The Edisonian - Volume 8 September 2011

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  1. Greetings
  2. In Search of Thomas Edison
  3. Featured Document: Edison & Spencer Trask
  4. Documentary Goldmine at Chautauqua
  5. Edison As Art appears at TedX Peachtree
  6. Edison Papers Participates
  7. Featured Books - Volume 7 Losses and Loyalties
  8. In Edison's Words


Greetings

We are pleased to announce that Johns Hopkins University Press has published Losses and Loyalties (April 1883-December 1884), Volume 7 of The Papers of Thomas A. Edison. 

A book party to 03/20/20122011 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., at the Rutgers Visitor Center, 100 Sutphen Rd. on the Busch Campus in Piscataway, N.J. We are very please to announce noted biographer Edmund Morris will be joining us and will share some of his views of Thomas Edison and Edison's historical significance during the event. Dont miss this special guest and his comments.

Click here to R.S.V.P!

As always, we welcome your new support and thank you for your continued support.

The Edison Papers Staff


In Search of Thomas Edison

Paul Israel

For more than 30 years, Paul Israel has been researching and cataloging the life of the famous inventor-a gargantuan task that has yielded millions of pages of documents that shed light on Edison the man, Edison the innovator, and Edison the marketing genius. Thanks to Israel and his team, the world can get a rare glimpse of Edison's many achievements and just how he managed to do it.


Rutgers Magazine article By Christopher Hann


Featured Document: Edison & Spencer Trask

Letter from Trask to Edison 1898The venture capitalist Spencer Trask became involved in Thomas A. Edison's concerns as early as 1881 when he purchased 236 shares of stock in the start-up Edison Electric Illuminating Co. of New York [Document HM810148A]. The Illuminating Co. was formed to build central generating stations that would provide electric power and light to various districts in Manhattan. It opened its first central station on Pearl Street on 4 Sept. 1882. The Pearl Street station provided the prototype for the electrification of cities throughout the United States.

Trask was an early director of the Illuminating Co. and in 1884 succeeded Sherburne B. Eaton as its president. In 1889, after the death of two of his children, Trask took an extended leave of absence from the presidency. He resumed the position in 1891 and served in that capacity for more than a decade.

During Trask's hiatus from the presidency, Spencer Trask & Co. continued to raise capital for the Illuminating Co. of New York. In 1890, it handled the issuing of $2 million in convertible gold bonds for the Edison company [Document D9029AAV]. Trask himself was instrumental in forming the Illuminating Co. of Brooklyn, which set up the first central station in that city. The Trask company also seems to have played some role in financing the construction of central station plants outside of New York [Document LB016188].

Trask was also a key figure in organizing financing for the North American Phonograph Co., which was formed in 1888 to market Edison's phonograph. In 1890, Spencer Trask & Co. was one of three financial firms through which the North American Phonograph Co. offered for sale 20,000 shares of stock. [Document QP009A105].

In 1898, Edison sent Trask one of his phonographs, likely in appreciation for the financier's efforts to fund the marketing of that instrument. Trask replied from his home "Yaddo" in Saratoga, New York, to thank Edison. "I shall I know take much pleasure in using it" wrote Trask, "& it will afford much pleasure to my friends & guests."

Today Spencer Trask & Co. carries on its founder's legacy, seeking out innovative entrepreneurs and ideas and financing emerging technologies in heathcare, communications, and software. In the biotechnology field, the Trask company has recently financed Myriad Genetics, which has played a leading role in the field of molecular diagnostics. In the field of high technology, Trask has helped to arrange financing for Ciena, which was instrumental in creating the fiber optic technology that has made the Internet boom possible.

In the online digital edition, Trask's letter to Edison can be found by clicking on “single document or folder” under the search feature and plugging in the ID number D9802AAZ.


Editors Find Documentary Goldmine at Chautauqua Mina Miller Edison c.1883

On July 19 and 20, Dr. Louis Carlat, Alexandra Rimer, Clare Hilliard, and Dan Weeks of the Edison Papers editorial staff conducted research at the Oliver Archives of the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York. The Oliver Archives is the repository of hundreds of documents relating to Thomas A. Edison's second wife, Mina Miller, and her family. Mina's father, Lewis, was one of the founders of the institution, a summer learning community on beautiful Lake Chautauqua. Mina remained intimately connected to the institution throughout her life, and she and Edison often visited Chautauqua after their marriage in 1886.

