Part III Editorial Procedures

Editorial Procedures

Scope of the Edition

All of the documents appearing in Part III (1887-1898) 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 III fit neatly within its chronological limits. Notebooks, account books, and other bound volumes that begin during the period 1887-1898 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, even though the bulk of the entries are from a later period. Company 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. Similarly, the Edison family correspondence, donated to the ENHP by the Charles Edison Fund during the early 1990s, contains numerous items from the period 1884‑1886 as well as letters from 1887-1898.

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 III. Part III contains approximately 25 percent of the total documentation at the ENHP archives for the period 1887-1898. All of the laboratory notebooks in Edison's hand were selected, but a more stringent approach was taken for technical material by experimenters other than Edison. 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 in the edition.

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 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 are 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.  

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.

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 III. The documents appear on the microfilm in sixteen series, including five new series (in italics): (1) Notebook Series, (2) West Orange Laboratory Records Series; (3) Patent Series, (4) Litigation Series, (5) Document File Series, (6) General Letterbook Series, (7) Miscellaneous Letterbook Series, (8) Legal Series, (9) Published Works and Other Writings, (10) Scrapbook Series, (11) Unbound Clippings Series, (12) Primary Printed Series, (13) Special Collections Series, (14) Company Records Series, (15) Vouchers and Attached Correspondence Series, and (16) Family Records Series.

There is no Account Series for Part III. Instead, ledgers, journals, and other accounting records can be found in the West Orange Laboratory Records Series, Company Records Series, and Family Records Series. Moreover, the Miscellaneous Scrapbook Series is now designated as the Scrapbook Series, and the letterbooks are divided into two series.

The standard-size (6" x 9") books in the Notebook Series are grouped into two subseries: Notebooks by Edison and Notebooks by Other Experimenters. Within each subseries the books are arranged according to their six-digit archival "N-number" which generally corresponds to the earliest date in the book (see "Identification Numbers and Other Archival Inscriptions," below). The pocket notebooks are organized by PN-number in a manner analogous to the standard-size books. The eight notebooks by Arthur E. Kennelly, containing transcriptions of material from the standard-size notebooks, are arranged by volume number. The twelve miscellaneous notebooks generated between 1887 and 1899 appear in rough chronological order. The West Orange Laboratory Records are arranged by document type (bound volumes, architectural drawings, letterbooks, accounts) and then in rough chronological order or by volume number (in the case of the Kennelly Letterbooks).

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.