Part I Editorial Procedures

Editorial Procedures

Scope of the Edition

All of the documents appearing in Part I (1850-1878) are from the archives at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park (ENHP) in West Orange, New Jersey. Important documents for this time period also exist in other repositories and private collections in the United States and elsewhere. A selection of this material is available in the Outside Repositories edition on the Edison Papers website.

Not all of the documents appearing in Part I fit neatly within its chronological limits. For example, there are several laboratory notebooks from the mid-1870s that continue through 1879 or 1880. Similarly, many of the Menlo Park scrapbooks from the 1870s contain clippings from the 1880s as well. The testimony and exhibits in the seven volumes of telephone interferences (Litigation Series) were submitted to the Patent Office in 1880. However, these volumes are included in Part I because most of the testimony relates to Edison's activities prior to 1879 and because the exhibits are primarily facsimiles of technical and notes and drawings generated during the 1870s.

Selection of Documents

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; (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 in the digital edition.

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, are selected.

The documents included in the digital edition are presented in their entirety with the following exceptions: (1) facing pairs of blank pages in the notebooks, scrapbooks, and account books; ( 2) duplicate pages and totally illegible pages in the letterbooks; (3) overlapping sets of clippings and multi-page pamphlets, circulars, and journal articles pasted into the scrapbooks (unless they relate directly to the inventive or business activities of Edison); and (4) briefs, arguments, and other material presented by opposing attorneys in the telephone interference cases (unless they comment at length upon the work of Edison).

Organization and Arrangement of the Collections

General Principles. The digital 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 are arranged in series that parallel existing record groups in the ENHP archives  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.

Because of the size and complexity of the ENHP archives, related documents can frequently be found in several series in the digital edition. For example, while most of Edison's incoming correspondence is filed in the Document File (Edison General File) Series, other letters addressed to him appear in the Company Records Series, Legal Series, Special Collections Series, and elsewhere. A more extensive discussion of the relationships among the various series can be found in the targets introducing each series in the digital edition.

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: (1) Newark Shop Notebooks, (2) Experimental Researches, (3) Unbound Notebooks, (4) Pocket Notebooks, and (5) 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.

Descriptive Targets

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.

Identification Numbers and Other Archival Inscriptions

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 document.