[This note covers all of the "Correspondence" folders for 1917.]
These folders contain correspondence and other documents relating to Edison's role as chairman (later president) of the Naval Consulting Board (NCB), as well as to his personal research for the U.S. Navy, which began in 1917 shortly before the United States entered the war. The major problem that occupied Edison and other inventors was the preservation of merchant shipping capacity in the face of Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare. U-boats were sinking cargo tonnage faster than it could be replaced, jeopardizing the Allied ability to continue the war. Research projects undertaken by Edison and his staff focused on enabling ships to detect and evade torpedoes and to avoid being detected by the enemy.
Among the correspondents are Miller Reese Hutchison, Edison's chief engineer and personal representative who served with him on the NCB, and other Board members, including secretary Thomas Robins, Lawrence Addicks, Leo H. Baekeland, Howard E. Coffin, Hudson Maxim, William L. Saunders, and Frank J. Sprague. Other correspondents include U.S. Navy officers George E. Burd, Edward W. Eberle, Miles A. Libbey, and Clyde S. McDowell, as well as the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, to whom Edison reported his research results. Among the Edison experimenters represented in the documents are Isidor (Jerry) Chesler, E. Rowland Dawson, William Deans, Theodore M. Edison, Absalom M. Kennedy, William H. Knierim, Samuel C. Shaffner, Bruce R. Silver, Selden G. Warner, and Henry G. Wolfe. Other scientists and engineers who appear as correspondents include Karl T. Compton, Charles Fabry, Reginald A. Fessenden, Frank B. Jewett, John W. Lieb, Ralph D. Mershon, Ernest Rutherford, and Mina M. Edison's brother-in-law, Halbert K. Hitchcock. There is also correspondence with officials of the Cunard Steamship Co., including attorney Lucius H. Beers and U.S. director T. Ashley Sparks, and with suppliers of equipment and materials such as John A. Brashear, Ellwood Ivins, and the Julius King Optical Co. Some of the documents are records of telephone conversations conducted on Edison's behalf by his personal assistant William H. Meadowcroft or by office assistant Henry A. Altengarten.
Subjects relating to the NCB include the organization of antisubmarine warfare efforts, visits by distinguished foreign scientists, and attempts to resolve the dispute over the location of the Naval Research Laboratory. Subjects relating to Edison's personal research include his summer use of the USS Sachem at Sag Harbor on Long Island for underwater sound detection experiments; his work in Washington, D.C., beginning in October; and the development of various devices by his experimenters, including sulphuric acid smokescreen shells, aural direction finders, hydrogen detectors, and a remotely detonated battlefield explosive devised by Theodore Edison. Other documents concern the use of Fessenden's audion-based oscillator for submarine detection, requisitions of equipment and supplies from the U.S. military and private companies, ship defense and submarine evasion tactics. A small number of unsolicited inquiries or suggestions to which Edison prepared a draft reply have also been selected.
Approximately 20 percent of the documents have been selected. The unselected material consists primarily of unsolicited offers or requests, most of which received a brief form reply. Other unselected documents include letters of transmittal and acknowledgment, routine purchases and shipping of equipment and supplies, multiple copies of outgoing letters sent to many similar recipients, discussions of staff arrangements (including passes for access to military sites), copies of technical and strategic reports forwarded to Edison by other NCB members, routine telegrams exchanged between Edison's employees, correspondence on expense claims, blueprints, and oversized maps and charts. Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park.