Connect to Edison

This series explores a company, individual or innovation we feel is Edisonian in nature. Contact us for future consideration!

  1. Edison and ADT
  2. Edison and Steve Jobs
  3. Edison and Spencer Trask
  4. Ford -Edison: A Firm Friendship
  5. Discovery Communications Realizes Edisonian Vision
  6. Edison and DTE Energy
  7. Edison and AG Siemens
  8. Edison and Rutgers

Edison and ADT

On October 1, ADT Corporation, a leader in providing electronic security for homes and businesses in the U.S. and Canada, debuted on the New York Stock Exchange as an independent publicly traded company. Previously a subsidiary of Tyco International, ADT was one of two companies that Tyco spun off at the end of September.

ADT ADT chief executive officer Naren Gursahaney told the Financial Post that the new status as an independent company "marks an exciting milestone in our proud history." That history extends back 140 years, and like so many business entities that trace their roots to the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries, ADT has significant connections to Thomas A. Edison.

In 1872, a number of investors in the Gold and Stock Telegraph Co. formed the American District Telegraph Co. of New York to provide telegraph service to private homes. Subscribers would have a call box installed in their homes that connected them telegraphically to a district office. This device would allow homeowners to summon the police or fire departments or call a telegraph messenger boy or physician to their homes within two or three minutes.

At the time the American District Telegraph Co. was formed, Thomas A. Edison was under contract with Gold and Stock as a consulting engineer. He had made improvements in the stock ticker first devised by Edward Calahan, which was the basis of Gold and Stock's business. A burglary at the home of Gold and Stock President Elisha Andrews prompted Calahan to devise the district telegraph system, which was essentially a security system for private homes.

Andrews and others in Gold and Stock immediately saw the commercial potential of the district system and formed the American District Telegraph Co. of New York to take advantage of Calahan's invention. They also understood the value of Edison's ideas for improving telegraphic systems, and within a year of its formation, ADT of New York purchased the rights to Edison's improvements in district and alarm telegraphs and also to his telegraphic alarm and signal apparatus.

Soon local American District Telegraph companies were springing up in cities across the country. In the meantime, Edison had been busy developing his own district telegraph system, for which he designed new apparatus that allowed him to get around the patents held by ADT. With partners Joseph Murray and Jarvis B. Edson, Edison then formed the Domestic Telegraph Co., which directly competed with ADT in New York and extended its own sales to Newark, N.J., and Canada. The Altantic and Pacific Telegraph Co. bought the Domestic Telegraph Co. in 1876, and two years later, Western Union purchased the Atlantic and Pacific, which meant that the Domestic Telegraph Co., in essence, also ended up in Western Union hands.

By 1901, Western Union had also acquired the American District Telegraph Co. of New York and fifty-seven other district telegraph companies in the United States. Eventually, Western Union consolidated all of the domestic telegraph companies to form one national, and today international company, which retained the name of its oldest member—American District Telegraph or ADT. This meant that both of the district telegraph companies to which Edison contributed became part of the national company known as ADT.

In this way, Edison played a small, but significant role in the foundation of the company that today has become a leading provider of electronic security and monitoring services for residences and small businesses throughout North America. Today ADT, with more than $12.5 billion dollars in annual sales, serves some 6.4 million customers and has almost 16,000 employees in 200 locations in the United States and Canada.

Edison and Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs statue at Science Park, Budapest from Wikipedia

CNN Opinion by Paul Israel
The death of Steve Jobs has renewed comparisons to another great innovator -- Thomas Edison. Read more...

Edison and Spencer Trask

Letter from Trask to Edison 1898

The venture capitalist Spencer Trask became involved in Thomas A. Edison's concerns as early as 1881 when he purchased 236 shares of stock in the start-up Edison Electric Illuminating Co. of New York. [Document HM810148A] The Illuminating Co. was formed to build central generating stations that would provide electric power and light to various districts in Manhattan. It opened its first central station on Pearl Street on 4 Sept. 1882. The Pearl Street station provided the prototype for the electrification of cities throughout the United States.

