Boys' Life of Edison - W. H. Meadowcroft

Edison Himself

Let us turn from what Edison has done to what Edison is. It is worth while to know "the man behind the guns." Who and what is the personal Edison?

Certainly there must be tremendous force in a personality which has been one of the most potent factors in bringing into existence new industries now capitalized at about seven billion dollars, earning annually over one billion dollars, and giving employment to an army of more than six hundred thousand people.

It must not be thought that there is any intention to give entire credit to Edison for the present magnificent proportions of these industries. The labors of many other inventors and the confidence of capitalists and investors have added greatly to their growth. But Edison is the father of some of these arts and industries, and as to some of the others it was the magic of his touch that helped make them practicable.

How then does Edison differ from most other men? Is it that he combines with a vigorous body a mind capable of clear and logical thinking, and an imagination of unusual activity? No, for there are others of equal bodily and mental vigor who have not accomplished a tithe of his achievements.

We must answer then, first, that his whole life is concentrated upon his work. When he conceives a broad idea of a new invention he gives no thought to the limitations of time, or man, or effort. Having his body and mind in complete subjection through iron nerves, he settles down to experiment with ceaseless, tireless, unwavering patience, never swerving to the right or left nor losing sight of his purpose. Years may come and go, but nothing short of success is accepted.

A good example of this can be found in the development of the nickel pocket for the storage battery, an element the size of a short lead-pencil. More than five years were spent in experiments costing upward of a million dollars to perfect it. Day after day was spent on this investigation, tens of thousands of tubes and an endless variety of chemicals were made, but at the end of five years Edison was as much interested in these small tubes as when the work was first begun.

So far as work is concerned, all times are alike to Edison, whether it be day or night. He carries no watch, and, indeed, has but little use for watches or clocks except as they may be useful in connection with an experiment in which time is a factor. The one idea in mind is to go on with the work incessantly, always pushing steadily onward toward the purpose in view, with a relentless disregard of effort or the passage of time.

A second and very marked characteristic of Edison's personality, is an intense and courageous hopefulness and self-confidence, into which no thought of failure can enter. The doubts and fears of others have absolutely no weight with him. Discouragements and disappointments find no abiding place in his mind. Indeed, he has the happy faculty of beginning the day as open-minded as a child, yesterday's discouragements and disappointments discarded, or, at any rate, remembered only as useful knowledge gained and serving to point out the fact that he had been temporarily following the wrong road.

Thomas Alva Edison


Difficulties seem to have a fascination for him. To advance along smooth paths, meeting no obstacles or hardships, has no charm for Edison. To wrestle with difficulties, to meet obstructions, to attempt the impossible—these are the things that appear to give him a high form of intellectual pleasure. He meets them with the keen delight of a strong man battling with the waves and opposing them in sheer enjoyment.

Another marked characteristic of Edison is the fact that his happiness is not bound up in the making of money. While he appreciates a good balance at his banker's, the keenness of his pleasure is in overcoming difficulties rather than the mere piling up of a bank account. Had his nature been otherwise, it is doubtful if his life would have been filled with the great achievements that it has been our pleasure to record.

In a life filled with tremendous purpose and brilliant achievement there must be expected more or less of troubles and loss. Edison's life has been no exception, but, with the true philosophy that might be expected of such a nature, he remarked recently: "Spilled milk doesn't interest me. I have spilled lots of it, and, while I have always felt it for a few days, it is quickly forgotten, and I turn again to the future."

Edison at sixty-four has a fine physique, and, being free from serious ailments, should live to a vigorous old age. His hair has whitened, but it is still abundant, and though he uses glasses for reading, his gray-blue eyes are as keen and bright and deeply lustrous as ever, with the direct, searching look in them that they have ever worn.

He stands five feet nine and one-half inches high, weighs one hundred and seventy-five pounds, and has not varied as to weight in a quarter of a century, although as a young man he was quite slender. He is very abstemious, hardly ever touching alcohol, caring little for meat, but fond of fruit and pie, and never averse to a strong cup of coffee or a good cigar.

He believes that people eat too much, and governs himself accordingly. His meals are simple, small in quantity, and take but little of his time at table. If he finds himself varying in weight he will eat a little more or a little less in order to keep his weight constant.

As to clothes, Edison is simplicity itself. Indeed, it is one of the subjects in which he takes no interest. He says: "I get a suit that fits me, then I compel the tailors to use that as a jig, or pattern, or blue-print, to make others by. For many years a suit was used as a measurement; once or twice they took fresh measurements, but these didn't fit, and they had to go back. I eat to keep my weight constant, hence I never need changed measurements."

This will explain why a certain tailor had made Edison's clothes for twenty years and had never seen him.

In 1873 Mr. Edison was married to Miss Mary Stilwell, who died in 1884, leaving three children—Thomas Alva, William Leslie, and Marion Estelle.

Mr. Edison was married again in 1886 to Miss Mina Miller, daughter of Mr. Lewis Miller, a distinguished pioneer inventor and manufacturer in the field of agricultural machinery, and equally entitled to fame as the father of the "Chautauqua idea," and the founder with Bishop Vincent of the original Chautauqua, which now has so many replicas all over the country. By this marriage there are three children—Charles, Madeline, and Theodore.

For over twenty years Edison's happy and perfect domestic life has been spent at Glenmont, a beautiful property in Llewellyn Park, on the Orange Mountain, New Jersey. Here, amid the comforts of a beautifully appointed home, in which may be seen the many decorations and medals awarded to him, together with the numerous souvenirs sent to him by foreign potentates and others, Edison spends the hours that he is away from the laboratory. They are far from being idle hours, for it is here that he may pursue his reading free from interruption.

His hours of sleep are few, not more than six in the twenty-four, and not as much as that when working nights at the laboratory. In a recent conversation a friend expressed surprise that he could stand the constant strain, to which Edison replied that he stood it easily, because he was interested in everything. He further said: "I don't live with the past; I am living for to-day and to-morrow. I am interested in every department of science, art, and manufacture. I read all the time on astronomy, chemistry, biology, physics, music, metaphysics, mechanics, and other branches—political economy, electricity, and, in fact, all things that are making for progress in the world. I get all the proceedings of the scientific societies, the principal scientific and trade journals, and read them. I also read some theatrical and sporting papers and a lot of similar publications, for I like to know what is going on. In this way I keep up to date, and live in a great, moving world of my own, and, what's more, I enjoy every minute of it."

In conversation Edison is direct, courteous, ready to discuss a topic with anybody worth talking to, and, in spite of his deafness, an excellent listener. No one ever goes away from him in doubt as to what he thinks or means, but, with characteristic modesty, he is ever shy and diffident to a degree if the talk turns on himself rather than on his work.

He is a normal, fun-loving, typical American, ever ready to listen to a new story, with a smile all the while, and a hearty, boyish laugh at the end. He has a keen sense of humor, which manifests itself in witty repartee and in various ways.

In his association with his staff of experimenters the "old man," as he is affectionately called, is considerate and patient, although always insisting on absolute accuracy and exactness in carrying out his ideas. He makes liberal allowance for errors arising through human weakness of one kind or another, but a stupid mistake or an inexcusable oversight on the part of an assistant will call forth a storm of contemptuous expression that is calculated to make the offender feel cheap. The incident, however, is quickly a thing of the past, as a general rule.

If there is anything in heredity, Edison has many years of vigor and activity yet before him. What the future may have in store in the way of further achievement cannot be fore-shadowed, for he is still a mighty thinker and a prodigy of industry and hard work.