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A nseasure 


of greatness 




The Glass Giant of Palomar 

The Colorado Conquest 

What You Should Know about Submarine Warfare 

Beloved Scientist 

Builders for Battle 

Battlejronts of Industry 

A Measure for Greatness 

Edward Weston in the prime of life. 

A Measure for 





New York, Toronto, London 



Copyright, 1949, by the McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. Printed in the 
United States of America. AH rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, 
may not be reproduced in any form without permission of the publishers. 


Biographies reciting the struggles in the lives and works of foun 
dation electrical engineers who are gone are of great encouragement 
to the active exercise of originality, vision, and invention by young 
electrical engineers of the present generation. We are fortunate that 
publishers are now giving attention to the biographies and autobiog 
raphies of such older men, among whom Edward Weston was one. 
There is vastly more original work still to do in electrical engineering 
than was imagined in the days of Weston and his compeers, but it is 
encouraging that there is now infinitely more knowledge of the way 
to attack the problems that are now in our hands. 

The miracles produced by electrical engineering came fundamen 
tally to the light during the first quarter of the nineteenth century 
through the experimental researches of that extraordinary experimen 
tal scientist, Michael Faraday. He was stimulated to study electromag 
netic relations from the discovery in 1820 made by the Danish scientist 
Hans Christian Oersted that the electric current affects a magnetic 
needle, and also by certain experiments with the electric current car 
ried out by Sir Humphry Davy and other experimenters who left 
great names for disclosing our early understanding of electric currents. 

From that early part of the nineteenth century onward a continu 
ous stream of lesser discoveries have come into knowledge; but it was 
the last quarter of the nineteenth century before the broad applica 
tions for American electrical engineering of today were laid by the 
great inventors of that day T. A. Edison, Charles Brush, Edward 
Weston, Elihu Thomson, Alexander Graham Bell, F. J. Sprague, and 
a galaxy of lesser men. These were followed by such as George West- 
inghouse, Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Oliver Heaviside, 
and lesser but still distinguished men, who entered the world field at 
a later date. The entire science and art of electronics are still more 

Weston, born in England in 1850, came to this country in his early 
manhood. He promptly went into business relating to electroplating 
apparatus and later expanded the business into developing electric 
lighting machinery and apparatus, in which he became one of our 



few very notable experimental designers and inventors in the early 
electrical engineering days. His was a determined type of mind, and 
with this quality he joined distinguished powers of origination. In the 
end, he ran through a career of designing and building dynamos for 
electric lighting service which were fine examples of good design and 
manufacture before the laws of the magnetic circuit became known. 

Mr. Weston worked out for himself empirical plans for his designs 
of dynamos before the notable empirical formula for the magnetic 
circuit had been published by Gisbert Kapp and before Dr. John 
Hopkinson published the experimental laws of the magnetic circuit 
which put dynamo design on a rational foundation. When one looks 
at those Weston dynamos of the early i88o's and admires their attrac 
tive form and their efficiency, one half believes that Weston had in 
his mind in those early days the truly rational ideas of the then un 
known laws. 

Mr. Weston was a born mechanician of high order, which appar 
ently aided him in the machinery design; and it was this, associated 
with his powers of origination, that led him into devising and manu 
facturing accurate portable electrical measuring instruments along 
lines that able men of experience then classed as impracticable; but 
his instruments promptly took a high place in appreciation in elec 
trical engineering, which place they still hold. Along with these in 
struments, the need of low-temperature-coefficient shunts for the 
instruments led him to the invention of alloy metals of very low tem 
perature coefficients or of even a negative coefficient. His early re 
ports of this accomplishment were not generally accepted, but he took 
the opportunity of a gathering of electrical engineers and physicists 
from this country and abroad in 1893, which occurred in Chicago, to 
prove the accuracy of his reports. 

In connection with his electrical measuring instruments, he also 
produced a standard electrical battery cell to be used in standardizing 
measurements of voltage that has taken the place of the formerly 
used famous Qark cell. This Weston cell is still used as an important 
standard in electrical engineering and physics. 

Various other contributions to electrical engineering by Weston I 
can not here take space to enumerate, but those interested in the career 
of this great inventor will find them outlined in Mr. Woodbury's fine 


biography. In addition to his other great achievements, he may prop 
erly be called the father of accurate electrical measurements by port 
able instruments. These measurement achievements of themselves 
have been a fundamental contribution to the advancement of electri 
cal engineering practice. 

I first met Mr. Weston in the decade of the '8o's while I was a 
graduate student of electrical engineering at Cornell University under 
the guidance of Professor William A. Anthony, for whom Weston 
had great admiration and whom he visited. I was deeply fascinated by 
Weston's talk of what he was doing in improving electric lighting 
and particularly what he was doing in the development of accurate 
electrical measuring instruments. He was a man of introvert qualities 
and did not cultivate many intimate friends, but my intimacy as a 
graduate student with Professor Anthony brought these early contacts 
thus referred to. For many years thereafter I came again in contact 
from time to time with Weston and always left him with a lively ap 
preciation of his originality and brilliancy in pushing forward his 
work of invention. His name belongs with the group of the few great 
men who led the galaxy of distinguished electrical engineers of the 
United States and Europe and who laid by their inventions the foun 
dations of what is now our great and useful structure of electrical en 
gineering and the electrical engineering industries. His biography will 
provide an inspiring stimulant to the thinking of today's electrical en 


Cambridge, Mass. 
August, 1949 



The Apprentice i 

The Young Organizer : . 24 

The Fighter 59 

The Measurer 146 

The Man behind the Mask 192 

INDEX 225 


The Apprentice 

A small boy named Edward poked his nose over the edge of the 
apothecary's counter and demanded imperiously to be shown what 
was in the mahogany box lying there. 

The chemist ignored him. With a fine disregard for the fitness 
of things, Edward hitched himself up on tiptoe and pulled the 
strange object toward him, then pushed up the hinged cover. No 
Pandora has ever opened a mysterious box with more profound 
effect upon the future of an art than seven-year-old Edward, explor 
ing the fascinations of that small magneto-electric toy. 

The year was 1857; the chemist's shop was in the English mid 
land town of Wolverhampton. The boy was Edward Weston, who 
grew up to become the pioneer in the science of electrical measure 

Inside the box was fastened a bright red magnet in the familiar 
U-shape. A double bobbin of copper wire was mounted on a shaft 
next to it and fixed to turn with a crank from outside the case. 
Through a pair of brass brushes the voltage generated by cranking 
was led to two metal cylinders on long flexible wires. The little 
investigator fingered the apparatus with his mouth pulled tight in a 
characteristic frown of concentration. Presently the chemist finished 
with a customer and came over to him. 

"Suppose you hold these in your two hands," he said, with a 
twinkle. Edward looked at him carefully, then picked up the 

"Grasp them tightly, now," said the chemist, "and I will show 
you something funny." He seized the crank and ground it vigorously. 
The boy let out a yell as the darting currents pricked his wrists and 


arms. Then the yell merged into a whoop of delight. Edward danced 
up and down, 

"Do it some more! Do it some more!" he demanded. And the 
druggist had to crank until his arm was tired. 

It is not likely that the child went home inspired by this exper 
ience to become a great electrical experimenter. He probably re 
turned late, spinning his top, or merely throwing stones, having 
forgotten entirely to fetch the cathartic or cough remedy he had 
been sent to the chemist's to get. And his mother, who was a strong- 
willed woman, no doubt scolded him and made nothing at all of 
little Edward's excuse that he had discovered a wonderful "pringly" 
box at the shop. At any rate, the record is a blank as to any effects 
that might have come from the boy's first electric shock. The incident 
is authentic, but it is only a symbol, and a general one, too. Thou 
sands of small Englishmen of Edward's day were making fascinating 
discoveries of this kind; most of them led to nothing. Thousands, 
also, had a similar inheritance of curiosity and a love for things 
that "went" Further, the same thousands had parents quite like 
Edward's: an intelligent, somewhat ambitious mother who wanted 
her son to enter an honorable profession, and a mechanically-minded 
father who was "clever with tools" but lacked the "persistence and 
force of character" to lift himself above the level of an artisan. 

However, such antecedents were entirely sufficient for the sprout 
ing of a mechanical genius. In those days, when science was still 
"natural philosophy" and engineering was nothing at all but able 
visualization of mechanical applications, the qualities needed to 
become an inventor and a pioneer were concentration, imagination, 
determination and an urge to make things go. These qualities 
Edward Weston had in abundance; later, almost to the point of 

The modern boy of seven may find under the Christmas tree a 
replica or a model of almost every scientific device that makes his 
world. The youngster of Edward's day found nothing like this. A 
book, perhaps, describing simple experiments with gunpowder, 
tricks with shadows, fun with simple chemistry. Those were the 
gold-rush days of mechanics, when nuggets of unexplored promise 
lay on the ground everywhere. It was a world that did things by 


hand a world that walked, that lived by whale oil lamps and cured 
the sick by pills and potions invented by individual physicians. 
A world, in short, crying out for mechanical emancipation. A tre 
mendous wealth of fundamental scientific principle was waiting, 
produced by the great discoverers like Faraday, the great mathe 
maticians like Sir William Thomson; but it had not yef been applied 
to human needs. A vigorous mind could hardly help picking up some 
of these nuggets. And Edward had a vigorous mind. 

