Stories For My Children
ONE DAY recently I told one of my children a story -- one of the stories in this collection. It interested her very much, and she said: "Gee, Dad, I didn't know you were that kind of a fellow." So, in order that my children may know what kind of a fellow I am, I have written these stories.
WHEN my older brother, Wilson, and I were young boys one summer day we had a heavy thunderstorm. It rained very hard. We took off our clothes and ran out in the garden in the rain naked. Our nurse saw us and ran out to bring us in. She tried to catch us both and bring us in, but she had to bring us in one at a time for when she had one she could not catch the other.
I REMEMBER the great excitement in New Brunswick, N. J., caused by the surrender of General Lee at the close of the Civil War. People ran about the streets shouting and making all the noise they could. My father had a small cannon; the bore was just large enough to put a 2 cent piece in. He was loading and firing it in our back yard. He "touched it off" with a piece of burning cotton cord on a stick about a yard long. He told me to touch it off, but I was afraid to. I was 7 years old. For several years after this we boys shot this cannon off many times every Fourth of July. Firearms of all kinds were much used in those days in celebrating Fourths of July.
One day, when I was about 11 or 12 years old, Wilson and I were down by the river below the steamboat dock. The river here was quite wide, and steamers ran regularly between New York and New Brunswick. A man on the opposite bank of the river shot a wild duck, which fell dead in the middle of the river. The man had no boat, and Wilson took off his clothes and swam out to get the duck.
He just about got it, when a man in a boat took in the man who shot the duck and rowed out to get the duck. Wilson swam for shore and the boat after him, but he got there first. I picked up his clothes, and we ran up the hill into the woods and kept the duck. We told our parents about our adventure. Mother was displeased with us for stealing the duck, but father only grinned. Father was a great sportsman and a very good shot. He made a trip each autumn to Illinois, where there was, in those days, a great abundance of ducks, prairie chickens, and other game.
ONE of my early memories is the keen interest I felt when my teacher explained the decimal system of notation and told us how the value of a figure depended on its position with relation to the decimal point. This was in the Rutgers Prep. School at New-Brunswick. I was about 10 years old. From 1871 to 1873 I went to school in Blairstown. The school was right out in the country. The main body of the school building, in which all the boys slept, had no heat in it. At night we each got a tin pail of water and put it near the stove in the school room. In the morning we got our pails of water and washed in our rooms. The water would freeze if kept in our rooms at night. In the autumn I spent my spare time snaring rabbits and quail and gathering nuts of various kinds. In the spring I gathered birds' nests and eggs and caught trout in Paulins Kill. I remember with pleasure the classes in mental arithmetic. I enjoyed them. I remember while I was there that for one or two days the air was full of smoke. We thought the woods on the mountains were on fire. It was the smoke from the burning city of Chicago, 800 or 900 miles away.
ONE summer, when I was about 16 years old, Venus was very bright in the western sky in the evening. My aunt, Mrs. Seabury, lived with us in New Brunswick. She told me that Venus was a planet which revolved about the sun in an orbit closer to the sun than the earth's orbit. I got a mental picture of the relative positions of Venus, the sun, and the earth, and told her that Venus, as she moved in her orbit, must pass through phases like the moon did, a crescent, a half round, and a full round body. She said: "No, Venus always looked round." We argued vainly about it, and then she wrote to one of the professors in Rutgers College about it. He told her I was right, and then she bought for me a book on astronomy, which I loved. I read it carefully and ever since I have been interested in astronomy. It is a very interesting subject, and each of you ought to know enough to identify the prominent celestial bodies and to know about our solar system and the stars, for new knowledge of them is being obtained all the time which enables us to know more and more about the origin or creation of the earth and the whole universe.
In the fall of 1873 I went to live with my Uncle Jacob Stout in New York, and went to the public school in Thirteenth Street near Sixth Avenue. Uncle Jacob's house was at Eighty-fourth Street and East River. In that school I first studied algebra. I liked it. I remember the pleasure I got in doing one of my early problems -- "The hands of a clock are together at 12 o'clock. When will they be together again?" I did it three different ways and the memory is fresh today.
It took over an hour to go from home to the school in a horse car. The cars were not heated in winter, but there was deep straw to keep our feet warm. After a year in the public school, I entered the preparatory class in the C. C. N. Y. In this year I began the study of geometry. In our first recitation I volunteered to do the problem on the blackboard. Soon after I began the demonstration the teacher stopped me, saying: "I want a boy to do it who has not studied geometry before." I told him I never had studied it before, but he was doubtful. However, he let me finish it. We became good friends afterward. I stayed there through that year -- through the freshman year and to Christmas in the sophomore year. The Latin and Greek came very hard to me, and I realized that I was wasting my time on them, so I quit and went home to New Brunswick to live, and wanted to get a job and go to work. But my mother persuaded me to go to the Rutgers Scientific School -- part of Rutgers College.
So I entered there after the Christmas vacation in 1876 in the freshman class. I enjoyed my studies here very much, and stayed there the rest of that year and all the sophomore year. Then Alfred Gibbs, who was a student at Stevens, got me so interested in the engineering course there that I entered Stevens in the fall of 1878. To take the full course and get a degree I would have to enter the freshman year, but I was not willing to do that, and I entered the sophomore class as a special student with the understanding that I would not get a degree. I loved the work there and did well in all the engineering classes.
Once I was sent to the blackboard to determine the stress on a member of a truss. I had not studied the lesson. I went to the board, made a sketch of the truss, and worked out the stress. The professor Wood --came along, looked at my work, and said it was wrong, and told me to look over it. I did, but found no mistake. He came back and looked over it himself and could find no mistake. Then he got the book which had the same problem worked out, and he found the book solution was wrong and mine was right. He was the author of the book, and nobody had noticed the error in the book.
I spent three happy years at Stevens, doing a great deal of work in the physical laboratory, and got all the electricity work I could. I did a lot of work in the lab for Dr. Morton, who was president of Stevens and who also was a patent expert. For the first job I did for him he paid me $5, and I went to New York and bought my first derby hat at Dunlap's, paying $5 for it.
When my class graduated, Dr. Morton called me in his office and said: "Mr. Howell, we want to graduate you and give you your degree. If you will say that at some time -- no time limit -- you will come back and pass exams in French and German, we will give you your degree." I said, "No, it would not be fair to my classmates, and I don't believe I would ever come back and do it"; so I did not get my degree. Eighteen years later they gave me an honorary degree of Electrical Engineer -- E. E.
I HAD a young setter dog when I was 18 years old. His name was Mickey Free. He was a good dog, but he died of distemper before he was a year old. I wanted another. Mr. Tom De Russy, who lived in New Brunswick, had a litter of young setter pups. He gave me one on condition that I would raise another one for him till it was 6 months old. He specified clearly which one was his and which was mine. His pup was a good one, was intelligent, had a good disposition, and learned his lessons easily and willingly; but my pup had a mean disposition; he would not learn his lessons or obey, and he was a sneak. When his worthlessness was fully recognized, I got rid of him and paid Mr. De Russy $10 for the good dog. His name was Tommo (after Tom De Russy). He lived about 12 years and every member of the family loved him. He went hunting with me whenever I went, and we took many long tramps in the country together.
