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The twenty-two volumes in this set contain tissue copies of Edison's correspondence for the period September 1899-March 1911. In addition, the first letterbook in this set includes several letters from November 1892-August 1894. Although there are occasional letters in Edison's hand, most of his manuscript correspondence is in the hand of John F. Randolph or Harry F. Miller, 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 ore mining and milling and to the erection and operation of Edison's cement plant in Stewartsville, New Jersey. Some letters pertain to iron ore concentration in the Dunderland region of Norway, in connection with the Edison Ore Milling Syndicate, Ltd., while others concern Edison's plans for gold ore concentration at the Ortiz mine in New Mexico. There are also letters regarding the business and financial requirements of the Edison Portland Cement Co., including correspondence pertaining to royalties collected by the Edison Crushing Roll Co. and to Edison's search for markets for his cement. Other letters deal with the development of Edison's alkaline storage battery and the financial and industrial arrangements for its manufacture and distribution in the United States and abroad. Included is correspondence discussing technical difficulties that led to the shutdown of the battery factory in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, in 1905. Additional documents describe ongoing progress on the improved storage battery and its proposed use in automobiles, trucks, submarines, and streetcars. There are also numerous items regarding the planning, design, and production of molds and patterns for use in the construction of the Edison concrete house, which was intended as affordable housing for the working class. Other documents deal with the domestic and foreign phonograph business, the motion picture business, Edison's experiments with x-rays, personnel matters, and legal concerns.
Among the many letters relating to Edison's personal and family affairs are items pertaining to his health, diet, and sleeping habits; his opinions and prejudices on a variety of social, religious, political, and economic issues; the activities of his children, particularly Thomas A. Edison, Jr., and William Leslie Edison; his membership in clubs and societies; his book and journal orders; his charitable donations; improvements at Glenmont; and the upkeep of his winter home in Fort Myers, Florida. Many of the letters consist of replies to unsolicited requests and inquiries, particularly in regard to employment, Edison's projected concrete house, and inventions proposed by others.
Approximately 20 percent of the letters have been selected. All substantive letters pertaining to Edison's business operations and to his personal affairs have been selected. The following categories of documents have not been selected: routine letters of transmittal and 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; and letters duplicating the information in Edison's handwritten responses to the incoming correspondence selected in the Document File Series. The index at the beginning of each book has not been selected.
The books are arranged in chronological order. Although every technical effort has been made to ensure the legibility of the documents published in this edition, most of the books contain some pages that are difficult to read. Some letters may be partially or entirely unreadable because of spreading or smearing ink or light imprints. In addition, there are occasional pages that are wrinkled or torn.
Other letterbooks for the period 1899-1910 can be found in many of the collections in the Company Records Series, including the records of the Edison Ore Milling Syndicate, Ltd.; the Edison Storage Battery Co.; and the National Phonograph Co. Unbound tissue copies of outgoing correspondence and interoffice memoranda can be found in the Document File Series and in most of the company record groups.