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The Edison General File (EGF), formerly called 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 numerous interoffice communications and a variety of other documents, such as memoranda, reports, and agreements. The subjects covered include the complete range of Edison's businesses and technologies as well as his personal affairs, reminiscences, and opinions on contemporary issues.
Edison's correspondence files were maintained by his personal assistant, William H. Meadowcroft, who screened the incoming mail, decided which items merited Edison's attention, and directed the remainder for routine or form replies. Most of the outgoing correspondence bearing Edison's signature was drafted by Meadowcroft on the basis of the inventor's marginal comments on the original letter. Numerous additional letters were signed by Meadowcroft himself in his capacity as "Assistant to Mr. Edison." More routine letters that were merely signed "Edison Laboratory" may have been composed by Meadowcroft's own assistants, including Rudolph L. Tulloch and Henry A. Altengarten. Until 1916, tissue copies of the outgoing letters were bound together in volumes (see the Letterbook Series). However, this practice diminished in 1917 and was apparently abandoned altogether by 1919, as carbon copies of the outgoing replies were increasingly filed with the incoming letters in the EGF.
Although Edison remained at the head of his many businesses, a number of which were brought together under the name of Thomas A. Edison, Inc. (TAE Inc.) in 1911, oversight of daily operations was delegated to divisional managers. The business correspondence found in the EGF most typically includes internal strategic discussions with senior officials, items sent to Edison for approval, and cases in which he was asked to intervene personally to make special arrangements for a friend, relative, or associate. The Edison company officials represented in the correspondence over the years 1911-1919 include attorney Frank L. Dyer, who served as president of TAE Inc. until 1912; Carl H. Wilson, vice president and general manager; financial executive Stephen B. Mambert; Delos Holden and Henry Lanahan of the Legal Dept.; Harry F. Miller and Richard W. Kellow, who handled Edison's personal business interests; Robert A. Bachman of the Edison Storage Battery Co.; Walter S. Mallory of the Edison Portland Cement Co.; William Maxwell of the Phonograph Division; Miller Reese Hutchison, Edison's chief engineer and personal representative for most of this period; and Charles Edison, who was groomed to take over from his father toward the end of the decade.
In addition to Edison's personal and business correspondence, the EGF contains a voluminous quantity of unsolicited mail that the inventor received from members of the public on topics such as politics, war, the economy, cigarettes, diet, and religion and spiritualism. Other unsolicited letters consist of requests for advice (and often financial assistance), invitations to join clubs and societies or to give lectures, offers to purchase real estate, and inquiries from those seeking employment. Such items have been selected only where Edison was personally involved in the correspondence. Meadowcroft made extensive use of form letters in responding to these inquiries and requests, and a representative sample of these form-letter replies has been selected.
The documents in the EGF are arranged by year and are subdivided within each year according to broad subject categories. Many of the subjects relate to Edison's technologies and their associated businesses, such as cement, motion pictures, storage batteries, and phonograph. Major themes in the years up to 1915 include corporate reorganization, the introduction of the disc phonograph, and early demonstrations of the kinetophone, or talking motion picture. After the outbreak of World War I, Edison's attention shifted sharply, and there are large quantities of documents pertaining to his rapid production of coal-derived organic chemicals for military and industrial purposes, his role as president of the Naval Consulting Board, and his experiments on submarine detection and other war-related problems for the U.S. Navy.
Other folders contain documents relating to Edison's ongoing interests, from book and journal orders to mining and minerals. There are also folders with correspondence on legal, financial, and patent matters. Documents pertaining to Edison personally, including his homes, friends, and relatives, can be found in "Edison, T. A.," "Family," "Fort Myers," "Glenmont," "Personal," and "Visitors," as well as in more specific folders such as "Ford, Henry" and "Camping Trip."
Approximately 20 percent of the documents, including all items bearing substantive notations by Edison, have been selected. More specific selection statements can be found in the editorial descriptions preceding each folder.
For a discussion of the organization of the EGF and related record groups, click here.