- Scope of the Edition
- Selection of Documents
- Organization and Arrangement of the Collections
- Descriptive Targets
- Identification Numbers and Other Archival Inscriptions
All of the documents published in Parts I–V of Thomas A. Edison Papers: A Selective Microfilm Edition are from the archives at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park (ENHP) in West Orange, New Jersey. Important documents for the period 1850–1919 also exist in other repositories and private collections in the United States and elsewhere. A selection of this material is available on the Edison Papers website.
Not all of the documents appearing in each part fit neatly within its chronological limits. Notebooks, account books, and other bound volumes are published in their entirety regardless of the date of the last entry. Thus, the minute book of the National Phonograph Company, covering the period 1896–1910, appears in Part III, since the first entry was generated during the period documented in that part (1887–1898). Record groups that cut across the chronological boundaries of the edition are also sometimes published as a unit. For example, the selected items from the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Concentrating Works Records (1888–1911) all appear in Part III, since that company was active primarily during the 1890s. Other examples include the extensive collections of the papers of Edison's associates, Charles Batchelor and Francis R. Upton, published in Part II. The Edison family correspondence, donated to the ENHP by the Charles Edison Fund during the early 1990s and published in Part III, contains numerous items from the period 1884–1886.
General Principles. The edition as a whole will encompass approximately 10 percent of the total number of extant Edison-related documents. In general, the edition includes: (1) documents that Edison generated or had prepared under his direction; (2) documents written by or sent to Edison's principal laboratory and business associates such as William E. Gilmore and Walter S. Mallory; (3) correspondence and other incoming documents containing substantial annotations by Edison; (4) other important documents that Edison probably saw or was influenced by; and (5) documents that contain significant information about Edison, his laboratory and business associates, and their activities. Documents not selected include: (1) routine financial documents such as bills, receipts, invoices, vouchers, checks, and orders; (2) most of the day-to-day business records of the Edison companies; and (3) unsolicited correspondence relating to matters outside the mainstream of Edison's inventive, business, and personal activities. In addition, dockets and endorsements entered onto the back of correspondence, reports, and other unbound documents are not selected unless they contain significant information not found in the document itself.
More specific selection information can be found in the series and subseries targets and on the targets immediately preceding each folder and bound volume on the microfilm.
Selection Principles for Part I. Part I contains approximately 90 percent of the documents in the ENHP archives for the period 1850–1878. Because the documentation for the years prior to 1878 is relatively sparse, nearly all of it is selected. The selection of documents from 1878 is more stringent. The long runs of routine bills, receipts, and bills of lading are not selected, and the large volume of unsolicited correspondence from 1878 is sampled rather than published in its totality. On the other hand, all of Edison's business correspondence and all of the laboratory materials, including several hundred undated notes and drawings from the 1870s, is selected.
Selection Principles for Part II. Part II contains approximately 50 percent of the total documentation in the ENHP archives for the period 1879–1887. All of Edison's important business correspondence and almost all of the laboratory notebooks are selected. On the other hand, routine financial documents, routine business correspondence, and unsolicited letters to Edison generally are not selected. Overlapping and multi-page clippings in the scrapbooks are selected in their entirely only when they relate directly to the affairs of Edison. Moreover, numerous documents are excluded because the information contained within them duplicates the information in the selected documents. For example, the copies of claims for Edison's issued patents found in the Patent Application Casebooks (reel 45) are not selected because the complete set of Edison's U.S. patents is already available in Part I of the microfilm edition. At the same time, copies of the claims for abandoned and rejected patents are selected because this information cannot easily be found elsewhere.
Selection Principles for Part III. Part III contains approximately 25 percent of the total documentation in the ENHP archives for the period 1887–1898. All of the laboratory notebooks in Edison's hand are selected. A more selective approach has been taken for technical material generated by other laboratory employees. Most of the notebooks and related documents pertaining to experimental work done at the West Orange laboratory are selected. On the other hand, routine items relating to the work performed by the laboratory in its role as an auxiliary service arm for Edison's manufacturing companies are not selected. Other technical documents are excluded because they merely duplicate information in the selected documents. For example, the extensive run of rough record books used by Arthur E. Kennelly and his assistants in the Galvanometer Room at the West Orange laboratory are not selected since transcriptions of those records can be found in other notebooks on the microfilm.