Trask was an early director of the Illuminating Co. and in 1884 succeeded Sherburne B. Eaton as its president. In 1889, after the death of two of his children, Trask took an extended leave of absence from the presidency. He resumed the position in 1891 and served in that capacity for more than a decade.

During Trask's hiatus from the presidency, Spencer Trask & Co. continued to raise capital for the Illuminating Co. of New York. In 1890, it handled the issuing of $2 million in convertible gold bonds for the Edison company. [Document D9029AAV]] Trask himself was instrumental in forming the Illuminating Co. of Brooklyn, which set up the first central station in that city. The Trask company also seems to have played some role in financing the construction of central station plants outside of New York. [Document LB016188]

Trask was also a key figure in organizing financing for the North American Phonograph Co., which was formed in 1888 to market Edison's phonograph. In 1890, Spencer Trask & Co. was one of three financial firms through which the North American Phonograph Co. offered for sale 20,000 shares of stock. [Document QP009A105]

In 1898, Edison sent Trask one of his phonographs, likely in appreciation for the financier's efforts to fund the marketing of that instrument. Trask replied from his home "Yaddo" in Saratoga, New York, to thank Edison. "I shall I know take much pleasure in using it" wrote Trask, "& it will afford much pleasure to my friends & guests."

Today Spencer Trask & Co. carries on its founder's legacy, seeking out innovative entrepreneurs and ideas and financing emerging technologies in heathcare, communications, and software. In the biotechnology field, the Trask company has recently financed Myriad Genetics, which has played a leading role in the field of molecular diagnostics. In the field of high technology, Trask has helped to arrange financing for Ciena, which was instrumental in creating the fiber optic technology that has made the Internet boom possible.

In the online digital edition, Trask's letter to Edison can be found by clicking on “single document or folder” under the search feature and plugging in the ID number D9802AAZ.

Ford -Edison: A Firm Friendship

Edison and Ford 1927

When Ford Motor Company president and CEO Alan Mulally received the 2011 Edison Achievement Award on April 5, the linking of the names Edison and Ford seemed only natural. After all, Henry Ford, whose automobile manufacturing and business practices did so much to transform the world, looked upon Edison as a mentor, role-model par excellence, and perhaps most importantly, a firm friend.

"No man exceeds Thomas A. Edison in broad vision and understanding," Ford wrote in his 1922 autobiography by way of prefacing the story of his first personal encounter with the Wizard of Menlo Park. That meeting took place in 1896 (though Ford in his memoir mistakenly places it earlier). The place was the Oriental Hotel, Brooklyn, and the occasion was a convention of affiliated Edison illuminating companies. At the time, Ford was the chief engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit, but had yet to make a name for himself in the larger world. Edison, who by contrast was already world-renowned, was a featured speaker at the convention.

"After Mr. Edison had finished his address," Ford remembered, "I managed to catch him alone for a moment. I told him what I was working on." This was, of course, his gasoline combustion engine. Up to this time, his efforts had been greeted with little more than derision on the streets of Detroit. Edison immediately expressed interest and said that he saw a need for a self-contained, high-horsepower, light-weight engine. "Keep on with your engine," he told Ford. "If you can get what you are after, I can see a great future." Edison had been Ford's boyhood hero, and these words of encouragement couldn't have been more meaningful. "That was the inspiration I needed," Ford later remarked, and he got right back to work on developing his automobile.

Ford did not see Edison again for several years. In the meantime, he had fully developed his engine and had brought it into production. The two reconnected about 1911 and afterwards became fast friends. In 1914, Ford, along with Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs, visited Edison at the inventor's winter home in Fort Myers, Fla.. All four, along with the Edison and Ford families, went on a camping trip to nearby Deep Lake. Afterward, Ford wrote Edison to thank him for "such a pleasant vacation with you, in fact the most enjoyable one we have ever had." [Document X001A3AU ]

The Florida trip initiated a tradition by which the Ford and Edison families made yearly summer camping trips together. In 1916, Ford also purchased the "Mangoes" estate in Fort Myers, so that he could spend his winter vacations in close proximity to Edison.

