Heroes of the Telegraph
J. Munro

Part 3 out of 4

world. This time the Elba was to lay a cable from the Greek islands of
Syra and Candia to Egypt. Cable-laying is a pleasant mode of travel.
Many of those on board the ship are friends and comrades in former
expeditions, and all are engaged in the same venture. Some have seen a
good deal of the world, both in and out of the beaten track ; they have
curious 'yarns to spin,' and useful hints or scraps of worldly wisdom to
bestow. The voyage out is like a holiday excursion, for it is only the
laying that is arduous, and even that is lightened by excitement.
Glimpses are got of hide-away spots, where the cable is landed, perhaps.
on the verge of the primeval forest or near the port of a modern city,
or by the site of some ruined monument of the past. The very magic of
the craft and its benefit to the world are a source of pleasure to the
engineer, who is generally made much of in the distant parts he has come
to join. No doubt there are hardships to be borne, sea-sickness,
broken rest, and anxiety about the work--for cables are apt suddenly to
fail, and the ocean is treacherous; but with all its drawbacks this
happy mixture of changing travel and profitable labour is very
attractive, especially to a young man.

The following extracts from letters to his wife will illustrate the
nature of the work, and also give an idea of Jenkin's clear and graphic
style of correspondence :-

May 14.--'Syra is semi-eastern. The pavement, huge shapeless blocks
sloping to a central gutter; from this base two-storeyed houses,
sometimes plaster, many-coloured, sometimes rough-hewn marble, rise,
dirty and ill-finished, to straight, plain, flat roofs; shops guiltless
of windows, with signs in Greek letters; dogs, Greeks in blue, baggy,
Zouave breeches and a fez, a few narghilehs, and a sprinkling of the
ordinary continental shop-boys. In the evening I tried one more walk in
Syra with A----, but in vain endeavoured to amuse myself or to spend
money, the first effort resulting in singing DOODAH to a passing Greek
or two, the second in spending--no, in making A---- spend--threepence on
coffee for three.'

Canea Bay, in Candia (or Crete), which they reached on May 16, appeared
to Jenkin one of the loveliest sights that man could witness.

May 23.--'I spent the day at the little station where the cable was
landed, which has apparently been first a Venetian monastery and then a
Turkish mosque. At any rate the big dome is very cool, and the little
ones hold batteries capitally. A handsome young Bashi-Bazouk guards it,
and a still handsomer mountaineer is the servant; so I draw them and the
monastery and the hill till I'm black in the face with heat, and come on
board to hear the Canea cable is still bad.'

May 23.--'We arrived in the morning at the east end of Candia, and had a
glorious scramble over the mountains, which seem built of adamant. Time
has worn away the softer portions of the rock, only leaving sharp,
jagged edges of steel; sea eagles soaring above our heads--old tanks,
ruins, and desolation at our feet. The ancient Arsinoe stood here: a
few blocks of marble with the cross attest the presence of Venetian
Christians; but now--the desolation of desolations. Mr. Liddell and I
separated from the rest, and when we had found a sure bay for the cable,
had a tremendous lively scramble back to the boat. These are the bits
of our life which I enjoy; which have some poetry, some grandeur in

May 29.-'Yesterday we ran round to the new harbour (of Alexandria),
landed the shore end of the cable close to Cleopatra's Bath, and made a
very satisfactory start about one in the afternoon. We had scarcely
gone 200 yards when I noticed that the cable ceased to run out, and I
wondered why the ship had stopped.'

The Elba had run her nose on a sandbank. After trying to force her over
it, an anchor was put out astern and the rope wound by a steam winch,
while the engines were backed; but all in vain. At length a small
Turkish steamer, the consort of the Elba, came to her assistance, and by
means of a hawser helped to tug her off: The pilot again ran her
aground soon after, but she was delivered by the same means without much
damage. When two-thirds of this cable was laid the line snapped in deep
water, and had to be recovered. On Saturday, June 4, they arrived at
Syra, where they had to perform four days' quarantine, during which,
however, they started repairing the Canea cable.

Bad weather coming on, they took shelter in Siphano, of which Jenkin
writes: 'These isles of Greece are sad, interesting places. They are
not really barren all over, but they are quite destitute of verdure; and
tufts of thyme, wild mastic, or mint, though they sound well, are not
nearly so pretty as grass. Many little churches, glittering white, dot
the islands; most of them, I believe, abandoned during the whole year
with the exception of one day sacred to their patron saint. The
villages are mean; but the inhabitants do not look wretched, and the men
are capital sailors. There is something in this Greek race yet; they
will become a powerful Levantine nation in the course of time.'

In 1861 Jenkin left the service of Newall & Co., and entered into
partnership with Mr. H. C. Forde, who had acted as engineer under the
British Government for the Malta-Alexandria cable, and was now
practising as a civil engineer. For several years after this business
was bad, and with a young family coming, it was an anxious time for him;
but he seems to have borne his troubles lightly. Mr. Stevenson says it
was his principle 'to enjoy each day's happiness as it arises, like
birds and children.'

In 1863 his first son was born, and the family removed to a cottage at
Claygate, near Esher. Though ill and poor at this period, he kept up
his self-confidence. 'The country,' he wrote to his wife, 'will give
us, please God, health and strength. I will love and cherish you more
than ever. You shall go where you wish, you shall receive whom you
wish, and as for money, you shall have that too. I cannot be mistaken.
I have now measured myself with many men. I do not feel weak. I do not
feel that I shall fail. In many things I have succeeded, and I will in
this.... And meanwhile, the time of waiting, which, please Heaven, shall
not be so long, shall also not be so bitter. Well, well, I promise
much, and do not know at this moment how you and the dear child are. If
he is but better, courage, my girl, for I see light.'

He took to gardening, without a natural liking for it, and soon became
an ardent expert. He wrote reviews, and lectured, or amused himself in
playing charades, and reading poetry. Clerk Maxwell, and Mr. Ricketts,
who was lost in the La Plata, were among his visitors. During October,
1860, he superintended the repairs of the Bona-Spartivento cable,
revisiting Chia and Cagliari, then full of Garibaldi's troops. The
cable, which had been broken by the anchors of coral fishers, was
grapnelled with difficulty. 'What rocks we did hook!' writes Jenkin.
'No sooner was the grapnel down than the ship was anchored; and then
came such a business: ship's engines going, deck engine thundering,
belt slipping, tear of breaking ropes; actually breaking grapnels. It
was always an hour or more before we could get the grapnels down again.'

In 1865, on the birth of his second son, Mrs. Jenkin was very ill, and
Jenkin, after running two miles for a doctor, knelt by her bedside
during the night in a draught, not wishing to withdraw his hand from
hers. Never robust, he suffered much from flying rheumatism and
sciatica ever afterwards. It nearly disabled him while laying the
Lowestoft to Norderney cable for Mr. Reuter, in 1866. This line was
designed by Messrs. Forde & Jenkin, manufactured by Messrs. W. T.
Henley & Co., and laid by the Caroline and William Cory. Miss Clara
Volkman, a niece of Mr. Reuter, sent the first message, Mr. C. F, Varley
holding her hand.

In 1866 Jenkin was appointed to the professorship of Engineering in
University College, London. Two years later his prospects suddenly
improved; the partnership began to pay, and he was selected to fill the
Chair of Engineering, which had been newly established, in Edinburgh
University. What he thought of the change may be gathered from a letter
to his wife: 'With you in the garden (at Claygate), with Austin in the
coach-house, with pretty songs in the little low white room, with the
moonlight in the dear room upstairs--ah! it was perfect; but the long
walk, wondering, pondering, fearing, scheming, and the dusty jolting
railway, and the horrid fusty office, with its endless disappointments,
they are well gone. It is well enough to fight, and scheme, and bustle
about in the eager crowd here (in London) for awhile now and then; but
not for a lifetime. What I have now is just perfect. Study for winter,
action for summer, lovely country for recreation, a pleasant town for

The liberality of the Scotch universities allowed him to continue his
private enterprises, and the summer holiday was long enough to make a
trip round the globe.

The following June he was on board the Great Eastern while she laid the
French Atlantic cable from Brest to St. Pierre. Among his shipmates
were Sir William Thomson, Sir James Anderson, C. F. Varley, Mr. Latimer
Clark, and Willoughby Smith. Jenkin's sketches of Clark and Varley are
particularly happy. At St. Pierre, where they arrived in a fog, which
lifted to show their consort, the William Cory, straight ahead, and the
Gulnare signalling a welcome, Jenkin made the curious observation that
the whole island was electrified by the battery at the telegraph

Jenkin's position at Edinburgh led to a partnership in cable work with
Sir William Thomson, for whom he always had a love and admiration.
Jenkin's clear, practical, and business-like abilities were doubtless an
advantage to Sir William, relieving him of routine, and sparing his
great abilities for higher work. In 1870 the siphon recorder, for
tracing a cablegram in ink, instead of merely flashing it by the moving
ray of the mirror galvanometer, was introduced on long cables, and
became a source of profit to Jenkin and Varley as well as to Sir
William, its inventor.

In 1873 Thomson and Jenkin were engineers for the Western and Brazilian
cable. It was manufactured by Messrs. Hooper & Co., of Millwall, and
the wire was coated with india-rubber, then a new insulator. The Hooper
left Plymouth in June, and after touching at Madeira, where Sir William
was up 'sounding with his special toy' (the pianoforte wire) 'at half-
past three in the morning,' they reached Pernambuco by the beginning of
August, and laid a cable to Para.

During the next two years the Brazilian system was connected to the West
Indies and the River Plate; but Jenkin was not present on the
expeditions. While engaged in this work, the ill-fated La Plata, bound
with cable from Messrs. Siemens Brothers to Monte Video, perished in a
cyclone off Cape Ushant, with the loss of nearly all her crew. The
Mackay-Bennett Atlantic cables were also laid under their charge.

As a professor Jenkin's appearance was against him; but he was a clear,
fluent speaker, and a successful teacher. Of medium height, and very
plain, his manner was youthful, and alert, but unimposing.
nevertheless, his class was always in good order, for his eye instantly
lighted on any unruly member, and his reproof was keen.

His experimental work was not strikingly original. At Birkenhead he
made some accurate measurements of the electrical properties of
materials used in submarine cables. Sir William Thomson says he was
the first to apply the absolute methods of measurement introduced by
Gauss and Weber. He also investigated there the laws of electric
signals in submarine cables. As Secretary to the British Association
Committee on Electrical Standards he played a leading part in providing
electricians with practical standards of measurement. His Cantor
lectures on submarine cables, and his treatise on ELECTRICITY AND
MAGNETISM, published in 1873, were notable works at the time, and
contained the latest development of their subjects. He was associated
with Sir William Thomson in an ingenious 'curb-key' for sending signals
automatically through a long cable; but although tried, it was not
adopted. His most important invention was Telpherage, a means of
transporting goods and passengers to a distance by electric panniers
supported on a wire or conductor, which supplied them with electricity.
It was first patented in 1882, and Jenkin spent his last years on this
work, expecting great results from it; but ere the first public line was
opened for traffic at Glynde, in Sussex, he was dead.

In mechanical engineering his graphical methods of calculating strains
in bridges, and determining the efficiency of mechanism, are of much
value. The latter, which is based on Reulaux's prior work, procured
him the honour of the Keith Gold Medal from the Royal Society of
Edinburgh. Another successful work of his was the founding of the
Sanitary Protection Association, for the supervision of houses with
regard to health.

In his leisure hours Jenkin wrote papers on a wide variety of subjects.
To the question, 'Is one man's gain another man's loss?' he answered
'Not in every case.' He attacked Darwin's theory of development, and
showed its inadequacy, especially in demanding more time than the
physicist could grant for the age of the habitable world. Darwin
himself confessed that some of his arguments were convincing; and Munro,
the scholar, complimented him for his paper on Lucretius and the Atomic
Theory.' In 1878 he constructed a phonograph from the newspaper reports
of this new invention, and lectured on it at a bazaar in Edinburgh, then
employed it to study the nature of vowel and consonantal sounds. An
interesting paper on Rhythm in English Verse,' was also published by him
in the SATURDAY REVIEW for 1883.

He was clever with his pencil, and could seize a likeness with
astonishing rapidity. He has been known while on a cable expedition to
stop a peasant woman in a shop for a few minutes and sketch her on the
spot. His artistic side also shows itself in a paper on 'Artist and
Critic,' in which he defines the difference between the mechanical and
fine arts. 'In mechanical arts,' he says, 'the craftsman uses his skill
to produce something useful, but (except in the rare case when he is at
liberty to choose what he shall produce) his sole merit lies in skill.
In the fine arts the student uses skill to produce something beautiful.
He is free to choose what that something shall be, and the layman claims
that he may and must judge the artist chiefly by the value in beauty of
the thing done. Artistic skill contributes to beauty, or it would not
be skill; but beauty is the result of many elements, and the nobler the
art the lower is the rank which skill takes among them.'

