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It was among such practical, investigating folk as these that Edison was very much at home. Another notable man of this stamp, with whom Edison was thrown in contact, was the late Mr. Charles Williams, who, beginning his career in the electrical field in the forties, was at the height of activity as a maker of apparatus when Edison arrived in the city; and who afterward, as an associate of Alexander Graham Bell, enjoyed the distinction of being the first manufacturer in the world of telephones. At his Court Street workshop Edison was a frequent visitor. Telegraph repairs and experiments were going on constantly, especially on the early fire-alarm telegraphs of Farmer and Gamewell, and with the aid of one of the men there--probably George Anders--Edison worked out into an operative model his first invention, a vote- recorder, the first Edison patent, for which papers were executed on October 11, 1868, and which was taken out June 1, 1869, No. 90,646. The purpose of this particular device was to permit a vote in the National House of Representatives to be taken in a minute or so, complete lists being furnished of all members voting on the two sides of any question Mr. Edison, in recalling the circumstances, says: "Roberts was the telegraph operator who was the financial backer to the extent of $100. The invention when completed was taken to Washington. I think it was exhibited before a committee that had something to do with the Capitol. The chairman of the committee, after seeing how quickly and perfectly it worked, said: `Young man, if there is any invention on earth that we don't want down here, it is this. One of the greatest weapons in the hands of a minority to prevent bad legislation is filibustering on votes, and this instrument would prevent it.' I saw the truth of this, because as press operator I had taken miles of Congressional proceedings, and to this day an enormous amount of time is wasted during each session of the House in foolishly calling the members' names and recording and then adding their votes, when the whole operation could be done in almost a moment by merely pressing a particular button at each desk. For filibustering purposes, however, the present methods are most admirable." Edison determined from that time forth to devote his inventive faculties only to things for which there was a real, genuine demand, something that subserved the actual necessities of humanity. This first patent was taken out for him by the late Hon. Carroll D. Wright, afterward U. S. Commissioner of Labor, and a well-known publicist, then practicing patent law in Boston. He describes Edison as uncouth in manner, a chewer rather than a smoker of tobacco, but full of intelligence and ideas.
 The general scheme of a fire-alarm telegraph system embodies a central office to which notice can be sent from any number of signal boxes of the outbreak of a fire in the district covered by the box, the central office in turn calling out the nearest fire engines, and warning the fire department in general of the occurrence. Such fire alarms can be exchanged automatically, or by operators, and are sometimes associated with a large fire-alarm bell or whistle. Some boxes can be operated by the passing public; others need special keys. The box mechanism is usually of the ratchet, step-by-step movement, familiar in district messenger call-boxes.
Edison's curiously practical, though imaginative, mind demanded realities to work upon, things that belong to "human nature's daily food," and he soon harked back to telegraphy, a domain in which he was destined to succeed, and over which he was to reign supreme as an inventor. He did not, however, neglect chemistry, but indulged his tastes in that direction freely, although we have no record that this work was anything more, at that time, than the carrying out of experiments outlined in the books. The foundations were being laid for the remarkable chemical knowledge that later on grappled successfully with so many knotty problems in the realm of chemistry; notably with the incandescent lamp and the storage battery. Of one incident in his chemical experiments he tells the following story: "I had read in a scientific paper the method of making nitroglycerine, and was so fired by the wonderful properties it was said to possess, that I determined to make some of the compound. We tested what we considered a very small quantity, but this produced such terrible and unexpected results that we became alarmed, the fact dawning upon us that we had a very large white elephant in our possession. At 6 A.M. I put the explosive into a sarsaparilla bottle, tied a string to it, wrapped it in a paper, and gently let it down into the sewer, corner of State and Washington Streets." The associate in this was a man whom he had found endeavoring to make electrical apparatus for sleight-of-hand performances.
In the Boston telegraph office at that time, as perhaps at others, there were operators studying to en- ter college; possibly some were already in attendance at Harvard University. This condition was not unusual at one time; the first electrical engineer graduated from Columbia University, New York, followed up his studies while a night operator, and came out brilliantly at the head of his class. Edison says of these scholars that they paraded their knowledge rather freely, and that it was his delight to go to the second-hand book stores on Cornhill and study up questions which he could spring upon them when he got an occasion. With those engaged on night duty he got midnight lunch from an old Irishman called "the Cake Man," who appeared regularly with his wares at 12 midnight. "The office was on the ground floor, and had been a restaurant previous to its occupation by the Western Union Telegraph Company. It was literally loaded with cockroaches, which lived between the wall and the board running around the room at the floor, and which came after the lunch. These were such a bother on my table that I pasted two strips of tinfoil on the wall at my desk, connecting one piece to the positive pole of the big battery supplying current to the wires and the negative pole to the other strip. The cockroaches moving up on the wall would pass over the strips. The moment they got their legs across both strips there was a flash of light and the cockroaches went into gas. This automatic electrocuting device attracted so much attention, and got half a column in an evening paper, that the manager made me stop it." The reader will remember that a similar plan of campaign against rats was carried out by Edison while in the West.
About this time Edison had a narrow escape from injury that might easily have shortened his career, and he seems to have provoked the trouble more or less innocently by using a little elementary chemistry. "After being in Boston several months," he says, "working New York wire No. 1, I was requested to work the press wire, called the `milk route,' as there were so many towns on it taking press simultaneously. New York office had reported great delays on the wire, due to operators constantly interrupting, or `breaking,' as it was called, to have words repeated which they had failed to get; and New York claimed that Boston was one of the worst offenders. It was a rather hard position for me, for if I took the report without breaking, it would prove the previous Boston operator incompetent. The results made the operator have some hard feelings against me. He was put back on the wire, and did much better after that. It seems that the office boy was down on this man. One night he asked me if I could tell him how to fix a key so that it would not `break,' even if the circuit-breaker was open, and also so that it could not be easily detected. I told him to jab a penful of ink on the platinum points, as there was sugar enough to make it sufficiently thick to hold up when the operator tried to break--the current still going through the ink so that he could not break.
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Edison, His Life and Inventions -by- F. L. Dyer and T. C. MartinBottom Content goes here. Wikipedia content requires these links..... Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.