One day when I was down on the meadows near South River shooting -- I was alone -- I shot a duck which fell in the middle of a small, shallow pond on the meadow. I waded in to get the duck. The water was shallow, but the mud was deep. I got the duck and stood still for a while admiring it. When I tried to go back, I was so deep in the mud that I could not walk. When I pulled one foot out and tried to make a step forward, that foot sank down in the mud, and I made no progress, so I kneeled down in the mud and came in on my knees. The large surface prevented my sinking much. This brought the water above my waist, but I got out. The duck was a very pretty one.
ABOUT 1875, when I was about 17 or 18, I bought a rowboat. It was round bottom, 15 feet long, 4 feet 2 inches wide. I named it Scud. I had a small mast and sail which would sail it when the wind was fair; but I could not tack much, for it had no keel or centerboard. The first summer we had it we explored the river as far as Perth Amboy --15 miles. My brother, Wilson, and I used it together a lot. Tom never cared for any sport.
In the second summer we rowed down to Sandy Hook -- 30 miles -- and spent two weeks camping there and exploring the Shrewsbury River, Pleasure Bay, the Horseshoe, and Highlands. One day we were out in the Horseshoe when a violent thunderstorm came up. It was so rough we could not land, so we went aboard a schooner which was anchored and stayed aboard her all night. Our clothes were wet, so we hung them up to dry and slept naked in the folds of a sail in the hold.
We got acquainted with the Sandy Hook lighthouse keeper, and one evening went up with him to see him light the lamp. He lit it, and after we came down it went out. He forgot to turn on the oil. He hurried back and turned on the oil.
That same summer we went around Staten Island. It took three or four days. We slept wherever we were at night; once on a wharf, once in the boat, and once in a barn half full of salt hay. The mosquitoes in this barn were terrible. At Princes Bay we met Jack and Tony Neilson. Jack had an encounter with a dog there, which bit his feet and ankles badly. We ran short of food there and got a pail of pickled clams from a fishing boat. They were the only supper and breakfast we had.
Another time we sailed to Pleasure Bay and walked from there to Ocean Grove after dark, arriving about midnight. The rest of the family were there waiting for us and were beginning to worry about us.
The next summer we rowed and sailed to Sandy Hook and out in the ocean and down the coast to Asbury Park, where we went ashore and spent a night in a tent. Our clothes were wet, so we took them all off to dry. We had an oil stove and we cooked a beefsteak. Gee, it was good! The next day we launched our boat again in the ocean and sailed down the coast to the head of Barnegat Bay. We did not know just where the bay began, so I swam ashore and looked for it. When we found it, we took the boat ashore through the surf, and pitched our tent on top of a sand dune near an abandoned one-room shanty known as Uncle Sammie's. We slept in the tent on the sand and it was a comfy bed. We could wiggle ourselves into a sand bed that just fitted. We kept our boat in the bay.
Gerry and Dick Hardenbergh came down by rail to Toms River, and we got them there and brought them over. We four stayed there about six weeks. The second day we all gave our money to Wilson to keep and be treasurer. He wrapped it in a corner of his handkerchief and lost the handkerchief and money. So we hadn't a cent! The next morning Gerry and I shot about 70 bay birds, and we sold them for 10 cents apiece to the hotel at Seaside Park, which was several miles away. By selling birds and bluefish we had all the money we wanted and came home with money in our pockets.
When shooting these bay birds we set out decoys on a sand bar which was just covered with water -- and we sat in a blind which concealed us. This blind was a circle of bushes or branches stuck in the sand within which were two boxes on which we sat. The water in the blind was 3 or 4 inches deep, and we were barefooted. Crabs came in between the branches and stayed there watching us, and as long as we watched them they stayed close to the spaces between the branches. But when some birds came along, and we looked up watching the birds and getting ready to shoot, the crabs immediately came at our toes. We had to stop up all the spaces so the crabs could not get in.
When we got up mornings, we took a dip in the ocean. One morning the surf was full of big bluefish feeding on small fish. I got my squid and line -- the only one we had -- and caught seven bluefish, which weighed 70 pounds when we sold them. Bluefish were plenty all day that day, but after these seven had been caught the fish were smaller and my hands were too sore to fish. We bought our supplies at Toms River, about 10 miles away, rowing over.
When our vacation was over and we were ready to come home, we made our last trip to Toms River and sent a letter home, saying we would start the next day. But a northeast storm came along, and we couldn't start for home for three or four days. When we got home, the family feared we had been lost in the storm. The blinds on the house were all closed and the family in grief.
The next summer -- I think it was 1878 -- Wilson and I made a long cruise. We went through the canal from New Brunswick to Bordentown, then down the Delaware River and Bay to Cape May. We left Cape May one morning, sailed or rowed out in the ocean and up the coast. We intended to go ashore in one of the inlets and camp for the night, but the surf was too high, so we had to keep on our way. We kept going, rowing all night and the next day, and we got to Atlantic City about 6 or 7 o'clock in the evening. The tide was running strong out of the inlet, and we had a hard pull getting in. That's the only time in my life I've been really tired out. We went to the nearest hotel for the night. As we had no baggage, the clerk asked us to pay in advance. I put down a $10 gold piece. Very little gold was in circulation there, and the clerk said: "What are you giving me that 2-cent piece for?" (Two-cent pieces were in circulation then and about the size of a $10 gold piece.) I said, "You look at that 2-cent piece." He did and apologized. We enjoyed our food and bed that night. From here we took the inside passage up to the head of Barnegat Bay, where we carried our boat over to the ocean, sailed or rowed up the coast to Sandy Hook, and then up the bay and river to New Brunswick, a cruise of about two weeks and about 350 miles.
When we were in Delaware Bay on this cruise we had a thundershower one afternoon. We did not want to get our clothes wet, so we took them off and put them in one of our waterproof duffle bags. The rain on our naked bodies was cold, so we jumped overboard into the warm water and held on the side of the boat till the rain was over. We spent one night at the Maurice Cove Lighthouse -- a lonely place -- and they were glad to have us. The father and two sons and Wilson and I ate dinner together, while the mother and a daughter cooked and served us. They ate later.
In the ocean, after we left Cape May, our compass needle spun round very fast for a considerable time. We held it in our hands and also put it on a seat in the boat. It kept right on spinning. A rapidly changing or rotating magnetic field must have been the cause. That was our last cruise. Wilson was working, and I used the boat for fishing, shooting and picnics down the river with the girls. There was snipe and rail and duck shooting down the river, and I often went alone with my setter dog, Tommo. We had plenty of game at home in the season. I also had quail and plover and dove shooting in the country about New Brunswick, and I had a good collection of bird skins and eggs. I had bought a gun before I bought the boat. For each I had to save up my money for months. In each case, when I had nearly enough saved up, my Grandmother Stout gave me the balance I needed.
Another boy who lived in New Brunswick -- George Hill -- was also fond of shooting. We never went out together, but there was a spirit of rivalry between us. I usually got more birds than he did. I had a dog, and he did not. When shooting glass balls thrown from a trap came out, he got an outfit and practiced a lot with it. Then he invited me to come and shoot some glass balls. I had never tried it, and he beat me easily. Then I challenged him to shoot a match with live pigeons. Each was to shoot at 12 birds. He was to furnish the birds for me to shoot, and I furnished the birds for him. He bought the birds in the market. We kept a flock of pigeons. The cellar floor in our house was level with the garden. The house was built on a hill. The evening before the match I enticed the pigeons inside the cellar by feeding them there, and when they were inside I closed the big doors. That night I picked out 12 birds with strong broad shoulders for Hill to shoot. He did not hit one, and they all came back home! I killed every one of his; but he had to pay me for the birds he shot at, for that was one of the terms of the match.