The two men established a business relationship as well. Ford provided money for Edison's development of alkaline batteries, and Edison adapted Ford's efficiency methods in his own factories. Edison developed a starter for Ford cars, and the two men also collaborated with Firestone on rubber research.

But perhaps the most enduring legacy of the Ford-Edison friendship has been the preservation of Edison's Menlo Park and Fort Myers laboratories at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. In the 1920s, Ford shouldered the important historical work of preserving artifacts and documents related to Edison's work. He reconstructed the Menlo Park complex and did the same with the Fort Myers Laboratory. In 1923, Ford also donated $5 million to build a technical school and repository for the study of Edison's work. In a letter to the Edison Pioneers, a group of the inventor's early associates and employees, Ford noted that "our chief purpose in the Museum is not merely to exhibit objects of historical interest but to use them in such a way as shall inspire students with the same zeal and sincerity which inspired Mr. Edison's researches. . . . We believe that the presence of laboratories and machines and tools used by Mr. Edison will be a great and continuous inspiration to the young American mind. [Document X098A098]

The Henry Ford Museum and Research Center now preserves a collection of Edison-related manuscripts that the early associates of Edison collected along with those Ford himself preserved. Many of these can now be accessed digitally through the Edison Papers Website. As one of Edison's managers observed, "the world will owe Henry Ford a great debt for his preservation of Edisonian apparatus and data; no expense or labor has been spared in making it the most complete record of Edison's life and accomplishments."

Boyhood heroes are apt to disappoint upon mature reflection. But Edison proved an exception to this rule. Ford's admiration for the inventor never waned. "Mr. Edison was a truly great man," the automaker told the press the day after Edison died in 1931. "He changed the face of the world in his lifetime and everything he achieved was beneficial to mankind . . . I knew him for nearly forty years. He was the chief hero of my boyhood and he became my friend in manhood."

Discovery Communications Realizes Edisonian Vision Edison and West Orange Boys

Perhaps more than anyone else, John Hendricks, the founder and chairman of Discovery Communications, Inc., has followed Thomas A. Edison's dream of transforming moving pictures into a tool for educating the masses and for bringing educational programming directly into the home.

Edison spelled out his vision in 1913 to Frederick James Smith, a writer for the now defunct New York Dramatic Mirror, who took the trouble to make his way out to West Orange, N.J., to sound out the inventor on the future of the motion picture. Edison, of course, had played a key role in the development of motion-picture technology. In 1891, he patented an early motion-picture camera (the kinetograph) and a viewing device (the kinetoscope). By 1913 further improvements by Edison and others had spawned a new industry, with film-making centers in both New York and Hollywood.

Edison, though, foresaw the need for further technical improvements. "The next steps of advancement," he told Smith, "will center about better photography, with less flicker, the production of multiple reel screen dramas, colored pictures and possibly stereoscopic films with the effect of actual depth."

But beyond mere technical development, Edison also foresaw the future promise of the motion picture as an educational tool. "The motion picture art," Edison said as early as 1911, "will eventually, if it has not already done so, supplement the art of printing for the transmission and diffusion of knowledge."

By 1913, the inventor was prepared to make an even bolder prediction. "Books," Edison told Smith, "will soon be obsolete in the public schools. Scholars will be instructed through the eye. It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years."

Edison's prediction of the demise of the book was somewhat premature, though films and filmstrips soon entered the curriculum in the public schools. But perhaps most tellingly, he foresaw that "the future will see motion pictures more or less in the home."

The advent of television as a public mass media following World War II brought Edison's prognostication to full fruition. From the outset, educational programming was in the mix, but television has been, throughout its history, chiefly a form of mass entertainment.

More recent advances, such as the cable, digital, and fiber optics revolutions, have exponentially expanded the number of channels available to the home viewer and opened new possibilities for educational programming. Discovery Communications has taken full advantage of these opportunities, creating educational channels such as The Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Science Channel, and the Military Channel, among others.

