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The forty volumes in this set contain tissue copies of Edison's correspondence for the period February 1887-August 1899. Although there are occasional letters in Edison's hand, most of Edison's manuscript correspondence is in the hand of Alfred O. Tate, John F. Randolph, or Thomas Maguire, acting as his secretary. Similarly, the retained copies of Edison's typewritten letters are frequently signed or initialed by one of his secretaries.
Many of the letters relate to the manufacture and marketing of Edison's improved phonograph and to legal and financial dealings among the various phonograph companies. In addition, there are numerous documents pertaining to mining and ore milling and to the operations of Edison's plant in Ogden, N.J. Included also are letters, many addressed to the Edison Machine Works and the Edison General Electric Co., regarding Edison's work on improved filaments, meters, and other components of his electric lighting system. Some of the documents relate to the business of the Edison Manufacturing Co. and to the production and promotion of the Edison-Lalande battery. Other letters deal with Edison's phonoplex system of telegraphy, electric traction systems, the mimeograph, and motion pictures. There are many letters addressed to the law firm of Dyer & Seely and to Edison's personal lawyer, Sherburne B. Eaton, concerning patent applications, interferences and infringements, and various other legal concerns. In addition to the business correspondence, there are numerous letters relating to Edison's personal finances and to family affairs.
Although the books tend to progress in chronological order, a few books contain letters for two discrete time periods. For example, LB-025 covers the periods June 1887-January 1888 and August-November 1888. Some of the books overlap in their coverage. LB-053, for example, contains letters for a two-year period also covered by five other letterbooks. There are no letterbooks covering the period June 17, 1892-February 3, 1893.
Approximately 30 percent of the letters have been selected, including all substantive letters pertaining to Edison's business operations and to his personal affairs. The following categories of documents have not been selected: routine letters of transmittal or acknowledgment; non-substantive correspondence concerning the ordering and shipment of materials; letters about routine financial transactions; routine or repetitive responses to letters from individuals seeking employment, requesting advice, and offering advice; responses to other unsolicited correspondence; indexes at the beginning of each book.
Also not included are most letters relating to the phonoplex system, an operation in which Edison was only tangentially involved. Most of the selected phonoplex items pertain to operations on the Pennsylvania Railroad. For a discussion of the case-study approach used in the selection of these documents, see the targets preceding the various "Telegraph - Phonoplex" folders in the Document File.
Although every technical effort has been made to ensure the legibility of the documents, most of the books contain some pages that are very difficult to read. In LB-029 and LB-030, for example, there are numerous letters that are partially or entirely unreadable because of spreading or smearing ink. Many of the pages in LB-059 and in subsequent books were written in very faint green ink. In addition, there are occasional pages that are wrinkled or torn. Letters presenting severe legibility problems have not been selected.
Copies of outgoing correspondence can also be found in the Document File in folders such as "Edison, T.A. - Outgoing Correspondence" and "Edison, T.A. - Employment - Outgoing Correspondence." Letters similar to those in the General Letterbooks appear in some of the letterbooks in the Company Records Series. See, especially, LM-025, Edison Phonoplex System Records; LM-245 and LM-247, New Jersey and Pennsylvania Concentrating Works Records; LM-306, Edison Manufacturing Co. Records. Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park.