IN THE summer of 1880 -- my last summer vacation before going to work -- with Blair Gibbs, Bob Cook, and Otto Meyer, I took a cruise in the Bay of Fundy. We went to Eastport, Me., by water and looked about for a suitable boat. We found one. It was a 40-foor schooner which belonged to a man whose business was catching and canning sardines -- the fish were small herring. We made one trip in the boat catching these herring. They are caught in weirs or traps and scooped out in big scoop nets. They are taken immediately to the factory and cleaned and canned as soon as they arrive. The owner rented the boat to us for $ 5 a day, with a captain who knew the bay well. He also stocked our larder with sardines. We cruised along the New Brunswick shore first and were much interested in the rides. We landed nearly every day and Bob Cook geologized the rocks for us. Then we went over to the Nova Scotia shore. We went into a small harbor late one night and tied up alongside a dock. In the morning the boat was on the bottom. The harbor was dry and the water of the bay was half a mile away. It was low tide. We were in one harbor when a traveling butcher came along with his meats in his wagon. I went to him and asked for some beef steaks. He took down a leg of beef to cut, and I said: "Cut them here in the loin where the tenderloins are largest." He said: "That's roast beef, not beefsteak." When I insisted that he cut them there, he said: "Well, I will; but I will have to charge you 8 cents a pound for them."
One night the captain left the sailing to us while he went to bed. There was a fair breeze on our beam, and we kept her true to the compass. There was a light on the shore and, although we had a good wind, the light kept in the same bearing for a long time. Then we realized that we were sailing against a strong tide and were practically standing still. The water was too cold for bathing, and we were told that the fishermen up there do not learn to swim because the water is so cold.
We spent three weeks on the boat, and went up the bay to a point where the rise and fall of the tide was very great and interested us very much. There was a great deal of gypsum rock there, and we got very pretty specimens. The low cost of the boat, divided among four of us, and the low cost of food made it a very cheap vacation for us.
FROM 1890 to 1895 I rode horseback for exercise. During this time I owned four horses. The last one was a very good one, a red roan, part thoroughbred. He was very high spirited. I had to blindfold him in order to mount him, and when I pulled the handkerchief from his eyes after I was in the saddle he would start bucking and buck about a dozen times. I had a good seat and learned to enjoy the bucking as much as he did. I kept this horse -- Robin was his name -- until I married your mother. A year or two later we were at Amagansett. Your mother and another girl and I hired saddle horses for a ride one afternoon. I got a horse named Dick from Mr. Cozzens, who said he was frisky but not vicious. This horse had the habit of making a series of bucks just as he reached his home gate, but I didn't know it. When we finished our ride, as we came near Cozzens' place, I noticed about 20 men and boys sitting on the fence across the street. They had come to see the fun. Just then Dick started bucking. My weight went back and my seat was not disturbed a bit. I did not lose a stirrup and the crowd was disappointed. Robin had taught me to enjoy bucking. A few days later your mother and I wanted to take a drive. I had heard that Al Terry had a fine team and a buggy which he sometimes lent his friends. I went to see if I could get it. Terry was out by his barn. He said he never hired out his team, and I was disappointed. Then his stable man came and whispered to him. He turned to me and said: "Are you the feller who rode Dick the other day?" I said: "Yes." He then told me I could have his team any time I wanted it, and it was a good team.
I HAD learned to swim when quite young. We went swimming in the upper level of the canal at New Brunswick and also in the Raritan River. I never had a bathing suit. At Blairstown we went swimming in Buttermilk Pond. There was a large rock on one side of the pond and another on the opposite side. We had a competition. We all started from the big rock and swam across to the other rock, touched it and swam back, and kept on swimming across and back. The boys quit one by one as they got tired. I was the last to quit, and went across and back after all the others had quit. Later I swam a good deal in the ocean and became well acquainted with surf and ocean swimming.
At Amagansett -- I think it was in 1898 -- I went down to the bathing beach for a swim. The flag was flying then, which indicated that the bathing was good. When I came out of the bath house the flag was down, and the bathing master said a number of huge waves had come in and it was not safe to go in; but as no large waves were visible I went in and, as was my custom, went outside the breakers for a swim. I swam out some distance, and then saw some enormous waves coming. I swam farther out as fast as I could, hoping the waves would not break until they were past me. Luckily they passed me before they broke, and I rode them safely. They were the largest waves I had ever seen. When I was on top of a wave, I waved my arms at the people on the beach. The bathing master thought I was calling for help, but he could not possibly come through the surf to me. Nine of these great waves came in, and then no more were in sight and I came ashore. One of our neighbors who was on the beach was a Christian Scientist. When I came out, she said to me: "Mr. Howell, I saved your life. No man could live through that surf, but I gave you treatment which saved you."
For two or three days after this there was an unusually high surf all along the Long Island and New Jersey coasts, so all bathing was stopped. The papers said a West Indies hurricane had caused the heavy seas, but the weather with us was bright and pleasant.
IN DECEMBER, 1879, my brother, Wilson, went on a straw ride with a number of young men and girls. They drove to Menlo Park and saw the first public demonstration of Mr. Edison's electric lighting system. They were much impressed, and the next morning Wilson went to Menlo Park trying to get a job with Edison. He got the job -- long hours and no pay. He worked without pay for over a year. He was one of several young men who worked there, doing all kinds of work for Mr. Edison. They were real pioneers, for all the work at that time was pioneering.
In December, 1880, Mr. Edison made a second public demonstration. This time the wires carrying the electricity were laid underground. My brother, Wilson, laid these underground wires. He used No. 10 bare copper wires, which he made into cables of different sizes, and wrapped these bare cables with strips of muslin soaked in a bituminous compound which he concocted. The cables were laid in wooden troughs and buried in the ground.
Two years later, when we moved the lamp factory from Menlo Park to Harrison, we took up these copper cables, piled them, and burned the insulation off them, and we used these bare copper wires in wiring the Harrison lamp factory. The bare wires were run on the ceilings, stapled to the beams, and no fuses were used . They remained in use until we began to have rules and laws about electric light wires, and then they were taken down and replaced with insulated wires.
In 1880 I was living at Hoboken, attending Stevens Institute; but I spent Sundays home in New Brunswick, and through Wilson I became interested in Mr. Edison's work and soon got acquainted with him. I calculated a number of wiring tables for him from December, 1880, to June, 1881. These tables showed the sizes of wires necessary to carry different numbers of lamps different distances with different percentages of loss. Each table was based on a lamp of given resistance. He paid me $10 a table.
Dr. Morton got one of Edison's lamps and measured it in the lab. I watched him and learned how he did it. Then for my graduating thesis I got a number of lamps and made tests on them. I also got a dynamo and tested it. This thesis was widely published.