There is almost nothing to be told about Edward Weston's family 
background or the first dozen years of his life. It might be skipped 
entirely if this were not a biography, whose subject is certainly 
entitled to a birthplace and a few fond anecdotes of childhood. 
Edward was born on May 9, 1850, in the tiny village of Oswestry, 
County Shropshire, England, of sturdy, middle-class parents. His 
mother was a Miss* Margaret Jones, the daughter of a farmer, who 
was something of a local figure in that region. He had a substantial 
brick house, known as "Brynn Castle," which was referred to as the 
"Big Place" by his neighbors. It had a brick barn, considerably 
bigger than the house, a sign of substantial prosperity among Mid 
land countryfolk of the day. 

Almost nothing is known of Weston's father, also Edward. He 
was a local young man of good habits and mechanical inclinations. 
When he married Margaret Jones, he went to live at the Castle, and 
set up there in what would be regarded today as rather close quar 
ters with the old folks. It was in the Castle that young Edward 
was born. 

Something like eighty years later, Edward Weston's son, Edward 
Faraday, traveled to England for the purpose of filling in the mys 
terious blanks in his father's genealogy. At Oswestry he found 
nothing but the house itself, which was still a farmhouse, and 
occupied by a city man who had turned the place into a country 
home. His father's birthplace had changed scarcely at all in a cen 
tury. But there was a mighty growth in the art of applied electricity, 
in which he had had a major hand. The son, at the time, was the 
head of the largest electric instrument business in the world a 


business which Edward had founded because of his love of accuracy 
and his thorough knowledge of the need of electrical measurements. 
The younger Weston scoured the Shropshire countryside for any 
evidence of his father's forebears and found nothing. There were 
no Weston families living there, although the name cropped up in 
other towns some distance away. In the Oswestry cemetery he did 
find two tombstones, side by side, inscribed with the names of 
Joseph Jones and his wife Sarah Elizabeth. They were dated 1817. 
As a young man, Edward Weston, Senior, was known as a me 
chanical genius. This meant that he was handy with tools, especially 
in carpentry. The assumption is that he lived rather too protected 
a life on the Jones farm and took it a trifle too easy, being pressed 
into service occasionally to build a shed, fix a plow, or concoct an 
ingenious arrangement of pulleys, belts and shafts when it occurred 
to him that some burdensome farm task like hoisting hay into the 
barn loft could be done quicker by the pK>wer of horses' muscles. 
He was probably on call throughout the neighborhood to help out 
on other farms in the same way. The life suited him, and he might 
have stayed there till he died. But his new wife preferred it other 
wise. She was ambitious and she had energy. Also, she wanted her 
j own home. Most of all, she wanted the son to be better than his 
| father. This is a pattern that seems to have run through science 
from the beginning of the mechanical age. It was his mother's tea 
kettle that inspired James Watt to invent the steam engine; James 
Goodyear cooked up his first pot of vulcanized rubber on his 
mother's stove. It was Mrs. Edison who defended Tom's vagaries 
in school and finally took him out of it to become the "Electrical 
Wizard"; Clerk Maxwell was always going to his mother to learn 
"the go" of this or that; Elihu Thomson was led on by a fearless 
mother who deliberately urged him into the many dangers of 
chemical and electrical experiment. Of the fathers, history says 
little. It was their seed that conveyed the mechanical talent, perhaps; 
it was the mothers' fond cultivation of the garden afterward that 
brought the small plants into flower. 

Margaret Jones Weston kept at her husband continually to im 
prove himself. When his father-in-law died, she wanted him to take 


charge of the farm and make something of it. But a wise Provi 
dence intervened. Her brother went to law in contest of the father's 
will; Edward, whose claim was more remote, lost, and was given 
the choice of living with his wife's people, as he had done before, 
or of getting out. With a push from Margaret, he got out, moving 
in 1857 to Wolverhampton, a busy industrial city not far distant. 
Here a "mechanical genius'* could find opportunity aplenty. What 
he found, no one knows. But his son took root in soil that could 
properly fertilize the curiosity and energy inherited from strong- 
willed and vigorous Margaret Weston. 

The episode of the magneto-electric machine followed shortly 
a significant symbol to be pursued throughout his youth. 


Whatever period in history a boy may enter, he is bound to take 
a possessive pride in the scientific achievements then most current. 
In our own times a schoolboy's mechanical loves are streamlined 
trains and jet propulsion, machine guns and atomic power. In 
Weston's youth there were few practical applications of natural 
forces in everyday life, but what there were seemed to him just as 
spectacular as our own marvels seem to us. Tremendous things were 
going on in the engineering world of eighty years ago; dazzled by 
the atomic age, we cannot properly visualize the vast panorama of 
basic scientific discoveries that had already opened up before the 
nineteenth century was half gone. 

When this small boy turned the crank of the little shocking 
machine in the chemist's shop in 1857, he awoke in an exciting 
world of new things, each one of which was on the verge of 
changing the habits of a civilization. Electricity was no longer a 
phenomenon, but a force already in wide use. A well-organized and 
technically efficient telegraph system was in service in every 
civilized country. The electric battery was over sixty years old and 
was operating effectively in many different forms. Electrolysis in 
chemical solutions was well understood. The first Atlantic cable 
had been laid and had operated for over a month before poor 
insulation had ended its expensive career. Electric arc lamps had 


been used not only in the streets and in lighthouses but in theaters. 
Incandescent lamps had been burning and burning out for thirty 

Electric motors of a sort had already driven railway cars at several 
miles an hour and had propelled boats and run small lathes in 
machine shops. Crude dynamos had been built. Steam was driving 
locomotives at well over sixty miles an hour; steam engines were 
powering whole factories with efficiencies almost as good as the 
steam engines of today. 

Though these practical applications, measured by today's stan 
dards, were in their infancy, there was already a tremendous ac 
cumulation of theoretical knowledge of the forces that made them 
work. The giants, Joseph Henry and Michael Faraday, were already 
old men, and their fundamental contributions on the behavior of 
electric currents and magnetic forces were rounding out into the 
basic laws from which practically all modern power applications 
were to stem. Joule had defined the principles of the heat equivalent 
of mechanical work and of electrical energy; Clerk Maxwell was 
just beginning to write his brilliant treatises on the theory of electro 
magnetic waves in space. Von Helmholtz, Bunsen, Kirchhoff, Wil 
liam Thomson, and many more had developed mathematical solu 
tions for highly complicated electrical and mechanical problems. 
A group headed by Wheatstone and Varley had devised wonderfully 
sensitive instruments for the detection and measurement of very 
small currents and voltages. 

The properties of materials were beginning to be understood: 
copper, iron, silver, platinum, zinc, gold, as conductors of electricity; 
glass, paper, hard rubber, shellac, and air, as insulators. The impor 
tance of a high vacuum in laboratory work was well appreciated. 
Sprengel, in Germany, was just undertaking his invention of the 
mercury pump, upon which all the early success of the incandescent 
light would depend. 

Chemistry, launched as a science by Cavendish, was almost a hun 
dred years old now. And the researches of Mendelejeff in Russia and 
Meyer in Germany were about to bear fruit in a new tool vital to 
physics the periodic table of the elements. 

An orderliness was already apparent in fundamental science. The 


world was in an enviable position to make great practical strides. 
A vast wealth of knowledge lay "in the bank," ready to be with 
drawn and invested in new human comfort and advantage. 

By far the most promising field for scientist and inventor alike 
was electricity. It was believed by many that lighting and the 
transmission of the human voice could be achieved electrically. 
A patent was granted to Philipp Reis of Friedrichsdorf, Germany, 
for his first vibrating contact telephone in 1861. Successful attempts 
had been made to use the heating effect produced by a current flow 
ing in a wire of high resistance, among them an electric hot plate 
patented by George B. Simpson in 1859, This was but one step 
removed from incandescent lighting. And Professor Moses G. Farm 
er, in that same year, installed and operated a large number of 
such lights in his own home at Eliot, Maine. He had already estab 
lished a city-wide fire alarm system in Boston. 

It is no wonder that a youth as full of inquisitiveness and origi 
nality as Edward Weston should make up his mind to go in for 
electrical experiment. 

Uses for "applied electricity" were numerous, but there was no 
economical source of electric power to operate them. In 1850, the 
Englishman, Robert Hunt, had carefully compared the cost of steam 
engine power with the similar output of an electric motor supplied 
by a wet battery. He had found the electrical method twenty-five 
times more expensive and had seen little promise in this indirect 
method of turning the wheels of industry. Small currents for teleg 
raphy could be obtained economically by chemical means. But heavy 
currents, continuously supplied, were out of reason. 

The electric battery had had a long and honorable history. Within 
a decade of Volta's discovery of the electrochemical "pile'* (in 
1800), Sir Humphry Davy had demonstrated, at the Royal Institu 
tion in London, a brilliant electric arc, burning by the power of two 
thousand cells. This light had cost many pounds per minute to 
produce. For the next fifty years great improvements in batteries had 
been made; almost every experimenter entered the electrical field 
by adding something new to battery chemistry. Davy himself, Hare, 
Henry, Daniell, Grove, and Bunsen were among the principal con 
tributors. By the time the telegraph had become firmly established 


in the 1850'$, the Grove, Bunsen, and Daniell types of wet cell were 
standard. All three used zinc for one electrode; Daniell employed 
copper for the other, Grove preferred platinum; Bunsen, mindful 
that expense was the chief obstacle to electrical uses, substituted 
carbon for the precious metals and thus produced a battery that 
could be manufactured in quantity at moderate cost. The sulphuric 
acid electrolyte, employed in all batteries of that day, was cheap 
enough to cause no concern. 

Thus, primary batteries were fairly highly developed at the start 
of the Electrical Age. By properly choosing the size of the metallic 
plates and connecting them either in series or parallel, large voltages 
could be provided for driving small currents through extended 
telegraph lines, or large currents furnished for producing strong 
electromagnetic effects. 

