Browse The Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives Home Page

Thomas A. Edison: Inventor and Manufacturer

Edison opened a large laboratory and factory in Newark, New Jersey. There he employed three hundred men to assist him in his experiments and to make the contrivances, which he invented.

This was a more serious responsibility than he had yet undertaken. It was one thing to tinker away by himself and work out his ideas with his own skillful hands, and quite another to manage and direct three hundred men.

He was not, however, ignorant of human nature. Even when a newsboy he had been busy getting acquainted with people and learning to influence them so they would do as he wished.
In his factory, his manner toward his men was friendly and boyishly unconstrained.

There was little formality between employer and employees; his men were not afraid of the "boss." He depended on their interest and good will, rather than obedience to rigid rules, for the best results. His big factory was managed with a surprising lack of regularity. If he was anxious to have a piece of work finished, all hands were kept over hours. When things went well and some important undertaking was completed, there was a fragment of a holiday.

It is said that when a man asked Edison to what he owed his success, he replied, "To never looking at the clock." He expected from his men something of the same indifference to time and absorption in work that he had always shown.

On one occasion, when an instrument did not give satisfaction and he could not find what was wrong, he took half a dozen of his most able assistants with him to an upper room, saying, "We will stay there until this thing is straightened out." They worked there sixty hours, and at the end of that time came out of their voluntary prison tired, but satisfied and successful.

If Edison demanded a good deal of his men, he was more severe with himself. Many and many a time, after a day's work, he sat all night in his private office or laboratory studying out some baffling problem.

He was very much beloved by his workmen, and if he came back from a business trip to New York, with his boyish face all aglow with satisfaction, and tossed his silk hat up to the ceiling with a cheer for the invention he had just sold, a wave of good feeling and hilarity spread over the whole establishment.

It was in the first year of his life at Newark that Edison married. After a brief and business-like courtship, he married Miss Mary Stillwell, a young woman employed in· his factory. He carried his enthusiasm for electricity even into his home and nicknamed his first two children "Dot" and "Dash," from the signals of the telegraph.

In money matters, Edison was as reckless as in his expense of time. He employed no bookkeeper, and paid his bills with notes. He rarely knew whether he was in debt or had a surplus on hand. In his view, money was merely a means for carrying on the work that was for him the one important thing in life, and he rarely worried about it.

He had good reason to have a feeling of security; for it is said that before leaving Newark, he had at one time forty-five distinct inventions in varying stages of completion, and, that the profit arising from their sale amounted to four hundred thousand dollars.

His most important achievement at Newark was the perfecting of the quadruplex telegraph, by means of which not only two but four messages could be sent over one wire at the same instant.

Besides this, so many minor inventions were completed that Edison was· called "The young man who keeps the path to the Patent Office hot with his footsteps."

Frances M. Perry, “The Story of Thomas A. Edison: Inventor and Manufacturer.” In Four American Inventors: A Book for Young Americans, New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago: American Book Company, 1901, Pages 241-245.

Return to Top of Page