[This note covers all of the "Chemicals" folders for 1916.]
These folders contain correspondence and other documents relating to the expansion, consolidation, and reorganization of Edison's personally owned organic chemical businesses in 1916. Included are items pertaining to the addition of new product lines such as para-amidophenol (used in dyeing and photograph developing); sales, contracts, and deliveries; customer complaints about the quality of the product; and plant design and operations. There are also references to increased chemical production by other companies, declining prices, the search for new phenol and toluol customers, and the decision to discontinue aniline production at the end of the year. Specific issues that received Edison's personal attention include the design of a new benzidine plant, widespread phenol discoloration due to faulty cans, the accumulation of unsold stocks of low-demand chemicals such as naphthaline and myrbane, the sale of toluol to foreign governments, and a contract dispute with Great Britain involving Herbert Lewis, John Fletcher Moulton, and Lord Northcliffe.
Also included are interoffice communications providing summary information regarding plant productivity, contracts for raw materials, the distribution of phenol and paraphenylenediamine to various customers, and the status of Edison's personal chemical plants. A few documents discuss more general issues such as labor conditions, environmental pollution, Edison's opinions about the future of the U.S. chemical industry, and his ideas on color dyes and chlorine products.
Most of the business correspondence was initially handled by Edison's personal assistant, William H. Meadowcroft. By the end of the year, most sales had been turned over to the newly formed Chemical Sales Division under the direction of Frederick D. Lockwood, while specialty products made in smaller volumes were sold in bulk to the American Oil & Supply Co. in Newark. Other Edison employees who appear as authors and recipients include chief engineer Miller Reese Hutchison, who also negotiated sales contracts in his own right; plant designer William H. Mason; H. H. Meno Kammerhoff, supervisor of operations at Edison's chemical plants in Silver Lake, New Jersey; plant managers Wilfred S. Dowling and James T. Phelan; experimenter Peter C. Christensen; and sales managers Archibald C. Emery and Frederick D. Lockwood.
Among the corporate correspondents are E. B. Badger & Sons., Binney & Smith Co., Dominion Iron & Steel Co., Ltd., , Du Pont de Nemours & Co., Eastman Kodak Co., Merck & Co., Mitsui & Co., J. P. Morgan & Co., E. R. Squibb & Sons, and Stein Hirsh & Co., as well as numerous firms in the textile and fur dyeing industries, which were major consumers of Edison's products. Other correspondents include benzol purchasing agent Clarence Dillon, aniline sales broker Stanley Doggett, Swiss chemist William Knecht, and Lieutenant Commander H. Kimberly, powder inspector for the U.S. Navy.
Because Edison's secretaries glued carbon copies of replies to the original incoming correspondence, the items in these folders are not in exact chronological order. Some of the letters may be difficult to read because of the dark brown paper used for the carbons.
Approximately 15 percent of the documents have been selected. The selected documents reflect Edison's personal role in making business and technical decisions, setting overall strategy, and dealing with specific customer relations problems. The unselected material includes routine business correspondence handled by Meadowcroft; inquiries that received standard replies; routine items relating to orders, shipping, and delivery delays; credit checks on prospective customers; routine and unexecuted contracts; sales catalogs; chemical analysis reports; customer lists; multiple copies of form letters; and replies stating that Edison was away in Florida or on a camping trip. Also unselected are technical and business documents not handled by Edison personally such as complaints about product quality; reports on benzol plant operations from Claude H. Opdyke at Woodward, Alabama, and John Bacon, Jr. at Johnstown, Pennsylvania; technical notes on plant design and operations; and routine administrative records relating to the various Silver Lake plants. The numerous outgoing letters that duplicate the correspondence in the General Letterbook Series have not been selected.
Related material can be found in the Harry F. Miller File -- Chemical Correspondence and Contracts (Legal Series) and in the Chemical Production Records (Special Collections Series). Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park.