All of Edison's important business correspondence is included, as well as most of the ledger books, journals, and other significant business records generated by the various Edison-related companies. Among the types of business records not selected are capital calls, meeting announcements, stock certificates, canceled checks and check books, labor statements, routine statements relating to payment of taxes, stationery and blank forms, letters of transmittal, and routine correspondence with vendors and customers. Vouchers, cash books, trial balances, invoices, and other financial records are not selected since the same information generally can be found in the ledgers and journals.
A selective approach has also been taken in regard to the voluminous collection of patent and litigation records. Since a complete set of application files for Edison's successful U.S. patents is already available on microfilm (National Archives Record Group 241, Records of the Patent Office), the lawyers' correspondence and most of the other material in the patent files in the ENHP archives is not selected. However, notes and drawings in Edison's hand are selected, together with the files for Edison's abandoned U.S. applications. The extensive collection of foreign application files is not selected. Printed records of civil court litigation are selected only in cases where they provide significant information about Edison's technical and business activities. The lawyers' correspondence and most of the other manuscript material in the records of the Legal Department of Thomas A. Edison, Inc. are not selected.
A substantial portion of the correspondence relating to the domestic life and activities of Edison and his family is included, particularly items dealing with his work schedule, his paternal and spousal roles, the health of Edison and other family members, his relations with the Miller family, and the activities of his daughter, Marion, and his sons, Thomas and William. Other categories of family-related documents are not selected: correspondence pertaining to the purchase of household items, clothing, and domestic services; telegrams regarding travel arrangements or the transmittal of documents; solicitations and acknowledgments of annual dues and charitable donations; and requests for loans.
Selection Principles for Part IV. Part IV contains approximately 20 percent of the total documentation at the ENHP for the period 1899-1910. All of the laboratory notebook entries in Edison=s hand have been selected except for occasional perfunctory notations in notebooks by other experimenters. All of Edison's unbound notes and drawings have also been included except for a few rough notes and calculations for which no context is available. A more restrictive approach has been taken for notes and drawings by experimenters other than Edison. Notebooks and unbound material relating to experiments done at the West Orange laboratory have generally been selected, with the exception of the extensive runs of storage battery test books and other highly repetitive material. Samples consisting of entries that can be closely associated with Edison have been selected in these cases. Notebooks and unbound material pertaining to routine technical work done at the laboratory have generally not been selected. In many cases, these items represent the work performed by the laboratory in its role as an auxiliary service facility for Edison's manufacturing companies. Examples include the assays conducted on behalf of Edison's ore exploration and cement manufacturing endeavors and the qualitative analyses of chemicals required in the development and production of storage batteries.
All of Edison's important business correspondence has been selected, as well as most of the ledger books, journals, and other significant business records generated by the various Edison companies. The selected items reflect Edison's direct involvement in the affairs of his companies or pertain broadly to corporate policies or to administration and financial organization, but they do not reflect day-to-day operations. Among the types of business records not included are capital calls; meeting announcements; stock certificates; canceled checks and check books; labor statements; routine statements relating to payment of taxes; stationery and blank forms; letters of transmittal; and routine correspondence with vendors and customers. Vouchers, cash books, trial balances, invoices, and other financial records have not been filmed since the same information can often be found in the ledgers and journals.
The same selection principles used in Part III for family correspondence, patent records, and legal records also apply to Part IV.
Selection Principles for Part V. The number of documents in the ENHP archives increases dramatically for the period after the formation of Thomas A. Edison, Inc., in 1911. Indeed, probably two-thirds of the documents were generated during those years. In order to expedite the publication of Part V and to keep it within a manageable size, some changes were made in selection strategy. The core collections -- Edison General File, Notebooks, Patents, Scrapbooks and Clippings, Legal Files, and Family Papers -- remain unaffected. For the voluminous collections of business records that constitute the bulk of the ENHP archives, however, a more restrictive approach has been taken and only those documents that explicate Edison's own involvement in company operations have been selected. For example, the ledgers, journals, and other general account books, which comprised several reels in each of the previous parts of the image edition, were not selected in Part V. However, accounting records that bear Edison's marginalia or otherwise indicate his personal involvement can still be found in the Edison General File and other series in the image edition.As in previous parts of the image edition, all of the laboratory notebooks in Edison's hand have been selected ("Notebooks by Edison"), as well as most of the books that are part of a series of experiments in which Edison was directly involved ("Notebooks by Edison and Other Experimenters"). A much more restrictive approach was taken in regard to the 796 notebooks in Part V that were not authored by Edison ("Notebooks by Experimenters Other Than Edison"). Only sixty-four books, which either have clear indications of Edison's oversight and involvement or contain loose items authored by Edison, have been selected.
