Part V Editorial Procedures

Editorial Procedures

Scope of the Edition

Thomas A. Edison Papers: A Selective Microfilm Edition, Part V (1911-1919) is the fifth of a projected six‑part facsimile edition of the correspondence, laboratory notebooks, and other papers of Thomas A. Edison. The edition will ultimately consist of approximately 350,000 images of which 285,775 images are now available on microfilm or online. All of the documents in Part V are from the archives of 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 can be found at

Not all of the documents appearing in Part V fit exactly within its chronological limits. The laboratory notebooks, which were edited before the chronological boundaries of Part V were defined, are selected through 1920. A few notebooks from the early and mid-1920s also appear in Part V because they are part of a group or subgroup beginning in 1920 or earlier. Many of the record groups in the ENHP archives are not chronologically organized and, in those cases, selections have been made from the entire record group and not merely from the documents generated during the years 1911-1919. The Part V record groups selected through 1931 are: Patent Series, Naval Consulting Board and Related Wartime Research Papers, Chemical Production Records, Harry F. Miller File, Richard W. Kellow File, Charles Edison Fund Collection, and Edison Family Papers.

On the other hand, there are some important documents from 1911-1919 that do not appear in Part V. For example, selections from the corporate records of the Edison Storage Battery Co. and the Edison Portland Cement Co. can be found in the Company Records Series in Part IV. The divisional record groups of Thomas A. Edison, Inc. (e.g., Phonograph Division, Recording Division, Motion Picture Division), most of which cover the entire period 1911-1931, were not completely processed at the time Part V was edited and will therefore be published in Part VI.

Selection of Documents

General Principles. The microfilm edition as a whole will encompass approximately 10 percent of the 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) incoming correspondence and other items containing substantive 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 that received no response or merely a form-letter response from Edison.

Selection Principles for Part V. The number of documents in the ENHP archives increases dramatically for the period after the formation of Thomas A. Edison, Inc., in 1911. Indeed, probably two-thirds of the documents were generated during those years. In order to expedite the publication of Part V and to keep it within a manageable size, some changes were made in selection strategy. The core collections—Edison General File, Notebooks, Patents, Scrapbooks and Clippings, Legal Files, and Family Papers—remain unaffected. For the voluminous collections of business records that constitute the bulk of the ENHP archives, however, a more restrictive approach has been taken and only those documents that explicate Edison's own involvement in company operations have been selected. For example, the ledgers, journals, and other general account books, which comprised several reels in each of the previous parts of the microfilm edition, were not selected in Part V. However, accounting records that bear Edison's marginalia or otherwise indicate his personal involvement can still be found in the Edison General File and other series on the microfilm.

As in previous parts of the microfilm edition, all of the laboratory notebooks in Edison's hand have been selected ("Notebooks by Edison"), as well as most of the books that are part of a series of experiments in which Edison was directly involved ("Notebooks by Edison and Other Experimenters"). A much more restrictive approach was taken in regard to the 796 notebooks that were not authored by Edison ("Notebooks by Experimenters Other Than Edison"). Only sixty-four books, which either have clear indications of Edison's oversight and involvement or contain loose items authored by Edison, have been selected.

All of Edison's important business correspondence has been selected, along with other documents that reflect his direct involvement in the affairs of his companies or pertain broadly to corporate policies or to administration and financial organization. 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.

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 activities of his children. Other categories of family-related documents have not been filmed: correspondence about 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 records. The case files for foreign patent application files have not been selected. Moreover, 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. Because they are not part of the Patent Office records in the National Archives, the case files for Edison's abandoned and forfeited applications have been selected in their entirety except for duplicates, printed patents, and other printed material.

More specific information concerning the selection of documents in Part V can be found in the editorial notes preceding each series and subseries on the microfilm and in the notes preceding each microfilmed folder and volume.

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) Patent Series, (3) Edison General File Series, (4) General Letterbook Series, (5) Special Collections Series, (6) Legal Series, (7) Family Records Series, (8) Scrapbook Series, and (9) Unbound Clippings Series. The Special Collection Series for Part V consists of selections from two record groups: (1) Naval Consulting Board and Related Wartime Research Papers; and (2) Chemical Production Records. Detailed descriptions of the contents of each series and subseries can be found in the Series Notes in this guide and in the editorial notes on the microfilm.

