The Edisonian - Volume 14

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  1. Greetings
  2. Make a Difference
  3. The Papers of Thomas A. Edison
  4. Featured Document: Volume 9 Edison's Kinetograph
  5. Edison and Poetry
  6. Featured Books
  7. Edison's Telegraphic Script Inspired "Library Hand"
  8. My Summer Internship by Saketh Mandayam

Greetings from the Edison Papers!

Get your popcorn ready! After a lengthy delay, Volume 9 should be available this spring as a PDF via Project Muse. Project Muse is the digital platform used by Johns Hopkins University Press. In addition, Volumes 1-8, already in PDF format on Project Muse, will also be made available as open-source content. The editors at The Edison Papers have finished reviewing and correcting the page proofs and are currently compiling the index for Volume 9. Look for our announcement that Volume 9, The Papers of Thomas A. Edison, Competing Interests is live on Project Muse.

Until then, Happy Birthday Mr. Edison and may your incandescent spirit continue to light our way.

- The Edison Papers

Help make a difference!

Will you consider supporting the Edison Papers this year?  Thomas Edison enjoyed a remarkably creative and exceptionally well-documented life.  The Thomas Edison Papers is dedicated to making these records accessible to the public and students at all levels. We invite you to share in making these papers accessible, please consider making a contribution or a monthly donation here!

The Papers of Thomas A. Edison

Competing Interests

Edison's desk in the Laboratory Library

The big new laboratory that Edison opened in West Orange, N.J., late in 1887 led to one of his most important inventions: the professional research director. The lab's unmatched size, equipment, supplies, and skilled staff allowed Edison to create in new ways. No longer did he have to take the lead on each problem: he could assign it to a talented man or team of men (always men). Over the next few years, Edison adapted his long habits; still working eighteen (or more) hours in a day, he learned to direct others' work: planning, watching, quizzing, instructing, summarizing. Still the inventor working at a bench, now he could also multiply his personal efforts, pushing a variety of difficult projects at more or less the same time. Work could even go on without him, as it did when he spent almost two months abroad visiting the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. The new role of research director could not be patented, and it added little to Edison's glittering fame at the time. But he proved the concept of industrial research that, within his lifetime, would be adopted by the likes of General Electric, Bell Telephone, and DuPont to transform the United States in the 20th century. Click to read the full article.

Featured Document - Volume 9: Edison's Kinetograph

Edison Kinetograph hand drawing


Edison Proves an Inspiration for Poet Clifford H. Tyler

Thomas Edison has been connected to poetry in many ways. He was both a reader and, occasionally, a writer of poetry (albeit of a surrealistic sort). He loved Shakespeare and was partial to Longfellow. He also had poets, such as Browning and Tennyson, recorded on the phonograph reading their own works. Edison inspired poets, too, including Horatio Powers, Carl Sandburg, and Charles Cros, to write about him and his work. Among those so inspired recently was the late Clifford H. Tyler, who penned a series of poems prompted by visits to both Edison's house in Llewellyn Park and the Edison Laboratory in West Orange. Click to read the full article.

Featured Books

Edison, by Edmund Morris

Having published both his controversial authorized biography of Ronald Reagan and the third and final volume of his award-winning biography of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris was casting about for another life to write. His first thought was to pen a bio of the reclusive J. D. Salinger, but his agent Scott Moyers wondered whether the reading public would be interested in someone who didn't really do much but live like a monk after he published A Catcher in the Rye. Moyers instead suggested Thomas Edison, in so many ways a polar opposite to Salinger. Edison was a lifelong man of action, a doer, whose interests and activities have proved too various and voluminous to conveniently squeeze into any one- or even two-volume biography.

Morris took up Moyer's suggestion and seven years later produced Edison (released by Random House in October 2019), the most comprehensive biography of the inventor in more than a decade. To accomplish this, Morris, who is known for his own Edisonian energy and curiosity as a researcher and writer, plunged with both feet into the more than five million documents in the archives at the Edison National Historic Park in West Orange and surveyed untold pages of previous writings on the inventor and his doings, including mountains of contemporaneous newspaper and magazine articles. Read more ....


Gateways to Empire: Quebec and New Amsterdam to 1664, by Dr. Daniel Weeks

Lehigh University Press has published Gateways to Empire: Quebec and New Amsterdam to 1664 by Daniel Weeks, assistant editor at the Thomas A. Edison Papers. The book is the first comprehensive comparative study of the two seventeenth-century European colonies in North America.

