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The Document File is primarily a collection of incoming letters addressed to Edison. The letters frequently contain notations by Edison or his secretaries indicating the nature of the reply. Drafts and copies of outgoing letters can also be found in this file, along with a variety of other documents, such as memoranda, reports, and agreements.
Most of the items in this collection were initially part of Edison's own correspondence files, which were maintained by his secretaries and stored in a series of cardboard "letter boxes." After Edison's death, the documents were transferred by archivists into folders and reorganized within each year according to subjects. Other items, not part of the original correspondence files, were subsequently added to the collection. In addition, some of Edison's correspondence was removed from the Document File and transferred by archivists to other record groups. An example is the correspondence relating to Edison's search for sources of nickel for his alkaline storage battery. Those letters can now be found in the records of the Mining Exploration Co. of New Jersey.
The Document File for 1899-1910 contains a substantially larger amount of non-Edison correspondence than for earlier years. For example, there are numerous letters addressed to William E. Gilmore, who served until 1908 as president of the National Phonograph Co. and the Bates Manufacturing Co., as vice president of the Edison Manufacturing Co., and as general manager of the Edison Phonograph Works. In addition, there are numerous memoranda and carbon copies of Gilmore's outgoing correspondence. During the 1990s, most of the correspondence relating to the National Phonograph Co. was removed from the Document File and organized by archivists into a separate record group. Nonetheless, a considerable amount of Gilmore's correspondence remains in the Document File, particularly in the "Battery, Primary," "Edison Manufacturing Company," and "Motion Pictures" folders. Similarly, many of the folders for 1908-1910 contain items from the office files of Frank L. Dyer, general counsel of the Legal Department, who succeeded Gilmore as the head of Edison's enterprises in August 1908. In addition, there are numerous letters to and from Edison's secretariesJohn F. Randolph and his successor, Harry F. Millerand other company and laboratory employees.
Many of the letters for 1899-1910 relate to the technical and commercial development of phonographs, motion pictures, and storage batteries. There are also items concerning the legal and financial dealings of the Edison companies, particularly the Edison Manufacturing Co. and the Edison Phonograph Works. Among the phonograph-related items are descriptions of the Works, memoranda regarding experimentation and model changes, and correspondence involving protracted litigation over sales rights. The material on motion pictures includes references to production and marketing, copyright and censorship issues, and experimentation with colored film and talking pictures. The battery-related correspondence pertains to the technical development and the domestic and foreign exploitation of Edison's alkaline storage battery, which he introduced in 1901 and continued to improve throughout the decade. Included are items regarding possible applications of the cells, particularly in automobiles and other electric vehicles. In addition, there are letters and other documents concerning the New Jersey Patent Co., a patent-holding company organized in 1903; the increasing centralization of Edison's businesses under the administrative aegis of the Legal Department and the Manufacturing and Executive Committees; and the formation of business associations or pools with the Edison Portland Cement Co.'s competitors and with motion picture producers and distributors.
During the period 1899-1910 Edison received an increasing number of unsolicited letters from aspiring inventors, individuals seeking autographs or charitable contributions, and others writing in response to published accounts of Edison's inventions, opinions, or experiences. Edison responded to some of these letters with marginal notations, in which he expresses his views on topics such as religion and spiritualism, hearing impairment, aviation and aerial navigation, and wireless telegraphy. Other marginal responses indicate his plans for a poured concrete house and his recollections of the details of his early years. In addition, there are items from clubs and societies to which Edison belonged or which tried to interest him in their activities, along with letters from journalists, entrepreneurs, and organizers of expositions and trade shows. Edison also received a substantial amount of correspondence from the general public as a result of his solicitations for information about the location of gold dry placer mines (1901-1904) and inexpensive supplies of cobalt ore (1906-1907).
There are also some letters relating to Edison's personal finances and family affairs. The "Edison, T.A. - Family" folders contain numerous letters about the personal and financial difficulties of Edison's sons, Thomas A. Edison, Jr., and William Leslie Edison, as well as the interests and activities of his second wife, Mina Miller Edison, and other members of his immediate and extended family. The "Glenmont" and "Fort Myers" folders contain items pertaining to Edison's home in Llewellyn Park and his winter home in Florida.
The items in the Document File are arranged by year and are subdivided within each year according to broad subject categories. Many of those categories relate to technologies such as phonographs, storage batteries, and motion pictures. Although most Edison companies are categorized as subentries within a particular technology, a few companies appear as main entries, generally because their activities embraced several technologies or because they remained distinct from other Edison interests. Examples include the Edison Manufacturing Co. and the New Jersey Patent Co. Related material regarding the business of Edison's various companies can be found in the Company Records Series.
Documents that deal with more than one subject or that do not fall under any of the technology categories are filed in "Edison, T.A. - General." Researchers interested in a particular topic should always consult "Edison, T.A. - General" and the various other "General" folders in addition to more specific subcategories relating to their interests.
Letters pertaining to various Edison technologies can also be found in other folders throughout the Document File. For example, the "Patents" folders contain correspondence to and from Edison's patent attorneys and agents. A letter concerning the assignment of a particular phonograph patent would be found in the "Patents" folder rather than a "Phonograph" folder. Other folders that frequently contain technology-related material include "Edison, T.A. - Articles," "Exhibitions," and "West Orange Laboratory."
Undated documents pose an especially difficult organizational problem, since the archival filing system for the Document File requires the attribution of a year to each item prior to its placement in a subject folder. Undated documents selected for publication appear within the year attributed by the archivists, unless there is compelling evidence that the attribution is erroneous.
All documents that received a substantive response from Edison have been selected, together with other letters that contain significant information about Edison, his laboratory and business associates, and their activities. In cases where Edison made the same reply to numerous correspondents, or where large numbers of similar documents present repetitive information, a representative sample has been selected for publication. Dockets, endorsements, and other secretarial markings appearing on the backs of letters have not been selected, except when they contain important information not appearing on the document itself. Enclosures and attachments appear after the items they accompany.
Incoming correspondence and other unbound documents can also be found in the Company Records Series, Legal Series, and Special Collections Series.