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The Document File is primarily, but not exclusively, a collection of incoming correspondence. The correspondence frequently contains marginal notes by Edison or one of his secretaries, indicating the nature of the reply. The folders comprising this series also contain drafts and final copies of outgoing correspondence, as well as legal, financial, and patent documents. Legal material in the Document File includes agreements, incorporation papers, powers of attorney, mortgages, deeds, and court records such as bills of complaint and answers. Financial material includes unbound accounts, bills, receipts, promissory notes, stocks, bonds, payrolls, and orders. Patent material includes issued patents, patent applications, caveats, and patent assignments. The Document File also contains a variety of other documents, such as memoranda, essays, reports, circulars, insurance policies, inventories and other lists, and, occasionally, a laboratory sketch drawn on the back of another document. Dockets by Edison and his secretaries indicating the date, author, or subject appear on the back of many of the documents. Dockets have been selected only when they contain significant information not appearing on the document itself.
The materials in the Document File relate primarily to Edison's technical and business activities. The documents are organized by year. Within each year they are divided into broad subject categories such as telegraph, telephone, phonograph, electric pen, and electric light. These subject categories are frequently subdivided into individual companies, such as "Telegraph - Edison & Unger" and "Electric Light - Edison Electric Light Co." Materials relating to the promotion of Edison's inventions in foreign countries will be found in folders such as "Electric Light - Foreign" and "Electric Pen - Great Britain."
Some technical material can also be found in the "Patents" folders, which contain a wide variety of documents relating to Edison's patents. These include issued patents, patent applications, and caveats; correspondence, bills, and receipts from Edison's patent attorneys; patent-related correspondence from the U.S. Patent Office and from Edison's business associates; preliminary statements, correspondence, and memoranda regarding patent interference cases; and patent assignments and agreements.
Documents relating to more than one subject are filed in "Edison, T.A. - General." Particularly after 1876, information about a technology can usually be found in "Edison, T.A. - General," as well as in folders directly related to that technology. The "Edison, T.A. - General" folder for each year also contains documents relating to personal matters and to subjects which do not fall under the main subject categories. Family-related correspondence is usually filed in "Edison, T.A. - Family," although some family correspondence can also be found in the "Railroad" folders, which concern investments by Edison and his brother, William Pitt Edison, in street railways in the vicinity of Port Huron, Michigan.
Drafts of articles by Edison and related correspondence, requests for Edison to write articles, correspondence relating to articles about Edison, and letters from journalists seeking to write about Edison and his inventions are filed in "Edison, T.A. - Articles." Correspondence and other documents relating to book and journal orders, club and society memberships, and honors and awards are filed in folders such as "Edison, T.A. - Book and Journal Orders," "Edison, T.A. - Clubs and Societies," and "Edison, T.A. - Honors and Awards."
After 1877, unsolicited suggestions and requests for advice about technical matters are filed in "Edison, T.A. - Advice." Unsolicited letters requesting agencies for Edison's inventions, inquiring about the purchase or cost of his inventions, or asking for information about his inventions are filed in "Edison, T.A. - Unsolicited Inquiries." In 1878 Edison turned briefly to the invention of a hearing aid and the large number of inquiries about this invention are filed in "Deafness." The "Deafness" folder also contains correspondence about Edison's own deafness.
Correspondence, agreements, and other material similar to that in the Document File can also be found in the Harry F. Miller File and the R.W. Kellow File, in the Legal Series. Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park.