A clear and matter-of-fact thinker, Jenkin was an equally clear and
graphic writer. He read the best literature, preferring, among other
things, the story of David, the ODYSSEY, the ARCADIA, the saga of Burnt
Njal, and the GRAND CYRUS. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Ariosto,
Boccaccio, Scott, Dumas, Dickens, Thackeray, and George Eliot, were some
of his favourite authors. He once began a review of George Eliot's
biography, but left it unfinished. Latterly he had ceased to admire her
work as much as before. He was a rapid, fluent talker, with excited
utterance at times. Some of his sayings were shrewd and sharp; but he
was sometimes aggressive. 'People admire what is pretty in an ugly
thing,' he used to say 'not the ugly thing.' A lady once said to him she
would never be happy again. 'What does that signify?' cried Jenkin ;
'we are not here to be happy, but to be good.' On a friend remarking
that Salvini's acting in OTHELLO made him want to pray, Jenkin answered,
'That is prayer.'

Though admired and liked by his intimates, Jenkin was never popular with
associates. His manner was hard, rasping, and unsympathetic. 'Whatever
virtues he possessed,' says Mr. Stevenson, 'he could never count on
being civil.' He showed so much courtesy to his wife, however, that a
Styrian peasant who observed it spread a report in the village that Mrs.
Jenkin, a great lady, had married beneath her. At the Saville Club, in
London, he was known as the 'man who dines here and goes up to
Scotland.' Jenkin was conscious of this churlishness, and latterly
improved. 'All my life,' he wrote,'I have talked a good deal, with the
almost unfailing result of making people sick of the sound of my tongue.
It appeared to me that I had various things to say, and I had no
malevolent feelings; but, nevertheless, the result was that expressed
above. Well, lately some change has happened. If I talk to a person
one day they must have me the next. Faces light up when they see me.
"Ah! I say, come here." " Come and dine with me." It's the most
preposterous thing I ever experienced. It is curiously pleasant.'

Jenkin was a good father, joining in his children's play as well as
directing their studies. The boys used to wait outside his office for
him at the close of business hours; and a story is told of little
Frewen, the second son, entering in to him one day, while he was at
work, and holding out a toy crane he was making, with the request, 'Papa
you might finiss windin' this for me, I'm so very busy to-day.' He was
fond of animals too, and his dog Plate regularly accompanied him to the
University. But, as he used to say, 'It's a cold home where a dog is
the only representative of a child.'

In summer his holidays were usually spent in the Highlands, where Jenkin
learned to love the Highland character and ways of life. He was a good
shot, rode and swam well, and taught his boys athletic exercises,
boating, salmon fishing, and such like. He learned to dance a Highland
reel, and began the study of Gaelic; but that speech proved too
stubborn, craggy, and impregnable even for Jenkin. Once he took his
family to Alt Aussee, in the Stiermark, Styria, where he hunted chamois,
won a prize for shooting at the Schutzen-fest, learned the dialect of
the country, sketched the neighbourhood, and danced the STEIERISCH and
LANDLER with the peasants. He never seemed to be happy unless he was
doing, and what he did was well done.

Above all, he was clear-headed and practical, mastering many things; no
dreamer, but an active, business man. Had he confined himself to
engineering he might have adorned his profession more, for he liked and
fitted it; but with his impulses on other lines repressed, he might have
been less happy. Moreover, he was one who believed, with the sage, that
all good work is profitable, having its value, if only in exercise and

His own parents and those of his wife had come to live in Edinburgh ;
but he lost them all within ten months of each other. Jenkin had showed
great devotion to them in their illnesses, and was worn out with grief
and watching. His telpherage, too, had given him considerable anxiety
to perfect; and his mother's illness, which affected her mind, had
caused himself to fear.

He was meditating a holiday to Italy with his wife in order to
recuperate, and had a trifling operation performed on his foot, which
resulted, it is believed, in blood poisoning. There seemed to be no
danger, and his wife was reading aloud to him as he lay in bed, when his
intellect began to wander. It is doubtful whether he regained his
senses before he died, on June 12, 1885.

At one period of his life Jenkin was a Freethinker, holding, as Mr.
Stevenson says, all dogmas as 'mere blind struggles to express the
inexpressible.' Nevertheless, as time went on he came back to a belief
in Christianity. 'The longer I live,' he wrote, 'the more convinced I
become of a direct care by God--which is reasonably impossible--but
there it is.' In his last year he took the Communion.



Johann Philipp Reis, the first inventor of an electric telephone, was
born on January 7, 1834, at the little town of Gelnhausen, in Cassel,
where his father was a master baker and petty farmer. The boy lost his
mother during his infancy, and was brought up by his paternal
grandmother, a well-read, intelligent woman, of a religious turn. While
his father taught him to observe the material world, his grandmother
opened his mind to the Unseen.

At the age of six he was sent to the common school of the town, where
his talents attracted the notice of his instructors, who advised his
father to extend his education at a higher college. Mr. Reis died
before his son was ten years old; but his grandmother and guardians
afterwards placed him at Garnier's Institute, in Friedrichsdorf, where
he showed a taste for languages, and acquired both French and English,
as well as a stock of miscellaneous information from the library. At
the end of his fourteenth year he passed to Hassel's Institute, at
Frankfort-on-the-Main, where he picked up Latin and Italian. A love of
science now began to show itself, and his guardians were recommended to
send him to the Polytechnic School of Carlsruhe ; but one of them, his
uncle, wished him to become a merchant, and on March 1, 1850, Reis was
apprenticed to the colour trade in the establishment of Mr. J. F
Beyerbach, of Frankfort, against his own will. He told his uncle that
he would learn the business chosen for him, but should continue his
proper studies by-and-by.

By diligent service he won the esteem of Mr. Beyerbach, and devoted his
leisure to self-improvement, taking private lessons in mathematics and
physics, and attending the lectures of Professor R. Bottger on mechanics
at the Trade School. When his apprenticeship ended he attended the
Institute of Dr. Poppe, in Frankfort, and as neither history nor
geography was taught there, several of the students agreed to instruct
each other in these subjects. Reis undertook geography, and believed
he had found his true vocation in the art of teaching. He also became a
member of the Physical Society of Frankfort.

In 1855 he completed his year of military service at Cassel, then
returned to Frankfort to qualify himself as a teacher of mathematics and
science in the schools by means of private study and public lectures.
His intention was to finish his training at the University of
Heidelberg, but in the spring of 1858 he visited his old friend and
master, Hofrath Garnier, who offered him a post in Garnier's Institute.
In the autumn of 1855 he removed to Friedrichsdorf, to begin his new
career, and in September following he took a wife and settled down.

Reis imagined that electricity could be propagated through space, as
light can, without the aid of a material conductor, and he made some
experiments on the subject. The results were described in a paper 'On
the Radiation of Electricity,' which, in 1859, he posted to Professor
Poggendorff; for insertion in the well-known periodical, the ANNALEN DER
PHYSIK. The memoir was declined, to the great disappointment of the
sensitive young teacher.

Reis had studied the organs of hearing, and the idea of an apparatus for
transmitting sound by means of electricity had been floating in his mind
for years. Incited by his lessons on physics, in the year 1860 he
attacked the problem, and was rewarded with success. In 1862 he again
tried Poggendorff, with an account of his 'Telephon,' as he called
it;[The word 'telephone' occurs in Timbs' REPOSITORY OF SCIENCE AND ART
for 1845, in connection With a signal trumpet operated by compressed
air.] but his second offering was rejected like the first. The learned
professor, it seems, regarded the transmission of speech by electricity
as a chimera; but Reis, in the bitterness of wounded feeling, attributed
the failure to his being 'only a poor schoolmaster.'

Since the invention of the telephone, attention has been called to the
fact that, in 1854, M. Charles Bourseul, a French telegraphist, [Happily
still alive (1891).] had conceived a plan for conveying sounds and even
speech by electricity. 'Suppose,' he explained, 'that a man speaks near
a movable disc sufficiently flexible to lose none of the vibrations of
the voice; that this disc alternately makes and breaks the currents from
a battery: you may have at a distance another disc which will
simultaneously execute the same vibrations.... It is certain that, in a
more or less distant future, speech will be transmitted by electricity.
I have made experiments in this direction; they are delicate and demand
time and patience, but the approximations obtained promise a favourable
result.'[See Du Moncel's EXPOSE DES APPLICATIONS, etc.]

Bourseul deserves the credit of being perhaps the first to devise an
electric telephone and try to make it; but to Reis belongs the honour of
first realising the idea. A writer may plot a story, or a painter
invent a theme for a picture; but unless he execute the work, of what
benefit is it to the world? True, a suggestion in mechanics may
stimulate another to apply it in practice, and in that case the
suggester is entitled to some share of the credit, as well as the
distinction of being the first to think of the matter. But it is best
when the original deviser also carries out the work; and if another
should independently hit upon the same idea and bring it into practice,
we are bound to honour him in full, though we may also recognise the
merit of his predecessor.

Bourseul's idea seems to have attracted little notice at the time, and
was soon forgotten. Even the Count du Moncel, who was ever ready to
welcome a promising invention, evidently regarded it as a fantastic
notion. It is very doubtful if Reis had ever heard of it. He was led
to conceive a similar apparatus by a study of the mechanism of the human
ear, which he knew to contain a membrane, or 'drum,' vibrating under the
waves of sound, and communicating its vibrations through the hammer-bone
behind it to the auditory nerve. It therefore occurred to him, that if
he made a diaphragm in imitation of the drum, and caused it by vibrating
to make and break the circuit of an electric current, he would be able
through the magnetic power of the interrupted current to reproduce the
original sounds at a distance.

In 1837-8 Professor Page, of Massachusetts, had discovered that' a
needle or thin bar of iron, placed in the hollow of a coil or bobbin of
insulated wire, would emit an audible 'tick' at each interruption of a
current, flowing in the coil, and that if these separate ticks followed
each other fast enough, by a rapid interruption of the current, they
would run together into a continuous hum, to which he gave the name of
'galvanic music.' The pitch of this note would correspond to the rate
of interruption of the current. From these and other discoveries which
had been made by Noad, Wertheim, Marrian, and others, Reis knew that if
the current which had been interrupted by his vibrating diaphragm were
conveyed to a distance by a metallic circuit, and there passed through
a coil like that of Page, the iron needle would emit a note like that
which had caused the oscillation of the transmitting diaphragm. Acting
on this knowledge, he constructed a rude telephone.

Dr. Messel informs us that his first transmitter consisted of the bung
of a beer barrel hollowed out in imitation of the external ear. The cup
or mouth-piece thus formed was closed by the skin of a German sausage to
serve as a drum or diaphragm. To the back of this he fixed, with a drop
of sealing-wax, a little strip of platinum, representing the hammer-
bone, which made and broke the metallic circuit of the current as the
membrane oscillated under the sounds which impinged against it. The
current thus interrupted was conveyed by wires to the receiver, which
consisted of a knitting-needle loosely surrounded by a coil of wire
fastened to the breast of a violin as a sounding-board. When a musical
note was struck near the bung, the drum vibrated in harmony with the
pitch of the note, the platinum lever interrupted the metallic circuit
of the current, which, after traversing the conducting wire, passed
through the coil of the receiver, and made the needle hum the original
tone. This primitive arrangement, we are told, astonished all who heard
it. [It is now in the museum of the Reichs Post-Amt, Berlin.]

Another of his early transmitters was a rough model of the human ear,
carved in oak, and provided with a drum which actuated a bent and
pivoted lever of platinum, making it open and close a springy contact of
platinum foil in the metallic circuit of the current. He devised some
ten or twelve different forms, each an improvement on its predecessors,
which transmitted music fairly well, and even a word or two of speech
with more or less perfection. But the apparatus failed as a practical
means of talking to a distance.