But for power work, bulk and inherently short life imposed a 
limitation that promised to be insurmountable. There was no solu 
tion to this save the development of the little dynamo machine that 
Faraday had invented in 1821. 


In this day of highly organized laboratory research it is hard for 
us to appreciate the technical handicaps of a hundred years ago. 
Though the fund of basic knowledge was remarkable, the art of 
engineering development stood precisely at zero. There was no way 
to carry an original idea through the design, "debugging," and 
pilot-plant stages so routine now. Today an engineer would describe 
the process like this: 

1. Make it work at all. 

2. Make it work better. 

3. Make it work satisfactorily. 

4. Redesign it so that it can be manufactured. 

5. Learn to manufacture it cheaper and easier. 

6. Add refinements and simplifications, so that it can be manu 
factured at a profit on a large scale. 

7. Invent and perfect machinery for doing all this. 


Inventors of that day often spent a lifetime on Item One; frequently 
they got no further. 

A man with a mechanical idea was strictly on his own. He had 
to build his own tools, manufacture his own materials, devise his 
own means of making measurements and tests. The crudity of these 
things raised grave obstacles, often so buried the original idea in 
trivial difficulties that it was not workable at all. Thus, the early 
attempts to construct electrical machinery were severely hampered 
by the lack of insulated copper wire. Joseph Henry insulated his 
own, as he needed it, by winding it by hand with cotton thread. It 
was impossible to get wire of uniform cross section, for die drawing 
was still a crude art. And the variations in diameter prevented 
the design of apparatus that would carry into effect principles be 
lieved to be sound. Years of discouraging effort were often spent 
circumventing practical difficulties that actually had little to do with 
the main principles. 

The discovery and development of the electric motor and dynamo 
is a case in point. When Faraday first discovered, in 1821, that a 
wire suspended beside the pole of a magnet would rotate around it 
when carrying current, he released a force so small that it seemed 
no more than an interesting demonstration. Ampere, in a similar 
experiment, did little better. It remained for Joseph Henry to show 
that real forces could be developed by large masses of iron wound 
with many turns of wire and powered by huge batteries. Henry 
produced an electric motor something like a modern seesaw. It con 
sisted of a bar that teetered back and forth between two electro 
magnets, switching the current from one to the other continually. 
This motion could be translated into rotation by a crank. The device 
had little power. But a very important principle emerged directly, 
at the hands of Hyppolyte Pixii in Paris. Realizing that continual 
reversals were needed to cause steady rotation or reciprocation he 
invented the "commutator" a metal cylinder composed of two 
insulated halves, rotating with the shaft of the "motor." Metallic 
brushes rubbed on this device, reversing the current flow with each 
half revolution. A year later, in 1833, William Ritchie in London 
produced strong rotation of a bar carrying two electromagnets past 


the two poles of a horseshoe magnet, using Pixii's commutator. The 
principle of the "electromechanical engine" was established. 

But it was the wrong principle. The mutual pull of two magnets 
of opposite pole was a subsidiary phenomenon that was obvious, 
and easy to apply, but led to a dead end. The real fundamental 
Faraday's wire rotating in a magnetic field was too obscure to 
invite application for more than thirty-five years. Meanwhile, in 
genuity and persistence on both sides of the ocean produced recipro 
cating electric motors that actually had power. To the Vermont 
blacksmith, Thomas Davenport, went the credit for the first indus 
trially useful machine, when he constructed a motor weighing fifty 
pounds, which actually drove a drill press in his shop. This was in 
1837. Two years later Jacobi, in Russia, propelled a boat by similar 
means. And the next year the Scotchman, Robert Davidson, built a 
motor that operated lathes, a carriage, and finally a railway train 
at the speed of four miles an hour. 

Professor Charles G. Page, in this country, worked for thirteen 
years on a similar electromagnetic motor, which he called a "gal 
vanic multiplier/' Finally, in 1850, he persuaded Congress to ap 
propriate $20,000 for further experiments and built a machine that 
delivered i horsepower. Much encouraged, Page went on imme 
diately to construct larger models and eventually was rewarded 
by seeing a giant electric locomotive weighing twelve tons actually 
attain a speed of nineteen miles an hour on the Baltimore & Ohio 
Railroad. But by this time the government money was exhausted and 
Page had to abandon his experiments. It had become obvious to 
him, as to everyone else, that the inefficient push-pull of heavy 
electromagnets would never make an economical prime mover. 
Worse, the giant batteries of wet cells set an insurmountable limita 
tion. They were expensive to build and were very soon exhausted 
by the heavy current drain. Once down, new metallic plates and new 
acid had to be put in. There appeared to be no commercial future 
for electric power along these lines. 

The true principle of both dynamo and motor lay in full view 
in the Faraday copper-disk dynamo of 1831. This was simply a disk 
rotating between the poles of a magnet, current being picked up by 
brushes on the shaft and on the disk's rim. The success of the voltaic 


battery had completely obscured this basic discovery for many years. 
It was considered a laboratory toy. For twenty years after Faraday's 
discovery there were no more than a handful of attempts made to 
generate electric currents by mechanical rotation. Pixii was respon 
sible for the first, as already noted. His main contribution was the 
"commutator/* or direction changer, giving the current an inter 
mittent but unidirectional character. It was an invention so basic 
that it has survived almost unchanged. 

Ritchie, Saxton, and Clarke contributed similar electric dynamos 
in the decade of the 1830'$, all using some form of commutator, and 
all constructed around the inefficient principle of moving bobbins 
of wire past the poles of a permanent magnet. Clarke's machine 
was the best, for he was an instrument maker in London and 
appreciated the value of good basic design. It was turned by hand 
and resembled the modern magneto. Presently it attained a firm 
place in the philosophical laboratories of the day and was used 
everywhere for class demonstrations. Clarke understood the basic 
relationship between the magnetic field and the number of turns of 
wire on the rotating armature, for he provided his dynamos with 
several such armatures, interchangeable in the bearings. An armature 
with a few turns of heavy wire produced a low voltage and con 
siderable current; one with a great many turns of fine wire produced 
little current but a respectably high voltage. 

Faraday, with true scientific genius, had immediately gone on 
from his first copper-disk dynamo to investigate the nature of mag 
netic forces and had named and defined the shape and strength 
of the "fields" around a magnet's poles. He had also discovered the 
laws of "induction/' which stated that the voltage created in a 
wire passing through such a field depended upon the number of 
lines of force "cut" in a given time. Joseph Henry, working inde 
pendently three thousand miles away, mounted two coils on an iron 
core and demonstrated the same principle in another form. When 
he started and stopped a current in one coil he detected a momentary 
"kick" or voltage in the other coiL This was the result of the motion 
of the lines of force through the turns of wire in the coil. Out of 
the second discovery came the modern induction coil and the 



Thus, the two scientists had shown that it did not matter whether 
the turns of wire physically moved through a steady magnetic field, 
as Faraday arranged it, or whether the wire remained stationary and 
the field itself altered around the wire, as Henry had it. The two 
cases were identical in effect: magnetic "flux" cutting an electric 
conductor, produced a voltage in it; by completing the wire circuit, 
a current was generated that lasted as long as the field kept on 
changing. Both men proved that the voltage in the wire depended 
upon the length of wire (or the number of coil turns) and the 
strength of the field. 

Here, in this simple fundamental, lay the secret of all magneto- 
electric apparatus. But simplicity is rarely obvious. It was two 
decades later that Hyjorth, in 1855, obtained the first patent on an 
electromagnetic machine. Two years later Werner Siemens in Ger 
many invented a dynamo with a "shuttle" armature; that is, a mov 
ing element shaped like a cylinder, with a deep channel cut in each 
side to hold the turns of wire. A shaft passed through it length 
wise. This armature revolved between the poles of a permanent 
horseshoe magnet and hence caused the wire to cut across the mag 
netic field where the lines of force were strongest. In addition, the 
magnet poles were hollowed out to receive the armature with very 
little clearance, so that the flux flowed in a path broken only by 
the narrow gap. This last feature greatly increased the number of 
lines of force available to be cut. By placing several magnets side 
by side, the width of the field could be multiplied several times 
and the armature made quite long. This further increased the 
amount of wire actively generating voltage. For the first time, now, 
the dynamo was given a reasonable efficiency. The currents gen 
erated in the armature represented a fair percentage of the mechani 
cal forces required to rotate the machine. Competition with the 
voltaic battery was possible. 

There was still a long way to go, of course, for the proportions 
were not right, the armature wires were too small and the steel 
and cast iron of the magnetic circuit were poor flux conductors. 
It required twenty years more to master these details and to under 
stand the theory of operation. But it was a significant start. 

Siemens' first generator did not have a commutator; currents 


were taken from it by means of two insulated metal rings on the 
shaft, and hence changed direction of flow twice with every revo 
lution of the armature. This was the world's first alternator. But 
there was no use for alternating currents, beyond the laboratory, 
and there only for stunts like the shocks that small Edward Weston 
had received. Such electricity was believed to neutralize itself and 
to give no net effect. Direct current was considered essential if this 
new force was to become commercially useful. Hence Siemens' later 
dynamos included commutators and were direct-current machines. 

During the decade of the sixties inventors began to take the 
dynamo seriously. The electric arc light was coming. Electroplating 
of metals was already in common use. There were hints that mill 
machinery might some day be driven by electric motors. All of 
these applications depended upon an efficient dynamo. 