Chautauqua Institution Archivist Jonathan Schmitz provided open access to the Miller Family Papers, which fill some 15 to 20 archival boxes. He and his staff organized the visit so that the Edison Papers editors were able to survey a large number of documents and photos in just two working days and to scan those documents integral to their current research. "We would like to personally thank Mr. Schmitz and his staff" says Ms. Rimer, assistant editor, "for making our stay quite productive as well as enjoyable."

In addition to conducting research at the archives, the editors visited the Chautauqua summer home of E. Thomas and Mary Arnn, where Mr. Arnn keeps an important collection of papers relating to the Edison and Miller families. His mother, the late Nancy Arnn, amassed this collection, which includes several hundred documents and numerous family photos. Among the most important items are letters from Mina to her son, Theodore, as well as a number of key letters from Mina's brother John Vincent Miller, who served as Thomas Edison's personal business secretary in the 1920s. Nancy Arnn, who lived at Glenmont, the Edisons' home in West Orange, N.J., was the daughter of John Vincent Miller.

"The Arnn family documents are historical treasures," explains Dr. Carlat, associate editor. "They contain vital details about the young woman with whom Edison fell in love in 1885, one of the most enigmatic episodes of his life." Edison's courtship of and marriage to Mina Miller will be one of the most important events to be covered in Volume 8 of the print edition of the Thomas A. Edison Papers. The editorial staff began work in earnest on Volume 8, which covers the period from 1885 to 1887, this spring.

Although both the Arnn collection and the Mina Miller papers at the Oliver Archives will be of immediate use in elucidating the relationship between Edison and his second wife during the period covered in Volume 8, these caches of documents will have continuing significance for subsequent volumes. Both collections contain documents from the early 1880s up through the 1930s. Edison died in 1931.

According to Dr. Carlat, "the Arnn collection, in particular, includes what appears to be a missing link—the other side of Mina Edison's decades-long correspondence with her son Theodore, which we've only seen through his letters." Theodore, who died in 1992, was Edison's youngest son. "Opening these tantalizing boxes at Mr. Arnn's home was a historian's dream," Dr. Carlat notes, "and we're deeply grateful to him for so graciously giving us access to them."

Mr. Arnn also took the editors on a tour of the Lewis Miller Cottage, where Thomas and Mina Edison often stayed when they visited Chautauqua. Here the editors met Mary Louise Williamson, the granddaughter of Mina's brother Robert and his wife Louise Igoe Miller. Mrs. Williamson was staying at the cottage. "Mrs. Williamson's grandmother Louise Igoe was a long-time friend of the Miller family, even before she married into it" says research associate Dan Weeks, "and her letters to Mina provide some of the best sources for understanding how Edison and Mina came to meet. It was a special treat for us to meet Mrs. Williamson and to explain to her how meaningful her grandmother's letters have been to us."

Mr. Arnn noted that the Miller Cottage, which is rented out during the summer, is still furnished with the sofas and chairs that Mina Edison purchased for it. The old-fashioned icebox that Mina installed is still a fixture in the kitchen. "The house is impeccably preserved," says Ms. Hilliard, research associate. "I particularly enjoyed looking through the books on the shelves in the living room, many of which were original editions and had likely been read by Thomas and Mina Edison themselves."


Edison As Art appears at TedX PeachtreeEdison Art

"Inventing the Future: What Would Thomas Edison Be Doing Today?" is the title of a talk Sarah Miller Caldicott will give as part of a TEDXPeachtree forum to be held Nov. 4 at Zoo Atlanta in Atlanta, Ga. Caldicott, the great grandniece of Thomas Edison, will be one of several speakers who will address the theme of "Breakthrough."

The educational publisher Wiley will bring out an e-book in conjunction with the talk. "The e-book draws on research I conducted via the Thomas Edison Papers from 2004-2006," says Caldicott, "and expands on thinking presented in my first book, co-authored with Michael Gelb, called Innovate Like Edison."

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the dissemination of innovative ideas. Each year, TED holds two major conferences in the United States as well as a global conference in the United Kingdom. The "TED Talks," as they are called, are videotaped and made available on the web in accordance with TED's motto: "Ideas Worth Spreading." TEDX, which the international organization created, helps communities, local organizations, and individuals organize TED Talks independently.