The discovery of the microphone by Professor Hughes has enabled us to
understand the reason of this failure. The transmitter of Reis was
based on the plan of interrupting the current, and the spring was
intended to close the contact after it had been opened by the shock of a
vibration. So long as the sound was a musical tone it proved efficient,
for a musical tone is a regular succession of vibrations. But the
vibrations of speech are irregular and complicated, and in order to
transmit them the current has to be varied in strength without being
altogether broken. The waves excited in the air by the voice should
merely produce corresponding waves in the current. In short, the
current ought to UNDULATE in sympathy with the oscillations of the air.
It appears from the report of Herr Von Legat, inspector of the Royal
Prussian Telegraphs, on the Reis telephone, published in 1862, that the
inventor was quite aware of this principle, but his instrument was not
well adapted to apply it. No doubt the platinum contacts he employed in
the transmitter behaved to some extent as a crude metal microphone,
and hence a few words, especially familiar or expected ones, could be
transmitted and distinguished at the other end of the line. But Reis
does not seem to have realised the importance of not entirely breaking
the circuit of the current; at all events, his metal spring is not in
practice an effective provision against this, for it allows the metal
contacts to jolt too far apart, and thus interrupt the current. Had he
lived to modify the spring and the form or material of his contacts so
as to keep the current continuous--as he might have done, for example,
by using carbon for platinum--he would have forestalled alike Bell,
Edison, and Hughes in the production of a good speaking telephone. Reis
in fact was trembling on the verge of a great discovery, which was,
however, reserved for others.

His experiments were made in a little workshop behind his home at
Friedrichsdorff; and wires were run from it to an upper chamber.
Another line was erected between the physical cabinet at Garnier's
Institute across the playground to one of the class-rooms, and there was
a tradition in the school that the boys were afraid of creating an
uproar in the room for fear Herr Reis should hear them with his

The new invention was published to the world in a lecture before the
Physical Society of Frankfort on October 26, 1861, and a description,
written by himself for the JAHRESBERICHT, a month or two later. It
excited a good deal of scientific notice in Germany; models of it were
sent abroad, to London, Dublin, Tiflis, and other places. It became a
subject for popular lectures, and an article for scientific cabinets.
Reis obtained a brief renown, but the reaction soon set in. The
Physical Society of Frankfort turned its back on the apparatus which had
given it lustre. Reis resigned his membership in 1867; but the Free
German Institute of Frankfort, which elected him an honorary member,
also slighted the instrument as a mere 'philosophical toy.' At first it
was a dream, and now it is a plaything. Have we not had enough of that
superior wisdom which is another name for stupidity? The dreams of the
imagination are apt to become realities, and the toy of to-day has a
knack of growing into the mighty engine of to-morrow.

Reis believed in his invention, if no one else did; and had he been
encouraged by his fellows from the beginning, he might have brought it
into a practical shape. But rebuffs had preyed upon his sensitive
heart, and he was already stricken with consumption. It is related
that, after his lecture on the telephone at Geissen, in 1854, Professor
Poggendorff, who was present, invited him to send a description of his
instrument to the ANNALEN. Reis answered him,'Ich danke Ihnen recht
Sehr, Herr Professor ; es ist zu spaty. Jetzt will ICH nicht ihn
schickeny. Mein Apparat wird ohne Beschreibung in den ANNALEN bekannt
werden.' ('Thank you very much, Professor, but it is too late. I shall
not send it now. My apparatus will become known without any writing in
the ANNALEN.')

Latterly Reis had confined his teaching and study to matters of science;
but his bad health was a serious impediment. For several years it was
only by the exercise of a strong will that he was able to carry on his
duties. His voice began to fail as the disease gained upon his lungs,
and in the summer of 1873 he was obliged to forsake tuition during
several weeks. The autumn vacation strengthened his hopes of recovery,
and he resumed his teaching with his wonted energy. But this was the
last flicker of the expiring flame. It was announced that he would show
his new gravity-machine at a meeting of the Deutscher Naturforscher of
Wiesbaden in September, but he was too ill to appear. In December he
lay down, and, after a long and painful illness, breathed his last at
five o'clock in the afternoon of January 14, 1874

In his CURRICULUM VITAE he wrote these words: 'As I look back upon my
life I call indeed say with the Holy Scriptures that it has been "labour
and sorrow." But I have also to thank the Lord that He has given me His
blessing in my calling and in my family, and has bestowed more good upon
me than I have known how to ask of Him. The Lord has helped hitherto;
He will help yet further.'

Reis was buried in the cemetery of Friedrichsdorff, and in 1878, after
the introduction of the speaking telephone, the members of the Physical
Society of Frankfort erected over his grave an obelisk of red sandstone
bearing a medallion portrait.



The first to produce a practicable speaking telephone was Alexander
Graham Bell. He was born at Edinburgh on March 1, 1847, and comes of a
family associated with the teaching of elocution. His grandfather in
London, his uncle in Dublin, and his father, Mr. Andrew Melville Bell,
in Edinburgh, were all professed elocutionists. The latter has
published a variety of works on the subject, several of which are well
known, especially his treatise on Visible Speech, which appeared in
Edinburgh in 1868. In this he explains his ingenious method of
instructing deaf mutes, by means of their eyesight, how to articulate
words, and also how to read what other persons are saying by the motions
of their lips. Graham Bell, his distinguished son, was educated at the
high school of Edinburgh, and subsequently at Warzburg, in Germany,
where he obtained the degree of Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy). While
still in Scotland he is said to have turned his attention to the science
of acoustics, with a view to ameliorate the deafness of his mother.

In 1873 he accompanied his father to Montreal, in Canada, where he was
employed in teaching the system of visible speech. The elder Bell was
invited to introduce it into a large day-school for mutes at Boston, but
he declined the post in favour of his son, who soon became famous in the
United States for his success in this important work. He published more
than one treatise on the subject at Washington, and it is, we believe,
mainly through his efforts that thousands of deaf mutes in America are
now able to speak almost, if not quite, as well as those who are able to

Before he left Scotland Mr. Graham Bell had turned his attention to
telephony, and in Canada he designed a piano which could transmit its
music to a distance by means of electricity. At Boston he continued his
researches in the same field, and endeavoured to produce a telephone
which would not only send musical notes, but articulate speech.

If it be interesting to trace the evolution of an animal from its
rudimentary germ through the lower phases to the perfect organism, it is
almost as interesting to follow an invention from the original model
through the faultier types to the finished apparatus.

In 1860 Philipp Reis, as we have seen, produced a telephone which could
transmit musical notes, and even a lisping word or two; and some ten
years later Mr. Cromwell Fleetwood Varley, F.R.S., a well-known English
electrician, patented a number of ingenious devices for applying the
musical telephone to transmit messages by dividing the notes into short
or long signals, after the Morse code, which could be interpreted by
the ear or by the eye in causing them to mark a moving paper. These
inventions were not put in practice; but four years afterwards Herr Paul
la Cour, a Danish inventor, experimented with a similar appliance on a
line of telegraph between Copenhagen and Fredericia in Jutland. In
this a vibrating tuning-fork interrupted the current, which, after
traversing the line, passed through an electro-magnet, and attracted
the limbs of another fork, making it strike a note like the transmitting
fork. By breaking up the note at the sending station with a signalling
key, the message was heard as a series of long and short hums.
Moreover, the hums were made to record themselves on paper by turning
the electro-magnetic receiver into a relay, which actuated a Morse
printer by means of a local battery.

Mr. Elisha Gray, of Chicago, also devised a tone telegraph of this kind
about the same time as Herr La Cour. In this apparatus a vibrating
steel tongue interrupted the current, which at the other end of the line
passed through the electro-magnet and vibrated a band or tongue of iron
near its poles. Gray's 'harmonic telegraph,' with the vibrating tongues
or reeds, was afterwards introduced on the lines of the Western Union
Telegraph Company in America. As more than one set of vibrations--that
is to say, more than one note--can be sent over the same wire
simultaneously, it is utilised as a 'multiplex' or many-ply telegraph,
conveying several messages through the same wire at once; and these can
either be interpreted by the sound, or the marks drawn on a ribbon of
travelling paper by a Morse recorder.

Gray also invented a 'physiological receiver,' which has a curious
history. Early in 1874 his nephew was playing with a small induction
coil, and, having connected one end of the secondary circuit to the zinc
lining of a bath, which was dry, he was holding the other end in his
left hand. While he rubbed the zinc with his right hand Gray noticed
that a sound proceeded from it, which had the pitch and quality of the
note emitted by the vibrating contact or electrotome of the coil. 'I
immediately took the electrode in my hand,' he writes, 'and, repeating
the operation, found to my astonishment that by rubbing hard and rapidly
I could make a much louder sound than the electrotome. I then changed
the pitch of the vibration, and found that the pitch of the sound under
my hand was also changed, agreeing with that of the vibration.' Gray
lost no time in applying this chance discovery by designing the
physiological receiver, which consists of a sounding-box having a zinc
face and mounted on an axle, so that it can be revolved by a handle.
One wire of the circuit is connected to the revolving zinc, and the
other wire is connected to the finger which rubs on the zinc. The
sounds are quite distinct, and would seem to be produced by a
microphonic action between the skin and the metal.

All these apparatus follow in the track of Reis and Bourseul--that is to
say, the interruption of the current by a vibrating contact. It was
fortunate for Bell that in working with his musical telephone an
accident drove him into a new path, which ultimately brought him to the
invention of a speaking telephone. He began his researches in 1874 with
a musical telephone, in which he employed the interrupted current to
vibrate the receiver, which consisted of an electro-magnet causing an
iron reed or tongue to vibrate; but, while trying it one day with his
assistant, Mr. Thomas A. Watson, it was found that a reed failed to
respond to the intermittent current. Mr. Bell desired his assistant,
who was at the other end of the line, to pluck the reed, thinking it had
stuck to the pole of the magnet. Mr. Watson complied, and to his
astonishment Bell observed that the corresponding reed at his end of the
line thereupon began to vibrate and emit the same note, although there
was no interrupted current to make it. A few experiments soon showed
that his reed had been set in vibration by the magneto-electric currents
induced in the line by the mere motion of the distant reed in the
neighbourhood of its magnet. This discovery led him to discard the
battery current altogether and rely upon the magneto-induction currents
of the reeds themselves. Moreover, it occurred to him that, since the
circuit was never broken, all the complex vibrations of speech might be
converted into sympathetic currents, which in turn would reproduce the
speech at a distance.

Reis had seen that an undulatory current was needed to transmit sounds
in perfection, especially vocal sounds; but his mode of producing the
undulations was defective from a mechanical and electrical point of
view. By forming 'waves' of magnetic disturbance near a coil of wire,
Professor Bell could generate corresponding waves of electricity in the
line so delicate and continuous that all the modulations of sound could
be reproduced at a distance.

As Professor of Vocal Physiology in the University of Boston, he was
engaged in training teachers in the art of instructing deaf mutes how to
speak, and experimented with the Leon Scott phonautograph in recording
the vibrations of speech. This apparatus consists essentially of a thin
membrane vibrated by the voice and carrying a light stylus, which traces
an undulatory line on a plate of smoked glass. The line is a graphic
representation of the vibrations of the membrane and the waves of sound
in the air.

On the suggestion of Dr. Clarence J. Blake, an eminent Boston aurist,
Professor Bell abandoned the phonautograph for the human ear, which it
resembled; and, having removed the stapes bone, moistened the drum with
glycerine and water, attached a stylus of hay to the nicus or anvil, and
obtained a beautiful series of curves in imitation of the vocal sounds.
The disproportion between the slight mass of the drum and the bones it
actuated, is said to have suggested to him the employment of
goldbeater's skin as membrane in his speaking telephone. Be this as it
may, he devised a receiver, consisting of a stretched diaphragm or drum
of this material having an armature of magnetised iron attached to its
middle, and free to vibrate in front of the pole of an electro-magnet in
circuit with the line.

This apparatus was completed on June 2, 1875, and the same day he
succeeded in transmitting SOUNDS and audible signals by magneto-electric
currents and without the aid of a battery. On July 1, 1875, he
instructed his assistant to make a second membrane-receiver which could
be used with the first, and a few days later they were tried together,
one at each end of the line, which ran from a room in the inventor's
house at Boston to the cellar underneath. Bell, in the room, held one
instrument in his hands, while Watson in the cellar listened at the
other. The inventor spoke into his instrument, 'Do you understand what
I say?' and we can imagine his delight when Mr. Watson rushed into the
room, under the influence of his excitement, and answered,'Yes.'

A finished instrument was then made, having a transmitter formed of a
double electro-magnet, in front of which a membrane, stretched on a
ring, carried an oblong piece of soft iron cemented to its middle. A
mouthpiece before the diaphragm directed the sounds upon it, and as it
vibrated with them, the soft iron 'armature' induced corresponding
currents in the cells of the electro-magnet. These currents after
traversing the line were passed through the receiver, which consisted of
a tubular electro-magnet, having one end partially closed by a thin
circular disc of soft iron fixed at one point to the end of the tube.
This receiver bore a resemblance to a cylindrical metal box with thick
sides, having a thin iron lid fastened to its mouth by a single screw.
When the undulatory current passed through the coil of this magnet, the
disc, or armature-lid, was put into vibration and the sounds evolved
from it.

