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This case arose out of an agreement of April 9, 1875, between George Harrington, acting on behalf of himself and Edison, and financier Jay Gould, whose Atlantic & Pacific Telegraph Co. had recently acquired control of the Automatic Telegraph Co. According to the terms of the agreement, Harrington assigned Gould the rights to thirty-nine patents involving Edison's system of automatic telegraphy in return for 31,800 shares of Atlantic & Pacific stock. The stock was to be distributed among Edison, Harrington, and the original investors in the Automatic Telegraph Co. After Gould failed to deliver the stock, the investors organized the American Automatic Telegraph Co., and Edison and Harrington reassigned their patent rights to the new company. These re-assignments became the basis for the suit that began in May 1876 when Edison and Harrington filed a bill of complaint in the U.S. Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York seeking to enjoin the Atlantic & Pacific company from using Edison's patents. The bill of complaint was subsequently entered as an exhibit in Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Co. v. George B. Prescott, Western Union Telegraph Co., Lemuel W. Serrell and Thomas A. Edison and can be found in Thomas A. Edison Papers, Part I.
Harrington and Edison were the initial complainants; Reiff was added as a complainant after Harrington's death in 1892. Although some testimony had been taken in 1879 and 1880, the case lay dormant until 1895 when Reiff revived it against Gould's estate three years after the financier's death. After much legal maneuvering, the case finally came to trial in 1905 and was decided in favor of the complainants by Judge John Raymond Hazel on January 25, 1906. The court then referred the case to a master, Arthur H. Masten, who was instructed to conduct an accounting and affix damages. The proceedings began in December 1906 and concluded in June 1907. Masten's final decree of March 1910 awarded the two surviving complainants the nominal sum of one dollar. Both sides appealed, with Edison and Reiff protesting the assessment of damages and the Gould interests challenging the decision that they had infringed on Edison's patents. In February 1911 Judge Alfred Conkling Coxe, ruling on behalf of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, reversed the decree of the lower court and ordered the case dismissed. Reiffthe chief instigator of the suitpassed away on February 28, 1911, but Edison's attorneys appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court dismissed the appeal in May 1913, thus ending thirty-seven years of litigation.
The title of the case changed over time, as some parties died and were replaced by others. When the bill of complaint was filed in 1876, it was known as George Harrington and Thomas A. Edison v. Atlantic & Pacific Telegraph Co. and Jay Gould. Reiff became a plaintiff of record in early 1905, and when case was finally brought to trial it was known as George Harrington, Thomas A. Edison, and Josiah C. Reiff v. The Atlantic & Pacific Telegraph Co., and George J. Gould, Edwin Gould, Helen M. Gould and Howard Gould, as Executors and Trustees under the Last Will and Testament of Jay Gould, deceased. The short title George Harrington et al. v. Atlantic & Pacific Telegraph Co. et al.applies throughout.
The documents selected for publication come from three volumes in the 1905-1906 district court case and one volume in the 1906-1907 proceedings before the master. The selected items consist primarily of the exhibits that were entered into the record by the complainants and defendants. The items not selected include routine documents relating to legal motions, court orders, and other procedural matters; and documents containing duplicate information (such as the original bill of complaint, previously published in Part I). In addition, most of the testimony given in 1907, as well as the testimony for the defendants in 1905, has not been selected. The witnesses were recalling events that had taken place three decades earlier and, in some cases, were merely repeating points made in previous testimony. Moreover, they were frequently interrupted by objections and lengthy legal discussions among the attorneys.
On the other hand, the testimony by Harrington, Reiff, and others from 1879-1880, which appears as exhibits in the case, has been selected. The exhibits also include technical drawings, agreements, patent applications and issued patents, and correspondence. They provide valuable information about the development of multiple telegraphy, Edison's role as an inventor and manufacturer of telegraph instruments, his dealings with Western Union and other telegraph companies, and the complicated financial arrangements that supported his inventive and business activities. Courtesy of the National Archives.