Mr. Edison started a lamp factory at Menlo Park in the fall of 1880. Incandescent electric lamp making was an entirely new industry; everything in the factory had to be made specially for it and progress was very slow. When I finished at Stevens, I got a job in this lamp factory -- July 6, 1881. Dr. E. L. Nichols had equipped a room for testing and photometering lamps. He left in July, 1881, and I got his job, with very little instruction from him. The wiring in the room was in confusion. I spent one Sunday tracing out the wires and making a diagram of them. After studying this diagram a long time I understood it. There were many wires there which were no longer used. I tore them out. Then I asked permission to tear out all the wires and rewire the room. Mr. Upton was afraid I could not get it working again, but he finally gave me permission. So I tore all the wires out, rewired it much more simply, and it was 0. K. That gave Mr. Upton confidence in me, and he gave me charge of all the electric wiring, and then the dynamos, motors, etc. When I had been at work three months, Dr. Morton sent me a letter offering me a job at $2,000 per year. I was getting $15 a week, or $780 a year. I showed the letter to Edison, and he said: "Do you want to take it?" I said: "No, I want to stay here." He said: "How much pay do you want to stay?" I said: "Thirty dollars a week." He gave it to me. It was big pay in that place. I was then nearly 24 years old.
WHEN the Edison Lamp Company was incorporated -- about 1883 -- Mr. Edison allowed me to buy one share of the stock -- par $2,000 -- for $1,800. I started paying for it at the rate of $5 a week, taken out of my wages. The voltage indicators used on all the electric light plants were being made at the lamp factory under my supervision. In 1884-85 my brother, Wilson, built a central station in New Brunswick. I set up the indicators for him, and they were very unreliable. While sweating over this job, I invented an entirely new method of indicating voltages at the different feeder ends which used a very simple instrument. I made a set of these indicators for the New Brunswick station and they worked perfectly. I explained the system to Mr. Upton. He admitted that the invention belonged to me and agreed to buy it for the lamp company for $1,000. Mr. Edison and Mr. Insull, the other officers of the lamp company, refused to pay $1,000, but offered me $500. Realizing that it was worth more than $1,000, I suggested that they make the indicators and pay me a royalty of $3 on each one sold. Such a contract was made and in the next four years they paid me $15,000 royalty. Then they bought my contract and patent for $10,000, paying me $1,000 a month for 10 months. When they made this contract with me they wanted to get foreign patents on the thing. After thinking it over, I offered them all foreign rights for the balance I owed on my share of stock. They accepted this offer, so my stock cost me about $800. This stock paid good dividends monthly -- $1, then $2, then $3. When the lamp company was merged into the Edison General Electric Company in 1889 I got for my stock $4,000 in cash and $7,500 in stock, which I later sold for $8,250.
When I got my job in the lamp factory, I was hired by Mr. Upton. Mr. William Holzer was superintendent. He married the first Mrs. Edison's sister. Holzer disliked Upton and all who worked directly for him. This included me and he hampered me greatly when I undertook to do work for Upton in the factory. He became so rank that I presented evidence of his misdoings to Mr. Edison, and we had a showdown, which ended in an hour by Edison firing Holzer. Then I could work freely in the factory. This was about 1887.
I did a lot of work on the mercury vacuum pump used in exhausting lamps. Each pump exhausted one lamp at a time, and in 1881 it took five hours to do it. A mercury pump will pump the air out of lamps but will not take out the water vapor, which is most injurious if left in the lamp. To remove this water vapor, we used phosphoric anhydride which is a wonderful absorber of water vapor. Changing the location of the "phosphorus cup" and putting it as close as possible to the lamp being exhausted was my first great improvement in the exhaustion. It reduced the time a lot. Heating the lamp bulb during exhaustion
freed the water vapor held by the glass and made a quicker and better exhaustion. Enlarging the parts of the pump and making it flow 8 pounds of mercury a minute instead of two and using an iron "contraction" which limited the flow of mercury was the last great improvement in the pump which I made. This iron contraction did not get dirty and diminish the flow as the glass contractions had done. These changes reduced the time of exhaustion to one-half hour for a complete cycle.
In 1890 the Edison patent covering his high-resistance lamp was being litigated in a suit brought by the Edison Electric Light Company against the United States Electric Light Company. A similar English patent had previously been litigated in England. The patent law requires that the patent specification must describe the article so well that a man skilled in the art can make the article using only the information which is in the specification. In the English case the court appointed three men, supposed to be skilled in the art, to make the lamps following the specifications. These three men were unable to make the lamps. The lawyers who were against the patent in this country knew of this and they put good experts on. These testified that the lamps could not possibly be made by following the instructions contained in the specifications, and they gave good scientific reasons why, but these reasons were based on a wrong assumption.
The Edison lawyers asked Mr. Edison to have men in his laboratory make the lamps. He put two of his men on the job, and, after working some time, they said they could not make them. Knowing all this, I undertook to make them. I got tar from the gas works. I made lampblack by letting kerosene lamps smoke their chimneys. I mixed these, kneading them until they made a very thick mixture, like thick putty. This I rolled on a glass plate with a stick about 1 inch wide, and I rolled out threads of the mixture which were 14 inches long and six thousandths of an inch thick. I coiled these and carbonized them as the patent directed, and thus made filaments for the lamps. Everything came out just as the patent described, and I made 30 or 40 lamps with no trouble at all. A number of these lamps were burned on life test for 600 hours and were good lamps. Our lawyers were immensely pleased and I got a raise.
Then I testified about making the lamps and stood my cross-examination well, and I got another raise. During the argument my testimony was bitterly but unsuccessfully attacked. The court sustained the patent, and the judge said in his decision that my testimony had completely refuted the claims that the patent did not give sufficient information to enable a man skilled in the art to make the lamps. Then I got another raise. Three raises for this work! I also received many congratulations for this work, some from lawyers and officers of the defeated company. This patent decision helped bring about the consolidation of the Edison Company and the Thomson-Houston Company to form the General Electric Company, for the Thomson-Houston Company was infringing the Edison patent in making incandescent lamps.
During subsequent years there has been a great deal of litigation of patents on incandescent lamps and in many of these I have given testimony which has been of considerable importance.
In Judge Mayer's opinion sustaining the Just and Hanaman patent on the tungsten filament he quoted part of a paper which I had read before the convention of the Association of Edison Illuminating Companies and said it aided him materially in deciding one of the main points of contention concerning the validity of the patent.
The lamps made by the Thomson-Houston Company were better than the lamps made by the Edison Company, because they subjected their carbon filaments to a treating process which was patented by Sawyer & Mann, and the Thomson-Houston Company was licensed under this patent. In this treating process the filaments were raised to very high temperature in gasoline vapor, and this improved their quality a great deal. Soon after the consolidation, this treating patent expired, and then I went to the Thomson-Houston lamp factory at Lynn, Mass., to see and learn this process.
The engineers there showed it to me freely, and told me their theories about it. I got a set of treating apparatus and took it to Harrison. I set it up and devoted a lot of time to studying it. I found that their ideas as to what were the best conditions for treating were wrong. After a while I made better filaments than were made at Lynn.
Soon after this Mr. Rice, who had charge of all manufacturing in the General Electric Company, came to Harrison and said to me: "We have two lamp factories -- one at Lynn and one at Harrison. We need only one. I want you to make 100 lamps, the best you can make, and send 50 of them to Lynn for test. Lynn will also make 100 and send 50 to you for test. I want to know which can make the best lamps." So I made 100 lamps, doing most of the work myself -- treating the filaments the way I thought best -- and sent 50 of them to Lynn. Lynn also made 100 and sent me 50.