General Principles. The microfilm edition is intended to provide researchers with the most important documents in the ENHP archives and with an entrée to those documents not selected. Accordingly, the documents on the microfilm are arranged in series that parallel existing record groups within the archives—for example, Notebook Series, Patent Series, Litigation Series, Document File Series (Edison General File Series in Part V), and Letterbook Series. The documents in many of the larger series, such as the Notebook Series, are further arranged within subseries. The Series Notes provide detailed descriptions of the contents of each series and subseries.
The Document File (Edison General File), consisting of correspondence, interoffice communications, and other loose material, presents the most complicated organizational issues, because the documents are arranged by year and then by subjects within each year. Prior to the 1980s the attempt to implement this subject classification system at the ENHP archives created numerous problems. Because correspondence dealing with two or more subjects could be filed under only one, interrelated letters for a particular year were frequently scattered among several subject folders. The problem was aggravated by excessive and frequently overlapping subdivisions within major subject categories like "phonograph," "telegraph," and "telephone." Undated documents, including loose notes and drawings closely related to material in the laboratory notebooks, were forced into the subject-chronological system, sometimes in erroneous years or in inappropriate subject folders. The organizational problems were compounded by an ill-advised decision to process into the Document File business records that were not directly related to Edison nor part of the original files maintained by his secretaries.
In cooperation with the archivists at the ENHP, the staff of the Thomas A. Edison Papers developed a set of organizational guidelines for the Document File and reorganized the folders for 1850-1910 accordingly. Technical notes and drawings were removed from the file and reorganized as a subseries of the Notebook Series. Unsolicited letters outside the mainstream of Edison's business and inventive activities were arranged in a series of "Unsolicited Correspondence" folders. At the same time, extraneous business records were removed by ENHP archivists and processed into new record groups such as the Edison Portland Cement Company Records, Edison Storage Battery Company Records, and the records of various divisions of TAE Inc. New record groups, composed largely of documents at one time in the Document File, were also created for the personal papers of company executives such as Frank L. Dyer and Carl H. Wilson, for Edison's second wife Mina Miller Edison (Edison Family Papers), and for the documents relating to Edison's wartime research and his role as chairman of the Naval Consulting Board.
The Edison General File (1911‑1931), processed by ENHP archivists beginning in the 1990s, is a direct continuation of the Document File that covered the years through 1910. Like the Document File, the Edison General File is derived from the correspondence files originally maintained by Edison's secretaries. However, there are significant differences in the nomenclature and contents of the folders in the two record groups. A discussion of the organizational differences between the Document File and the Edison General File can be found in the series target for the Edison General File Series in Part V [E05].
Because of the size and complexity of the ENHP archives, related documents can frequently be found in several series on the microfilm. For example, while most of Edison's incoming correspondence is filed in the Document File Series (Edison General File), other letters addressed to him appear in the Company Records Series, Legal Series, Special Collections Series, and Vouchers and Attached Correspondence Series. A more extensive discussion of the relationships among the various series can be found in the series targets on the microfilm.
Organization of Part I. The documents appear on the microfilm in ten series: (1) U.S. Patents, (2) Notebook Series, (3) Patent Series, (4) Litigation Series, (5) Document File Series, (6) Account Series, (7) Menlo Park Scrapbook Series, (8) Miscellaneous Scrapbook Series, (9) Letterbook Series, and (10) Legal Series. The microfilmed patent volumes are not included in the digital edition. Instead, the complete set of Edison's patents appears online at Thomas Edison's Patents.
The laboratory notebooks are grouped into five subseries according to their provenance: Newark Shop Notebooks, Experimental Researches, Unbound Notebooks, Pocket Notebooks, and Miscellaneous Notebooks. In the case of numbered sets such as the Experimental Notebooks (volumes 1–6) and the Unbound Notebooks (volumes 8–18), the individual books are organized by volume number. In the case of unnumbered sets like the Pocket Notebooks and the Miscellaneous Notebooks, the books are arranged in chronological order according to the earliest date in each book.
