The Foreign Department was established in 1900 to handle foreign sales of phonographs, sound recordings, projectors, films, and other products manufactured by NPCo and the Edison Manufacturing Co. Its first manager was Charles E. Stevens. He was succeeded in 1902 by his brother, Walter Stevens. The operations of the department were later expanded to include the products of the Bates Manufacturing Co., Edison Storage Battery Co., and Edison Business Phonograph Co. In February 1911 the department became part of Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
The letterbooks contain tissue copies of outgoing correspondence generated by Walter Stevens and his assistant manager, Louis Reichert. Only four of the books created prior to the formation of Thomas A. Edison, Inc., are extant. They cover the periods May 1908, January 1909, March 1909, and September 1910-March 1911. The letters in the first three books pertain primarily to the sale of phonographs and recordings, but there are also references to motion pictures, numbering machines, storage batteries, and other Edison products. Most of the correspondence in the fourth book concerns storage batteries. Among the correspondents are Thomas J. Kennedy, resident manager of the Compania Edison Hispano Americana in Buenos Aires; Rafael Cabanas, L. L. Lewis, and George M. Nisbett of the Mexican National Phonograph Co. in Mexico City; William W. Wyper of the National Phonograph Co. of Australia, Ltd., in Sydney; and William G. Bee, sales manager of the Edison Storage Battery Co. Included are letters to customers and agents in Africa, Asia, South America, Europe, and the Caribbean, as well as to commission houses in New York, Newark, and elsewhere.
Less than 10 percent of the correspondence has been selected. The selected items include letters outlining policy on pricing, billing, and routing. Also selected are samples of letters sent in response to inquiries from potential customers. The items not selected consist primarily of letters acknowledging orders and shipments; and letters of transmittal or referral sent in response to inquiries by potential customers or agents.
The letterbooks can be found in the Edison National Historical Park archives in the Records of Thomas A. Edison, Inc. A finding aid is available. Correspondence to and from the Foreign Department can also be found in the Document File.