So we both started tests on the two makes of lamps. After a while Mr. Rice again came to Harrison and said: "Howell, the Lynn boys admit your lamps are better than theirs, so we will shut down the Lynn factory and such of the Lynn men as you want will come to Harrison and work for you." I was soon after this -- in April, 1894 -- appointed engineer and assistant manager of the lamp works. Mr. Upton was manager. He was one of Mr. Edison's early assistants and had been manager of the lamp works since 1880. I continued to improve the treating process and worked out a method which enabled me to make a nearly automatic treating machine, which produced a more uniform quality of carbon filaments than had ever before been produced and produced them in large numbers. A valve devised for this treating machine was used later in the lamp-exhausting machine.
Before the formation of the General Electric Company the Thomson-Houston Company had hired a man who taught them to make squirted cellulose threads which, when carbonized, made carbon filaments. The process had not been developed to a commercial success, but they had made many filaments. Their 110 volt cellulose filaments seemed to be defective, for in lamps they all broke at the same spot. After the consolidation these filaments were brought to Harrison and the development of the process continued. We found that the filaments which had been made in Lynn and were considered defective were 0. K. when treated in my treating apparatus. The cause of their all breaking at the same point in Lynn was in the treating process not being good. Our chemist we had only one then worked on the process and made our filaments by it. He was not very successful and our stock of filaments was very small.
I hired a second chemist, and the day he came to work the first chemist left without showing anyone the details of making squirted filaments, and we depended entirely on these filaments for our lamps. The next morning the man who ran our carbonizing furnaces told me the filaments came out all stuck together. I asked him why it was. He replied that he knew, but wanted a raise before he told me. I told him to get his hat and coat, and I accompanied him to the gate and fired him. Then we had a job on our hands. Mr. Marshall took charge of the carbonizing. Our new chemist was just out of college and had no experience, but he and Mr. Doane and I tackled the squirting process. We had very few filaments in stock, and were afraid we would have to shut down the factory.
We made these filaments by dissolving paper in zinc chloride passing it through a filter and then squirting it through a die into alcohol, which set it into a thread, which was then washed and dried. Our trouble came in trying to filter it. Only about one-fourth of the stuff would go through no matter how long or how hot we mixed it. We worked from 8 a.m. to midnight for several days and made little progress. We had three mixers, and we noticed that the stuff from one of the mixers came through the filter a little better than the others. We made all sorts of experiments, but could not account for the difference. It was Saturday afternoon; I was there with one man; I again measured the speed of each of the three mixers. Two ran 70 turns per minute and the good one ran 71. I thought this could not possibly cause the difference in mixing, but I changed a pulley so one of them ran about 100. The stuff from this mix all went through the filter and our troubles were over. In the meantime, Mr. Marshall had mastered the carbonizing. So now we had plenty of filaments, but our stock was about all used up, and we would have had to shut down the factory in a day or two if we had not worked out our problems when we did. Mr. Rice wrote a letter to Marshall, Doane and me, thanking us for our work and congratulating us on our success.
WHEN we were making squirt fibers, the cellulose solution was squirted through dies into alcohol. Along one side of the squirt room there was a long row of jars of alcohol. These jars were filled by a hose connected with a barrel of alcohol on a platform about 8 feet high. When this barrel was empty, it was filled by connecting the hose with a new barrel of alcohol on the floor and applying air pressure to this barrel to force the alcohol up and into the high barrel. One day I stood in the doorway of this room watching this operation. When the air pressure was turned on, the head of the barrel blew out, emptying the 50 gallons of alcohol on the floor. On a bench along the side of the room, opposite where I stood, were three Bunsen burners, burning. I ran across the room, walking in the alcohol on the floor, and turned off the gas from all the burners. Then I trembled all over. Alcohol vapor is heavier than air and rises slowly. If it had reached one of the flames before I did, there would have been a big explosion and everyone in the room would have been burned to death.
THE Edison Lamp Works were now -- 1899 -- making the best lamps ever made, and our sales department inaugurated a new plan. Many large users of lamps placed orders for a year's supply. To each such customer our men would propose a test to determine which of the various makes of lamps on the market was the best. We would lend to such customers all the apparatus needed for the test and instruct them, so they could make the tests themselves. There were a number of independent lamp makers in the business. Whenever these tests were made our lamps proved to be better than theirs and we got the orders. This discouraged the independents and every one of them was losing money.
Mr. Coffin (president of General Electric Company) saw his opportunity in this condition, and he conceived the plan of consolidating all these independent companies into one company and of controlling that company, and thus controlling a very large part of the lamp business in this country. Terry and Tremaine engineered this consolidation for Mr. Coffin, and in this way the National Electric Lamp Company was formed, and the General Electric Company controlled all its common stock. The National Company was licensed under the patents of the General Electric Company, and their factories were equipped with machines made at our Harrison works, and under the very able management of Terry & Tremaine the National Company became very prosperous. Later, at the request of the United States Government, the General Electric Company took over the National Company, and it became the National Lamp Works of the General Electric Company.
In 1895 a patent was issued to Arturo Malignani for a method of exhausting lamps. He used a mechanical pump which took out most of the air. Then he vaporized some phosphorus inside the lamp. This precipitated or combined with the water vapor and remaining gases. This was all done in about two minutes. Malignani lived in Italy, way up north at Udine, right at the foot of the Alps. I was told to go there and investigate. Your mother and I were preparing to be married April 30th. The invitations were ready to be sent out. So we changed the date on the invitations to April 23d, and we sailed on the old Majestic on the morning of the 24th. We landed in Liverpool, went to London, then to Paris, then to Milan, and then to Udine. We could not speak Italian, and we could not find an interpreter, so we telegraphed to Milan and a man connected with the Milan Edison Company came to our aid. In the meantime, we had a good time, getting what we wanted with the aid of a book of Italian and English words and sentences.
We visited Germany and France on our way back and learned the state of the lamp-making art in these countries. Your mother spoke French and German and I did not, so she was my interpreter. She went wherever I did and got considerable knowledge of the lamp business and was of great assistance to me. Malignani's invention revolutionized the art of producing the vacuum in incandescent lamps, and all vacuum lamps made today 1930 use his method of producing a good vacuum. He had built electric generators and motors and a trolley line. Then he tried to make incandescent lamps, using a pump which was not capable of producing a good vacuum, and he discovered a way of getting a good vacuum with this poor pump. Later he came to New York, and we purchased his patent for $30,000, which to him was a large fortune.
When I got back home after this trip to Udine I telephoned Mr. Eyre, who was manager of the lamp works. I said: "Hello, Eyre! This is Howell." He said: "Is this John Howell?" "Yes," I said. "Thank God! Come here as fast as you can," he exclaimed. There was trouble in the exhaust department, which I corrected at once. At that time I was riding a bicycle back and forth from the house to the factory.
I improved the apparatus used by Malignani greatly, so one girl with one pump could exhaust 600 lamps in a day of 10 hours, and the vacuums produced in this way were very good and very uniform. The pumps and other equipment necessary for equipping our factory for this Malignani exhaust were all paid for with the money we received from the sale of mercury used in our old pumps.
In 1896 I made the first really good glass-working machine used in the Edison Lamp Works. It was a sealing-in machine in which the parts revolved about a vertical axis. I had had it in mind for a while, but the foreman of our glass department told me the parts would not seal together in this position -- they must be horizontal. Not convinced, I asked him to try it and show me. He did and it worked perfectly. This machine enabled an unskilled operator to seal in 600 lamps a day where before a skilled operator would do 200 or 250. This increased the capacity of our glass room very greatly at a time when we were crowded for space there, for our business was growing fast. Our success with this vertical sealing-in machine led to the making of the first stem-making machine -- also a great success. I outlined this machine to Mr. Burrows, and he made it while I was away.