The apparatus was exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia,
in 1876, and at the meeting of the British Association in Glasgow,
during the autumn of that year, Sir William Thomson revealed its
existence to the European public. In describing his visit to the
Exhibition, he went on to say: 'In the Canadian department I heard, "To
be or not to be . . . there's the rub," through an electric wire; but,
scorning monosyllables, the electric articulation rose to higher
flights, and gave me passages taken at random from the New York
newspapers: "s.s. Cox has arrived" (I failed to make out the s.s. Cox);
"The City of New York," "Senator Morton," "The Senate has resolved to
print a thousand extra copies," "The Americans in London have resolved
to celebrate the coming Fourth of July!" All this my own ears heard
spoken to me with unmistakable distinctness by the then circular disc
armature of just such another little electro-magnet as this I hold in my

To hear the immortal words of Shakespeare uttered by the small inanimate
voice which had been given to the world must indeed have been a rare
delight to the ardent soul of the great electrician.

The surprise created among the public at large by this unexpected
communication will be readily remembered. Except one or two inventors,
nobody had ever dreamed of a telegraph that could actually speak, any
more than they had ever fancied one that could see or feel; and
imagination grew busy in picturing the outcome of it. Since it was
practically equivalent to a limitless extension of the vocal powers, the
ingenious journalist soon conjured up an infinity of uses for the
telephone, and hailed the approaching time when ocean-parted friends
would be able to whisper to one another under the roaring billows of the
Atlantic. Curiosity, however, was not fully satisfied until Professor
Bell, the inventor of the instrument, himself showed it to British
audiences, and received the enthusiastic applause of his admiring

The primitive telephone has been greatly improved, the double electro-
magnet being replaced by a single bar magnet having a small coil or
bobbin of fine wire surrounding one pole, in front of which a thin disc
of ferrotype is fixed in a circular mouthpiece, and serves as a combined
membrane and armature. On speaking into the mouthpiece, the iron
diaphragm vibrates with the voice in the magnetic field of the pole, and
thereby excites the undulatory currents in the coil, which, after
travelling through the wire to the distant place, are received in an
identical apparatus. [This form was patented January 30, 1877.] In
traversing the coil of the latter they reinforce or weaken the magnetism
of the pole, and thus make the disc armature vibrate so as to give out
a mimesis of the original voice. The sounds are small and elfin, a
minim of speech, and only to be heard when the ear is close to the
mouthpiece, but they are remarkably distinct, and, in spite of a
disguising twang, due to the fundamental note of the disc itself, it is
easy to recognise the speaker.

This later form was publicly exhibited on May 4, 1877 at a lecture given
by Professor Bell in the Boston Music Hall. 'Going to the small
telephone box with its slender wire attachments,' says a report, 'Mr.
Bell coolly asked, as though addressing some one in an adjoining room,
"Mr. Watson, are you ready!" Mr. Watson, five miles away in Somerville,
promptly answered in the affirmative, and soon was heard a voice singing
"America."....Going to another instrument, connected by wire with
Providence, forty-three miles distant, Mr. Bell listened a moment, and
said, "Signor Brignolli, who is assisting at a concert in Providence
Music Hall, will now sing for us." In a moment the cadence of the
tenor's voice rose and fell, the sound being faint, sometimes lost, and
then again audible. Later, a cornet solo played in Somerville was very
distinctly heard. Still later, a three-part song floated over the wire
from the Somerville terminus, and Mr. Bell amused his audience
exceedingly by exclaiming, "I will switch off the song from one part of
the room to another, so that all can hear." At a subsequent lecture in
Salem, Massachusetts, communication was established with Boston,
eighteen miles distant, and Mr. Watson at the latter place sang "Auld
Lang Syne," the National Anthem, and "Hail Columbia," while the
audience at Salem joined in the chorus.'

Bell had overcome the difficulty which baffled Reis, and succeeded in
making the undulations of the current fit the vibrations of the voice as
a glove will fit the hand. But the articulation, though distinct, was
feeble, and it remained for Edison, by inventing the carbon transmitter,
and Hughes, by discovering the microphone, to render the telephone the
useful and widespread apparatus which we see it now.

Bell patented his speaking telephone in the United States at the
beginning of 1876, and by a strange coincidence, Mr. Elisha Gray
applied on the same day for another patent of a similar kind. Gray's
transmitter is supposed to have been suggested by the very old device
known as the 'lovers' telephone,' in which two diaphragms are joined by
a taut string, and in speaking against one the voice is conveyed through
the string, solely by mechanical vibration, to the other. Gray employed
electricity, and varied the strength of the current in conformity with
the voice by causing the diaphragm in vibrating to dip a metal probe
attached to its centre more or less deep into a well of conducting
liquid in circuit with the line. As the current passed from the probe
through the liquid to the line a greater or less thickness of liquid
intervened as the probe vibrated up and down, and thus the strength of
the current was regulated by the resistance offered to the passage of
the current. His receiver was an electro-magnet having an iron plate as
an armature capable of vibrating under the attractions of the varying
current. But Gray allowed his idea to slumber, whereas Bell continued
to perfect his apparatus. However, when Bell achieved an unmistakable
success, Gray brought a suit against him, which resulted in a
compromise, one public company acquiring both patents.

Bell's invention has been contested over and over again, and more than
one claimant for the honour and reward of being the original inventor of
the telephone have appeared. The most interesting case was that of
Signor Antonio Meucci, an Italian emigrant, who produced a mass of
evidence to show that in 1849, while in Havanna, Cuba, he experimented
with the view of transmitting speech by the electric current. He
continued his researches in 1852-3, and subsequently at Staten Island,
U.S.; and in 1860 deputed a friend visiting Europe to interest people in
his invention. In 1871 he filed a caveat in the United States Patent
Office, and tried to get Mr. Grant, President of the New York District
Telegraph Company, to give the apparatus a trial. Ill-health and
poverty, consequent on an injury due to an explosion on board the Staten
Island ferry boat Westfield, retarded his experiments, and prevented him
from completing his patent. Meucci's experimental apparatus was
exhibited at the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1884, and attracted much
attention. But the evidence he adduces in support of His early claims
is that of persons ignorant of electrical science, and the model shown
was not complete. The caveat of 1871 is indeed a reliable document; but
unfortunately for him it is not quite clear from it whether he employed
a 'lovers' telephone,' with a wire instead of a string, and joined a
battery to it in the hope of enhancing the effect. 'I employ,' he says,
'the well known conducting effect of continuous metallic conductors as a
medium for sound, and increase the effect by electrically insulating
both the conductor and the parties who are communicating. It forms a
speaking telegraph without the necessity of any hollow tube.' In
connection with the telephone he used an electric alarm. It is by no
means evident from this description that Meucci had devised a
practicable speaking telephone; but he may have been the first to employ
electricity in connection with the transmission of speech. [Meucci is

'This crowning marvel of the electric telegraph,' as Sir William Thomson
happily expressed it, was followed by another invention in some respects
even more remarkable. During the winter of 1878 Professor Bell was in
England, and while lecturing at the Royal Institution, London, he
conceived the idea of the photophone. It was known that crystalline
selenium is a substance peculiarly sensitive to light, for when a ray
strikes it an electric current passes far more easily through it than if
it were kept in the dark. It therefore occurred to Professor Bell that
if a telephone were connected in circuit with the current, and the ray
of light falling on the selenium was eclipsed by means of the vibrations
of sound, the current would undulate in keeping with the light, and the
telephone would emit a corresponding note. In this way it might be
literally possible 'to hear a shadow fall athwart the stillness.'

He was not the first to entertain the idea, for in the summer of 1878,
one 'L. F. W.,' writing from Kew on June 3 to the scientific journal
NATURE describes an arrangement of the kind. To Professor Bell, in
conjunction with Mr. Summer Tainter, belongs the honour of having, by
dint of patient thought and labour, brought the photophone into material
existence. By constructing sensitive selenium cells through which the
current passed, then directing a powerful beam of light upon them, and
occulting it by a rotary screen, he was able to vary the strength of the
current in such a manner as to elicit musical tones from the telephone
in circuit with the cells. Moreover, by reflecting the beam from a
mirror upon the cells, and vibrating the mirror by the action of the
voice, he was able to reproduce the spoken words in the telephone. In
both cases the only connecting line between the transmitting screen or
mirror and the receiving cells and telephone was the ray of light. With
this apparatus, which reminds us of the invocation to Apollo in the

'Lord of the speaking lyre,
That with a touch of fire
Strik'st music which delays the charmed spheres.'

Professor Bell has accomplished the curious feat of speaking along a
beam of sunshine 830 feet long. The apparatus consisted of a
transmitter with a mouthpiece, conveying the sound of the voice to a
silvered diaphragm or mirror, which reflected the vibratory beam
through a lens towards the selenium receiver, which was simply a
parabolic reflector, in the focus of which was placed the selenium cells
connected in circuit with a battery and a pair of telephones, one for
each ear. The transmitter was placed in the top of the Franklin
schoolhouse, at Washington, and the receiver in the window of Professor
Bell's laboratory in L Street. 'It was impossible,' says the inventor,
'to converse by word of mouth across that distance; and while I was
observing Mr. Tainter, on the top of the schoolhouse, almost blinded by
the light which was coming in at the window of my laboratory, and
vainly trying to understand the gestures he was making to me at that
great distance, the thought occurred to me to listen to the telephones
connected with the selenium receiver. Mr. Tainter saw me disappear
from the window, and at once spoke to the transmitter. I heard him
distinctly say, "Mr. Bell, if you hear what I say, come to the window
and wave your hat! " It is needless to say with what gusto I obeyed.'

The spectroscope has demonstrated the truth of the poet, who said that
'light is the voice of the stars,' and we have it on the authority of
Professor Bell and M. Janssen, the celebrated astronomer, that the
changing brightness of the photosphere, as produced by solar hurricanes,
has produced a feeble echo in the photophone.

Pursuing these researches, Professor Bell discovered that not only the
selenium cell, but simple discs of wood, glass, metal, ivory, india-
rubber, and so on, yielded a distinct note when the intermittent ray of
light fell upon them. Crystals of sulphate of copper, chips of pine,
and even tobacco-smoke, in a test-tube held before the beam, emitted a
musical tone. With a thin disc of vulcanite as receiver, the dark heat
rays which pass through an opaque screen were found to yield a note.
Even the outer ear is itself a receiver, for when the intermittent beam
is focussed in the cavity a faint musical tone is heard.

Another research of Professor Bell was that in which he undertook to
localise the assassin's bullet in the body of the lamented President
Garfield. In 1879 Professor Hughes brought out his beautiful induction
balance, and the following year Professor Bell, who had already worked
in the same field, consulted him by telegraph as to the best mode of
applying the balance to determining the place of the bullet, which had
hitherto escaped the probes of the President's physicians. Professor
Hughes advised him by telegraph, and with this and other assistance an
apparatus was devised which indicated the locality of the ball. A full
account of his experiments was given in a paper read before the American
Association for the Advancement of Science in August, 1882.

Professor Bell continues to reside in the United States, of which he is
a naturalised citizen. He is married to a daughter of Mr. Gardiner G.
Hubbard, who in 1860, when she was four years of age, lost her hearing
by an illness, but has learned to converse by the Horace-Mann system of
watching the lips. Both he and his father-in-law (who had a pecuniary
interest in his patents) have made princely fortunes by the introduction
of the telephone.



Thomas Alva Edison, the most famous inventor of his time and country,
was born at Milan, Erie County, Ohio, in the United States, on February
11, 1847. His pedigree has been traced for two centuries to a family of
prosperous millers in Holland, some of whom emigrated to America in
1730. Thomas, his great-grandfather, was an officer of a bank in
Manhattan Island during the Revolution, and his signature is extant on
the old notes of the American currency. Longevity seems a
characteristic of the strain, for Thomas lived to the patriarchal term
of 102, his son to 103, and Samuel, the father of the inventor, is, we
understand, a brisk and hale old man of eighty-six.

