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IN the previous chapter on the invention of a system, the narrative has been carried along for several years of activity up to the verge of the successful and commercial application of Edison's ideas and devices for incandescent electric lighting. The story of any one year in this period, if treated chronologically, would branch off in a great many different directions, some going back to earlier work, others forward to arts not yet within the general survey; and the effect of such treatment would be confusing. In like manner the development of the Edison lighting system followed several concurrent, simultaneous lines of advance; and an effort was therefore made in the last chapter to give a rapid glance over the whole movement, embracing a term of nearly five years, and including in its scope both the Old World and the New. What is necessary to the completeness of the story at this stage is not to recapitulate, but to take up some of the loose ends of threads woven in and follow them through until the clear and comprehensive picture of events can be seen.
Some things it would be difficult to reproduce in any picture of the art and the times. One of the greatest delusions of the public in regard to any notable invention is the belief that the world is waiting for it with open arms and an eager welcome. The exact contrary is the truth. There is not a single new art or device the world has ever enjoyed of which it can be said that it was given an immediate and enthusiastic reception. The way of the inventor is hard. He can sometimes raise capital to help him in working out his crude conceptions, but even then it is frequently done at a distressful cost of personal surrender. When the result is achieved the invention makes its appeal on the score of economy of material or of effort; and then "labor" often awaits with crushing and tyrannical spirit to smash the apparatus or forbid its very use. Where both capital and labor are agreed that the object is worthy of encouragement, there is the supreme indifference of the public to overcome, and the stubborn resistance of pre-existing devices to combat. The years of hardship and struggle are thus prolonged, the chagrin of poverty and neglect too frequently embitters the inventor's scanty bread; and one great spirit after another has succumbed to the defeat beyond which lay the procrastinated triumph so dearly earned. Even in America, where the adoption of improvements and innovations is regarded as so prompt and sure, and where the huge tolls of the Patent Office and the courts bear witness to the ceaseless efforts of the inventor, it is impossible to deny the sad truth that unconsciously society discourages invention rather than invites it. Possibly our national optimism as revealed in invention--the seeking a higher good--needs some check. Possibly the leaders would travel too fast and too far on the road to perfection if conservatism did not also play its salutary part in insisting that the procession move forward as a whole.
Edison and his electric light were happily more fortunate than other men and inventions, in the relative cordiality of the reception given them. The merit was too obvious to remain unrecognized. Nevertheless, it was through intense hostility and opposition that the young art made its way, pushed forward by Edison's own strong personality and by his unbounded, unwavering faith in the ultimate success of his system. It may seem strange that great effort was required to introduce a light so manifestly convenient, safe, agreeable, and advantageous, but the facts are matter of record; and to-day the recollection of some of the episodes brings a fierce glitter into the eye and keen indignation into the voice of the man who has come so victoriously through it all.
It was not a fact at any time that the public was opposed to the idea of the electric light. On the contrary, the conditions for its acceptance had been ripening fast. Yet the very vogue of the electric arc light made harder the arrival of the incandescent. As a new illuminant for the streets, the arc had become familiar, either as a direct substitute for the low gas lamp along the sidewalk curb, or as a novel form of moonlight, raised in groups at the top of lofty towers often a hundred and fifty feet high. Some of these lights were already in use for large indoor spaces, although the size of the unit, the deadly pressure of the current, and the sputtering sparks from the carbons made them highly objectionable for such purposes. A number of parent arc-lighting companies were in existence, and a great many local companies had been called into being under franchises for commercial business and to execute regular city contracts for street lighting. In this manner a good deal of capital and the energies of many prominent men in politics and business had been rallied distinctively to the support of arc lighting. Under the inventive leadership of such brilliant men as Brush, Thomson, Weston, and Van Depoele--there were scores of others--the industry had made considerable progress and the art had been firmly established. Here lurked, however, very vigorous elements of opposition, for Edison predicted from the start the superiority of the small electric unit of light, and devoted himself exclusively to its perfection and introduction.
It can be readily seen that this situation made it all the more difficult for the Edison system to secure the large sums of money needed for its exploitation, and to obtain new franchises or city ordinances as a public utility. Thus in a curious manner the modern art of electric lighting was in a very true sense divided against itself, with intense rivalries and jealousies which were none the less real because they were but temporary and occurred in a field where ultimate union of forces was inevitable. For a long period the arc was dominant and supreme in the lighting branch of the electrical industries, in all respects, whether as to investment, employees, income, and profits, or in respect to the manufacturing side. When the great National Electric Light Association was formed in 1885, its organizers were the captains of arc lighting, and not a single Edison company or licensee could be found in its ranks, or dared to solicit membership. The Edison companies, soon numbering about three hundred, formed their own association--still maintained as a separate and useful body--and the lines were tensely drawn in a way that made it none too easy for the Edison service to advance, or for an impartial man to remain friendly with both sides. But the growing popularity of incandescent lighting, the flexibility and safety of the system, the ease with which other electric devices for heat, power, etc., could be put indiscriminately on the same circuits with the lamps, in due course rendered the old attitude of opposition obviously foolish and untenable.
The United States Census Office statistics of 1902 show that the income from incandescent lighting by central stations had by that time become over 52 per cent. of the total, while that from arc lighting was less than 29; and electric-power service due to the ease with which motors could be introduced on incandescent circuits brought in 15 per cent. more. Hence twenty years after the first Edison stations were established the methods they involved could be fairly credited with no less than 67 per cent. of all central-station income in the country, and the proportion has grown since then. It will be readily understood that under these conditions the modern lighting company supplies to its customers both incandescent and arc lighting, frequently from the same dynamo-electric machinery as a source of current; and that the old feud as between the rival systems has died out. In fact, for some years past the presidents of the National Electric Light Association have been chosen almost exclusively from among the managers of the great Edison lighting companies in the leading cities.
The other strong opposition to the incandescent light came from the gas industry. There also the most bitter feeling was shown. The gas manager did not like the arc light, but it interfered only with his street service, which was not his largest source of income by any means. What did arouse his ire and indignation was to find this new opponent, the little incandescent lamp, pushing boldly into the field of interior lighting, claiming it on a great variety of grounds of superiority, and calmly ignoring the question of price, because it was so much better. Newspaper records and the pages of the technical papers of the day show to what an extent prejudice and passion were stirred up and the astounding degree to which the opposition to the new light was carried.
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Edison, His Life and Inventions -by- F. L. Dyer and T. C. Martin