IN THE summer of 1898 we were in Amagansett and Frederica was 2 years old. Your mother read me a description in the Sunday paper of the game of golf and aroused my interest in it. She wrote to Spalding and got some clubs and balls and a booklet describing the game and its rules. We sunk three cans for cups in a large pasture field near by and played there together. She had left-hand clubs and I had right-hand clubs. We also had two holes on the dunes playing back and forth over a large sand dune. The next summer we joined with several other summer residents in laying out a seven-hole course in the neighborhood of Judge Davis' cottage, and we used this homemade golf course for several summers. Once, I think in 1899, we went to the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club and watched Mr. Travis playing in a tournament. When we moved into our Ballantine Parkway home in the spring of 1900 we joined the Forest Hill Field Club and played there a great deal. Soon after that I joined the Essex County Country Club and later the Baltusrol Golf Club, and have played golf steadily ever since 1898, with great benefit to both health and happiness. Your mother tells me this is what she hoped for when she first interested me in the game, realizing that I needed an outdoor recreation with congenial men. She did me a good turn then!
IN THE autumn of 1902 and in the winter I was sick. I had I bronchitis and chills and fever, and real chills and real fever, and was in pretty bad condition. In June, 1903, the doctor sent me to the Lake Placid Club to stay all summer. I weighed only 123 pounds. I loved the climate there. I played golf every day and got well fast. I was there 10 weeks without coming home, and when I came home I weighed 153 pounds, which has been my weight ever since. During the following 25 years I went to the Adirondacks every year except two.
In July, 1919, your mother and I walked through the preserve of the Adirondack League Club. We started at Little Moose Lodge, where we spent two or three days exploring the country about there. Then, with a guide, we walked to Green Lake, where we spent a night. Then on to Bisby Lodge, where we spent two or three days. Then on to Honnedaga, where we met the Lovejoys and Rices, who were old friends. We stayed there over a week -- fished Jones Lake, where the Caddis flies were hatching, and the trout exciting us greatly by rising all around us for the Caddis flies, but not paying much attention to our flies. We joined the club and spent the month of August there, spending many nights in the outlying camps and fishing in the various lakes. Your mother was a very good companion both in camp and while fishing, and we had many very happy trips together. She often paddled the canoe or boat while I fished, and she did it well, and she often fished herself. We went there every August for 10 years and have many very happy memories of the place.
ABOUT 1894 my boss -- I will call him Mr. Francis -- said to me one day: "A few of us are going into a speculation. A concern in Chattanooga makes 'lava' gas tips. We think their material will make good insulators, which will have large use in the industry. We each buy two shares of their stock for $200, and they give us an option to buy a controlling interest in their stock. If you want to come in with us, you can." I paid $200 and got two shares of stock. I heard very little more about it, and the matter passed out of my mind. About five years later a man called at my office and said he was Mr. Stewart, of the Lava Company. He said: "You have two shares of our stock; it has never paid a dividend and never will; I want to buy the stock and will give you $100 for it." After some talk I sold my two shares for $100. Then he said: "Mr. Stieringer has two shares; can you give me his address?" I gave it to him. Then I said: "Mr. Francis has two shares." "No," he said, "he sold his to you." Mr. Francis had left our company some time before this.
About 1900 the Nernst lamp was invented in Germany. The Westinghouse people bought the American patents and offered the General Electric Company an interest in them. Mr. Rice asked my opinion on the lamp. I made an investigation of the lamp and reported unfavorably on it. We did not buy it. It never was a commercial success. About 1902, as well as I can remember, a Mr. Crawford made some carbon filament lamps in London, which were life tested by the English post-office officials with remarkably good results. An officer of the General Electric Company, who was in London, saw the report on this test and was anxious to buy Crawford's invention. Mr. Rice consulted me about it, and I said: "Buy it on condition that he makes lamps here which give similar results on test." So Crawford came here. We fitted up a laboratory for him in Harrison, and he went to work. The lamps he made were no better than our regular lamps.
He made several lots, but none were better than our lamps. He was disappointed and puzzled. One day he told me he had two of the lamps which were tested in London with such good results. He brought them to me, and I solved his puzzle. The lamp had been measured for candle power and efficiency at 220 volts, and had been burned for life test on a London electric circuit which was 200 volts. So he went home a disappointed man.
In 1906 -- in March -- Dr. Whitney, who was director of the General Electric research laboratory, and I went to Europe together. We had seen in a trade paper a statement that a tungsten filament had been invented in Austria. We also had other things to look up. We went to Berlin and had our headquarters at the Hotel Bristol. We visited the A.. E. G., with which the General Electric Company was allied, and the Siemens & Halske Company, from whom we had a license to make Tantalum lamps. Also Bergman & Co. Bergman was one of Mr. Edison's early associates and an old friend of mine. We also visited other electrical concerns, and we were made welcome everywhere. We saw some metal filament lamps in a store window, which I thought were osmium lamps. These metal filaments were connected to their lead-in wires by fusion. It was a very pretty joint, and I wanted to learn about it, and, if possible, get a license to use it.
We inquired and found that the lamps were made by the Auer Company, which made osmium lamps. We called on this company and, after we had established our identity, they told us they were making lamps with filaments of tungsten, the first we had ever seen. They showed us reports of tests on these lamps, showing long life at 1 ¼ watts per candle. These reports showed that these lamps required less than half as much energy as our carbon lamps. We were delighted and expressed our delight and appreciation without reserve, and told them that the General Electric Company must have their United States rights. We did a lot of cabling home, and I got about 40 of the lamps and came back home with them, so they could be tested in our own laboratory.
I went right back to Berlin, and General Griffin and Mr. Neave came over and started negotiations for their American rights. Whitney and I also went to Vienna and met Dr. Kusel, who also claimed to be the inventor of the tungsten filament. We also met the representatives of Just & Hanaman, who also claimed to be the inventors of the tungsten filament. We got samples of lamps from these people also and entered into negotiation for their American patent rights. None of them had yet filed applications for United States patents, but they all did so. The Auer people told us that about a week before Whitney and I came there two representatives of the Westinghouse Company had been shown the lamps and reports which we saw. They were skeptical and did not show the appreciation and enthusiasm which Whitney and I did. So they dealt with us and not with the Westinghouse men. Later the General Electric Company acquired the American patent rights of all these parties, and the United States patent on the tungsten filament was issued to Just & Hanaman and was assigned to the General Electric Company. Whitney and I had a wonderful time traveling about wherever rumors of lamp inventions took us.
He was a delightful companion, and I got really to love him. We took many trips to points of interest. At Pfingsten (our Whitsuntide) the Germans hold a three-day holiday, so Dr. Whitney and I went to St. Moritz in Switzerland. We climbed a snow-capped mountain and investigated a glacier. The mountain was close to the town. It was quite cold in the morning, and I took three cups of coffee to warm me. When we got about half way up my heart was beating 140, and I had to rest, so Whitney went on ahead. I came along slowly, resting when my heart got too fast. When I arrived at the top, I saw plenty of footprints in the snow, but no Whitney. I whistled loud, but got no answer. I was badly frightened and hunted around till 12:30 and then went back to the hotel. No Whitney! So I got two guides, and we went up the mountain again. This time my heart did not go fast, so I believe it was the coffee that made it go fast in the morning. The guides started off down the other side of the mountain, and I waited about. About 5 o'clock I saw a man down by the town waving a handkerchief, and I hurried down. There was Whitney! He had gone down the other side of the mountain and around another one. I was glad to see him safe home again.
