inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #26 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Tue 7 Sep 99 14:33
    
Good question.  And a tough one to know how to answer.  One thing that I do
like to talk about in this regard is one of Edison's great strengths, which
was a willingness to fail and an understanding that he could learn a lot
from failure, especially in the laboratory.  I despair sometimes about our
educational system which is increasingly focused on teaching kids to some
set of standards but doesn't provide them with an opportunity to test their
knowledge and skills in an environment that allows them to fail productively
and learn from that failure.  This is not the same thing as taking
standardized tests and either passing or failing.  It means teaching
knowledge and skills that can be more broadly applied and then providing
means for challenging the students to use them without worrying about
whether they successfully get some "right" answer.  Edison also was a great
one for taking knowledge or experience that might have failed in one context
and using it in another.  And he also found that analogizing from something
he knew could provide a starting point for research that might then lead in
a new direction and ultimately provide a useful answer.
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #27 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Tue 7 Sep 99 15:03
    
There is a lot to learn from this man, and from this book!
What else is going on now in Edison-land -- aside from the microfilming of
the Edison papers, is there stuff going up on the web?
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #28 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Wed 8 Sep 99 14:41
    
We are planning on putting documents on the web within the year.  One of the
problems with all of the web stuff is that it is expensive to prepare.  We
had a big grant to digitize the microfilm but now we have to have work done
to convert our database for web use.  We're also in the midst of finalizing
some issues in regard to markup to use on the book edition, though we need
to find some funding to convert the four volumes we now have to SGML.  So if
anyone knows of a funding source....
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #29 of 48: (apb) Wed 8 Sep 99 16:33
    
I grew up in the southeast Michigan and spent some time researching the
birth of the American auto industry.  Took tours of the River Rouge Plant,
the scale of which is mind-boggling to me even today.  I wonder what it
must have been like to see someone like Ford focus on getting a project
like that built?

Two things stand out for their hip coolness factor at Henry Ford's
Fairlane Manor.  The first is the power house, built on the river, which
supplied the mansion with its own independent source of electricity.  It's
like no other power house you'll ever see.  Some of the flooring is made
of marble, the gauges and other measuring instruments are made of brass
and crystal, polished to a very bright shine.  It's like being transported
into a Jules Verne novel, being whisked onto the Nautilus.

The second cool thing was a set of curlers in the Ford's bedroom.  He had
a system where a pipe would draw water from the river to a boiler, convert
it to steam, and then carry that by pipe to a set of wooden curler's that
HF's wife was very fond of.

I know Ford and Edison had a strong mutual admiration society.  What I'm
interested in, Paul, is which had more influence on the other?  Ford
seemed to respect Edison as a scientist, not just an inventor, and Edison
respected Ford as a visionary engineer, not just an industrialist.

Am I reading too much into this?  Was there a rivalry?  At times I thought
Ford idolized Edison.
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #30 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Wed 8 Sep 99 20:30
    
Just dropped by to say I'm headed out of town and probably won't get back to
this until Friday.  I'll have more to say about the Ford-Edison connection
then.
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #31 of 48: (apb) Wed 8 Sep 99 20:31
    
Have a nice trip, wherever your going.  Look forward to reading your
posts!
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #32 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Mon 13 Sep 99 07:40
    
Due to yesterday's WELL outage I'm just now getting around to posting ab out
Ford and Edison.  During the last two decades of Edison's life he and Ford
became best friends.  They first met, according to Ford's memoirs, during
the annual meeting of hte Association of Edison Illuminating Companies where
Edison encouraged Ford to go ahead with his ideas for an automobile.  There
appears to have been little if any contact between Ford and his hero Edison
until Ford asked Edison to design a starter battery for Ford automobiles in
1912.  Edison had developed an alkaline battery for electric automobiles but
the battery found little market in the auto industry because of the victory
of the internal combustion engine, which the Model T played an important
part in.  Instead the Edison battery was used mainly for industrial
purposes.   Because the competing lead acid batteries provided a larger
initial charge than did Edison's alkaline, they proved more satisfactory as
starter batteries for internal combustion engines and although Edison and
his lab continued to work on the problem for Ford into the 1920s they never
developed a suitable battery.  Nonetheless, Ford's friendship with Edison,
which grew immensely during those years, led him to continue tofund the
research.

Besides the work on storage batteries, the friendship grew as a result of
their 1915 trip to the Panama-Pacific Expositions in San Francisco and San
Diego.  This led to annual "camping trips" with Harvey Firestone, the tire
manufacturer and John Burroughs, the naturalist.  These were auto trips
during which they would camp in tents but with all the amenities of home.
Ford and Edison loved to exchange jokes and stories and these were
apparently lively trips.

Ford and Firestone also funded Edison's last great research campaign--the
search for a natural source of rubber in case of national emergency.  This
was not to find a permanent replacement but one that could be rapidly
deployed in case of war--there had been a rubber shortage during WWI and
after the war the auto industry had become the primary user of rubber, thus
the interest of Ford and Firestone in this work.

Ford also provided a large loan to Edison after a fire in 1914 destroyed
several of Edison's factory buildings.  And he received daily dispatches
from the Edison family during Edison's final illness.  So their was a great
friendship between them, with Ford always idolizing Edison but also being a
position to offer help to him.