"Daniel Weeks has provided a stimulating new comparative analysis of why New Amsterdam prospered more than Quebec as outposts for two distinctive empires," wrote Dr. Paul G. E. Clemens of the Rutgers University History Department. "His work takes us beyond explanations that begin and end with the fur trade, and he looks more broadly at the Atlantic and regional networks that made both settlements gateway centers for the movement of people, ideas, and consumer goods as well as furs." Peter Moogk, a professor of history at the University of British Columbia, has called Gateways to Empire, "A scholarly, original and well-informed comparison of seventeenth-century New Amsterdam with French Quebec that illuminates each settlement's distinctive features."

Edison's Telegraphic Script Inspired "Library Hand"

Anyone who is old enough to have used a card catalog back in the pre-digital days of the twentieth century (or alternatively to have done recent research at the Pennsylvania Historical Society) will be familiar with the peculiar form of writing commonly used on catalog cards and known as "library hand." This particular specialized form of writing was developed by Melvil Dewey, who also pioneered the Dewey decimal system and the library card catalog and even designed the specialized cabinets used to store and organize the cards. "Library Hand," a neat, highly legible script, was simply a subsidiary technology librarians needed in order to create an efficient and user friendly way of finding books through the card catalog in the days before the typewriter came into wide use.

But Dewey didn't develop library hand de novo. He borrowed an easy to write, legible script from someone who had already developed it for his own use—Thomas Edison. Or it might be more accurate to say that Dewey borrowed one of the handwriting styles Edison had developed. The inventor had at least three, which are all readily recognizable to anyone who has worked for even a little while with Edison autograph documents, as we do every day at the Thomas A. Edison Papers. Click to read more...

My Summer Internship at the Edison Papers

Most people only know Thomas Edison as the inventor of the lightbulb and by his nickname “The Wizard of Menlo Park.” While Edison’s improvement of the lightbulb proved a revolutionary development for all of the world, it was eye opening for me to learn during my internship at the Edison Papers, that he also developed and created numerous other technologies that also served the advancement of society.

During the summer after my freshman year in high school, I decided to intern at the Edison Papers because of my interest in history, and because of Thomas Edison being a New Jersey icon. To my surprise, I came to learn how interesting and versatile a person Edison was. I became aware of the hundreds of thousands of documents related to Edison’s companies, patents, inventions and industries, that revealed to me the massive impact he truly had on American society. Working at the Edison Papers also gave me an opportunity to examine documents from over 100 years ago. By looking at and examining these, I gained new insights on how society and people were back then. In addition, my work at digital transcriptions of Edison’s papers helped me gain better inferential skills including mastering the reading of cursive writing and understanding the context of these writings. This is very important for gaining a better understanding of history, because you can learn so much more about an event or time period through the use of first-hand accounts, rather than secondary sources.

While working on various transcriptions during my internship, I learned many new things about Edison. For example, while many people acknowledge the inventions that he made, his versatile business acumen is not talked of in the same breath. Even though most of the documents I encountered were written from the perspective of many secretaries and workers in the Edison companies, each of the transcriptions detailed countless number of different commercial and industrial products and shipments that were being produced and sent out daily. Through these various letters and correspondences sent, I learned how Edison was much more than just an inventor and a great mind. He also played a vital role in the American economy through his businesses.

One of the documents I transcribed was handwritten by Edison to his patent attorney (he had developed quite an exquisite penmanship from his early career as a telegraph operator). In this letter he details a patent application for improving features of his electric street railroad system to make it safer.

The man who attributed his genius to 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration is a truly remarkable icon and inspiration to Americans for time immemorial.

Acknowledgment: I am grateful to Professor Paul Israel for giving me the opportunity to intern at the Edison Papers.

Saketh Mandayam
Sophomore, East Brunswick High School

In Edison's Words...

"Edison said of his new laboratory "I will have the best equipped& largest Laboratory extant, and the best facilities incomparably superior to any other for rapid & cheap development of an invention, & working it up into Commercial shape with models patterns & special machinery— In fact there is no similar institution in Existence"" 

- Doc. 3080, Edison to William Lloyd Garrison, Jr., 13 August 1887 p. 789 Volume 8

From Brooklyn to Florida, from Germany to England, Edison was a global figure as we have highlighted in this newsletter. Here at the Edison Papers, we receive emails, inquiries and phone calls from Italy and Japan and even Iran! Edison transcends place and his universal presence lends us deep perspectives. Feel free to contact us!

The Edison Papers received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State, the National Historical Publication and Records Commission and The National Endowment for the Humanities.