The volumes in the Account Series are organized according to the company of origin and sub-organized into summary accounts, books of original entry, and cost accounts. The Litigation Records are organized by case. Other series of bound volumes are organized by volume number (Menlo Park Scrapbooks) or in chronological order (Miscellaneous Scrapbooks, Letterbooks).
The incoming correspondence and other unbound items in the Document File Series are organized by year and by subjects within each year. Within each subject folder, the documents appear in chronological order with undated documents at the end. Enclosures and attachments, however, appear immediately after their cover letter.
Organization of Part II. The organizational structure of Part II parallels that of Part I with the following exceptions. The standard-size (6" x 9") books in the Notebook Series are grouped into four subseries according to their provenance: Menlo Park Notebooks, New York Notebooks, Fort Myers Notebooks, and Lamp Factory Notebooks. The 181 Menlo Park Notebooks are organized according to Edison's original numbering system, whereas the other groups of standard-size notebooks are arranged in chronological order.
In addition, Part II contains three new series: Special Collections Series, Company Records Series, and Supplement to Part I. Included in the Supplement are items from the period 1871–1886 that were uncovered subsequent to the publication of Part I. They are arranged in chronological order.
Organization of Part III. The organizational structure of Part III parallels that of Part II with the following exceptions. The standard-size (6" x 9") notebooks are grouped into two subseries: Notebooks by Edison and Notebooks by Other Experimenters. The individual books constituting each subseries are organized according to a six-digit archival N-number, which generally corresponds to the earliest date in the book. The items in the Richard W. Kellow File (Legal Series) are grouped according to envelope number (the original filing system) rather than rearranged in chronological order as in Part I.
In addition, Part III contains seven new series: (1) West Orange Laboratory Records, (2) Miscellaneous Letterbook Series, (3) Published Works and Other Writings, (4) Unbound Clippings, (5) Primary Printed Series (formerly a subseries of Company Records), (6) Vouchers and Attached Correspondence Series, and (7) Family Records Series.
There is no Account Series for Part III. Instead, ledgers, journals, and other accounting records can be found in West Orange Laboratory Records, Company Records, and Family Records. Moreover, the Miscellaneous Scrapbook Series is now designated as the Scrapbook Series.
The Supplement to Parts I and II contains items from the period 1871–1886 that were uncovered subsequent to the publication of those parts. The documents appear on the microfilm in series, subseries, and folders that parallel the organizational structure for Parts I and II. The documents appeared in the microfilm edition on reel 162, beginning on frame 228. The images were subsequently integrated into their appropriate locations in the larger organizational structure for the digital edition, but the documents comprising the supplement can still be identified by means of their TAEM reel-and-frame numbers.
Organization of Part IV. The documents appear in series that parallel the record groups within the ENHP archives: (1) Notebook Series, (2) West Orange Laboratory Records Series, (3) Patent Series, (4) Document File Series, (5) General Letterbook Series, (6) Company Records Series, (7) Primary Printed Series, (8) Scrapbook Series, (9) Unbound Clippings Series, (10) Family Records Series, (11) Legal Series, and (12) Special Collections Series. Also included is a Supplement containing items from the period 1878-1898 that were uncovered subsequent to the publication of Part III. The documents appeared in the microfilm edition on reel 227, beginning on frame 341. The images were subsequently integrated into their appropriate locations in the larger organizational structure for the digital edition, but the documents comprising the supplement can still be identified by means of their TAEM reel-and-frame numbers.
In organizing the individual volumes and folders, the editors have generally followed the existing archival arrangement. Deviations between the archival order and the arrangement of the documents on the microfilm are noted on the targets introducing each series. Because Edison's laboratory notebooks are arranged in the ENHP archives according to an arbitrary N-number (see "Identification Numbers and Archival Inscriptions" below), the editors have imposed their own arrangement on this collection. See "Numbering, Arrangement, and Indexing of Notebooks" in the editorial introduction to the Notebook Series.
Organization of Part V. The documents appear on the microfilm in series that parallel the record groups within the ENHP archives: (1) Notebook Series, (2) Patent Series, (3) Edison General File Series, (4) General Letterbook Series, (5) Special Collections Series, (6) Legal Series, (7) Family Records Series, (8) Scrapbook Series, and (9) Unbound Clippings Series. The Special Collection Series for Part V consists of selections from two record groups: (1) Naval Consulting Board and Related Wartime Research Papers; and (2) Chemical Production Records.