We were both tired, but we walked to an inn about 2 miles away for supper. We ate in a room with the toughest set of men I ever saw together. I felt quite scared. We tried to get a carriage to take us back to our hotel, but we could not. So we walked the 2 miles and were glad to get in our warm beds.
On our way back to Berlin we visited a laboratory at Augsburg near Munich and saw some Just & Hanaman lamps and filaments and reports on tests made on them. We visited several other inventors and got information which was useful to us later. About September 1st Whitney went home, and I went up into Scotland and played golf on four of the celebrated links -- Prestwick, Troon, St. Andrews and North Berwick. Although I was alone, I found players to play with at each place and had a very good time. I also stopped at Rugby and had a visit with Irwin Howell.
I had one game of golf in Berlin at the Berlin Golf Club. After an early lunch I went to the golf club alone. A number of men were eating their lunches at a long table in the lunch room and out on the piazza one man was eating alone. He looked lonely and, as he had finished his lunch, I asked him if he was looking for a game. He was, and we introduced ourselves; but I did not get his name. He spoke English. We played 18 holes and came out about even. After the game, in the locker room, he said he would like another game with me, and wrote his name and telephone number on a card which I now have before me
That evening I showed the card to Dr. Berliner, who was astonished. Von Roon was a son of Admiral von Roon, commander of the navy during the Franco-Prussian War. He was a member of the General Staff. He ate alone on the piazza because no one dared sit with him except on his invitation. He was a very agreeable playfellow. I was obliged to start for Vienna the next day, so I did not see him again.
DURING the years in which I played golf at Baltusrol a lot of us took the 12:32 train from Newark to Short Hills each Wednesday noon and took cabs (25 cents) to Baltusrol. There we had lunch and played golf in groups of four. After the game we all gathered in the cafe, had some refreshment and talked. This after-the-game gathering, often spoken of as the nineteenth hole, was a most enjoyable affair and no business cares bothered us at that time. We had some very interesting men in our party. One day in the midst of this pleasant time an impulse came to my mind to call the factory on the telephone; not to call any individual, but just call the factory. I resisted it, as I did not want to leave the party, but the impulse was very definite. So I went to the telephone and called the factory, not having any individual in my mind to ask for. When I got the factory operator I said: "This is Mr. Howell." "Oh, Mr. Howell", the girl said, "Schenectady is calling you," and she switched me on the Schenectady wire and, without a bit of delay, I talked with the party who wanted me. It was Mr. Davis, head of our patent department.
IN MAY, 1902, I saw a small automobile on the street in Newark. It was stopped at the curb. I spoke to the man in it. It was an Oldsmobile. He was the agent. He took me for a ride and left me at the factory in Harrison, where I ordered one. I got it in a few days. It was very good for getting over to the factory and back -- when it didn't rain -- for it had no top and no windshield. Once your mother and I were caught down town in a shower. Mr. Burrows happened to pass, and he lent us an umbrella. Mother held up the umbrella while I drove home. The speed of that car was about 12 miles an hour -- not enough to interfere much with holding an umbrella.
On Decoration Day we drove it up to the Essex County Country Club, where tea was served on the lawn in the afternoon. Everyone else came in carriages, and our automobile scared the horses and made the people angry. So the governors made a rule forbidding autos entering the front entrance, and we had to enter via Mount Pleasant Avenue and the road by the old golf house. I often came in through Mr. Rand's driveway. We could not park the car in front of the club house, but must park it behind the house. Car or drivers' licenses were not required then. My first license was issued by the park commission, permitting me to drive in the parks. The car required oiling every 10 miles. We steered with a tiller. The starting crank was on the side, where the driver could use it while in his seat. The car had a bicycle bell for signaling and a bicycle acetylene lamp for a headlight.
WHEN the General Electric Company was formed by consolidating the Edison General Electric Company and the Thomson-Houston Electric Company, Mr. Coffin, who was president of the Thomson-Houston Company, became president of the General Electric Company. He was a wonderfully able and courageous man. He was the genius of the General Electric Company, and the company is today what he made it. There were other very able men in the Thomson-Houston Company, and they dominated the General Electric Company in nearly all departments. But the Edison Lamp Works was an exception. It remained in control of the old Edison men always, and it has also developed two men who are vice presidents of the General Electric Company, with broad fields of usefulness -- Mr. George F. Morrison and Mr. William R. Burrows. Both of these men worked for me. I recognized their abilities and aided their development as much as I could. Both were promoted, with my full approval and at my suggestion, from positions in which they worked for me to positions in which I worked for them, and I have great pride and satisfaction in the achievements of these two men and the part which I had in their development.
DURING the period of the carbon filament -- from 1881 to 1907 -- a great many inventors brought their inventions to the General Electric Company for sale. These inventions were all submitted to me for my opinion as to their usefulness and value. Some were purchased and more were not, but we never purchased an invention that was not of value to us, and we never turned one down that we afterward wished we had purchased.
I RECEIVED the Edison Medal for the year 1924. This medal is awarded once each year for meritorious achievement in electrical science of electrical engineering or the electrical arts. The award is made by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, to a recipient selected by the Edison Medal Committee of the Institute. This committee is composed of 24 men who are prominent in the various branches of electrical engineering or science. Each year several candidates for the medal are presented to the committee and their records of achievement are carefully considered. One of the candidates is selected by ballot. I did not know that my name had been presented to the committee and the award was a complete surprise to me. The award of this medal by this committee of prominent engineers and scientists, most of whom knew my work, was a very great honor. I received many letters from prominent electrical engineers and scientists approving the award to me and congratulating me, all of which made me very happy.
IN MARCH, 1920, my associates in the Edison Lamp Works gave a dinner in my honor in the Union League Club in New York. At this dinner they presented to me a loving cup, the inscription on which makes it my most cherished possession. The inscription reads
JOHN W. HOWELL
With esteem and affection
From his friends and associates
EDISON Lamp Works
This event did not celebrate an anniversary nor was it connected with any other event, and the expression of esteem and affection by these men who knew me well, and most of whom had been my fellow workers for years, pleased me and still pleases me, more than any other event in my working life.
FROM December, 1880, when I calculated wiring tables for Mr. Edison, to December, this year, 1930, will be 50 years. During these 50 years I have worked continuously on or in connection with the Edison Incandescent Lamp. I am now well past the retirement age 70 -- and Mr. Swope has agreed that I will remain on the active list until my 50 years of service are completed. January 1st, next, I will be retired.
THE ALLEN CASE
IN SEPTEMBER, 1904, John Allen, an inventor, made a deal with some officers of the General Electric Company. He said he had invented a new filament. The company agreed to pay his laboratory expenses while he developed his invention. We also gave him apparatus and baked some filaments for him. In December, 1904, he told us he had finished his work and had filed his patent applications. So in the last week of December, 1904, I went to his laboratory at York, Pa. He explained his invention to me and showed me the filaments. His invention was making an oxide filament -- a Nernst filament -- which was a conductor when cold and would start without requiring to be heated. He accomplished this by mixing very fine tungsten powder with the oxide. About the middle of January, 1905, he brought a number of his filaments to Harrison. We put them in lamps and exhausted them. In his presence we measured their characteristics on a photometer. At moderate temperature these filaments disintegrated and discolored the bulbs while we were measuring them. They were no good and Allen went home disgusted. He wrote to me asking me to send him the lamps we had tested. I did so, but kept one -- a good sample. This one I put in my lamp cabinet.