Born at Digby, in the county of Annapolis, Nova Scotia, on August 16,
1804, Samuel was apprenticed to a tailor, but in his manhood he forsook
the needle to engage in the lumber trade, and afterwards in grain. He
resided for a time in Canada, where, at Vienna, he was married to Miss
Nancy Elliott, a popular teacher in the high school. She was of Scotch
descent, and born in Chenango County, New York, on January 10, 1810.
After his marriage he removed, in 1837, to Detroit, Michigan, and the
following year settled in Milan.

In his younger days Samuel Edison was a man of fine appearance. He
stood 6 feet 2 inches in his stockings, and even at the age of sixty-
four he was known to outjump 260 soldiers of a regiment quartered at
Fort Gratiot, in Michigan. His wife was a fine-looking woman,
intelligent, well-educated, and a social favourite. The inventor
probably draws his physical endurance from his father, and his intellect
from his mother.

Milan is situated on the Huron River, about ten miles from the lake, and
was then a rising town of 3,000 inhabitants, mostly occupied with the
grain and timber trade. Mr. Edison dwelt in a plain cottage with a low
fence in front, which stood beside the roadway under the shade of one or
two trees.

The child was neither pale nor prematurely thoughtful; he was rosy-
cheeked, laughing, and chubby. He liked to ramble in the woods, or play
on the banks of the river, and could repeat the songs of the boatmen ere
he was five years old. Still he was fond of building little roads with
planks, and scooping out canals or caverns in the sand.

An amusing anecdote is imputed to his sister, Mrs. Homer Page, of Milan.
Having been told one day that a goose hatches her goslings by the warmth
of her body, the child was missed, and subsequently found in the barn
curled up in a nest beside a quantity of eggs!

The Lake Shore Railway having injured the trade of Milan, the family
removed to Port Huron, in Michigan, when Edison was about seven years
old. Here they lived in an old-fashioned white frame-house, surrounded
by a grove, and commanding a fine view of the broad river, with the
Canadian hills beyond. His mother undertook his education, and with the
exception of two months he never went to school. She directed his
opening mind to the acquisition of knowledge, and often read aloud to
the family in the evening. She and her son were a loving pair, and it
is pleasant to know that although she died on April 9, 1871, before he
finally emerged from his difficulties, her end was brightened by the
first rays of his coming glory.

Mr. Edison tells us that his son never had any boyhood in the ordinary
sense, his early playthings being steam-engines and the mechanical
powers. But it is like enough that he trapped a wood-chuck now and
then, or caught a white-fish with the rest.

He was greedy of knowledge, and by the age of ten had read the PENNY
HISTORY OF THE WORLD. His father, we are told, encouraged his love of
study by making him a small present for every book he read.

At the age of twelve he became a train-boy, or vendor of candy, fruit,
and journals to the passengers on the Grand Trunk Railway, between Port
Huron and Detroit. The post enabled him to sleep at home, and to extend
his reading by the public library at Detroit. Like the boy Ampere, he
proposed, it is said, to master the whole collection, shelf by shelf,
and worked his way through fifteen feet of the bottom one before he
began to select his fare.

Even the PRINCIPIA of Newton never daunted him; and if he did not
understand the problems which have puzzled some of the greatest minds,
he read them religiously, and pressed on. Burton's ANATOMY OF
MELANCHOLY, Ure's DICTIONARY OF CHEMISTRY, did not come amiss; but in
Victor Hugo's LES MISERABLES and THE TOILERS OF THE SEA he found a
treasure after his own heart. Like Ampere, too, he was noted for a
memory which retained many of the facts thus impressed upon it, as the
sounds are printed on a phonogram.

The boy student was also a keen man of business, and his pursuit of
knowledge in the evening did not sap his enterprises of the day. He
soon acquired a virtual monopoly for the sale of newspapers on the line,
and employed four boy assistants. His annual profits amounted to about
500 dollars, which were a substantial aid to his parents. To increase
the sale of his papers, he telegraphed the headings of the war news to
the stations in advance of the trains, and placarded them to tempt the
passengers. Ere long he conceived the plan of publishing a newspaper of
his own. Having bought a quantity of old type at the office of the
DETROIT FREE PRESS, he installed it in a spingless car, or 'caboose' of
the train meant for a smoking-room, but too uninviting to be much used
by the passengers. Here he set the type, and printed a smallsheet about
a foot square by pressing it with his hand. The GRAND TRUNK HERALD, as
he called it, was a weekly organ, price three cents, containing a
variety of local news, and gossip of the line. It was probably the only
journal ever published on a railway train; at all events with a boy for
editor and staff, printer and 'devil,' publisher and hawker. Mr. Robert
Stephenson, then building the tubular bridge at Montreal, was taken with
the venture, and ordered an extra edition for his own use. The London
TIMES correspondent also noticed the paper as a curiosity of journalism.
This was a foretaste of notoriety.

Unluckily, however, the boy did not keep his scientific and literary
work apart, and the smoking-car was transformed into a laboratory as
well as a printing house.

Having procured a copy of Fresenius' QUALITIVE ANALYSIS and some old
chemical gear; he proceeded to improve his leisure by making
experiments. One day, through an extra jolt of the car, a bottle of
phosphorus broke on the floor, and the car took fire. The incensed
conductor of the train, after boxing his ears, evicted him with all his

Finding an asylum in the basement of his father's house (where he took
the precaution to label all his bottles 'poison'), he began the
publication of a new and better journal, entitled the PAUL PRY. It
boasted of several contributors and a list of regular subscribers. One
of these (Mr. J.H.B.), while smarting under what he considered a
malicious libel, met the editor one day on the brink of the St. Clair,
and taking the law into his own hands, soused him in the river. The
editor avenged his insulted dignity by excluding the subscriber's name
from the pages of the PAUL PRY.

Youthful genius is apt to prove unlucky, and another story (we hope they
are all true, though we cannot vouch for them), is told of his
partiality for riding with the engine-driver on the locomotive. After he
had gained an insight into the working of the locomotive he would run
the train himself; but on one occasion he pumped so much water into the
boiler that it was shot from the funnel, and deluged the engine with
soot. By using his eyes and haunting the machine shops he was able to
construct a model of a locomotive.

But his employment of the telegraph seems to have diverted his thoughts
in that direction, and with the help of a book on the telegraph he
erected a makeshift line between his new laboratory and the house of
James Ward, one of his boy helpers. The conductor was run on trees, and
insulated with bottles, and the apparatus was home-made, but it seems to
have been of some use. Mr. James D. Reid, author of THE TELEGRAPH IN
AMERICA, would have us believe that an attempt was made to utilise the
electricity obtained by rubbing a cat connected up in lieu of a battery;
but the spirit of Artemus Ward is by no means dead in the United States,
and the anecdote may be taken with a grain of salt. Such an experiment
was at all events predestined to an ignominious failure.

An act of heroism was the turning-point in his career. One day, at the
risk of his life, he saved the child of the station-master at Mount
Clemens, near Port Huron, from being run over by an approaching train,
and the grateful father, Mr. J. A. Mackenzie, learning of his interest
in the telegraph, offered to teach him the art of sending and receiving
messages. After his daily service was over, Edison returned to Mount
Clemens on a luggage train and received his lesson.

At the end of five months, while only sixteen years of age, he forsook
the trains, and accepted an offer of twenty-five dollars a month, with
extra pay for overtime, as operator in the telegraph office at Port
Huron, a small installation in a jewelry store. He worked hard to
acquire more skill; and after six months, finding his extra pay
withheld, he obtained an engagement as night operator at Stratford, in
Canada. To keep him awake the operator was required to report the word
'six,' an office call, every half-hour to the manager of the circuit.
Edison fulfilled the regulation by inventing a simple device which
transmitted the required signals. It consisted of a wheel with the
characters cut on the rim, and connected with the circuit in such a way
that the night watchman, by turning the wheel, could transmit the
signals while Edison slept or studied.

His employment at Stratford came to a grievous end. One night he
received a service message ordering a certain train to stop, and before
showing it to the conductor he, perhaps for greater certainty, repeated
it back again. When he rushed out of the office to deliver it the
train was gone, and a collision seemed inevitable; but, fortunately, the
opposing trains met on a straight portion of the track, and the accident
was avoided. The superintendent of the railway threatened to prosecute
Edison, who was thoroughly frightened, and returned home without his

During this vacation at Port Huron his ingenuity showed itself in a more
creditable guise. An 'ice-jam' occurred on the St. Clair, and broke
the telegraph cable between Port Huron and Sarnia, on the opposite
shore. Communication was therefore interrupted until Edison mounted a
locomotive and sounded the whistle in short and long calls according to
the well-known 'Morse,' or telegraphic code. After a time the reporter
at Sarnia caught the idea, and messages were exchanged by the new

His next situation was at Adrian, in Michigan, where he fitted up a
small shop, and employed his spare time in repairing telegraph apparatus
and making crude experiments. One day he violated the rules of the
office by monopolising the use of the line on the strength of having a
message from the superintendent, and was discharged.

He was next engaged at Fort Wayne, and behaved so well that he was
promoted to a station at Indianapolis. While there he invented an
'automatic repeater,' by which a message is received on one line and
simultaneously transmitted on another without the assistance of an
operator. Like other young operators, he was ambitious to send or
receive the night reports for the press, which demand the highest speed
and accuracy of sending. But although he tried to overcome his faults
by the device of employing an auxiliary receiver working at a slower
rate than the direct one, he was found incompetent, and transferred to
a day wire at Cincinnati. Determined to excel, however, he took shift
for the night men as often as he could, and after several months, when a
delegation of Cleveland operators came to organise a branch of the
Telegraphers' Union, and the night men were out on 'strike,' he received
the press reports as well as he was able, working all the night. For
this feat his salary was raised next day from sixty-five to one hundred
and five dollars, and he was appointed to the Louisville circuit, one of
the most desirable in the office. The clerk at Louisville was Bob
Martin, one of the most expert telegraphists in America, and Edison soon
became a first-class operator.

In 1864, tempted by a better salary, he removed to Memphis, where he
found an opportunity of introducing his automatic repeater, thus
enabling Louisville to communicate with New Orleans without an
intermediary clerk. For this innovation he was complimented ; but
nothing more. He embraced the subject of duplex telegraphy, or the
simultaneous transmission of two messages on the same wire, one from
each end; but his efforts met with no encouragement. Men of routine are
apt to look with disfavour on men of originality; they do not wish to be
disturbed from the official groove ; and if they are not jealous of
improvement, they have often a narrow-minded contempt or suspicion of
the servant who is given to invention, thinking him an oddity who is
wasting time which might be better employed in the usual way. A
telegraph operator, in their eyes, has no business to invent. His place
is to sit at his instrument and send or receive the messages as fast as
he can, without troubling his mind with inventions or anything else.
When his shift is over he can amuse himself as he likes, provided he is
always fit for work. Genius is not wanted.

The clerks themselves, reckless of a culture which is not required, and
having a good string to their bow in the matter of livelihood, namely,
the mechanical art of signalling, are prone to lead a careless, gay, and
superficial life, roving from town to town throughout: the length and
breadth of the States. But for his genius and aspirations, Edison might
have yielded to the seductions of this happy-go-lucky, free, and
frivolous existence. Dissolute comrades at Memphis won upon his good
nature; but though he lent them money, he remained abstemious, working
hard, and spending his leisure upon books and experiments. To them he
appeared an extraordinary fellow; and so far from sympathising with his
inventions, they dubbed him 'Luny,' and regarded him as daft.

What with the money he had lent, or spent on books or apparatus, when
the Memphis lines were transferred from the Government to a private
company and Edison was discharged, he found himself without a dollar.
Transported to Decatur, he walked to Nashville, where he found another
operator, William Foley, in the like straits, and they went in company
to Louisville. Foley's reputation as an operator was none of the best;
but on his recommendation Edison obtained a situation, and supported
Foley until he too got employment.

The squalid office was infested with rats, and its discipline was lax,
in all save speed and quality of work, and some of his companions were
of a dissipated stamp. To add to his discomforts, the line he worked
was old and defective; but he improved the signals by adjusting three
sets of instruments, and utilising them for three different states of
the line. During nearly two years of drudgery under these depressing
circumstances, Edison's prospects of becoming an inventor seemed further
off than ever. Perhaps he began to fear that stern necessity would
grind him down, and keep him struggling for a livelihood. None of his
improvements had brought him any advantage. His efforts to invent had
been ridiculed and discountenanced. Nobody had recognised his talent,
at least as a thing of value and worthy of encouragement, let alone
support. All his promotion had come from trying to excel in his routine
work. Perhaps he lost faith in himself, or it may be that the glowing
accounts he received of South America induced him to seek his fortune
there. At all events he caught the 'craze' for emigration that swept
the Southern States on the conclusion of the Civil War, and resolved to
emigrate with two companions, Keen and Warren.