In organizing the individual volumes and folders, the editors have generally followed the existing archival arrangement. Deviations between the archival order and the arrangement of the documents on the microfilm are indicated on the editorial notes introducing each series. The most detailed discussions can be found in the introductions to the Edison General File (formerly Document File) and the Naval Consulting Board and Related Wartime Research Papers. Because Edison's laboratory notebooks are arranged in the ENHP archives according to an arbitrary N-number (see "Identification Numbers and Archival Inscriptions" below), the editors have imposed their own arrangement on this collection, paralleling the arrangement in Part IV of the microfilm edition.
Targets are editorial aids that appear on the microfilm to assist readers in using the materials in the collection. Targets introduce each series, each major subseries, and most of the individual volumes and folders. The series and subseries targets are essentially more detailed versions of the Series Notes in the guide. The target preceding each folder or volume provides information about authorship, inclusive dates, and number of pages (for bound volumes). Also included is a description of the character and contents of the folder or volume and, wherever appropriate, cross-references to related materials. In addition, each target provides a brief characterization of any material in the folder or volume that is not selected The targets preceding the notebooks, account books, and most other bound volumes also contain an enumeration of missing page numbers and of blank pages not filmed.
Occasionally, targets also accompany individual documents in order to: (1) explain relationships among documents (for example, the targets "ENCLOSURE" and "ATTACHMENT"), (2) describe multiple versions of a document (for example, the targets "TRANSLATION FOLLOWS" and "TRANSLATION"), (3) supply missing information (for example, the date or author of a letter), and (4) indicate missing information (the target "INCOMPLETE").
The editors have tried to keep the targets as concise as possible and to avoid including speculative and subjective judgments about the contents of laboratory notebooks and other complicated technical documents. References to specific technologies in the targets have necessarily resulted in a certain amount of oversimplification because many of the technologies are interrelated. The specific technologies mentioned in each target should not, therefore, be regarded as all-inclusive.
Because of the large number of items in the edition and the difficulty of anticipating the legibility of a document on the microfilm, targets are not generally used to identify individual documents that are faint, discolored, water-damaged, or otherwise difficult to read in the original. In cases where a particular folder or volume contains a large number of such documents, the problem is noted in the target introducing that folder or volume. In the case of Edison's letterbooks, all of which contain a substantial number of marginally legible documents, the problem is also discussed in the target introducing the series.
Over the years the archivists and curators responsible for the Edison collections have used a variety of identification systems for the documents. One of the earliest was the N-number, which was assigned to most of the standard-size laboratory notebooks generated between 1878 and 1934. This six-digit number, prefixed by the letter "N," corresponds to the first dated entry in the notebook. For example, a notebook whose first dated entry is for November 9, 1878 is classified as N-78-11-09. A similar number, with the prefix "PN," identifies each pocket notebook. Readers should be aware, however, that this number is not always a reliable indicator of the date when a book was first put to use. Many books were in use for a long period of time before any entry was dated. Moreover, hundreds of books contain no date, and subsequent research has indicated that many of the dates conjectured for such books are erroneous. For more information regarding N-numbers and other numbering systems used for Edison's notebooks, see the editorial note, "Numbering Systems for Edison's Notebooks."
Until 1971 the documents processed into the archives were often assigned a sequential accession number prefixed by the letter "E." These E-numbers appear most often on notebooks, scrapbooks, and other bound items, but they were also used occasionally for collections of unbound documents and even individual items. After the National Park Service assumed ownership of the archives in 1957, many of the documents were re-cataloged and assigned NPS catalog numbers. Since that system is still in use at the ENHP, all documents with NPS catalog numbers are identified in the microfilm edition by that number. E-numbers are indicated only in cases of documents lacking any other identifying number.
Moreover, the early archivists and curators of
the Edison collections possessed no formal training in the principles of
archival management. Some of them did not consider it inappropriate to
record on the manuscripts their own observations about the people, events,
and issues discussed in the documents. Such comments sometimes appear in
the margins of the documents and, at other times, within the text itself.
Occasionally they are contained within brackets or parentheses, but more
often they appear without any distinguishing punctuation. Many of the longer
and more discursive remarks are followed by the initials "N.R.S."
(Norman R. Speiden). In most cases, a reader who is aware of this problem
can easily distinguish between these comments and the actual text of the