Mr. Edison himself describes various instances in which the demand for isolated plants had to be met: "One night at `65,' " he says, "James Gordon Bennett came in. We were very anxious to get into a printing establishment. I had caused a printer's composing case to be set up with the idea that if we could get editors and publishers in to see it, we should show them the advantages of the electric light. So ultimately Mr. Bennett came, and after seeing the whole operation of everything, he ordered Mr. Howland, general manager of the Herald, to light the newspaper offices up at once with electricity."
Another instance of the same kind deals with the introduction of the light for purely social purposes: "While at 65 Fifth Avenue," remarks Mr. Edison, "I got to know Christian Herter, then the largest decorator in the United States. He was a highly intellectual man, and I loved to talk to him. He was always railing against the rich people, for whom he did work, for their poor taste. One day Mr. W. H. Vanderbilt came to `65,' saw the light, and decided that he would have his new house lighted with it. This was one of the big `box houses' on upper Fifth Avenue. He put the whole matter in the hands of his son-in-law, Mr. H. McK. Twombly, who was then in charge of the telephone department of the Western Union. Twombly closed the contract with us for a plant. Mr. Herter was doing the decoration, and it was extraordinarily fine. After a while we got the engines and boilers and wires all done, and the lights in position, before the house was quite finished, and thought we would have an exhibit of the light. About eight o'clock in the evening we lit up, and it was very good. Mr. Vanderbilt and his wife and some of his daughters came in, and were there a few minutes when a fire occurred. The large picture-gallery was lined with silk cloth interwoven with fine metallic thread. In some manner two wires had got crossed with this tinsel, which became red-hot, and the whole mass was soon afire. I knew what was the matter, and ordered them to run down and shut off. It had not burst into flame, and died out immediately. Mrs. Vanderbilt became hysterical, and wanted to know where it came from. We told her we had the plant in the cellar, and when she learned we had a boiler there she said she would not occupy the house. She would not live over a boiler. We had to take the whole installation out. The houses afterward went onto the New York Edison system."
The art was, however, very crude and raw, and as there were no artisans in existence as mechanics or electricians who had any knowledge of the practice, there was inconceivable difficulty in getting such isolated plants installed, as well as wiring the buildings in the district to be covered by the first central station in New York. A night school was, therefore, founded at Fifth Avenue, and was put in charge of Mr. E. H. Johnson, fresh from his successes in England. The most available men for the purpose were, of course, those who had been accustomed to wiring for the simpler electrical systems then in vogue-- telephones, district-messenger calls, burglar alarms, house annunciators, etc., and a number of these "wiremen" were engaged and instructed patiently in the rudiments of the new art by means of a blackboard and oral lessons. Students from the technical schools and colleges were also eager recruits, for here was something that promised a career, and one that was especially alluring to youth because of its novelty. These beginners were also instructed in general engineering problems under the guidance of Mr. C. L. Clarke, who was brought in from the Menlo Park laboratory to assume charge of the engineering part of the company's affairs. Many of these pioneer students and workmen became afterward large and successful contractors, or have filled positions of distinction as managers and superintendents of central stations. Possibly the electrical industry may not now attract as much adventurous genius as it did then, for automobiles, aeronautics, and other new arts have come to the front in a quarter of a century to enlist the enthusiasm of a younger generation of mercurial spirits; but it is certain that at the period of which we write, Edison himself, still under thirty- five, was the centre of an extraordinary group of men, full of effervescing and aspiring talent, to which he gave glorious opportunity.
A very novel literary feature of the work was the issuance of a bulletin devoted entirely to the Edison lighting propaganda. Nowadays the "house organ," as it is called, has become a very hackneyed feature of industrial development, confusing in its variety and volume, and a somewhat doubtful adjunct to a highly perfected, widely circulating periodical technical press. But at that time, 1882, the Bulletin of the Edison Electric Light Company, published in ordinary 12mo form, was distinctly new in advertising and possibly unique, as it is difficult to find anything that compared with it. The Bulletin was carried on for some years, until its necessity was removed by the development of other opportunities for reaching the public; and its pages serve now as a vivid and lively picture of the period to which its record applies. The first issue, of January 12, 1882, was only four pages, but it dealt with the question of insurance; plants at Santiago, Chili, and Rio de Janeiro; the European Company with 3,500,000 francs subscribed; the work in Paris, London, Strasburg, and Moscow; the laying of over six miles of street mains in New York; a patent decision in favor of Edison; and the size of safety catch wire. By April of 1882, the Bulletin had attained the respectable size of sixteen pages; and in December it was a portly magazine of forty-eight. Every item bears testimony to the rapid progress being made; and by the end of 1882 it is seen that no fewer than 153 isolated Edison plants had been installed in the United States alone, with a capacity of 29,192 lamps. Moreover, the New York central station had gone into operation, starting at 3 P.M. on September 4, and at the close of 1882 it was lighting 225 houses wired for about 5000 lamps. This epochal story will be told in the next chapter. Most interesting are the Bulletin notes from England, especially in regard to the brilliant exhibition given by Mr. E. H. Johnson at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham, visited by the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, twice by the Dukes of Westminster and Sutherland, by three hundred members of the Gas Institute, and by innumerable delegations from cities, boroughs, etc. Describing this before the Royal Society of Arts, Sir W. H. Preece, F.R.S., remarked: "Many unkind things have been said of Mr. Edison and his promises; perhaps no one has been severer in this direction than myself. It is some gratification for me to announce my belief that he has at last solved the problem he set himself to solve, and to be able to describe to the Society the way in which he has solved it." Before the exhibition closed it was visited by the Prince and Princess of Wales--now the deceased Edward VII. and the Dowager Queen Alexandra--and the Princess received from Mr. Johnson as a souvenir a tiny electric chandelier fashioned like a bouquet of fern leaves and flowers, the buds being some of the first miniature incandescent lamps ever made.