But on their arriving at New Orleans the vessel had sailed. In this
predicament Edison fell in with a travelled Spaniard, who depicted the
inferiority of other countries, and especially of South America, in such
vivid colours, that he changed his intention and returned home to
Michigan. After a pleasant holiday with his friends he resumed his
occupation in the Louisville office.

Contact with home seems to have charged him with fresh courage. He
wrote a work on electricity, which for lack of means was never
published, and improved his penmanship until he could write a fair round
backhand at the rate of forty-five words a minute--that is to say, the
utmost that an operator can send by the Morse code. The style was
chosen for its clearness, each letter being distinctly formed, with
little or no shading.

His comrades were no better than before. On returning from his work in
the small hours, Edison would sometimes find two or three of them asleep
in his bed with their boots on, and have to shift them to the floor in
order that he might 'turn in.'

A new office was opened, but strict orders were issued that nobody was
to interfere with the instruments and their connections. He could not
resist the infringement of this rule, however, and continued his

In drawing some vitriol one night, he upset the carboy, and the acid
eating its way through the floor, played havoc with the furniture of a
luxurious bank in the flat below. He was discharged for this, but soon
obtained another engagement as a press operator in Cincinnati. He spent
his leisure in the Mechanics' Library, studying works on electricity and
general science. He also developed his ideas on the duplex system; and
if they were not carried out, they at least directed him to the
quadruplex system with which his name was afterwards associated.

These attempts to improve his time seem to have made him unpopular, for
after a short term in Cincinnati, he returned to Port Huron. A friend,
Mr. F. Adams, operator in the Boston office of the Western Union
Telegraph Company, recommended Edison to his manager, Mr. G. F.
Milliken, as a good man to work the New York wire, and the berth was
offered to Edison by telegraph. He accepted, and left at once for
Boston by the Grand Trunk Railway, but the train was snowed up for two
days near the bluffs of the St. Lawrence. The consequence might have
been serious had provisions not been found by a party of foragers.

Mr. Milliken was the first of Edison's masters, and perhaps his fellows,
who appreciated him. Mediocrity had only seen the gawky stripling, with
his moonstruck air, and pestilent habit of trying some new crotchet.
Himself an inventor, Milliken recognised in his deep-set eye and musing
brow the fire of a suppressed genius. He was then just twenty-one. The
friendship of Mr. Milliken, and the opportunity for experiment, rendered
the Boston office a congenial one.

His by-hours were spent in a little workshop he had opened. Among his
inventions at this period were a dial telegraph, and a 'printer' for use
on private lines, and an electro-chemical vote recorder, which the
Legislature of Massachusetts declined to adopt. With the assistance of
Mr. F. L. Pope, patent adviser to the Western Union Telegraph Company,
his duplex system was tried, with encouraging results.

The ready ingenuity of Edison is shown by his device for killing the
cockroaches which overran the Boston office. He arranged some strips of
tinfoil on the wall, and connected these to the poles of a battery in
such a way that when the insects ran towards the bait which he had
provided, they stepped from one foil to the other, and completed the
circuit of the current, thus receiving a smart shock, which dislodged
them into a pail of water, standing below.

In 1870, after two years in Boston, where he had spent all his earnings,
chiefly on his books and workshop, he found himself in New York,
tramping the streets on the outlook for a job, and all but destitute.
After repeated failures he chanced to enter the office of the Laws Gold
Reporting Telegraph Company while the instrument which Mr. Laws had
invented to report the fluctuations of the money market had broken down.
No one could set it right; there was a fever in the market, and Mr.
Laws, we are told, was in despair. Edison volunteered to set it right,
and though his appearance was unpromising, he was allowed to try.

The insight of the born mechanic, the sleight of hand which marks the
true experimenter, have in them something magical to the ignorant. In
Edison's hands the instrument seemed to rectify itself. This was his
golden opportunity. He was engaged by the company, and henceforth his
career as an inventor was secure. The Gold Indicator Company afterwards
gave him a responsible position. He improved their indicator, and
invented the Gold and Stock Quotation Printer, an apparatus for a
similar purpose. He entered into partnership with Mr. Pope and Mr.
Ashley, and introduced the Pope and Edison Printer. A private line
which he established was taken over by the Gold and Stock Telegraph
Company, and soon their system was worked almost exclusively with
Edison's invention.

He was retained in their service, and that of the Western Union
Telegraph Company, as a salaried inventor, they having the option of
buying all his telegraphic inventions at a price to be agreed upon.

At their expense a large electrical factory was established under his
direction at Newark, New Jersey, where he was free to work out his ideas
and manufacture his apparatus. Now that he was emancipated from
drudgery, and fairly started on the walk which Nature had intended for
him, he rejoiced in the prolific freedom of his mind, which literally
teemed with projects. His brain was no longer a prey to itself from the
'local action,' or waste energy of restrained ideas and revolving
thoughts. [The term 'local action' is applied by electricians to the
waste which goes on in a voltaic battery, although its current is not
flowing in the outer circuit and doing useful work.] If anything, he
attempted too much. Patents were taken out by the score, and at one
time there were no less than forty-five distinct inventions in progress.
The Commissioner of Patents described him as 'the young man who kept the
path to the Patent Office hot with his footsteps.'

His capacity for labouring without rest is very remarkable. On one
occasion, after improving his Gold and Stock Quotation Printer, an order
for the new instruments, to the extent of 30,000 dollars, arrived at the
factory. The model had acted well, but the first instruments made after
it proved a failure. Edison thereupon retired to the upper floor of the
factory with some of his best workmen, and intimated that they must all
remain there until the defect was put right. After sixty hours of
continuous toil, the fault was remedied, and Edison went to bed, where
he slept for thirty-six hours.

Mr. Johnson, one of his assistants, informs us that for ten years he
worked on an average eighteen hours a day, and that he has been known to
continue an experiment for three months day and night, with the
exception of a nap from six o'clock to nine of the morning. In the
throes of invention, and under the inspiration of his ideas, he is apt
to make no distinction between day and night, until he arrives at a
result which he considers to be satisfactory one way or the other. His
meals are brought to him in the laboratory, and hastily eaten, although
his dwelling is quite near. Long watchfulness and labour seem to
heighten the activity of his mind, which under its 'second wind,' so to
speak, becomes preternaturally keen and suggestive. He likes best to
work at night in the silence and solitude of his laboratory when the
noise of the benches or the rumble of the engines is stilled, and all
the world about him is asleep.

Fortunately, he can work without stimulants, and, when the strain is
over, rest without narcotics; otherwise his exhausted constitution,
sound as it is, would probably break down. Still, he appears to be
ageing before his time, and some of his assistants, not so well endowed
with vitality, have, we believe, overtaxed their strength in trying to
keep up with him.

At this period he devised his electric pen, an ingenious device for
making copies of a document. It consists essentially of a needle,
rapidly jogged up and down by means of an electro-magnet actuated by an
intermittent current of electricity. The writing is traced with the
needle, which perforates another sheet of paper underneath, thus forming
a stencil-plate, which when placed on a clean paper, and evenly inked
with a rolling brush, reproduces the original writing.

In 1873 Edison was married to Miss Mary Stillwell, of Newark, one of his
employees. His eldest child, Mary Estelle, was playfully surnamed
'Dot,' and his second, Thomas Alva, jun., 'Dash,' after the signals of
the Morse code. Mrs. Edison died several years ago.

While seeking to improve the method of duplex working introduced by Mr.
Steams, Edison invented the quadruplex, by which four messages are
simultaneously sent through one wire, two from each end. Brought out in
association with Mr. Prescott, it was adopted by the Western Union
Telegraph Company, and, later, by the British Post Office. The
President of the Western Union reported that it had saved the Company
500,000 dollars a year in the construction of new lines. Edison also
improved the Bain chemical telegraph, until it attained an incredible
speed. Bain had left it capable of recording 200 words a minute; but
Edison, by dint of searching a pile of books ordered from New York,
Paris, and London, making copious notes, and trying innumerable
experiments, while eating at his desk and sleeping in his chair,
ultimately prepared a solution which enabled it to register over 1000
words a minute. It was exhibited at the Philadelphia Centenial
Exhibition in 1876, where it astonished Sir William Thomson.

In 1876, Edison sold his factory at Newark, and retired to Menlo Park,
a sequestered spot near Metuchin, on the Pennsylvania Railroad, and
about twenty-four miles from New York. Here on some rising ground he
built a wooden tenement, two stories high, and furnished it as a
workshop and laboratory. His own residence and the cottages of his
servants completed the little colony.

The basement of the main building was occupied by his office, a choice
library, a cabinet replete with instruments of precision, and a large
airy workshop, provided with lathes and steam power, where his workmen
shaped his ideas into wood and metal.

The books lying about, the designs and placards on the walls, the
draught-board on the table, gave it the appearance of a mechanics' club-
room. The free and lightsome behaviour of the men, the humming at the
benches, recalled some school of handicraft. There were no rigid hours,
no grinding toil under the jealous eye of the overseer. The spirit of
competition and commercial rivalry was absent. It was not a question of
wringing as much work as possible out of the men in the shortest time
and at the lowest price. Moreover, they were not mere mechanical
drudges--they were interested in their jobs, which demanded thought as
well as skill.

Upstairs was the laboratory proper--a long room containing an array of
chemicals; for Edison likes to have a sample of every kind, in case it
might suddenly be requisite. On the tables and in the cupboards were
lying all manner of telegraphic apparatus, lenses, crucibles, and pieces
of his own inventions. A perfect tangle of telegraph wires coming from
all parts of the Union were focussed at one end of the room. An ash-
covered forge, a cabinet organ, a rusty stove with an old pivot chair, a
bench well stained with oils and acids, completed the equipment of this
curious den, into which the sunlight filtered through the chemical jars
and fell in coloured patches along the dusty floor.

The moving spirit of this haunt by day and night is well described as an
overgrown school-boy. He is a man of a slim, but wiry figure, about
five feet ten inches in height. His face at this period was juvenile
and beardless. The nose and chin were shapely and prominent, the mouth
firm, the forehead wide and full above, but not very high. It was
shaded by dark chestnut hair, just silvered with grey. His most
remarkable features were his eyes, which are blue-grey and deeply set,
with an intense and piercing expression. When his attention was not
aroused, he seemed to retire into himself, as though his mind had
drifted far away, and came back slowly to the present. He was pale with
nightwork, and his thoughtful eyes had an old look in serious moments.
But his smile was boyish and pleasant, and his manner a trifle shy.

There was nothing of the dandy about Edison, He boasted no jewelled
fingers or superfine raiment. An easy coat soiled with chemicals, a
battered wide-awake, and boots guiltless of polish, were good enough for
this inspired workman. An old silver watch, sophisticated with
magnetism, and keeping an eccentric time peculiar to it, was his only
ornament. On social occasions, of course, he adopted a more
conventional costume. Visitors to the laboratory often found him in his
shirt-sleeves, with dishevelled hair and grimy hands.

The writer of 'A Night with Edison' has described him as bending like a
wizard over the smoky fumes of some lurid lamps arranged on a brick
furnace, as if he were summoning the powers of darkness.

'It is much after midnight now,' says this author. 'The machinery below
has ceased to rumble, and the tired hands have gone to their homes. A
hasty lunch has been sent up. We are at the thermoscope. Suddenly a
telegraph instrument begins to click. The inventor strikes a grotesque
attitude, a herring in one hand and a biscuit in the other, and with a
voice a little muffled with a mouthful of both, translates aloud,
slowly, the sound intelligible to him alone: "London.--News of death of
Lord John Russell premature." "John Blanchard, whose failure was
announced yesterday, has suicided (no, that was a bad one) SUCCEEDED! in
adjusting his affairs, and will continue in business."'

His tastes are simple and his habits are plain. On one occasion, when
invited to a dinner at Delmonico's restaurant, he contented himself with
a slice of pie and a cup of tea. Another time he is said to have
declined a public dinner with the remark that 100,000 dollars would not
tempt him to sit through two hours of 'personal glorification.' He
dislikes notoriety, thinking that a man is to be 'measured by what he
does, not by what is said about him.' But he likes to talk about his
inventions and show them to visitors at Menlo Park. In disposition he
is sociable, affectionate, and generous, giving himself no airs, and
treating all alike. His humour is native, and peculiar to himself, so
there is some excuse for the newspaper reporters who take his jokes
about the capabilities of Nature AU SERIEUX; and publish them for

His assistants are selected for their skill and physical endurance. The
chief at Menlo Park was Mr. Charles Batchelor, a Scotchman, who had a
certain interest in the inventions, but the others, including
mathematicians, chemists, electricians, secretary, bookkeeper, and
mechanics, were paid a salary. They were devoted to Edison, who, though
he worked them hard at times, was an indulgent master, and sometimes
joined them in a general holiday. All of them spoke in the highest
terms of the inventor and the man.