IN 1908 a patent was issued to Allen. It described some construction details of a tungsten filament lamp. The drawings in the patent showed details which, to my mind, represented the state of the tungsten filament lamp in 1907. The date of application for the patent was January, 1905, the very time we were testing oxide filaments for Allen. So I felt sure the patent as issued had not been filed in January, 1905. This patent stated that it was a division of another application which Allen had filed December 29, 1904 -- the very week I had visited Allen in his laboratory at York, where he was making oxide filaments -- and that the December 29 application described and claimed lamps with filaments of pure tungsten. So I felt sure something was wrong with this patent. I then wrote to our patent department at Schenectady, telling them my suspicions and asking them to send some one to examine the papers relating to this patent in the Patent Office. (After a patent has been issued all the papers in the Patent office relating to it are open to inspection by anyone.) Our patent department sent a man, who examined all these papers, and he reported they were O.K. No changes had been made since the application was filed in January, 1905. I then wrote again, asking if the drawings in the patent had been changed since it was filed. Another man went to the Patent Office and reported that the drawings in the patent had not been changed, but were just as they were filed in January, 1905.
This satisfied our patent department that the patent was O.K., but I was not satisfied. So I saw Mr. Rice and told him the story and asked him to send the best expert he could to examine every detail of the papers in the Patent Office. He did send such an expert. In the meantime the officers of Allen's company were trying to sell the patent to the General Electric Company for half a million dollars. Our expert found everything connected with the case in perfect order, all dates and stamps on the application papers agreeing perfectly with those recorded in the records of the Patent Office. Everything seemed O.K. Then he observed a watermark on the paper on which the patent application was written. It bore the name of the Whiting Company. He made a tracing of this watermark and took it to the office of the Whiting Company. There he learned that paper with that watermark was first made in 1906, and yet it was officially stamped by the Patent Office January, 1905.
He got from the Whiting Company an affidavit stating that that watermark was first used in 1906. This affidavit was taken to the Commissioner of Patents in Washington and the matter left in his hands. The Patent Office examiner, who had charge of the division in which this case was, Allen, and Allen's patent lawyer were arrested and brought to trial charged with fraud. At the trial the examiner and lawyer pleaded guilty, and they testified that Allen knew nothing about the fraud. Allen also said he knew nothing about it, but there was plenty of evidence that he did know about it. The jury was composed of both white men and negroes. They acquitted Allen and convicted the others, who were sent to jail.
ALLEN'S application of December 29, 1904, which was still in the Patent Office, naturally came under suspicion. An examination showed evidence of fraud in it also. So the Commissioner of Patents started proceedings to investigate this application, and Allen was ordered to show cause why his application should not be condemned as fraudulent. Allen replied that he had been guilty of no fraud, and that he could prove that he had made tungsten filaments and lamps at the time he claimed he had. The Patent Office proceedings were like a regular court trial. The Assistant Commissioner of Patents sat as judge, and lawyers representing other inventors who claimed that they had invented the tungsten filament were present at the hearing and could cross-examine the witnesses.
Allen had a witness named Simon, a glassblower, who testified that he had made a large number of tungsten filament lamps for Allen in November and December, 1903. He brought into court about two dozen real tungsten filament lamps, which he testified were made by him at Allen's orders in 1903. He said he had taken these lamps to his home and had kept them there ever since. The lamps were all numbered. Simon also produced two notebooks, one a pocket notebook in which he had notes of each day's work, the other a large notebook which had been kept in Allen's office and in which Simon had copied each morning the entries made the previous day in his pocket notebook. These books described the making of the tungsten lamps which he had.
Each day's entry in each book was carefully dated. Simon also produced the written orders which Allen had given him, directing him how to make each of the lamps. These orders were written on sheets from a pad which was perforated, so the sheets could easily be torn off. These also were all dated November and December, 1903. The details of these lamps showed to my satisfaction the state of development of the tungsten lamp in 1908, and I felt sure they were not made in 1903. Simon was a good witness and his testimony worried our lawyers a good deal, for, if true, it proved very conclusively that Allen had made tungsten filament lamps in 1903.
Then we called Mr. Osborn, the "Examiner of Questioned Documents," to Washington to examine Simon's notebooks. He looked over the pocket notebook and said the entries had not been made day by day, but had been made in three sittings. Then he examined the book page by page. The pages were all dated -- November 17, 1903; November 18, 1903, and so on. Then one was dated November 21, 1908, and he found two other pages dated 1908 -- plainly and unmistakably. On cross-examination Simon insisted these dates were 1903, although they did look like 1908. The Commissioner of Patents looked at the dates and took Simon and his lawyer into his private office. After they returned to the court room the commissioner said: "Mr. Simon, have you anything to say?" Simon stood up and said: "I made those lamps in 1908 on orders from Allen." They sent for Allen. When he came into court and heard what had happened, he acted like a wild man. He said Simon was a liar, that the lamps were made in 1903, and that his written orders to Simon, which were there, proved it. We got from the court one of the leaves from the perforated pad on which Allen's orders were written and sent a man to York, Pa., where Allen's work had been done, to see what he could learn about it. He found the stationer who had made the pad. He knew it by an imperfection in his perforator. His books showed that he sold the pad to Allen in 1906, and that he had bought that perforating machine in 1906.
This stationer was an honest seeming man, and he brought his books to Washington and testified that he made the pad in 1906. Allen had other evidence to prove that he had made tungsten lamps in 1903. He produced a photograph of a lamp which he testified he had made in January, 1905, and which had been tested in Harrison by Mr. John W. Howell. It was a photograph of one of the lamps which I had tested for him, but I testified that the filament was not tungsten. It was exactly like the lamp I had kept when I returned the others to Allen in 1905. I produced this lamp. In my lamp and in Allen's photograph the platinum wires which led the current through the glass and which extended inside the lamp to support the filament were only about one-quarter the size or area of the filament. If this filament was, as I testified, an oxide filament which had a very high specific resistance and required a small current to heat it, the small platinum wire was ample to carry the current that the lamp required; but, if the filament was tungsten, a low-resistance metal, the current required to heat it would melt the thin platinum before the filament gave light. I made a tungsten filament lamp of the same dimensions as shown in Allen's photograph, and when I passed current through it in the court room the filament did not get red hot, but the platinum wires did get red hot, proving that the lamp in Allen's photograph did not have a tungsten filament. So Allen's application was declared fraudulent and the Commissioner of Patents presented the evidence to the grand jury, which indicted Allen for perjury and subornation of perjury. When the case was called for trial, they could not find Allen and he has never been brought to trial.
About two months ago 1930 I met a man who told me he was interested in an invention of a new filament for incandescent lamps which was several times as efficient as the tungsten filament now in general use. He said the invention was not yet perfected and the filaments were not yet entirely uniform in quality, but the inventor assured him it soon would be perfected. He told me the inventor's name was Allen. I advised him not to put any more money in the venture.
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