Antonio Pacinotti opened the decade with several important 
advances in dynamo design. In the Siemens machine the armature 
coils were bunched, hence the wires actually cut magnetic lines of 
force less than half the time; during the rest of each revolution 
they were traveling more or less parallel to these lines and so did 
not generate a voltage. Pacinotti suggested a different arrangement: 
a ring armature with many coils distributed around it so that some 
part of the winding was crossing the field all the time. To this he 
added a great improvement: the commutator with many small sepa 
rate segments, rather than only two. The coils were all joined 
together, and each junction terminated at a commutator segment. 
The result was that, as the armature revolved through the magnetic 
field, some of the coils were always cutting maximum flux. The 
brushes, rapidly connecting opposite pairs of commutator bars, 
thus were able to draw a large number of current pulses out of 
the machine and so produce a nearly steady current 

Pacinotti also found that a generator could be used equally well 
as a motor, without any alterations whatever. The art was on the 
right road at last. 

Only one more dement was needed to open the age of electric 
power the elimination of permanent magnets on dynamo machines. 
This was first suggested by Henry Wilde, of Manchester, England, 
in 1866, when he tried using electromagnets to produce the sta- 


tionary field of his machine. He made the discovery that a small 
permanent-magnet generator could be used to "excite" the field 
coils of a very much larger main dynamo, thus producing much 
larger currents than the small machine could do of itself. 

Professor Farmer in America took the next step, by building a 
dynamo that was self-exciting, supplying from its own armature 
the small current needed to create its magnetic field. That same 
year, the Varleys of Atlantic cable fame patented a machine that 
had two separate field windings. These could be connected either 
in series or parallel, and placed across the armature circuit. Sir 
Charles Wheatstone, in the following year, described the action 
of these windings before the Royal Society, and himself took out 
patents on various circuit arrangements. Today, direct-current ma 
chines are universally provided with two field windings, a heavy 
one for connection in series with the armature, and a light one for 
connection in parallel. This "compounding" permits the machine 
to hold its voltage constant at all electrical loads. But though the 
English scientists are generally given credit for the invention, they 
did not then understand the principle, and no efficient design was 
produced. It remained for men like Gramme and Weston, half a 
dozen years later, to disclose the first effective arrangement of the 


In those days it was entirely logical for a boy of spirit and innate 
curiosity to concern himself with science rather than with games 
and enjoyments that had no constructive purpose beyond physical 
development. It was, perhaps, the only period in human history 
when youth could contribute to technical advance; before that 
there had been no such advance; later, the whole matter was to 
become so involved that years of careful training would be neces 
sary before a young man could even master the terms in which 
progress was made. At any rate, Edward Weston in his early teens 
plunged straight into the business of chemistry and electricity, as 
professionally as if he had been a seasoned experimentalist. Though 
electricity was his chief interest, chemistry was his first love, because 


the chemical battery was the only generator of current that could 
be made at home by a boy. 

The young investigator started off in a friendly and exciting 
environment Wolverhampton. The city lay in the highly indus 
trialized heart of British industry, a few miles from the great manu 
facturing center of Birmingham, and a hundred odd miles from 
London. Steel, textiles, and railroads were the main interests of 
the region, which was known as the "Black Country" because of 
the smoke and the grime. It was the temper of the people to work 
long hours and to accomplish much. Weston's father, it is prob 
able, held the position of "mechanical engineer" in one of the mills, 
though there is no record of it. Nor is there a detailed record of 
Edward's early scientific exploits. 

Weston was given the best education available, first in the grade 
schools of the town, then at St. Peter's Collegiate Institute in Wol 
verhampton. In those days scientific instruction, for those who had 
an aptitude for it, was much more personal; every student was 
given close attention by a recognized authority. At St. Peter's, 
Weston had the good fortune to receive private tutoring in chem 
istry and physics from a Fellow of the London Chemical Society, 
Henry A. Horton. Later, he continued his studies with William H. 
Harrison and Thomas Sherlock, also members of the Society. Each 
of them recognized the boy's talent for experimental work and 
gave him every opportunity to orient himself in the laboratory. 

Edward soon decided to follow science as a life work. In this, 
he had the inspiration of several of the world's great scientists. 
Faraday, for one, was still lecturing at the Royal Society in London. 
An old man now, his wonderful personality was known and loved 
throughout England. It was one of Edward's ambitions to go to 
London as soon as he grew up and apprentice himself to Faraday. 
Unfortunately the great man died before he could do this. Another 
inspiration was Clerk Maxwell; still another, Lord Kelvin. The 
successful Atlantic cable was just then being laid under Kelvin's 
direction. In Germany, von Helmholtz was in the midst of his re 
searches on light; in France, Pasteur was developing the germ theory 
of disease; in Germany again, Mendel was teaching his new prin- 


ciple of heredity. Edison was hard at work on the telegraph in 

But Faraday interested Weston most. Much of his school time 
was spent in repeating Faraday's experiments with electricity and 
magnetism, descriptions of which he found in books obtained at 
the library. 

Weston's mechanical aptitude amounted to more than a mere 
love for moving machinery. His hands were naturally skilled; he 
was not satisfied with simply observing how things worked, but 
taught himself the underlying principles by building models of 
everything that caught his eye. At the age of nine he was reading 
everything he could get in the way of technical books, and building 
with his own hands everything he could find materials for. Steam 
engines, of course, fascinated him, and he built models that worked, 
after a fashion. Induction coils, electric bells, motors, batteries, tele 
graphs, electric clocks all followed in due course. 

To do all this the boy needed more space than his classrooms 
could spare him* So he set up a laboratory in one of the rooms in 
his father's house and filled it with every conceivable apparatus 
and chemical. It was much to the credit of his family, and no doubt 
due mostly to his mother's fine spirit, that the dirt and noise, and 
especially the imminent danger of explosion, were borne without 
protest, Edward's personality, even at this early stage, was strong 
enough to give his boyhood experimental work validity. If he said 
he intended to experiment with hazardous machines, nobody was 
likely to deny him the privilege. 

Electricity interested Edward more than any other new thing; 
so, naturally, he determined to build an electric motor. This was 
no easy task, especially since the motors of the day were pretty 
crude affairs. Not hoping to generate any real power, but only to 
make a machine that would turn round, Weston adopted the 
original model invented by Joseph Henry a single electromagnet 
alternately pulling and releasing a bar connected to a crankshaft 
and flywheel. The device itself was simple enough. But an appre 
ciation of the forces involved, and especially of the function of 
the commutator cam in making and breaking the circuit at the 


right moment, was unusual indeed in a boy of twelve. He had no 
"how to build it" books to follow. 

Long afterward, the inventor described his trials in overcoming 
his first real design problems on this little electric motor, sketching 
the apparatus for the editor of an electrical magazine as he talked. 
"My greatest trouble," he remembered, "was in obtaining suitable 
insulated wire (for winding the magnet). Although the town in 
which I lived was one of 150,000 inhabitants, Ihere was not one 
electrical supply store in the place" which was natural enough. 
There was no electrical industry to require it. "Of course, bare 
copper wire was easily obtainable, but wire with insulation on it 
was another thing." So the boy had to insulate his own wire, just 
as Henry himself had done thirty years before. The machine he 
built for the job demonstrated that he had a true sense of mechani 
cal arrangement, and a wealth of inventive ability. Like Faraday, 
he had a scientific mind, searching out the heart of a problem 
rather than "gadgeting" his way around it. 

Mr. Weston continued his reminiscenses: "It would appear at 
first sight, to anyone not familiar with such winding machines, that 
with this little device I could have done fairly good work with but 
little trouble. You have no idea, though, how expert I had to 
become in the manipulation of the two handles to produce wire 
that was really insulated. Unless I moved both handles at certain 
fixed speeds I left gaps between the convolutions of the cotton. I 
overcame this difficulty by the use of brown cotton on one spool and 
white on the other. Thus, the instant my windings became irregular 
I detected the change and could adjust the speed to suit." 

The ability to make considerable lengths of insulated wire stimu 
lated the boy's interest in other electrical apparatus. He now tried 
winding an induction coil what was then known as a Ruhmkorff 
coil for making sparks. From this he went on to the more prac 
tical instrument, the telegraph. The small line that he built, with 
its tickers and keys, worked perfectly. The overhead wires were 
insulated from their wooden supports by the necks of bottles 
a scheme used by many generations of boys that have come after. 

Edward's experimental work was solidly backed by constant read- 


ing, and in Smee's Elements of Electro-Metallurgy he found an 
application of electricity which fascinated him and which later 
became the basis for his start in the commercial world. Electro 
plating was an art already well understood, but young Weston was 
more interested in the fundamentals of electrochemistry than in 
plating bits of metal. Besides, silver, the most common plating 
material, was far too expensive for him. At the time, his most 
urgent need was for a source of electric current of sizable propor 
tions, and so he determined to build himself a chemical battery, 
after the latest designs then in use. The Grove cell was the one 
most commonly employed in telegraphy, but Weston was unable 
to build one because the central electrode had to be made of 
platinum, which he could not afford to buy. He therefore adopted 
the Bunsen design, which was cheaper but somewhat more difficult 
to make. 

Bunsen's battery, invented in 1842, consisted of a jar of dilute 
sulphuric acid containing a hollow cylinder of zinc for the nega 
tive electrode and a rod of carbon for the positive. A dense, 
homogeneous grade of carbon was necessary to withstand the action 
of the acid. Nonsuch carbon could be bought in Wolverhampton. 
But young Weston solved the problem in a unique way: by obtain 
ing it for nothing from the local gas works. 

