Document Sampler

Edison's Prose Poem

Apparently in response to his public treatment at the hands of former business partner James Ashley, Edison wrote this rather fanciful description of "the foulest demon of the Cosmos."

"Trouble on the Quad"

Edison's 1874 quadruplex telegraph, which sent two messages in each direction simultaneously on one wire, was a boon for Western Union. It was not simple to operate, though, as this cartoon indicated.

1875 "To-Do" List

A year before establishing his Menlo Park laboratory, Edison and his Newark co-workers laid out an ambitious research program of 19 projects, some of which had been under way for a while. (Accounts of the work done are in a separate account book; use the "Go to Image" button to start at image 31.)

The Electric Pen (and Its Offspring)

Item #18 on the "To-Do" list was "A copying press that will take 100 copies & system." Later in 1875 Edison developed the electric pen, or autographic copier, which perforated treated paper with an electrically powered needle to create a stencil. He patented it the next year. In 1891 Samuel F. O'Reilly patented the first electric tattoo needlethe electric pen with an ink reservoir! (You will need the Adobe Acrobat viewer to see these patents.)

Financing a Laboratory

Edison signed this agreement with Western Union Telegraph Company on 22 March 1877. In return for exclusive U.S. rights to "all his inventions and improvements" for land telegraph lines or cables (except improvements in automatic telegraphy), the company agreed to pay him $150 a week and a royalty for any inventions it used.

Inventing the Phonograph I

On 17 July 1877 Edison sketched and described a device that would record a telephone message and play it back slowly enough to be written out.

Inventing the Phonograph II

By the next morning he realized he was not just recording a messagehe was recording sound. (See the paragraph at the bottom of the page.)

Inventing the Phonograph III

Almost twenty years later, Charles Batchelor recalled those first experiments in detailed testimony. Ten years after that he wrote out his recollections (starting at the bottom of the first page), although his memory of the date was a little fuzzy.

Naming the Phonograph I

The word "Phonograph" first appears on a 12 August 1877 drawing, labeling a machine that would record on paper tape (using "any power to rotate" a "Roll [of] paper").

Naming the Phonograph II

Still, it was not clear what best to name the new device. Someone on Edison's staff drew up this list of possible names, pulling prefixes and suffixes from Greek and Latin. (In the last image, note the unsigned message from Edison's friend and agent George Gouraud about the "minx" Echo who "is now carrying on a flirtation with Prof. Thomas A. Edison.")

Rutgers College Confers Honorary Doctorate

In 1879 Rutgers College conferred on Edison the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, the second of his many honorary degrees.  The first had been conferred by Union College in 1878.

The Carbon Lamp Filament I

After experimenting for a year with metal filaments for his incandescent lamp, Edison turned his attention to carbon in the fall of 1879. This is one of the early notebook entries from that work, written on 22 October by Edison's laboratory lieutenant, Charles Batchelor.

The Carbon Lamp Filament II

Some notes written on the same day by Francis Upton, Edison's university-trained laboratory assistant.

The Carbon Lamp Filament III

Some calculations by Upton, also from 22 October. (No calculators of any sorthe's using logarithms!)

Great Expectations

Francis Upton's exuberance shows in this cartoon he drew in the spring of 1880an electric lamp with the caption, "I shed the light of my shining countenance for $15,000 per share."

Employee Tests

In the summer of 1883 Edison devised tests for prospective employees, soliciting a "variety of answers" from his "boys" (as in these letters to W. S. Andrews and Thomas Conant). One test covered dynamos, another steam engines, and the third meters. This document has the questions and most of the answers (unfortunately, it is a carbon copy and diagrams did not reproduce). Many of the questions are more or less technical, but some are simply tests of common sense. The last four pages are Edison's summary "Instructions" for running an electric lighting power station.

Edison's Diary

This diary, which covers the period 1221 July 1885, is the only known volume kept by Edison specifically to record thoughts and feelings of a personal nature. Included are his observations on art, literature, and religion, along with comments about his dreams, his health, and his feelings toward his future wife, Mina Miller, and toward his daughter, Marion ("Dot"). Other entries discuss Edison's visits to Woodside Villa, the home of Ezra T. Gilliland near Winthrop, Massachusetts.

A Wife Who Can Invent

Mary, Edison's first wife, died in 1884. He remarried in early 1886, and within a month Mina Edison's name began appearing in laboratory notebooks.

Financing Another Laboratory

Five and a half years after shuttering his Menlo Park laboratory, Edison set up his huge new complex in West Orange. Drafting a letter to James Hood Wright (a partner in the Drexel Morgan banking house) he laid out his plans for what would be "the best equipped & largest Laboratory extant."

1888 "To-Do" List

In early January, Edison drew up a five-page list of projects"Things doing and to be done"for the new laboratory, ranging from improvements in the phonograph, telephone, and electric lighting to a "Cotton Picker," "Ink for Blind," and "Artificial Ivory."

Still Financing Another Laboratory

Later in January, Edison wrote to financier Henry Villard with a financial proposal and a list of work to be done at the laboratory. (The list of "things I propose working" starts on page 3).

Naming Electrocution

Like the phonograph, death in the electric chair required a new name. (The first such execution, of William Kemmler, took place 6 August 1890.) In a series of letters in mid-1889, Edison and his lawyers swapped ideas. Despite their choice of "electricide"and the suggestion of "Westinghouse"the Oxford English Dictionary cites the use of "electrocute" in a 1 August 1889 New York Voice article.

Flights of Fancy

Edison collaborated with author George Lathrop on a science fiction novel (Progress) that never made it to publication. Sometime around the end of 1890 Edison compiled these notes on his ideas for that imagined future.