Part II Preface

Part II (1879–1886) of the microfilm edition of the Thomas A. Edison Papers is a continuation of Part I (1850–1878). Part II begins with the year 1879 when Thomas Edison initiated intensive work on the incandescent lamp, and it concludes with the year 1886 when he returned to New Jersey from New York City to live with his new wife, Mina Miller Edison. Many historians regard these eight years of invention and entrepreneurship to be among Edison's most fertile and influential ones.

During the period documented by Part II of the microfilm edition, Edison and his associates developed the first commercially practicable incandescent lighting system, obtained financial support for research and development from national leaders in industry and banking, covered a multitude of technical developments with more than 400 U.S. patents, established critically important manufacturing facilities for producing equipment for the Edison system of electrical lighting and power, generated local financial and entrepreneurial resources that established Edison illuminating companies in dozens of medium-sized American cities, and promoted Edison lighting systems in Europe, South America, and Asia. These documents provide a foundation for historical understanding of the establishment of the electrical manufacturing and the electric utility industries in America. A large number and a wide range of manuscripts reveal the personal, technical, political, social, and economic opportunities and difficulties that accompanied every stage of development, from Edison's early conceptions of the design of his incandescent lighting systems to the establishment of the business institutions that constituted the new industries. These documents also show Edison as a prolific inventor, working closely with his inventive and entrepreneurial associates and participating in a large and diverse technical community. They indicate the variety of roles that he and his associates played and disclose the sharply competitive national and international technical and business environment within which Edison's initiatives occurred.

During these years Edison also worked on a multitude of other projects. As a direct product of his electric lighting experiments he constructed an experimental electric railroad at Menlo Park, devised a magnetic ore separator, and established companies to exploit both these inventions. He also continued his earlier interest in telegraph and telephone technologies. In 1879 he developed the electromotograph telephone for Great Britain and in 1884 began telephone experiments for the Bell Telephone Company. In association with Patrick Kenny, a New York teleg raph inventor, Edison developed a facsimile telegraph, which he exhibited at the 1884 Electrical Exhibition in Philadelphia. They also devised a chemical recording stock quotation telegraph that Edison offered to the New York Stock Exchange. In 1886 he began work on an improved phonograph, and this became one of the principal projects at the new laboratory that he built in West Orange.

During this period Edison received world-wide popular acclaim and acquired great wealth. Throughout the early and middle years of the 1870s, he constantly scrambled to find financial support for this work. During that time he developed a reputation in the telegraph community as an inventor of unusual talent. With the invention of the phonograph in 1877, the thirty-year-old Edison suddenly received international popular renown. While his claim a year later to have invented a practicable incandescent light was met with a mixture of scepticism and applause, he ultimately defied his critics. In the early and mid-1880s he made significant technical achievements, energetically promoted his lighting system in the face of marked competition from his peers, and became a millionaire.

Edison's private life during this period underwent significant change. In the early 1880s he and his wife Mary moved with their three young children from a large house in rural Menlo Park to a series of hotel apartments in New York City. As the business demands on Edison's time increased, Mary's health declined. She died in 1884, and the thirty-seven-year-old widower faced responsibility for three preadolescent children. Within a year the world-famous inventor-entrepreneur met Mina Miller, the young daughter of a successful Akron, Ohio, farm implement manufacturer and co-founder of the Chautauqua Institution near Jamestown, New York. Early in 1886 Thomas Edison and Mina Miller married. They established their home in the private, planned community of Llewellyn Park at West Orange. With the new home in New Jersey and the vicissitudes of business in New York, Edison began to envision a return to a new and much larger laboratory in a bucolic valley near Llewellyn Park. Just as Part I of the microfilm edition concludes with Edison turning from his fame-making phonograph work toward new horizons in electric lighting, so also Part II concludes with Edison withdrawing from his strongly entrepreneurial and managerial role in electrical manufacture and generation, and returning to the laboratory.

Despite its much larger size, Part II of the microfilm edition is organized and presented in a manner essentially identical to Part I. With its 100,000 pages of documents, it is about 2½ times the size of Part I and includes about 50 percent of the documents for this period that are in the archives at the Edison National Historic Site in West Orange. The number of records in the computer control system that generates the indexes for Part II is nearly 3½ times that for Part I.

Like Part I, the Guide for Part II contains the three major indexes, series notes, a chronology, and explanations of editorial procedures, but the editors have repeated neither the essay on the history of Thomas Edison's papers nor the one on the history of the Edison Papers project. Two new sections have been added: a listing of Edison companies and errata for both Part I and Part II. Because the number of Edison business organizations increased sharply during the years covered by Part II, the editors have identified and listed key companies. In addition, the red-faced editors have listed their known errors and corrections for the Guide to Part I and for the microfilm for both Parts I and II. Users of this edition are urged to inform the editors of any errors that they may discover so that they and their corrections may be included in the errata in subsequent parts. Please write: Editors, Thomas A. Edison Papers, Rutgers, The State University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903.

The reader's attention is drawn to three collections of material that contain significant numbers of documents that fall outside the time period for Part II. Two of the collections contain documents relating to Edison's close associates, Charles Batchelor and Francis Upton. Both collections are located at the Edison National Historic Site in West Orange and each has its own archival integrity. Therefore, each was filmed as a separate collection; and the film contains a selection from all of the documents from each collection, not just from the time period for the main body of documents in Part II. The third collection contains documents that belonged in Part I but were stolen from the Edison National Historic Site in 1976 and only recovered in 1985 after publication of Part I. The documents in that collection pertain principally to the phonograph.