These documents, which cover the years 1870-1886, consist of primarily of outgoing correspondence by William Orton, president of Western Union. There are also a few letters by his successor, Norvin Green. Included are letters from Orton to Anson Stager, superintendent of the company's Central Division in Chicago, regarding relations with the Gold and Stock Telegraph Co., a competitor in the private-line telegraph business, and the negotiations that led to Western Union's acquisition of its rival in May 1871. There are numerous references to Edison in the correspondence, including a letter from January 1871 in which Orton characterizes the twenty-three-year-old inventor as "probably the best electro-mechanician in the country" next to George M. Phelps. A March 1871 letter from Orton to Marshall Lefferts, president of Gold and Stock, protests that the unison stop on Edison's printing telegraph is an infringement on the patents held by Phelps. A letter from October 1872 compares Edison's printer unfavorably to those developed by Phelps, Enos Barton, and Elisha Gray.
Other letters discuss Orton's skepticism about automatic telegraphy and his belief in the superiority of the traditional method of manual transmission; his promotion of Edison's work on quadruplex telegraphy in 1874 as a strategy for fending off competition from George Harrington's Automatic Telegraph Co.; his negotiations with Edison and Western Union chief electrician George B. Prescott over rights to their quadruplex; and his reaction to the claims of rival quadruplex inventor Henry C. Nicholson. An 1882 memorandum by Green summarizes the complex nexus of litigation over rights to Edison's telegraph inventions, including Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Co. v. George B. Prescott, Western Union Telegraph Company, Lemuel W. Serrell and Thomas A. Edisonthe so-called Quadruplex Case. An 1886 letter from Green to William H. Forbes, president of the American Bell Telephone Co., discusses the status of Edison's telephone patents.
The letters are from the following volumes. Only pages 35-39 of the long letter from Orton to Stager, March 22, 1871, in Vol. 9 have been selected. The last page of the letter from Orton to Lefferts, June 18, 1872, in Vol. 10 is blurry and illegible. Other letters may be difficult to read because of the very faint ink
William Orton letterbooks
Norvin Green letterbooks