaunt and deserted buildings, shelter of the casual tramp, and slowly crumbling away when not destroyed by the carelessness of some ragged smoker. This silent group of buildings comprises the famous old laboratory and workshops of Mr. Edison, historic as being the birthplace of the carbon transmitter, the phonograph, the incandescent lamp, and the spot where Edison also worked out his systems of electrical distribution, his commercial dynamo, his electric railway, his megaphone, his tasimeter, and many other inventions of greater or lesser degree. Here he continued, moreover, his earlier work on the quadruplex, sextuplex, multiplex, and automatic telegraphs, and did his notable pioneer work in wireless telegraphy. As the reader knows, it had been a master passion with Edison from boyhood up to possess a laboratory, in which with free use of his own time and powers, and with command of abundant material resources, he could wrestle with Nature and probe her closest secrets. Thus, from the little cellar at Port Huron, from the scant shelves in a baggage car, from the nooks and corners of dingy telegraph offices, and the grimy little shops in New York and Newark, he had now come to the proud ownership of an establishment to which his favorite word "laboratory" might justly be applied. Here he could experiment to his heart's content and invent on a larger, bolder scale than ever--and he did!
Menlo Park was the merest hamlet. Omitting the laboratory structures, it had only about seven houses, the best looking of which Edison lived in, a place that had a windmill pumping water into a reservoir. One of the stories of the day was that Edison had his front gate so connected with the pumping plant that every visitor as he opened or closed the gate added involuntarily to the supply in the reservoir. Two or three of the houses were occupied by the families of members of the staff; in the others boarders were taken, the laboratory, of course, furnishing all the patrons. Near the railway station was a small saloon kept by an old Scotchman named Davis, where billiards were played in idle moments, and where in the long winter evenings the hot stove was a centre of attraction to loungers and story-tellers. The truth is that there was very little social life of any kind possible under the strenuous conditions prevailing at the laboratory, where, if anywhere, relaxation was enjoyed at odd intervals of fatigue and waiting.
The main laboratory was a spacious wooden building of two floors. The office was in this building at first, until removed to the brick library when that was finished. There S. L. Griffin, an old telegraph friend of Edison, acted as his secretary and had charge of a voluminous and amazing correspondence. The office employees were the Carman brothers and the late John F. Randolph, afterwards secretary. According to Mr. Francis Jehl, of Budapest, then one of the staff, to whom the writers are indebted for a great deal of valuable data on this period: "It was on the upper story of this laboratory that the most important experiments were executed, and where the incandescent lamp was born. This floor consisted of a large hall containing several long tables, upon which could be found all the various instruments, scientific and chemical apparatus that the arts at that time could produce. Books lay promiscuously about, while here and there long lines of bichromate-of- potash cells could be seen, together with experimental models of ideas that Edison or his assistants were engaged upon. The side walls of this hall were lined with shelves filled with bottles, phials, and other receptacles containing every imaginable chemical and other material that could be obtained, while at the end of this hall, and near the organ which stood in the rear, was a large glass case containing the world's most precious metals in sheet and wire form, together with very rare and costly chemicals. When evening came on, and the last rays of the setting sun penetrated through the side windows, this hall looked like a veritable Faust laboratory.
"On the ground floor we had our testing-table, which stood on two large pillars of brick built deep into the earth in order to get rid of all vibrations on account of the sensitive instruments that were upon it. There was the Thomson reflecting mirror galvanometer and electrometer, while nearby were the standard cells by which the galvanometers were adjusted and standardized. This testing-table was connected by means of wires with all parts of the laboratory and machine-shop, so that measurements could be conveniently made from a distance, as in those days we had no portable and direct-reading instruments, such as now exist. Opposite this table we installed, later on, our photometrical chamber, which was constructed on the Bunsen principle. A little way from this table, and separated by a partition, we had the chemical laboratory with its furnaces and stink-chambers. Later on another chemical laboratory was installed near the photometer-room, and this Dr. A. Haid had charge of."
Next to the laboratory in importance was the machine- shop, a large and well-lighted building of brick, at one end of which there was the boiler and engine- room. This shop contained light and heavy lathes, boring and drilling machines, all kinds of planing machines; in fact, tools of all descriptions, so that any apparatus, however delicate or heavy, could be made and built as might be required by Edison in experimenting. Mr. John Kruesi had charge of this shop, and was assisted by a number of skilled mechanics, notably John Ott, whose deft fingers and quick intuitive grasp of the master's ideas are still in demand under the more recent conditions at the Llewellyn Park laboratory in Orange.
Between the machine-shop and the laboratory was a small building of wood used as a carpenter-shop, where Tom Logan plied his art. Nearby was the gasoline plant. Before the incandescent lamp was perfected, the only illumination was from gasoline gas; and that was used later for incandescent-lamp glass-blowing, which was done in another small building on one side of the laboratory. Apparently little or no lighting service was obtained from the Wallace- Farmer arc lamps secured from Ansonia, Connecticut. The dynamo was probably needed for Edison's own experiments.