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 indicated on the editorial notes introducing each series. The most detailed discussions can be found in the introductions to the Edison General File (formerly Document File) and the Naval Consulting Board and Related Wartime Research Papers. 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, paralleling the arrangement in Part IV of the microfilm edition.

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 and drafts of outgoing letters are filed in the Edison General File Series, other letters appear in the Special Collections Series, Legal Series, and Family Records Series. Tissue copies of Edison's outgoing correspondence can be found not only in the General Letterbook Series but also in the other series mentioned above. While correspondence pertaining to Edison's wartime research for the U.S. government is filed primarily in the Naval Consulting Board and Related Wartime Research Papers (Special Collections Series), similar material can be found in the Edison General File Series in folders such as "Naval Consulting Board," "Naval Experiments," and "World War ICExperimental Work." A more extensive discussion of the relationships among the various series can be found in the editorial notes introducing each series on the microfilm.

Descriptive Targets

Approximately 1,400 editorial notes (or "targets") appear in the Part V microfilm edition to assist researchers in using the materials in the collections. Targets introduce each series and subseries, as well as each selected volume or folder. 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 volume or folder, cross‑references to related materials, an estimate of the percentage of documents selected, and a characterization of material not filmed.

Targets are also used to enumerate and describe folders and volumes that were not filmed. For example, each of the 205 unselected folders in the Edison General File Series is represented on the microfilm by a descriptive target. Each of the 950 experimental notebooks comprised in the Notebook Series is also listed in a group or subgroup target. Subgroups that consist entirely of unselected notebooks are indicated by an asterisk in the Series Notes; in such cases, the reel and frame designation directs the researcher to the explanatory note.

Targets also accompany individual documents in order to: (1) explain relationships among documents (for example, "ATTACHMENT/ENCLOSURE"); (2) describe multiple versions of a document (for example, "TRANSLATION FOLLOWS" and "TRANSLATION"); and (3) indicate missing information ("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 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 introductory target.

Identification Numbers and Other Archival Inscriptions

N-numbers. During the late 1930s archivists at the West Orange laboratory began assigning six‑digit numbers, prefixed by the letter "N," to Edison's laboratory notebooks. Frequently this number corresponds to the first dated entry in the book. For example, a book whose first dated entry is from July 28, 1912, carries the number, N‑12‑07‑28. Books with the same N‑number are distinguished by an extension number (for example, N‑12‑04‑15.1 and N‑12‑04‑15.2).

N-numbers are not reliable indicators of the date on which a notebook was put into use. Some books were used for a long period before an entry was dated. Other books contain no dated entries. Some of these undated books are indicated by the notation, "N‑Undated," followed by an extension number. For example, N‑Undated.4 is a notebook that was probably used in 1916. For other undated books, a conjectured year serves as the first two digits of the N‑number. For example, N‑11‑00‑00.4 indicates one of four notebooks believed to date from the year 1911. Subsequent research has revealed that some of these conjectured years are inaccurate.

PN‑numbers. As with the N‑numbered notebooks, the six‑digit number for the pocket notebooks frequently corresponds to the first dated entry in the book. Undated books are designated either by the notation "PN‑Undated" or by a conjectured year. Some of these conjectured years are inaccurate.

E-numbers and NPS catalog numbers. Until l97l the documents processed into the ENHP 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 these documents were re-cataloged and assigned NPS catalog numbers. Since that system is still in use, all documents with NPS catalog numbers are identified in the microfilm edition by that number rather than by E‑numbers.

Archival Inscriptions. It is not uncommon for documents in the Edison General File and other record groups to bear an archivist's inscription, sometimes enclosed within brackets or parentheses, at the top of the page. In most cases, the inscription refers to the folder in which the manuscript was to be filed. Since the collections have been reorganized numerous times over the years, these file names are frequently outdated. In the case of undated documents, a conjectured date (usually a year) sometimes appears at the top of the page. Subsequent research has revealed that some of these conjectured years are inaccurate.

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 researcher who is aware of this problem can easily distinguish between these comments and the actual text of the document.