Edison Lab Notes
by Mark Caruana
I recently bought a few papers that were from Thomas Edison’s Lab in West Orange, New Jersey. The collector who parted with them had a number of file folders with assorted
notes and letters pertaining to Edison. These came from a folder which had contained correspondences related to Charles W. Luhr, who was the Vice President and Works Manager
for the Edison Phonograph Works in Orange, New Jersey.
The first letter in particular (dated Nov 30, 1923) is an interesting exchange between Edison and two employees. This letter is from A. Cartwright, from the Paper Product Division to
Mr. Luhr. In it he states
"I am submitting to you, for your consideration 4 Blue Amberol Cartons with Covers attached, the wall of the cover is spiral wound out of common .019 Chip board.
The top of the cover is made out of .062 box cardboard, which comes to us as a wrapper, or protector for our craft paper, which is used for making disc record envelopes, therefore there is
no specific cost for that material."
He then explains how he had taken the scrap cardboard to make the round disc used on the top of a Blue Amberol lid. He estimated that 450 of these top pieces could be made from
one piece of scrap cardboard that otherwise had no value. The need for this came about because the plant was having trouble securing a supply of suitable cardboard. As Mr. Cartwright
"Recently we have been held up in cover making, due to the fact that it seems difficult to get the proper jute stock, to make the one piece cover, and it was due to these circumstances
I thought I would try and make a substitute cover, which would have the desired results".
He also goes on to describe how
"if you have these tested out I think you will find them equal, if not better than the covers that were made heretofore by outside makers".
He concludes his letter by describing how the manufacturing process might be improved.
At the bottom of the letter is a hand-written note to Edison from the recipient of the letter, Charles W. Luhr, who forwarded the letter to Edison:
"Mr. Edison: We do not ask you to approve this proposed method of making Blue Amberol carton tops. They would not be desirable enough and soon go to pieces in a customer’s hands,
further the center disc is liable to warpage giving cartons a very unsightly appearance. It shows this man is using his head. (signed) Lehr."
It seems that Mr. Cartwright’s efforts did not yield very good results, making his proposal a little premature. Edison responds at the top of the letter:
"Lehr Yes he is using his head wish there were others, Edison".
The letter is c.c.’d to a Mr. Homer. I was unable to determine who he was but I would assume it could be Edison’s office assistant or secretary. It’s interesting to see
how this employee’s initiative was met with praise from Edison and I would guess that this kind of behaviour was common, as Edison was known to put a high value on looking for ways to
improve his products.
The next two letters, one of which is signed by Thomas A. Edison, concern the shaving knives used on the Ediphone Cylinder phonograph.
These letters are an exchange between an Edison lab employee, Mr. Johnston, and Mr. Luhr regarding the use of synthetic shavers on the Ediphone Cylinder machine. The first letter (8 ½ by 11 inches),
dated June 19, 1923, is from Mr. Johnston to Edison explaining how he had tested a synthetic shaving knife 6500 times and found it to still be sharp. Edison signs back the letter
The second letter (5 by 8 inches), dated 12-1-1924, is from Mr. Johnston to Mr. Luhr, Vice President and Works Manager, to let Mr. Luhr know that Edison signed the first letter with his OK as
approval to start using the synthetic knives on the Ediphones.
The text of these letters is as follows:
Synthetic Shaving Knives
I have tested two Special Ediphone Shaving Knives, by shaving on each knife 6500 times without changing the position of knives or setting. Compared the first shaving of knife on cylinder with the last
of the 6500 shavings and I find that the Knife is still sharp and edge is not damaged. At every 2 shavings, I had chattered the knife on records making deep cuts on records but this did not affect the
knife in any way. I do not think there is any doubt but that this knife will stand as much shaving as the regular knife and still keep its cutting edge.
Johnston June 19, 1923
Showed Mr. Edison a duplicate copy of My Reports in connection with Synthetic Shaving Knives. In which was dated June 19 1923. Mr. Edison was under the impression that these Knives were now
being used. However, He has put his O.K. on my duplicate copy which is an assurance from him that it is O.K. to use this Knife, instead of the ones now in use.