The Menlo establishment was unique in the world. It was founded for the
sole purpose of applying the properties of matter to the production of
new inventions. For love of science or the hope of gain, men had
experimented before, and worked out their inventions in the laboratories
of colleges and manufactories. But Edison seems to have been the first
to organise a staff of trained assistants to hunt up useful facts in
books, old and modern, and discover fresh ones by experiment, in order
to develop his ideas or suggest new ones, together with skilled workmen
to embody them in the fittest manner; and all with the avowed object of
taking out patents, and introducing the novel apparatus as a commercial
speculation. He did not manufacture his machines for sale; he simply
created the models, and left their multiplication to other people.
There are different ways of looking at Nature:

'To some she is the goddess great;
To some the milch-cow of the field;
Their business is to calculate
The butter she will yield.'

The institution has proved a remarkable success. From it has emanated a
series of marvellous inventions which have carried the name of Edison
throughout the whole civilised world. Expense was disregarded in making
the laboratory as efficient as possible; the very best equipment was
provided, the ablest assistants employed, and the profit has been
immense. Edison is a millionaire; the royalties from his patents alone
are said to equal the salary of a Prime Minister.

Although Edison was the master spirit of the band, it must not be
forgotten that his assistants were sometimes co-inventors with himself.
No doubt he often supplied the germinal ideas, while his assistants only
carried them out. But occasionally the suggestion was nothing more than
this: 'I want something that will do so-and-so. I believe it will be
a good thing, and can be done.' The assistant was on his mettle, and
either failed or triumphed. The results of the experiments and
researches were all chronicled in a book, for the new facts, if not then
required, might become serviceable at a future time. If a rare material
was wanted, it was procured at any cost.

With such facilities, an invention is rapidly matured. Sometimes the
idea was conceived in the morning, and a working model was constructed
by the evening. One day, we are told, a discovery was made at 4 P.M.,
and Edison telegraphed it to his patent agent, who immediately drew up
the specification, and at nine o'clock next morning cabled it to London.
Before the inventor was out of bed, he received an intimation that his
patent had been already deposited in the British Patent Office. Of
course, the difference of time was in his favour.

When Edison arrived at the laboratory in the morning, he read his
letters, and then overlooked his employees, witnessing their results and
offering his suggestions; but it often happened that he became totally
engrossed with one experiment or invention. His work was frequently
interrupted by curious visitors, who wished to see the laboratory and
the man. Although he had chosen that out-of-the-way place to avoid
disturbance, they were never denied: and he often took a pleasure in
showing his models, or explaining the work on which he was engaged.
There was no affectation of mystery, no attempt at keeping his
experiments a secret. Even the laboratory notes were open to
inspection. Menlo Park became a kind of Mecca to the scientific
pilgrim; the newspapers and magazines despatched reporters to the
scene; excursion parties came by rail, and country farmers in their
buggies; till at last an enterprising Yankee even opened a refreshment

The first of Edison's greater inventions in Menlo Park was the 'loud-
speaking telephone.' Professor Graham Bell had introduced his magneto-
electric telephone, but its effect was feeble. It is, we believe, a
maxim in biology that a similarity between the extremities of a creature
is an infallible sign of its inferiority, and that in proportion as it
rises in the scale of being, its head is found to differ from its tail.
Now, in the Bell apparatus, the transmitter and the receiver were alike,
and hence Clerk Maxwell hinted that it would never be good for much
until they became differentiated from each other. Consciously or
unconsciously Edison accomplished the feat. With the hardihood of
genius, he attempted to devise a telephone which would speak out loud
enough to be heard in any corner of a large hall.

In the telephone of Bell, the voice of the speaker is the motive power
which generates the current in the line. The vibrations of the sound
may be said to transform themselves into electrical undulations. Hence
the current is very weak, and the reproduction of the voice is
relatively faint. Edison adopted the principle of making the vibrations
of the voice control the intensity of a current which was independently
supplied to the line by a voltaic battery. The plan of Bell, in short,
may be compared to a man who employs his strength to pump a quantity of
water into a pipe, and that of Edison to one who uses his to open a
sluice, through which a stream of water flows from a capacious dam into
the pipe. Edison was acquainted with two experimental facts on which to
base the invention.

In 1873, or thereabout, he claimed to have observed, while constructing
rheostats, or electrical resistances for making an artificial telegraph
line, that powdered plumbago and carbon has the property of varying in
its resistance to the passage of the current when under pressure. The
variation seemed in a manner proportional to the pressure. As a matter
of fact, powdered carbon and plumbago had been used in making small
adjustable rheostats by M. Clerac, in France, and probably also in
Germany, as early as 1865 or 1866. Clerac's device consisted of a small
wooden tube containing the material, and fitted with contacts for the
current, which appear to have adjusted the pressure. Moreover, the Count
Du Moncel, as far back as 1856, had clearly discovered that when
powdered carbon was subjected to pressure, its electrical resistance
altered, and had made a number of experiments on the phenomenon. Edison
may have independently observed the fact, but it is certain he was not
the first, and his claim to priority has fallen to the ground.

Still he deserves the full credit of utilising it in ways which were
highly ingenious and bold. The 'pressure-relay,' produced in 1877, was
the first relay in which the strength of the local current working the
local telegraph instrument was caused to vary in proportion to the
variation; of the current in the main line. It consisted of an electro-
magnet with double poles and an armature which pressed upon a disc or
discs of plumbago, through which the local current Passed. The electro-
magnet was excited by the main line current and the armature attracted
to its poles at every signal, thus pressing on the plumbago, and by
reducing its resistance varying the current in the local circuit.
According as the main line current was strong or weak, the pressure on
the plumbago was more or less, and the current in the local circuit
strong or weak. Hence the signals of the local receiver were in
accordance with the currents in the main line.

Edison found that the same property might be applied to regulate the
strength of a current in conformity with the vibrations of the voice,
and after a great number of experiments produced his 'carbon
transmitter.' Plumbago in powder, in sticks, or rubbed on fibres and
sheets of silk, were tried as the sensitive material, but finally
abandoned in favour of a small cake or wafer of compressed lamp-black,
obtained from the smoke of burning oil, such as benzolene or rigolene.
This was the celebrated 'carbon button,' which on being placed between
two platinum discs by way of contact, and traversed by the electric
current, was found to vary in resistance under the pressure of the sound
waves. The voice was concentrated upon it by means of a mouthpiece and
a diaphragm.

The property on which the receiver was based had been observed and
applied by him some time before. When a current is passed from a metal
contact through certain chemical salts, a lubricating effect was
noticeable. Thus if a metal stylus were rubbed or drawn over a prepared
surface, the point of the stylus was found to slip or 'skid' every time
a current passed between them, as though it had been oiled. If your pen
were the stylus, and the paper on which you write the surface, each wave
of electricity passing from the nib to the paper would make the pen
start, and jerk your fingers with it. He applied the property to the
recording of telegraph signals without the help of an electro-magnet, by
causing the currents to alter the friction between the two rubbing
surfaces, and so actuate a marker, which registered the message as in
the Morse system.

This instrument was called the 'electromotograph,' and it occurred to
Edison that in a similar way the undulatory currents from his carbon
transmitter might, by varying the friction between a metal stylus and
the prepared surface, put a tympanum in vibration, and reproduce the
original sounds. Wonderful as it may appear, he succeeded in doing so
by the aid of a piece of chalk, a brass pin, and a thin sheet or disc of
mica. He attached the pin or stylus to the centre of the mica, and
brought its point to bear on a cylindrical surface of prepared chalk.
The undulatory current from the line was passed through the stylus and
the chalk, while the latter was moved by turning a handle; and at every
pulse of the electricity the friction between the pin and chalk was
diminished, so that the stylus slipped upon its surface. The
consequence was a vibration of the mica diaphragm to which the stylus
was attached. Thus the undulatory current was able to establish
vibrations of the disc, which communicated themselves to the air and
reproduced the original sounds. The replica was loud enough to be heard
by a large audience, and by reducing the strength of the current it
could be lowered to a feeble murmur. The combined transmitter and
receiver took the form of a small case with a mouthpiece to speak into,
an car-piece on a hinged bracket for listening to it, press-keys for
manipulating the call-bell and battery, and a small handle by which to
revolve the little chalk cylinder. This last feature was a practical
drawback to the system, which was patented in 1877.

The Edison telephone, when at its best, could transmit all kinds of
noises, gentle or harsh; it could lift up its voice and cry aloud, or
sink it to a confidential whisper. There was a slight Punchinellian
twang about its utterances, which, if it did not altogether disguise the
individuality of the distant speaker, gave it the comicality of a clever
parody, and to hear it singing a song, and quavering jauntily on the
high notes, was irresistibly funny. Instrumental notes were given in
all their purity, and, after the phonograph, there was nothing more
magical in the whole range of science than to hear that fragment of
common chalk distilling to the air the liquid melody of sweet bells
jingling in tune. It brought to mind that wonderful stone of Memnon,
which responded to the rays of sunrise. It seemed to the listener that
if the age of miracles was past that of marvels had arrived, and
considering the simplicity of the materials, and the obscurity of its
action, the loud-speaking telephone was one of the most astonishing of
recent inventions.

After Professor Hughes had published his discovery of the microphone,
Edison, recognising, perhaps, that it and the carbon transmitter were
based on the same principle, and having learnt his knowledge of the
world in the hard school of adversity, hastily claimed the microphone as
a variety of his invention, but imprudently charged Professor Hughes and
his friend, Mr. W. H. Preece, who had visited Edison at Menlo Park, with
having 'stolen his thunder.' The imputation was indignantly denied, and
it was obvious to all impartial electricians that Professor Hughes had
arrived at his results by a path quite independent of the carbon
transmitter, and discovered a great deal more than Edison had done. For
one thing, Edison believed the action of his transmitter as due to a
property of certain poor or 'semi-conductors,' whereby their electric
resistance varied under pressure. Hughes taught us to understand that it
was owing to a property of loose electrical contact between any two

The soft and springy button of lamp-black became no longer necessary,
since it was not so much the resistance of the material which varied as
the resistance at the contacts of its parts and the platinum
electrodes. Two metals, or two pieces of hard carbon, or a piece of
metal and a piece of hard carbon, were found to regulate the current in
accordance with the vibrations of the voice. Edison therefore discarded
the soft and fragile button, replacing it by contacts of hard carbon and
metal, in short, by a form of microphone. The carbon, or microphone
transmitter, was found superior to the magneto-electric transmitter of
Bell; but the latter was preferable as a receiver to the louder but less
convenient chemical receiver of Edison, and the most successful
telephonic system of the day is a combination of the microphone, or new
carbon transmitter, with the Bell receiver.

The 'micro-tasimeter,' a delicate thermoscope, was constructed in 1878,
and is the outcome of Edison's experiments with the carbon button.
Knowing the latter to be extremely sensitive to minute changes of
pressure, for example, those of sonorous vibrations, he conceived the
idea of measuring radiant heat by causing it to elongate a thin bar or
strip of metal or vulcanite, bearing at one end on the button. To
indicate the effect, he included a galvanometer in the circuit of the
battery and the button. The apparatus consisted of a telephone button
placed between two discs of platinum and connected in circuit with the
battery and a sensitive galvanometer. The strip was supported so that
one end bore upon the button with a pressure which could be regulated by
an adjustable screw at the other. The strip expanded or contracted when
exposed to heat or cold, and thrust itself upon the button more or less,
thereby varying the electric current and deflecting the needle of the
galvanometer to one side or the other. The instrument was said to
indicate a change of temperature equivalent to one-millionth of a
degree Fahrenheit. It was tested by Edison on the sun's corona during
the eclipse observations of July 29, 1875, at Rawlings, in the
territory of Wyoming. The trial was not satisfactory, however, for the
apparatus was mounted on a hen-house, which trembled to the gale, and
before he could get it properly adjusted the eclipse was over.

It is reported that on another trial the light from the star Arcturus,
when focussed on the vulcanite, was capable of deflecting the needle of
the galvanometer. When gelatine is substituted for vulcanite, the
humidity of the atmosphere can also be measured in the same way.