Edison believed that motion pictures would be particularly conducive to teaching geography. "A printed description," he noted, "is obviously incomplete, and mental pictures are formed that are generally incorrect." But, said Edison, "if geography were taught by moving pictures, if foreign lands and cities were illustrated, if the topography and general characteristics were shown, if the habits and demeanor of the people were depicted, and if their occupations and methods of work and recreation were illustrated, the child would have as clear an idea of everything as if the original scenes were viewed directly."

In programs such as "Human Planet," "Outdoor Adventure," and "Planet Earth," Discovery provides the kind of direct experience of the world Edison envisioned. Edison also thought motion pictures perfectly adapted for teaching history and science, a role Discovery Communications also fills with programs such as the Military Channel's series on the Civil War and the Science Channel's "Mutant Planet."

In 1913, when he made his predictions about the future of motion pictures, Edison was 66 years old and world-renowned for his inventions and contributions to science and industry. He could well have rested on his laurels. Yet, Smith found the inventor still working "for the sheer joy of it–delving into the future and transforming his dreams into realities." Though he wouldn't have been surprised, Edison likely would have marveled at how current communications companies, such as Discovery, continue this work of transforming his dreams into reality.

Edison and DTE Energy

DTE EnergyDTE Energy, with its headquarters in Detroit, Mich., is one of the largest diversified energy companies in the United States. The company's direct connection to Thomas A. Edison is revealed once the acronym at the beginning of the company's name is decoded. "DTE" was the stock symbol for Detroit Edison, which was founded as the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit on April 15, 1886. One hundred and ten years later Detroit Edison formed DTE Energy as an energy holding company of which it is now the largest subsidiary.

Detroit Edison was among the first Edison illuminating companies founded after Edison relinquished management of the central station business to the Edison Electric Light Company in late 1884. It was in April of that year that Edison Electric's field agent for Detroit, steam and electrical engineer John R. Markle, first approached Edison about setting up a Detroit company. Although it took him two years, Markle finally succeeded in bringing together a number of prominent Detroit businessmen to capitalize the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit, which then signed an agreement with the Edison Electric Light Co. to license Edison's patents for central station systems. (See a document relating to the founding of The Edison Illuminating Co. of Detroit.)

By 1892, Detroit Edison Illuminating had 550 customers, many of which were manufacturing concerns. The illuminating company provided electric power for its incandescent system, which was suitable for indoor use and limited outdoor use. Street lighting, by 1893, was the province of the Peninsular Electric Light Co., which had bought out the local Brush Co. and used the Westinghouse alternating current system, as opposed to the direct current system the Edison companies employed.

Among the employees of Detroit Edison Illuminating was Henry Ford, who joined the company in September 1891 and subsequently became its chief engineer. It was while representing Detroit Edison at the 1896 annual meeting of the Association of Edison Illuminating Companies at Manhattan Beach in New York City that Ford talked to Edison about his ideas regarding a horseless vehicle with an internal combustion engine. Ford later recalled Edison saying "Young man, that's the thing!" Then after banging his fist on the table, Edison told him "You have it. Keep at it. . . . Your car is self-contained, carries its own power plant, no fire, no boiler, no smoke and no steam. You have the thing. Keep at it." Ford credited this statement of Edison's with inspiring him to continue his work on automobiles. By 1899 he had found investors for his new car company and left Detroit Edison Illuminating.

In January 1903, shareholders and directors of The Edison Illuminating Co. of Detroit, along with new investors from outside of the city, formed the Detroit Edison Co., which purchased a controlling interest in both the Illuminating Co. and the Peninsular Co. These two companies continued to operate independently as subsidiaries of Detroit Edison, distributing direct and alternating current respectively. Detroit Edison, in the meantime, began construction of a new power plant in the village of Delray on the Detroit River.