Edison Papers Participates

USA Science and Engineering Festival Dr. Carlat explains currents at USA Sci & Eng Festival

The Edison Papers are proud to once more participate in USA Science and Engineering Festival April 27-29, 2012. As a festival partner, we are excited to support this program. The USA Science & Engineering Festival is a national grassroots effort. The partners are a who-is-who of science and engineering organizations in the United States: from major academic centers and leading research institutes and government agencies to cutting-edge high tech companies, museums and community organizations. Partners contribute to the Festival in various ways by spreading the word about the Festival, providing venues, content, media services, and financial or in-kind contributions.

The purpose of the USA Science and Engineering Festival is to re-invigorate the interest of the nation's youth in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by producing and presenting the most compelling, exciting, educational and entertaining science gatherings in the United States. This exciting festival will take place once again in Washington, D.C. and is the nation’s largest celebration of all things science & engineering, featuring over 1500 hands-on activities and over 75 performances. Some new programs include a Book Fair, Featured Science & Engineering Authors and a Career Pavilion! The 2010 Festival attracted over 500,000 people and had strong support from the White House and Congress.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Edison Awards Nominations now open

The Edison Awards honor innovation and innovators. Be sure to get in your nomination for the 2012 Edison Best New Product Awards™ and Edison Green Award™ by December 2, 2011. For more information visit www.edisonawards.com.


Featured Books

Volume 7 Losses and LoyaltiesEdison 1884

Johns Hopkins University Press has published Losses and Loyalties (April 1883–December 1884), Volume 7 of The Papers of Thomas A. Edison. A book party to celebrate the new publication will take place 4:30-6:30 p.m., October 6, 2011 at the Rutgers Visitor Center, 100 Sutphen Rd. on the Busch Campus in Piscataway, N.J.

During the period covered in Volume 7, Edison was busy overseeing the construction of central station plants in towns and cities across the United States, Europe and South America.  Edison also had to deal with the tragic loss of his first wife, Mary, and this volume provides the first detailed account of her death.

Volume 7, edited by Paul B. Israel, Louis Carlat, Theresa M. Collins, and David Hochfelder, includes 352 annotated documents featuring about 180 individual drawings, a detailed timeline, original appendices and an expansive biography, which tell the story of this transitional period in the inventor's life and work. During much of the period covered in this volume, Edison was busy overseeing the construction of central station plants in towns and cities across the United States, as well as in Europe and South America. Edison's hope was to replicate the success of the central station electrical plant he had opened on Pearl Street in New York in 1882.

Meeting resistence to his ideas from the directors of the Edison Electric Lighting Co., Edison, resolved to become "a businessman for a year" formed a new entity—the Construction Department—to carry on the work of building central stations in the U.S. By the end of 1884, sixteen such plants had either been built or were under construction. Ultimately, a generally depressed capital market and the difficulties Edison encountered in collecting monies owed to him and his companies hampered his ability to develop the central station business. This led him to reorganize his lighting businesses in 1884 and return to the laboratory.

Volume 7 also deals with the loss of Edison's first wife Mary, who died suddenly at Menlo Park on 9 Aug. 1884, an event that left him, according to his daughter Marion, "shaking with grief, weeping and sobbing." The official diagnosis was "congestion of the brain," sufficiently vague to leave an air of mystery about Mary's death, a mystery which subsequent rumor and speculation have deepened. While Volume 7 does not provide definitive answers regarding Mrs. Edison's last days, new research does lay to rest some erroneous speculations and provides some new information about the circumstances of her death and her husband's reaction.

In the month following his wife's death, Edison became reacquainted with Ezra Gilliland, an old friend from his days as a telegrapher. Gilliland was in charge of American Bell Telephone's experimental shop in Boston, and he enlisted Edison's aid in improving telephone transmitters for long-distance lines. This brought Edison back to where he was most at home—the laboratory—and he dedicated the remainder of 1884 to developing new inventions. Shop through our Amazon.com link to purchase Volume 7!


In Edison's Words...

"I believe the world is slowly getting better.  The percentage of fine people is increasing.  Man has not yet overcome his malignant environment, but men as animals will improve.
     -Thomas Edison.  “Mr. Edison’s Views of Life and Work,” Review of Reviews, Jan 1932, vol. 85.  Page 31.

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