The first item in the first Bulletin dealt with the "Fire Question," and all through the successive issues runs a series of significant items on the same subject. Many of them are aimed at gas, and there are several grim summaries of death and fires due to gas- leaks or explosions. A tendency existed at the time to assume that electricity was altogether safe, while its opponents, predicating their attacks on arc-lighting casualties, insisted it was most dangerous. Edison's problem in educating the public was rather difficult, for while his low-pressure, direct-current system has always been absolutely without danger to life, there has also been the undeniable fact that escaping electricity might cause a fire just as a leaky water- pipe can flood a house. The important question had arisen, therefore, of satisfying the fire underwriters as to the safety of the system. He had foreseen that there would be an absolute necessity for special devices to prevent fires from occurring by reason of any excess of current flowing in any circuit; and several of his earliest detail lighting inventions deal with this subject. The insurance underwriters of New York and other parts of the country gave a great deal of time and study to the question through their most expert representatives, with the aid of Edison and his associates, other electric-light companies cooperating; and the knowledge thus gained was embodied in insurance rules to govern wiring for electric lights, formulated during the latter part of 1881, adopted by the New York Board of Fire Underwriters, January 12, 1882, and subsequently endorsed by other boards in the various insurance districts. Under temporary rulings, however, a vast amount of work had already been done, but it was obvious that as the industry grew there would be less and less possibility of supervision except through such regulations, insisting upon the use of the best devices and methods. Indeed, the direct superintendence soon became unnecessary, owing to the increasing knowledge and greater skill acquired by the installing staff; and this system of education was notably improved by a manual written by Mr. Edison himself. Copies of this brochure are as scarce to-day as First Folio Shakespeares, and command prices equal to those of other American first editions. The little book is the only known incursion of its author into literature, if we except the brief articles he has written for technical papers and for the magazines. It contained what was at once a full, elaborate, and terse explanation of a complete isolated plant, with diagrams of various methods of connection and operation, and a carefully detailed description of every individual part, its functions and its characteristics. The remarkable success of those early years was indeed only achieved by following up with Chinese exactness the minute and intimate methods insisted upon by Edison as to the use of the apparatus and devices employed. It was a curious example of establishing standard practice while changing with kaleidoscopic rapidity all the elements involved. He was true to an ideal as to the pole-star, but was incessantly making improvements in every direction. With an iconoclasm that has often seemed ruthless and brutal he did not hesitate to sacrifice older devices the moment a new one came in sight that embodied a real advance in securing effective results. The process is heroic but costly. Nobody ever had a bigger scrap-heap than Edison; but who dare proclaim the process intrinsically wasteful if the losses occur in the initial stages, and the economies in all the later ones?
With Edison in this introduction of his lighting system the method was ruthless, but not reckless. At an early stage of the commercial development a standardizing committee was formed, consisting of the heads of all the departments, and to this body was intrusted the task of testing and criticising all existing and proposed devices, as well as of considering the suggestions and complaints of workmen offered from time to time. This procedure was fruitful in two principal results--the education of the whole executive force in the technical details of the system; and a constant improvement in the quality of the Edison installations; both contributing to the rapid growth of the industry.
For many years Goerck Street played an important part in Edison's affairs, being the centre of all his manufacture of heavy machinery. But it was not in a desirable neighborhood, and owing to the rapid growth of the business soon became disadvantageous for other reasons. Edison tells of his frequent visits to the shops at night, with the escort of "Jim" Russell, a well-known detective, who knew all the denizens of the place: "We used to go out at night to a little, low place, an all-night house--eight feet wide and twenty-two feet long--where we got a lunch at two or three o'clock in the morning. It was the toughest kind of restaurant ever seen. For the clam chowder they used the same four clams during the whole season, and the average number of flies per pie was seven. This was by actual count."
As to the shops and the locality: "The street was lined with rather old buildings and poor tenements. We had not much frontage. As our business increased enormously, our quarters became too small, so we saw the district Tammany leader and asked him if we could not store castings and other things on the sidewalk. He gave us permission--told us to go ahead, and he would see it was all right. The only thing he required for this was that when a man was sent with a note from him asking us to give him a job, he was to be put on. We had a hand-laborer foreman--`Big Jim'--a very powerful Irishman, who could lift above half a ton. When one of the Tammany aspirants appeared, he was told to go right to work at $1.50 per day. The next day he was told off to lift a certain piece, and if the man could not lift it he was discharged. That made the Tammany man all safe. Jim could pick the piece up easily. The other man could not, and so we let him out. Finally the Tammany leader called a halt, as we were running big engine lathes out on the sidewalk, and he was afraid we were carrying it a little too far. The lathes were worked right out in the street, and belted through the windows of the shop."