Ever since childhood he had been a constant visitor to the fac 
tories surrounding the town. The owners of these plants, then 
among the largest in the world, were friends of his father, and 
Edward had no trouble in being admitted to the dark and smoke- 
filled buildings where the clank of steam hammers and the bril 
liant blasts of the Bessemer converters dominated every other 
sound and sight. The boy's love for machinery held him in these 
places for hours on end, and his natural curiosity drove him to 
investigate every piece of apparatus and every process till he knew 
them all intimately, in principle and practice. There was no more 
entrancing display than in the gas works, where he saw the huge 
coking ovens roasting the coal to drive off the volatile hydrocar 
bons. Edward learned the chemistry of the whole process and knew 
many of the foremen and workmen by their first names. They let 
him climb up and down over the machinery to his heart's content. 


. Edward Weston knew that the gas coke was carbon, more or 
less pure. But it was mostly very porous and crumbled easily. It 
occurred to him that there should be more dense samples of it 
deposited on the inner surfaces of the "stills" in which the coking 
was done. Waiting until one of these was taken out of service for 
cleaning, he got permission to climb inside, and there he found 
exactly what he was looking for lumps of dense, fine-grained 
carbon clinging to the roof of the still at the end where the fire 
was hottest. Filling his pockets with chunks of this he ran home 
to see what he could do. 

It was a discovery that gave young Weston the battery carbon 
he needed. But it was much more. Twenty years later, at the height 
of the competition to indent better incandescent lamp filaments in 
America, Weston was able to produce and patent one of the most 
serviceable carbon threads ever discovered, using a process of hard 
ening based on his observations at the coking ovens. This was a 
fine example of the kind of mind that was to bring forth the new 
electrical age: a mind capable of recording basic principles from 
wide observation, then integrating and applying them to new prob 

In the course of his youthful experiments Weston accumulated 
a good deal of apparatus and an extraordinary knowledge of nat 
ural science and engineering. Being a boy of strong personality 
he was soon taking a leading part in his class and was highly 
regarded by his teachers. This led, at the age of sixteen, to his 
first public appearance, presumably before a group of interested 
laymen who, as was the habit of the times, kept abreast of the 
mechanical arts by going to a course of lectures. There is no record 
of this first public talk, but young Weston probably showed his 
battery and used it to demonstrate the action of motors, bells, induc 
tion coils, and other apparatus, all made by himself. His success 
must have been considerable, for he was asked to lecture again, 
and did so, at about the same period. 

But his interest was not so much in telling of his discoveries as 
in making more. His school years were finished, therefore, in the 


enviable job of assisting his professors in making demonstrations 
to their classes. On one memorable day, the boy helped connect up 
a large battery of cells to run one of the earliest electric lamps. 
It was still ten years before the incandescent lamp would be made 
practical by Edison. And in one other field he contributed a valuable 
thought, though it came to no practical end then. This was when he 
suggested the use of rubber tires for a "steam carriage' 7 that was 
proposed for use on the highways. He believed that they would 
prevent the hard rims of the wheels from cutting the road sur 
face. But Weston had no funds or opportunity for making experi 
ments in this field; the suggestion lay dormant till rubber tires 
became the fashion on horse-drawn vehicles much later in the 

When Edward Weston's school career ended, the question came 
up as to what profession he should follow. In our own day he 
would no doubt have gone to some technical institute, to prepare 
for an engineering or scientific career. But in the mid-nineteenth 
century such opportunities were not open to young men without 
money, and the Weston family was not well off. Besides, it was 
customary for a boy's career to be chosen for him by his parents. 
So, with some misgivings, Edward submitted to apprenticeship to 
a dental surgeon named Owen, in Wolverhampton. His father felt 
that his mechanical bent ought to express itself well in this pursuit. 
It did not. The boy detested any other teeth than his own and 
refused to become interested. The engagement ended in a few 

But the parents seemed determined that their son should be 
a physician of some sort. In their conservative judgment it was the 
only profession that a mechanically minded youth should follow. 
So arrangements were made for him to receive his formal medical 
training. This resulted in a valuable though painful three years in 
which Weston learned little medicine but got a fine grounding in 

It was the custom of the day for a medical student to apprentice 
himself to a doctor and assist him in his practice. Young Edward 
was lucky to be accepted by two brothers, Drs. E. H. and H. M. 
Coleman. The elder man, Dr. E. H. Coleman, was a distinguished 


and kind-hearted old gentleman who had a natural sympathy and 
understanding for youth. He liked Edward at once and took him 
to live in his own home, a thing which was frequently done at the 
time to give the training a more personal touch. Edward was so 
pleased with the change from the obnoxious dental surgery that 
he applied himself with great vigor and began to think that a 
medical career would not be bad. His work interested him imme 
diately, for it had a practical touch. Besides his formal studies he 
was allowed to mix medicines in the drug closet and assist at vari 
ous minor operations which the doctors were continually perform 
ing. The chemistry which was involved, interested him especially. 
His understanding of the subject was already so good and his 
eagerness to learn more so great that Dr. Coleman was delighted 
to take special pains with him and give him unusual responsibility. 

Coleman was not only a good practicing physician but a scientist 
himself, and had collected quite a large assortment of philosophical 
apparatus. In the evenings and in off hours he took delight in set 
ting up experiments with Edward, painstakingly guiding him in 
the intricacies of chemical and electrical theory. As time went on, 
the boy spent more and more of his hours in the laboratory and 
talked of it incessantly whenever he went home of a Sunday. 

His parents were annoyed. The opportunity to study the pro 
fession of medicine under a fine teacher was a rare one. For Edward 
to divert even a little of his attention to such "tomfoolery" as play 
ing with electricity was little less than a crime. It was a sure sign 
that he lacked application and did not appreciate his advantages. 
There were many bitter arguments at home over this, arguments in 
which Edward would at first defend himself vehemently, then 
become sullen and silent and march off to his room at th6 Cole- 
mans* to plunge himself still further into his beloved experiments. 

It must be admitted that young Weston was not putting his 
whole mind on his medical work. As the months went by, the job 
of becoming a doctor irked him more and more. Mixing chemicals 
became a dull task and listening to the interminable complaints 
of patients was worse. Furthermore, he was apt to be routed out 
of bed at all times of night when there were emergencies to attend 
to. One bothersome task, which seemed to him rather a joke as 


he looked back on it years later, was to determine the solvency 
of a midnight caller before letting him in. There were of course 
no telephones then; some relative or friend of the sick man would 
arrive outside the house and raise the doctor by shouting or throw 
ing pebbles at the window. It was Edward's duty to thrust his head 
out and ask the visitor what time it was. If he answered correctly, 
the doctor would dress and go with him to the patient. Coleman 
assumed that anyone who owned a clock could afford to pay his bill. 
Things went from bad to worse with young Weston's medical 
career, and gradually a positive hatred of the profession gathered 
in his heart. In his second year of apprenticeship to Dr. Coleman, 
England was swept by a fearful epidemic of smallpox. A tenth of 
the population died. Sleepless nights and constant fear of the 
disease as he helped the fine old doctor in his blind fight against 
a scientific mystery, only served to increase his impatience with the 
whole profession. In the third year of his novitiate a cholera epi 
demic passed through the land, and the same thing happened, only 

But it was two relatively small incidents that clinched his deci 
sion to abandon medicine. One day toward the end of his course, 
Edward was deeply occupied in the laboratory with an electrical 
experiment when a gentleman came in to have a boil lanced. This 
sort of work Dr. Coleman left for Edward to do, but the foolish 
apprentice hurriedly told the patient he would have to wait, per 
haps some little time, until the experiment was finished. The man 
fell into a great rage and stamped out, shouting that he would 
never come to the Colemans* again. Edward was told afterward 
that this sort of conduct could not be condoned in a doctor. Medi 
cine, said his friend, might not be the right profession for him, 
after all. 

The second incident climaxed and symbolized the boy's whole 
dislike of doctoring. With his diploma in hand, he was ready to 
go on visits to patients. One of his first was a case of typhoid 
fever, with rheumatic symptoms added. Weston confidently diag 
nosed the, rheumatism and prescribed the right treatment for it. 
But he entirely missed the more serious malady. The patient became 
alarmingly ill and would have died if Edward had not hastily sum- 


moned Dr. Coleman to help him. Together, they managed to pull 
the woman through. Weston does not seem to have blamed himself 
for the mistake so much as he blamed the practice of medicine 
itself. It served mainly to fix his determination to leave the pro 
fession. This he did within a few weeks. 

But not without the bitter opposition of his parents and some 
of his friends. They felt that he was plainly foolhardy to abandon 
a promising career, and said so. Edward's answer was equally 

"I wouldn't be a doctor under any circumstances. Surgery is all 
right, but there is nothing scientific about the practice of medicine. 
You guess what effect certain drugs will have but you can't deter 
mine accurately/* 

No doubt the family had a broader view of the physician and 
appreciated the human values of his skill as well as the purely 
scientific ones. But to their son the primary purpose of science was 
to be exact and predeterminable. That he understood and that he 
wanted to follow. The argument caused serious friction at home. 
To avoid further interference he decided to leave, going up to 
London to find work that he liked. He took with him a letter of 
introduction to Professor John Tyndall. 

It was the winter of 1870. Professor Tyndall, for many years a 
celebrated physicist and authority on electricity and magnetism, was 
at that time superintendent of the Royal Institution in London. An 
intimate friend of Faraday, he had succeeded him in that position 
in 1867, upon the great scientist's death. Edward Weston wor 
shiped Faraday. His greatest desire was to apprentice himself in 
the Institution, as Faraday himself had done fifty years earlier. 
Tyndall might well open the door to his ambition. If he was suc 
cessful, the dismal years of medical study could soon be forgotten. 


