Part IV Editorial Procedures

Editorial Procedures

Scope of the Edition

Thomas A. Edison Papers: A Selective Microfilm Edition, Part IV (1899‑1910) is the fourth of a projected six‑part facsimile edition of the correspondence, laboratory notebooks, and other papers of Thomas A. Edison. All of the documents microfilmed in Part IV are from the archives of the Thomas Edison National Historial Park (ENHP) in West Orange, New Jersey. Important documents for this time period also exist in other repositories in the United States and elsewhere. A selection of this material can be found at

Not all of the documents appearing in Part IV fit neatly within its chronological limits. Notebooks, account books, and other bound volumes that begin during the period 1899‑1910 are filmed in their entirety regardless of the date of the last entry. An example is General Ledger #9 in the West Orange Laboratory Records Series, which covers the period 1908-1916. The records of many of the Edison companies in the Company Records Series extend beyond 1910, and in most cases selections have been made from the entire record group and not merely from the documents generated during the years 1899-1910. 

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 such as Frank L. Dyer, William E. Gilmore, and Walter S. Mallory; (3) incoming correspondence and other items 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 that are 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.

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.

A substantial portion of the correspondence relating to the domestic life and activities of Edison and his family is included, particularly items pertaining to Edison's work schedule, diet, and health; his paternal and spousal roles; his relations with the Miller Family; the charitable activities of Mina Miller Edison; and the business affairs of Thomas A. Edison, Jr., and William Leslie Edison.  Other categories of family-related documents have not been filmed:  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.

A restrictive approach has been taken in regard to the voluminous collection of patent and legal 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 formal specifications and attorneys' correspondence in the case files in the ENHP archives have not been filmed. The selected material from these files consists primarily of notes, drawings, and draft specifications by Edison, along with occasional correspondence to or from Edison, his associates, and his companies. On the other hand, the case files for Edison's abandoned or forfeited applications have been selected in their entirety except for duplicates, printed patents, and other printed material.  Only a small proportion of the attorneys' correspondence, civil court records, and other material in the records of Edison's Legal Department has been filmed. The selected items demonstrate Edison=s direct involvement in the progress of litigation; pertain to experimental work performed by Edison or his associates; or broadly illustrate the business and legal strategies of his companies.

More specific information concerning the selection of documents in Part IV can be found in the series and subseries targets and on the targets immediately preceding the microfilmed folders and volumes.

Organization and Arrangement of the Collections

The documents appear on the microfilm 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. Within most series, the documents are further arranged into subseries. Detailed descriptions of the contents of each series and subseries can be found in the Series Notes in this guide.

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.

Because of the size and complexity of the ENHP archives, related documents can frequently be found in several series in the microfilm edition. For example, while most of Edison's incoming correspondence is filed in the Document File Series, other letters addressed to him appear in the Company Records Series and the Legal Series. Readers are advised to consult the Series Notes in this guide before using the microfilm edition. A more extensive discussion of the relationships among the various series can be found in the series targets.

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 and subseries, as well as most of the individual volumes and folders. The series and subseries targets are essentially more detailed versions of the Series Notes in this 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 was 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 of the targets 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 substantial 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 responsible for the collections at the ENHP have used a variety of identification systems for the documents. One of the earliest was the N‑number, which was assigned to Edison's laboratory notebooks. This six‑digit number, prefixed by the letter "N," frequently corresponds to the first dated entry in the notebook.  For example, a book whose first dated entry is from January 3, 1899, carries the number, N‑99‑01‑03. Books with the same N‑number are distinguished by an extension number (for example, N‑01‑07‑01.1 and N‑01‑07‑01.2). A similar number, with the prefix "PN," identifies each pocket notebook. These numbers are not reliable indicators of the date on which a book was put to into use. Some books were used for a long period before an entry was dated. Numerous other books contain no dated entries, and subsequent research has revealed 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. These 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.