Edison's crowning discovery at Menlo Park was the celebrated
'phonograph,' or talking machine. It was first announced by one of his
assistants in the pages of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN for 1878. The
startling news created a general feeling of astonishment, mingled with
incredulity or faith. People had indeed heard of the talking heads of
antiquity, and seen the articulating machines of De Kempelen and Faber,
with their artificial vocal organs and complicated levers, manipulated
by an operator. But the phonograph was automatic, and returned the
words which had been spoken into it by a purely mechanical mimicry. It
captured and imprisoned the sounds as the photograph retained the images
of light. The colours of Nature were lost in the photograph, but the
phonograph was said to preserve the qualities even of the human voice.
Yet this wonderful appliance had neither tongue nor teeth, larynx nor
pharynx. It appeared as simple as a coffee-mill. A vibrating diaphragm
to collect the sounds, and a stylus to impress them on a sheet of
tinfoil, were its essential parts. Looking on the record of the sound,
one could see only the scoring of the stylus on the yielding surface of
the metal, like the track of an Alpine traveller across the virgin snow.
These puzzling scratches were the foot-prints of the voice.

Speech is the most perfect utterance of man; but its powers are limited
both in time and space. The sounds of the voice are fleeting, and do
not carry far; hence the invention of letters to record them, and of
signals to extend their range. These twin lines of invention, continued
through the ages, have in our own day reached their consummation. The
smoke of the savage, the semaphore, and the telegraph have ended in the
telephone, by which the actual voice can speak to a distance; and now at
length the clay tablet of the Assyrian, the wax of the ancient Greek,
the papyrus of the Egyptian, and the modern printing-press have
culminated in the phonograph, by which the living words can be preserved
into the future. In the light of a new discovery, we are apt to wonder
why our fathers were so blind as not to see it. When a new invention
has been made, we ask ourselves, Why was it not thought of before? The
discovery seems obvious, and the invention simple, after we know them.
Now that speech itself can be sent a thousand miles away, or heard a
thousand years after, we discern in these achievements two goals toward
which we have been making, and at which we should arrive some day. We
marvel that we had no prescience of these, and that we did not attain to
them sooner. Why has it taken so many generations to reach a foregone
conclusion? Alas! they neither knew the conclusion nor the means of
attaining to it. Man works from ignorance towards greater knowledge
with very limited powers. His little circle of light is surrounded by a
wall of darkness, which he strives to penetrate and lighten, now groping
blindly on its verge, now advancing his taper light and peering forward;
yet unable to go far, and even afraid to venture, in case he should be

To the Infinite Intelligence which knows all that is hidden in that
darkness, and all that man will discover therein, how poor a thing is
the telephone or phonograph, how insignificant are all his 'great
discoveries'! This thought should imbue a man of science with humility
rather than with pride. Seen from another standpoint than his own, from
without the circle of his labours, not from within, in looking back, not
forward, even his most remarkable discovery is but the testimony of his
own littleness. The veil of darkness only serves to keep these little
powers at work. Men have sometimes a foreshadowing of what will come to
pass without distinctly seeing it. In mechanical affairs, the notion of
a telegraph is very old, and probably immemorial. Centuries ago the
poet and philosopher entertained the idea of two persons far apart being
able to correspond through the sympathetic property of the lodestone.
The string or lovers' telephone was known to the Chinese, and even the
electric telephone was thought about some years before it was invented.
Bourseul, Reis, and others preceded Graham Bell.

The phonograph was more of a surprise; but still it was no exception to
the rule. Naturally, men and women had desired to preserve the accents
as well as the lineaments of some beloved friend who had passed away.
The Chinese have a legend of a mother whose voice was so beautiful that
her children tried to store it in a bamboo cane, which was carefully
sealed up. Long after she was dead the cane was opened, and her voice
came out in all its sweetness, but was never heard again. A similar
idea (which reminds us of Munchausen's trumpet) is found in the NATURAL
MAGICK of John Baptista Porta, the celebrated Neapolitan philosopher,
and published at London in 1658. He proposes to confine the sound of the
voice in leaden pipes, such as are used for speaking through; and he
goes on to say that 'if any man, as the words are spoken, shall stop the
end of the pipe, and he that is at the other end shall do the like, the
voice may be intercepted in the middle, and be shut up as in a prison,
and when the mouth is opened, the voice will come forth as out of his
mouth that spake it. . . . I am now upon trial of it. If before my book
be printed the business take effect, I will set it down; if not, if God
please, I shall write of it elsewhere.' Porta also refers to the
speaking head of Albertus Magnus, whom, however, he discredits. He
likewise mentions a colossal trumpeter of brass, stated to have been
erected in some ancient cities, and describes a plan for making a kind
of megaphone, 'wherewith we may hear many miles.'

In the VOYAGE A LA LUNE of De Cyrano Bergerac, published at Paris in
1650, and subsequently translated into English, there is a long account
of a 'mechanical book' which spoke its contents to the listener. 'It
was a book, indeed,' says Cyrano, 'but a strange and wonderful book,
which had neither leaves nor letters,' and which instructed the Youth in
their walks, so that they knew more than the Greybeards of Cyrano's
country, and need never lack the company of all the great men living or
dead to entertain them with living voices. Sir David Brewster surmised
that a talking machine mould be invented before the end of the century.
Mary Somerville, in her CONNECTION OF THE PHYSICAL SCIENCES, wrote some
fifty years ago: 'It may be presumed that ultimately the utterances or
pronunciation of modern languages will be conveyed, not only to the eye,
but also to the ear of posterity. Had the ancients possessed the means
of transmitting such definite sounds, the civilised world must have
responded in sympathetic notes at the distance of many ages.' In the
MEMOIRES DU GEANT of M. Nadar, published in 1864, the author says:
'These last fifteen years I have amused myself in thinking there is
nothing to prevent a man one of these days from finding a way to give us
a daguerreotype of sound--the phonograph --something like a box in which
melodies will be fixed and kept, as images are fixed in the dark
chamber.' It is also on record that, before Edison had published his
discovery to the world, M. Charles Cros deposited a sealed packet at the
Academie des Sciences, Paris, giving an account of an invention similar
to the phonograph.

Ignorance of the true nature of sound had prevented the introduction of
such an instrument. But modern science, and in particular the invention
of the telephone with its vibrating plate, had paved the way for it. The
time was ripe, and Edison was the first to do it.

In spite of the unbridled fancies of the poets and the hints of
ingenious writers, the announcement that a means of hoarding speech had
been devised burst like a thunderclap upon the world.

[In seeing his mother's picture Byron wished that he might hear her
voice. Tennyson exclaims, 'Oh for the touch of a vanished hand, and the
sound of a voice that is still!' Shelley, in the WITCH OF ATLAS, wrote:
'The deep recesses of her odorous dwelling
Were stored with magic treasures--sounds of air,
Which had the power all spirits of compelling,
Folded in cells of crystal silence there;
Such as we hear in youth, and think the feeling
Will never die--yet ere we are aware,
The feeling and the sound are fled and gone,
And the regret they leave remains alone.'
Again, in his SPIRIT OF SOLITUDE, we find:
'The fire of those soft orbs has ceased to burn,
And silence too enamoured of that voice
Locks its mute music in her rugged cell,']

The phonograph lay under the very eyes of Science, and yet she did not
see it. The logograph had traced all the curves of speech with ink on
paper; and it only remained to impress them on a solid surface in such a
manner as to regulate the vibrations of an artificial tympanum or drum.
Yet no professor of acoustics thought of this, and it was left to
Edison, a telegraphic inventor, to show them what was lying at their

Mere knowledge, uncombined in the imagination, does not bear fruit in
new inventions. It is from the union of different facts that a new idea
springs. A scholar is apt to be content with the acquisition of
knowledge, which remains passive in his mind. An inventor seizes upon
fresh facts, and combines them with the old, which thereby become
nascent. Through accident or premeditation he is able by uniting
scattered thoughts to add a novel instrument to a domain of science with
which he has little acquaintance. Nay, the lessons of experience and
the scruples of intimate knowledge sometimes deter a master from
attempting what the tyro, with the audacity of genius and the hardihood
of ignorance, achieves. Theorists have been known to pronounce against
a promising invention which has afterwards been carried to success, and
it is not improbable that if Edison had been an authority in acoustics
he would never have invented the phonograph. It happened in this wise.
During the spring of 1877, he was trying a device for making a telegraph
message, received on one line, automatically repeat itself along
another line. This he did by embossing the Morse signals on the
travelling paper instead of merely inking them, and then causing the
paper to pass under the point of a stylus, which, by rising and falling
in the indentations, opened and closed a sending key included in the
circuit of the second line. In this way the received message
transmitted itself further, without the aid of a telegraphist. Edison
was running the cylinder which carried the embossed paper at a high
speed one day, partly, as we are told, for amusement, and partly to test
the rate at which a clerk could read a message. As the speed was
raised, the paper gave out a humming rhythmic sound in passing under the
stylus. The separate signals of the message could no longer be
distinguished by the ear, and the instrument seemed to be speaking in a
language of its own, resembling 'human talk heard indistinctly.'
Immediately it flashed on the inventor that if he could emboss the waves
of speech upon the paper the words would be returned to him. To
conceive was to execute, and it was but the work of an hour to provide a
vibrating diaphragm or tympanum fitted with an indenting stylus, and
adapt it to the apparatus. Paraffined paper was selected to receive the
indentations, and substituted for the Morse paper on the cylinder of the
machine. On speaking to the tympanum, as the cylinder was revolved, a
record of the vibrations was indented on the paper, and by re-passing
this under the indenting point an imperfect reproduction of the sounds
was heard. Edison 'saw at once that the problem of registering human
speech, so that it could be repeated by mechanical means as often as
might he desired, was solved.' [T. A. Edison, NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW,
June, 1888; New York ELECTRICAL REVIEW, 1888,]

The experiment shows that it was partly by accident, and not by
reasoning on theoretical knowledge, that the phonograph was discovered.
The sound resembling 'human talk heard indistinctly' seems to have
suggested it to his mind. This was the germ which fell upon the soil
prepared for it. Edison's thoughts had been dwelling on the telephone;
he knew that a metal tympanum was capable of vibrating with all the
delicacies of speech, and it occurred to him that if these vibrations
could be impressed on a yielding material, as the Morse signals were
embossed upon the paper, the indentations would reproduce the speech,
just as the furrows of the paper reproduced the Morse signals. The
tympanum vibrating in the curves of speech was instantly united in his
imagination with the embossing stylus and the long and short
indentations on the Morse paper; the idea of the phonograph flashed upon
him. Many a one versed in acoustics would probably have been restrained
by the practical difficulty of impressing the vibrations on a yielding
material, and making them react upon the reproducing tympanum. But
Edison, with that daring mastery over matter which is a characteristic
of his mechanical genius, put it confidently to the test.

Soon after this experiment, a phonograph was constructed, in which a
sheet of tinfoil was wrapped round a revolving barrel having a spiral
groove cut in its surface to allow the point of the indenting stylus to
sink into the yielding foil as it was thrust up and down by the
vibrating tympanum. This apparatus-- the first phonograph--was
published to the world in 1878, and created a universal sensation.
[SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, March 30, 1878] It is now in the South Kensington
Museum, to which it was presented by the inventor.

The phonograph was first publicly exhibited in England at a meeting of
the Society of Telegraph Engineers, where its performances filled the
audience with astonishment and delight. A greeting from Edison to his
electrical brethren across the Atlantic had been impressed on the
tinfoil, and was spoken by the machine. Needless to say, the voice of
the inventor, however imperfectly reproduced, was hailed with great
enthusiasm, which those who witnessed will long remember. In this
machine, the barrel was fitted with a crank, and rotated by handle. A
heavy flywheel was attached to give it uniformity of motion. A sheet
of tinfoil formed the record, and the delivery could he heard by a
roomful of people. But articulation was sacrificed at the expense of
loudness. It was as though a parrot or a punchinello spoke, and
sentences which were unexpected could not be understood. Clearly, if
the phonograph were to become a practical instrument, it required to be
much improved. Nevertheless this apparatus sufficiently demonstrated the
feasibility of storing up and reproducing speech, music, and other
sounds. Numbers of them were made, and exhibited to admiring audiences,
by license, and never failed to elicit both amusement and applause. To
show how striking were its effects, and how surprising, even to
scientific men, it may be mentioned that a certain learned SAVANT, on
hearing it at a SEANCE of the Academie des Sciences, Paris, protested
that it was a fraud, a piece of trickery or ventriloquism, and would not
be convinced.


Back to Full Books