The Young Organizer 

On the train from Wolverhampton to London, Edward Weston's 
future was suddenly cast in a completely different and unexpected 
mould. In the compartment he occupied there happened to be a 
voluble American tourist one of those perennial, self-appointed 
salesmen of the New World who consider it their mission to invade 
foreign countries and spread glowing accounts of the homeland. 
The young Englishman, anxious to justify his own decision in 
leaving home, had soon told him of his aspirations in science and 
his belief in himself as a scientist. With this unusual opportunity 
before him, the American set out to make a convert in earnest. The 
chances for advancement in the United States, he said, were far 
and away superior to anything that England could offer. It would 
be folly for young Weston to lose himself in the musty confines 
of the Royal Institution when, for a mere trip acros the Atlantic, 
there would be unlimited scope to expand, many hundreds of 
choices of employment, and boundless horizons for success in the 
mechanical arts. "Why, now, you take New York City alone . . ." 

Weston was convinced; he wondered why he had never thought 
of it himself. When he left the train he had a very different idea 
of the demands he would make upon prospective employers in 

He soon found that his new friend had been right. For several 
weeks he tried to get a job and failed. There was no opening at 
the Institution, nor could he find employers looking for bright 
young scientists. Discouraged, and at the same time happy, he re 
solved to make the great experiment. Without waiting to consider 


the wisdom of it, he spent practically all the money he had for a 
steamship ticket to New York, then went home to pack up. 

"My decision to come to the United States on a stranger's advice," 
he said afterward, "caused a great row with my family, but they 
could not persuade me to stay in England." They argued the great 
risk involved and the importance of family loyalty. They told him 
that they could not help him with a penny. But his mind was 
made up. At twenty, Edward Weston was already a hard-headed 
man who believed in his own abilities. He had no illusions about 
the difficulties of a scientific career. It was a practical profession 
in which a vast, unexplored territory lay open to the man who 
could accept the severe discipline and great risks of the pioneer. 
But it offered enormous opportunity just then an opportunity to 
develop new applications which would benefit the whole world, 
bring fame to the successful, and perhaps provide a fortune, too. 
The only requirements, Weston decided, were a willingness to 
work very hard, a high degree of intellectual honesty, and unre 
lenting loyalty to high standards. Those requirements he could sat 
isfy. Let the Land of Opportunity make him a rich man, if it would. 

Edward had a pretty bad passage across the Atlantic on a small 
steamer whose name we do not know. He arrived in New York 
in May, 1870, groggy and thin. His entire wealth consisted of 
some books, one or two favorite pieces of homemade apparatus, 
a Bible, and a few pounds in cash. Beyond these, he had a pocket 
full of letters to scientific men of some distinction, mostly pro 
fessors in eastern colleges. The prospects did not look very bright. 

In those days there was no Ellis Island. Ships anchored in the 
harbor and were visited by customshouse officers, who went through 
the passengers' papers. Then the new arrivals were allowed to come 
ashore for their formal reception to the new land. This was done 
at the Battery, in the old Castle Garden, once famous as the 
opera house where Jenny Lind had sung. Even in 1870 the Battery 
still had an air of elegance. Many imposing old mansions were still 
standing, relics of a bygone day when well-dressed and prosperous- 
looking people had moved on the sidewalks. New York gave an 
air of prosperity and friendliness to its welcome. 

The treatment accorded immigrants by the Government was re- 


markably good. While they waited for their baggage at the Landing 
Depot, they found good stores along the docks, where they could 
purchase first necessities at reasonable prices. Nearby was a money 
exchange office, where foreign currency was converted into Ameri 
can dollars. There was also a department somewhat like the modern 
Travelers Aid Society, and here the strangers could find names and 
addresses of boarding houses, eating places, and clothing stores that 
were guaranteed not to overcharge. The proprietors of these places 
were registered by the Government and were held strictly account 
able; any attempt at gouging the innocent visitors got them expelled 
from the list. Most important was a labor exchange, where new 
arrivals could get temporary jobs if they intended to stay in the city. 

It was even possible to get free medical attention upon applica 
tion, after being sent to Ward's Island Emigrant Refuge and 

One piece of good advice given to everybody was a warning 
against swindlers. The Government knew full well what advantage 
was taken of helpless strangers, and intended to fortify them if it 

Weston accepted the offer of a boarding house address but 
decided to go on his own for the rest. He was still much impressed 
with the marvelous picture his American friend had painted for him. 

Since he wished to be a chemist, he began by visiting every 
chemical house he could locate. He did not want to present his 
letters until he was sure that he couldn't find a job on his own. But 
to his amazement he could find nobody who needed a young man 
whose qualifications were mostly aspirations. Weeks went by and 
presently he had tramped through every borough of New York 
Gty and far out on Long Island as well, without success of any 
kind. He was down now to abject poverty; many a day he could 
allow himself no more than ten cents for all his meals. It looked 
as if he would have to write home for help. 

Rather than do this he began a systematic presentation of his 
letters and met with the same result. Among others, he called upon 
Professor Charles F. Chandler, who had just come to Columbia 
College from Lehigh University to establish the Columbia School 
of Mines. Dr. Chandler was a chemist himself, and just the under- 


standing kind of man Weston had been looking for. But his friendly 
attitude did not yield a job. The new school was being started on 
a shoestring budget, and Chandler could afford to employ only 
experienced mining experts. The best he could do was to give the 
young man more letters to New York firms and send him once 
more on his weary rounds. 

At the very last minute, however, Edward fell into a piece of 
luck and got a position as helper in the chemical manufacturing 
firm of William H. Murdock & Company on Broome Street. His 
career was under way at last. 

All his life Weston remembered Chandler's kindness, and they 
were firm friends. There was a fairy-tale element in it, too. Forty- 
five years later, it was Dr. Chandler who presented him with the 
coveted Perkin medal for outstanding achievement in chemistry 
before a gathering of the most brilliant chemists in America. 

Murdock's principal business was the manufacture of photo 
graphic chemicals. Those were the days when every photographer 
made his own "wet" plates at the scene of his picture taking. A 
syrupy solution of light-sensitive silver salts in collodion was actu 
ally flowed onto the glass in a dark room and the plate then 
loaded into the camera for exposure. The picture must be snapped 
at once, before the emulsion had had time to dry. The famous Civil- 
War photographer, Mathew Brady, had taken some remarkable 
battle pictures, hurrying around after the Union Army with a light- 
tight tent, in which he prepared his plates. This feat was greatly 
to his credit, for the collodion solutions were not uniform, emulsion 
speeds varied puckishly, and there was always the danger of explo 
sion within the tent if the enemy did not demolish it from without. 

Murdock's took what care they could in preparing the solutions, 
and Edward found that he could get invaluable training in prac 
tical chemistry in his job of mixing the ingredients. But it was a 
risky business, for the making of collodion was nothing other than 
the manufacture of guncotton. Nor was this being done under safe 
conditions. The "factory" was the basement of a four-story house 
in what was then the center of the New York business district. The 


chemicals were compounded in open trays ranged on benches 
around the place. There were no ventilating fans, no hoods for dis 
posing of fumes, no fire protection at all. Murdock "ran for luck'* 
with the silent blessing of the city government, which, under the 
lavish management of the Tweed Ring, had not found it important 
to worry about fire ordinances. 

The inevitable explosion occurred a few weeks after Weston had 
taken the position. An expansive visitor came in one day, lit a 
cigar, and tossed the match into a tray of guncotton. Fortunately, 
the tray was open to the air and did not blow up violently. Only 
one person was injured. With quick presence of mind Weston 
snatched up some sheets of wrapping paper lying nearby and 
smothered the flaming tray. He had long ago observed that it was 
difficult to ignite solidly folded paper. 

He came out of the experience unscathed, physically. But he 
had had enough. His solid English common sense told him that 
it wasn't worth the risk to continue, literally playing with fire, with 
such crude equipment and no safeguards whatever. Moreover, the 
two proprietors of the place had escaped into the street the moment 
the blaze had started, leaving their employees to get on as best 
they could. Obviously, the management was inadequate. So he de 
cided to quit. 

It was not fear but his outraged sense of efficiency that decided 

But quitting was not so easy. He had spent months finding this 
job; another would be still harder to locate. It is true that he was 
putting in a few extra hours a week as a part-time assistant to Dr. 
Charles F. Stone, Professor of Chemistry at Cooper Union. This 
job also had come his way through Dr. Chandler. But the position 
paid almost nothing and held no future. Caution bade him remain 
with Murdock until he should find something better. Luckily, this 
did not take so long as he feared. 

Studying the want ads in the daily papers, he finally ran across 
something very promising. An advertiser needed a man with some 
electrical and chemical knowledge, particularly in electroplating 
work. Weston instantly jumped at the chance. He had been fascin 
ated with electrochemistry since boyhood and had made many 


experiments with it. He sat down at once and wrote a letter apply 
ing for the position. It was characteristic of Edward that he crossed 
his bridges on the run, not even stopping to burn them. What lay 
behind him ceased to interest him. He took with him out of the 
past whatever of experience and facility he had gained and set his 
face forward without regret. A man who could do this in an age 
of swift change was pretty sure to make a success of himself. This 
young man did just that 

The day after Edward answered the ad a nattily dressed man 
came to Murdock's to see him. He proved to be William H. Belden, 
president of the American Nickel Plating Company on Howard 
Street. Belden instantly impressed the youthful chemist as a man 
of affairs, accustomed to ask only for expert opinion. It quickly 
turned out that this was what he wanted, and wanted badly. Al 
though the American Company was one of the two largest plating 
concerns in New York, it was practically on the rocks. Its chemical 
solutions wouldn't plate; its business was rapidly disappearing. 

"I am a stockbroker by profession/* Belden told him, "and I 
know nothing of the technical side of the business. But neither do 
any of our employees. We are in such a bad way that I have even 
tried to operate the baths myself, naturally without success. What 
I must have is a man who understands these things scientifically, 
who can dig in immediately and rectify our troubles before it is 
too late." 