Detroit Edison was formed at just the right time. In 1903, Henry Ford expanded his operations with the founding of the Ford Motor Co., and the next year, Detroit Edison began to provide electricity to the new Cadillac Motor Car Co. Anticipating further growth of manufacturing in the automobile industry, Detroit Edison added a second Delray power plant in 1908 and a third in 1915. Today, Detroit Edison operates nine fossil-fuel generating plants and one nuclear power plant. Its total capacity is about 11,084 megawatts, which are delivered to customers over some 44,000 miles of power lines. DTE Energy, meanwhile, now has some $26 billion in assets and generates revenues of almost $9 billion per year.

Edison and AG Siemens

DTE EnergySiemens AG, a global "integrated technology" company with headquarters in Munich, Germany, is a leader in industry, energy, health care, telecommunications, and urban infrastructure. It is also the world's largest producer of environmental technologies. And like so many of today's leading companies, Siemens, too, is connected to Thomas A. Edison.

Edison and Werner von Siemens often competed against each other in business but maintained a healthy mutual respect. When Edison visited Europe in 1889 for the Paris Exhibition, Siemens invited the Edison family to visit Germany.

Siemens was formed in 1847 as a partnership between the inventor Werner von Siemens and the mechanic Johann Georg Halske. Known initially as Siemens & Halske, the company was organized to manufacture, promote, and sell Siemens' improved telegraph receiver, which used a needle to point to the letters and therefore could dispense with Morse code. What began as a small workshop that chiefly made precision telegraph equipment, soon expanded to meet the growing need for electrical equipment more generally, becoming the largest German company for the manufacture of meters and railroad signaling and safety systems.

Siemens & Halske dominated the electrical industry in Germany until 1883, when Emil Rathenau formed Deutsche Edison Gesellschaft für Elektricität or the German Edison Co. for Applied Electricity. For four years, the two companies cooperated. DEG concentrated on the construction of power stations, while Siemens & Halske, which took out licenses for Edison's patents, manufactured the dynamos, motors, cables, and other equipment needed for the stations.

Werner 1884

In 1887, when DEG was reorganized as Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), specifically to exploit Edison's electric light patents, Siemens & Halske invested $1 million marks in the new company. AEG, though, threatened the preeminent place of Siemens & Halske in the German electric industry, particularly after the new company began to expand, says historian Wilfried Feldenkirchen, into "nearly all branches of heavy-current engineering." By the end of the nineteenth century, Siemens & Halske and AEG had emerged as the two largest electrical companies in Germany.

Although they often found themselves competing, Edison and Werner von Siemens remained friends. In 1886, Edison asked Siemens to become the European representative for his telegraphic inventions [LB022107], an offer that Siemens politely declined [D8630ZBQ]. When Edison visited Europe in 1889 for the Paris Exhibition, Siemens invited him to visit Germany [D8905AFW]. Edison and his family stayed at the Siemens home in Charlottenburg and toured his manufacturing plants. Siemens also a hosted grand banquet in Charlottenberg, at which Edison was the guest of honor. He escorted Edison to Heidelberg to the Congress of German Naturalists, at which Edison was once again feted.

That same year, Siemens & Halske became a major financial backer of the newly formed Edison General Electric Co., which brought about the merger of Edison's electric light interests in the United States. Edison General Electric would also hold the U.S. licenses for Siemens & Halske patents. In addition, Edison and Siemens agreed to share the results of their research and inform one another of innovations in manufacturing processes.

The Siemens company has gone through a number of mergers and reorganizations since the death of Werner von Siemens in 1892. Today the company operates on every continent except Antarctica, with some 370,000 employees worldwide. Its annual revenue in the last year topped 78 billion euros.

Edison and Rutgers

The name of Thomas Edison has been closely associated with Rutgers University since the university won a competition to host the Edison Papers. Edison himself had a personal relationship with the university, having spent a good deal of his career in close proximity to its New Brunswick campus. He received two honorary degrees from Rutgers, donated electrical apparatus to the school, and stirred up a bit of controversy among students and faculty with the intelligence tests he instituted for employees in 1920.  Read more...