Part III: 1887-1898
Part III chronicles Edison's significance in institutionalized inventive processes. Late in 1887, Edison opened his new laboratory complex in West Orange, New Jersey. This laboratory remained the hub of his creative efforts until his death in 1931. Part III covers Edison's first decade at the new lab, detailing its emergence as an early research and development center and its growth as the nucleus of Edison's varied manufacturing and commercial interests.
During his first years at West Orange, Edison remained active in the development of electric light and power systems while organizing companies to exploit his other inventions. Experimental notebooks, technical reports, and business correspondence all reveal his ongoing research in the area of power distribution, including his advocacy of direct over alternating current, his role in the Niagara Falls hydroelectric project, and his involvement in electrical utility companies. Those interests, however, declined with the series of mergers and acquisitions that ultimately spawned the giant General Electric Company. Edison's attention turned to the perfection and marketing of his cylinder phonograph, to experiments with X-rays, to ore milling and magnetic ore separation, and to the invention of moving pictures.
Part III offers experimental, corporate, and legal records of great significance and variety. They establish Edison among the pioneers in important areas of the emerging industrial society. The automated New Jersey and Pennsylvania Concentrating Works, the heart of his titanic ore milling venture, broke new ground in continuous-process manufacture. The North American Phonograph and the Edison United Phonograph companies were early attempts to forge mass consumer markets in the domestic and global arenas. In addition, Edison's litigation records underscore the interplay of American patent and judicial systems in the creation of the modern industrial economy.