"I understand electroplating very well," said Weston. "I believe 
I can find your trouble." 

That was all Belden wanted to know. He hired the young man 
on the spot, at fifteen dollars a week, to fill the position of chemist 
and electrician for the firm. It would be up to him to set the com 
pany on its feet. 

Weston's conscience, however, would not let him walk out of 
Murdock's without due notice. He told Belden that he would have 
to continue where he was for two weeks, till his present employer 
could get someone to fill his place. 

Belden was irritated. "Do you mean that I shall have to wait 
two weeks before anything can be done? That will be suicide for 


"No," said Weston, "I will work for you nights and Sundays, 
till I am through here." 

The broker could not help admiring this fine spirit. The deal 
was closed immediately. 


Weston showed up at the plating plant on Howard Street that 
night, with his jaw set and determination in his heart. He was an 
expert now, not merely hired help. It was a grand feeling to know 
that someone depended on him; it never occurred to him that his 
knowledge and experience might not be nearly enough to solve 
this serious problem. He took comfort in the fact that the electro 
plating art was still very crude. No one really understood the work 
ings of it beyond the rule-of-thumb procedure that had grown out 
of twenty years of practical experience. This gave him the lead for 
a new approach a purely chemical approach in which he would 
treat electroplating as a science to be built up by combining the 
principles of electricity and chemistry into a new and exact art. He 
would be more than an expert a researcher and an inventor of new 
methods. He plunged into the job as if his life depended upon it, 
and in those two weeks put the plant back into shape. He did not 
sleep very much ; a nap snatched now and then on a wooden bench 
when exhaustion overtook him was all that he permitted himself. 

He soon discovered that there was no one thing the matter with 
the company's methods. Everything was wrong: the plating solu 
tions were impure; the batteries, then universally used for furnish 
ing current, were worn out; the objects to be plated were dirty; 
and the workmen were careless and inexpert. The condition of the 
electrolytes was the most flagrant source of trouble. A quick chemi 
cal analysis showed him that they were badly contaminated with 
copper from the cathode bars. The result was that newly plated 
objects would immediately begin to peel so that customers would 
send them back to be plated again. Weston's remedy was to throw 
some of the solutions away, "clean" others by precipitating out the 
copper. In his two weeks of night work the young scientist had put 
his worst difficulties behind him; the plant was in production again. 

As soon as he had left Murdock for good, he settled down to 


revamping the American Company's processes completely. Syste 
matically he began a study of nickel plating from the ground up. 
With his characteristic thoroughness and love of detail he over 
hauled every item of the routine, questioning everything, searching 
for a better way to do each part of the process. He was teaching 
himself at the same time that he was acting as an expert, but he was 
careful not to say so. 

In the five years that followed this chance answering of a news 
paper ad, Edward Weston went far toward revolutionizing the art 
of electroplating. The improvements and simplifications that he 
made in every phase of the process were gradually adopted by 
others and have become the basis of the modern art of depositing 
metals. If he had been a little older and more experienced, he would 
have realized the commercial value of his improvements and would 
have patented them. As it was, the young man's enthusiasm for 
achievement was so great that he did not notice the commercial 
opportunities inherent in his ideas, and so passed up his first chance 
for a substantial income. 

The first real crudity that Weston eliminated was the slipshod 
method of cleaning the work before plating it. The operators, he 
found, had no idea of the critical nature of the electrochemical re 
actions in the baths and hence took no measures to avoid contami 
nation of the surfaces to which the nickel was supposed to adhere. 
Thus, to prepare objects for plating, they merely buffed them, then 
dipped them in a boiling solution of caustic potash to remove 
grease, and then scrubbed the potash off again with pumice and 
water and a brush. 

The patents under which the company was doing its plating 
granted to Dr. Isaac Adams and licensed to them by their rival, 
the United Nickel Plating Company specifically stated that caustic 
potash would vitiate the electrolyte of the baths. Thus, extraordinary 
measures were taken to scour the potash off, and usually the work 
piece was badly scatched, especially when it was made of brass or 
copper. Weston immediately made careful studies of the solutions 
and found that reasonable traces of potash did no harm whatever. 
He then did away with the pumice treatment and substituted a 
thorough washing. The work improved at once. 


Another phase of the precleaning problem, which bothered the 
plant a great deal and wasted days of time, was the "stripping" of 
old nickel plate from objects sent in to be refinished. One annoying 
job that came in about this time was typical: a large copper coffee 
urn that would not hold its plate and had been back three times for 
a new coat. On the third occasion a workman spent a whole week 
trying to remove the old plating from the curves and pockets of 
the brass. Weston was much disturbed by the inefficiency of such 
hit-or-miss methods and went to work to see what could be done 
about it. Shortly, he had invented an "acid dip" which stripped off 
old nickel plate in a few minutes and left the metal clean and 
unscratched underneath. The fourth time the urn was plated, it 
stayed plated. 

Within a month of his first attack upon inefficiency the com 
pany began to prosper again. A thorough overhaul of the plating 
solutions had resulted in a better, more homogeneous coating of 
nickel which adhered tightly to the metal underneath and did not 
peel. Rejects and returned work dropped considerably. In addition, 
complicated shapes that could not be precleaned properly by 
mechanical methods, could now be securely plated even on their 
most inaccessible parts. Still more, Weston improved upon the 
methods of polishing the finished plate which gave a luster never 
before attained. He was altogether a valuable find for Belden. 

But it was impossible for him to settle down to a dead level of 
production. Merely to keep the plating plant running did not inter 
est him; it must be improved still further. So he decided to invent 
a malleable nickel plating. Electrodeposited nickel was extremely 
hard, difficult to polish, and likely to strip off under extremes of 
temperature in service. Weston envisioned a coating of soft metal 
which could be burnished like silver and would wear "forever." 
But he could not get it to come out that way except by reducing 
the current through the bath so greatly that very little hydrogen 
was formed. Hydrogen, he discovered, promoted hard, brittle nickel 
plate and increased the tendency for the bright metal to part com 
pany with the material underneath. But the price of avoiding it 
was a serious increase in plating time. 

It was a question of compromise something that he would be 


forced to accept all his life with reluctance and the compromise 
in this instance was to accept the hydrogen and the brittleness in 
return for a plating speed that would get the work out commer 
cially fast. 

In the course of his electrolysis studies, the young experimenter 
made an investigation of the plating quality as determined by the 
amount of current flowing through the cells. Like everything else 
in the art, the battery output had been standardized everywhere at 
two volts, delivered by parallel-connected pairs of Smee cells. This 
type of cell was used because its voltage held nearly constant under 
load. The current was determined by the strength of the solution 
and the amount of area being plated. 

Weston soon decided that a constant voltage was undesirable. 
He found that in the early stages of depositing nickel on "inferior" 
metals such as brass and steel, a secondary reaction tended to occur 
with the nickel in solution, plating the work in spots with nickel 
compounds which adhered badly. The shop's method of overcom 
ing this was to make * the plating so thick that these rough spots 
were buried and would not tend to flake off. In working large 
objects with irregular contours and angles, it had always been neces 
sary to scrape the bad spots clean by hand, then replate till they 
were covered. The serious loss of time and the waste of nickel 
were what Weston wanted to eliminate. His solution, which would 
be commonplace in research today, was brilliant and original then: 
He set up a special preliminary plating bath using a higher voltage, 
so that work placed in it received a thin film of pure nickel rapidly 
too quickly for harmful side reactions to take place. Once cov 
ered, the object was then transferred to a standard bath and plated 
slowly, as usual. No bad spots could then appear. When this new 
system was installed, the savings in time and metal were immediate 
and impressive. 

Weston's success with the American company soon gave him a 
position of authority in the whole electroplating field. It was not 
long before others came to consult him. Among them was a chem 
ist who had started a small plating firm in Newark, N. J. After 
this had been running a short time the process began to give a black, 
powdery deposit and large amounts of hydrogen and the inevitable 


high percentage of rejects. Weston went to Newark to see what 
was the matter. Obviously, he saw, it was a case of contamination. 

"I cross-examined the workmen at the plant," he said afterward, 
"but no one would admit doing anything to the solution; yet I 
could not correct it. Then I questioned them even more closely and 
finally they admitted that the tank had leaked and that they had 
saved the plating solution by transferring it to a barrel a 'clean' 
alcohol barrel!" 

Weston could not imagine what there might have been in an 
alcohol barrel that would harm a plating solution, unless it was glue 
that had worked out of the seams. But the men insisted that it had 
been thoroughly scrubbed out. To make sure, he made a solution 
of potassium permanganate, which would react with gelatin, if 
any were present, and added it to the plating bath. The telltale 
pinkish tinge soon appeared. Turning on the current, he found that 
the plating proceeded normally, with no further trouble from 
hydrogen. This gave him one more item of fundamental knowledge 
of the art: even traces of organic matter will ruin plating baths. 
They must be chemically correct in every respect to do proper work. 


During the year 1871 the American Nickel Plating Company 
thrived under Weston's energetic technical direction. Although Wil 
liam Belden took no direct part in running the company, he was 
extremely active in obtaining new business for it. Once the com 
pany began to do well, Belden showed a positive genius for dis 
covering new objects that could be plated, and produced a long 
list of business and political friends who readily "fell" for his 
sales talk. The tremendous post-Civil War boom was still in prog 
ress, and, as in the fantastic period of the 1920*5, people were 
ready to gamble heavily on any new thing that came along. Work 
piled up, and soon there was a waiting list. Every kind of material 
was offered for plating: cast iron, pewter, and many others. Weston 
was kept on the jump developing new wrinkles in chemistry to 
meet the new problems. 

