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The Papers of Thomas A. Edison

The Papers of Thomas A. Edison, v. 4
, 966 pages

772 b&w illus.

January 2014


The Papers of Thomas A. Edison

The Wizard of Menlo Park, 1878

Volume 4

This newest volume in the acclaimed Papers of Thomas A. Edison covers one year in the life of America's greatest inventor—1878. That year Edison, whom a New York newspaper in the spring first called "the Wizard of Menlo Park," developed the phonograph, one of his most famous inventions; made a breakthrough in the development of telephone transmitters, which made the instrument commercially viable; and announced the advent of domestic electric lighting, with only a few weeks' worth of tinkering necessary to complete its design (the announcement sent gas-company stocks plummeting; the research and development went on for four years).

These inventions brought Edison financial support for his work and attention from the public. In January investors in the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company agreed to fund development work on the phonograph. The invention made Edison internationally famous and in May he traveled to Washington, D.C., to show the phonograph at the National Academy of Sciences, to Congress, and to President Rutherford B. Hayes at the White House. That same month Western Union agreed to pay Edison an annual salary of $6,000 for his telephone inventions, although other support from the company declined following the death of its president, William Orton. The stress of unceasing public attention, including a trans-Atlantic dispute over the question of who invented the microphone, led an exhausted Edison to travel west during the summer to witness a solar eclipse but also to seek rest. His six-week trip took him to San Francisco and the Yosemite region of California. Edison began working on electric lighting after his return and in October the Edison Electric Light Company was formed to support his research.

Paul B. Israel, Keith A. Nier, and Louis Carlat are volume editors for Volume 4 at the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

"The appearance of another volume of The Papers of Thomas A. Edison has become an event eagerly anticipated by historians of electrical technologies and the process of technological innovation more generally. This volume will not disappoint them. Through the publication of 487 letters, technical notes, notebook entries, and other documents, the staff of the Edison Project has illuminated the most important single year in Edison's life. It was the year he became a public figure of superhuman proportions—the 'Wizard of Menlo Park,' as the press dubbed him. In a single year, Edison developed the phonograph and the carbon telephone transmitter and initiated his campaign to solve the problems of electric lighting."

"One year in the life of the Wizard of Menlo Park is as full and as exciting as the whole career of a lesser inventor. Thoroughly researched and sumptuously illustrated, this volume of the Edison papers is as pleasing to the eye as it is stimulating and informative."

"The essence of the volume is Edison's technical notebooks, a window onto the inventor's workshop. His lucidity comes through everywhere... His writing and drawing come together as a single, vigorous thought process."

"A mine of material... Scrupulously edited... No one could ask for more... A choplicking feast for Edison biographers—well into the next century, and perhaps beyond."

"A triumph of the bookmaker's art, with splendidly arranged illustrations, essential background information, and cautionary reminders of the common sources on which Edison's imagination drew."

"In the pages of this volume Edison the man, his work, and his times come alive... A delight to browse through or to read carefully."

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