One of the key questions about their friendship is the extent to which
Edison agreed with Ford's antisemitic views.  Edison, like most Americans,
tended to hold to ethnic stereotypes in general but not to act on them in
his relations with individuals. In addition, he seems to have believed that
the stereotypical qualities of a people were grounded in historical cultural
and social circumstances.  Thus, he said of Jews: "The trouble with the Jew
[is] that he has been prosecuted for cenuries by ignorant malignant bigots &
forced into his present characteristics and he has acquired a 6th sense
which gives him an almost unerring judgment in trade affairs.  Having this
natural advantage over his fellows he has taken too great an advantage of it
& got himself disliked by many as I saw in Europe.  I believe that in
America where he is free that in time he will cease to be so clannish, & not
carry to such extremes his natural advantages."  This was a much more
sophisticated view of ethnic groups and Jews in particular than that held by
Ford, who was an extreme antisemite.
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #33 of 48: Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 13 Sep 99 13:34
    
Paul, I just wanted to say that I have been avidly reading your
interview, and I thank you for these fascinating glimpses into the life
and work of Edison.  
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #34 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Mon 13 Sep 99 18:54
    
What she said!

The idea of Edison and Ford on a "camping trip" sounds like the stuff of
theater, or even film.
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #35 of 48: (ideo) was I ere I saw (esau) Mon 13 Sep 99 19:11
    
Such a play has been written. Here's a post from me:

> books.576.1546: Scott Underwood (ideo)  Sat 30 Mar 96 09:18
>
>  A quick read in bed this morning: "Camping With Henry and Tom", a play by
>  Mark St. Germain. Don't know why I picked this up at the library, but it
>  is a fictional account of a real event: a camping trip with Henry Ford,
>  Thomas Edison and Warren Harding. Edison has all the best lines.
>
>  Oh, and I enjoyed it.
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #36 of 48: David Gans (tnf) Mon 13 Sep 99 20:12
    
Wow!  What do you remember aboutit?
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #37 of 48: (apb) Mon 13 Sep 99 21:04
    
Those camping trips must have been something.  

Any evidence of Edison, Ford, and company discussing those "natural
forces" discussed earlier?  I think HF would have taken a simliar view to
Edison, that there were natural forces yet to be discovered.  I wonder if
there's a recollection of them ever discussing this and in what context:
physics or the metaphysical?
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #38 of 48: (ideo) was I ere I saw (esau) Mon 13 Sep 99 21:25
    
Sorry, David, I don't remember too much. I seem to remember the
playwright bringing up the antisemitic aspects in a subtle way and that
Harding was portrayed as a bit of a doofus.
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #39 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Tue 14 Sep 99 05:58
    
Unfortunately, there is no record of what they talked about during their
trips.  I did not see the play but did read about it and the author tried to
imagine what they would have talked about.

In his later years Edison attempted to build a device that could communicate
with the dead based on his idea that the atoms that made up the universe
each contained a life force that would retain memories of past lives.
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #40 of 48: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 14 Sep 99 12:05
    
And what happened to that device?  I love the idea.  Sounds plausible
to me.
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #41 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Tue 14 Sep 99 13:18
    
It was apparently never built.  I'm not in my office so I don't have the
citation handy (I'll post it after I get back next Monday) but there is some
fellow who claims that through a seance in which Edison was contacted he was
able to obtain the plans for the device.
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #42 of 48: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 14 Sep 99 13:23
    
I can't wait to hear about it!
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #43 of 48: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sun 19 Sep 99 19:45
    
What were the early electric companies like?  What sort of people
worked for them?  Were they similar to today's startups?
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #44 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Wed 22 Sep 99 12:53
    
Good question.  I'm just getting caught up from being out of town and will
try to compose an answer and post it tomorrow.
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #45 of 48: (ideo) was I ere I saw (esau) Wed 22 Sep 99 13:01
    
Building on that question, I'm amazed by how many companies seemed to have
been started and ended and how many TAE joined and quit--practically one for
each new telegraph idea. I keep losing track of the alliances, and I'd love
to see a chronology of his career.
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #46 of 48: Roberta Piazza (rpiazza) Fri 24 Sep 99 14:47
    

This is just fascinating!
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #47 of 48: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Tue 28 Sep 99 14:27
    
Sorry I haven't had a chance to respond yet regarding the early electric
companies. I've been preparing a talk on "Science and Invention: Looking
Beyond the Popular Image of Thomas Edison" that I'm giving at the
Smithsonian on October 12.  I needed to get it done as I'm going to Ann
Arbor and Detroit next week for the annual meeting of the Society for the
History of Technology (SHOT).  I finished writing the paper and preparing
the slides today so I hope to have a chance to respond tomorrow.

I had mentioned earlier that there was an article purporting to show that
Edison had been contacted during a seance and directed the parties to the
blueprint of his device for communicating with the dead.  Somehow the
blueprint had been lost but a tracing turned up and a machine built that
failed.  It did lead the GE researcher who tried to build the machine to
design one of his own that purportedly worked.  This is recounted in
Wainwright Evans, "Scientists Research Machine to Contact the Dead," Fate
(April 1963): 38-43.
  
inkwell.vue.45 : Paul Israel, biographer of Thomas Edison
permalink #48 of 48: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 28 Sep 99 17:58
    

Oooh!  Fate Magazine!

Thanks for that, Paul.
  



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