Everything imaginable seemed to look better under a plating of 


shiny nickel: metal buttons, belt buckles, keys, locks. Belden came 
in one day with a broad smile on his face. He had just persuaded 
the city fathers to nickel-plate New York's new fire engines. "Parts 
of them, that is," he added. "Even the huge bulbs used for equal 
izing pump pressure, and the tops of the boilers themselves." 
These were by all odds the largest objects ever plated; Weston had 
to use considerable ingenuity to accommodate the company's over 
worked equipment to this new demand. But Belden was still not 
satisfied. He now proposed that all the cast-iron lamp posts in town 
be nickel-plated, too. Fortunately, the politicians demurred and the 
mad idea was never carried out. It would have cost the taxpayers 
a fortune and made their city as ornate as a Hollywood stage set. 

With all this Edward Weston, aged twenty-one, was doing 
pretty well. In just one year from his landing at Castle Garden he 
had become a recognized authority in a new and important indus 
try. He had made valuable contributions to one of the most useful 
applications of electric power. And he was beginning to make 
money. Although the record does not say so, he had presumably got 
a raise from the American Nickel Plating Company. He might even 
be earning twenty-five dollars a week. 

This being so, he decided to get married. It was a logical thing 
to do. He had spent a lonely first year in New York. America had 
given him a much chillier welcome than he had expected, but this 
was forgotten now in the stimulation of having conquered the new 
country so quickly. Never one to suffer from self-doubt, Edward 
was feeling his oats in good shape. He was a rising young inventor 
with a position to keep up. It was time to strike out for a social 
position in the community, establish a home, and be somebody. 

Perhaps this was not exactly the pattern recommended to rising 
young geniuses who, in America, have always been expected by 
the bride's parents to offer a comfortable living and splendid pros 
pects in return for the fair hand. But it was a much more realistic 
pattern. Weston needed a helpmate. Besides, the girl he had chosen 
had no parents to pass upon his qualifications. She and her brother 
were immigrants like himself. According to the custom in those 
days, they had come over with a group of young people, sent by 


their families to escape the dreary lack of opportunity in Europe. 
The parents frequently did not have the enterprise to come them 
selves. Thus the youthful pioneers were virtually orphans. 

The young lady's name was Wilhelmina Seidel. She was flaxen- 
haired and buxom, a typical farm girl from the Central German 
village of Blankenheim. Her brother Ernest was a huge hulk of a 
man, not too brilliant and not overly ambitious. Wilhelmina's prin 
cipal desire was to become a good housewife and mother and take 
care of an industrious but not necessarily brilliant husband. This 
was not exactly what she got, for she was destined to become the 
wife of a millionaire inventor and business organizer who would 
go down in history as a great scientific pioneer. She understood 
nothing of science or the scientific mind, and very little of the social 
requirements of such a position. Affluence, prestige, and social re 
sponsibility eventually became more than she could deal with, and 
she died an unhappy woman, never quite equal to the strange new 
world so different from her native farm. However, she had a few 
years of happy toil while Edward was making his vigorous start 
in business. 

Young immigrants were apt to stick together in the melting pot 
fast coming to a boil in the New York of the seventies. There were 
thousands of them of every nationality, all pretty much crowded 
into lower Manhattan. The town was rigidly divided into the rich 
and the poor. The Grand Hotel, at 3ist and Broadway, was the lid 
on the pot. The territory above it was a different world a world 
of elegant victorias, spacious mansions, tree-shaded Fifth Avenue 
and Central Park, complete with banks and milling Sunday crowds 
that often made gala occasions of important funerals, saved up for 
the holiday. Everybody had a good time. The new Grand Central 
Station stood in the midst of it, a symbol of the affluence that was 
just then turning the Rockefellers, the Astors, and the Vanderbilts 
into a legend. Horace Greeley headed the Tribune and would soon 
be put up to run for President against General Grant. The notorious 
Tweed Ring was on the brink of its downfall at the hands of 
temporary Reform. 

Downtown, things were more boisterous but no less jolly. Since 
most churches were uptown where the rich could support them 


with large pew fees, the people spent their Sunday holidays in 
revelry. Public gardens, beer enclosures, and concert saloons re 
flected the bibulous but goodhearted habits of the Old Country. 
The crowds danced, bowled, and drank mostly drank. It was in 
this environment that Weston acquired his great love for a tail 
glass of beer. 

For a few cents you could ride for four hours on a horse car and 
arrive at Coney Island, where the bathing was as good as the volum 
inous costumes of the day would permit. High, wide and handsome 
was the life. It cost ten dollars to send a ten- word telegram. There 
was a subway 295 feet long under Broadway from Warren to 
Murray Street, but not a single sanitary eating house where good 
food could be had. The police were an undisciplined mob whose 
members often changed sides with the many hoodlum gangs that 
thrived under the waning Boss Tweed and the rising Tammany. 
Women wore their hair in ringlets and kept their busts from pop 
ping out with corsets definitely too small to contain them. They 
purchased their food at filthy markets which had no iceboxes, at 
the insistence of barkers who stood out front and raucously pro 
claimed their wares. 

Although Edward was a young man of serious purpose, he did 
find time occasionally to indulge in the undisciplined merriment 
of the neighborhood. 

Elegant or at least neat young men took their girls to the 
beer halls or Coney Island, or walked them around the waterfront 
at the Battery; they bought them a small flower now and then and 
proposed to them quietly in dim-lit boarding house parlors. We 
should not count it very romantic today, but perhaps romance was 
then less a matter of glamor than of prospects, and these were, in 
the girl's eyes, whatever a young man's ambition and imagination 
could make them. New York was then an environment of little 
strain and much good-natured fun. The poor had not yet been 
taught to be sorry for themselves; they probably had more fun than 
the haughty rich uptown. 

Edward had little time for romantic words. He had enormous 
energy instead. He was short and rather chunky; his eagerness was 
less in his face than in his rapid movement a sort of determined 


push in and out of a room or along a sidewalk, as if somebody had 
sent for him. Wilhelmina liked that; it gave her a sense of adven 
ture merely to be by his side. There was always a problem to be 
solved, and never did Edward hesitate or procrastinate. He always 
knew what he was going to do next. It might not work, but if it 
didn't, something else would instantly occur to him. He was a 
pleasant contrast to the ineffectual rivals whom he summarily 
pushed aside. 

Edward never wrote letters if he could help it. Neither did Min 
nie. So there was no bundle of love letters to hand down to pos 
terity; no record of the courtship; no confidences to friends hinting 
that he had captured her motherly German heart. There was 
nothing at all but a marriage certificate. 

They were joined in the modest little Methodist Episcopal church 
on the corner of Duane Street and what was then Seventh Avenue. It 
was the fifteenth of August, 1871. Brother Ernest loomed over the 
couple and the minister as he gave the bride away. A handful of 
friends stood stiffly in the pews and waited for the ceremony to 
finish. Afterward they all went out and had beers and much revelry, 
while the happy couple disappeared. The honeymoon may have 
consisted of one night at the Grand Hotel, or at Coney Island. It may 
not have included even that, for there was little money to pay for 
such extravagances and no time to waste on them. The young hus 
band, being the mainstay of a prominent nickel-plating concern, had 
to get back to his job. The young wife turned to, likewise, deter 
mined to make a presentable home out of the dreary two-room flat 
that Edward had been occupying at 96 Sixth Avenue. 


All was not well, however, with the American Nickel Plating 
Company. No sooner had Edward Weston committed himself to 
the responsibilities of a family than he learned that his employers 
were in serious difficulties with their competitors, the United Com 
pany. These people contended that the plating formula Weston 
had been using, and improving, was covered in the Adams patent 
but had not been licensed to him. Now, the owners were suing to 
recover the patent, claiming infringements and general piracy. To 


the young scientist, this seemed much more serious than it actually 
was. He did not yet know that the life of an inventor of his day 
was about evenly divided between the laboratory and the courtroom. 
But he was soon to find this out, and when he did, he would become 
one of the most powerful witnesses ever to enter a patent case. 

This particular case did not have time to involve Weston in any 
other way than to make him mad, for the company fortunes quickly 
ran onto other difficulties that were at first serious and then fatal. 
William Belden, as has been said, was a stockbroker by trade, and 
he saw nickel plating primarily as a market operation. With the 
rapid growth of the plating art, partly due to Weston's own im 
provements, nickel itself became very scarce. Not a great deal was 
being mined then and the price naturally soared. The temptation 
was too great for Belden and his friends, and they began buying 
up the metal wherever they could find it, acquiring a stockpile that 
presently reached the proportions of a corner on the market. They 
even denied their own plant the use of the vital nickel, preferring 
to sell it to competitors in small amounts at a large profit, 

One day early in 1872, Belden walked into the plant and touched 
Edward Weston on the shoulder. "Young man/' he said. "Wind up 
the work in hand and draw your pay. We are closing down." 

Edward stared at him but made no reply. He was a man of few 
words, and argument would have been useless. He was well aware 
of what had been going on. But a scientist couldn't argue with a 
promoter. They were worlds apart. Besides, he was much too angry, 
and anger made him even more silent. 

So the job ended as it had begun, suddenly and beyond his con 
trol. There 'was nothing for it but to go out and look for work 
again. This was not a fortunate turn of events. Minnie, long preg 
nant, gave birth to a son at precisely this moment: the summer of 
1872. They named him Walter. Edward insisted that his middle 
name should be Coleman. He had never forgotten the kindly old 
doctor who had given him a start in his scientific career. 

Weston naturally began by pursuing his connections in the electro 
plating business. Within a few weeks he had found a berth as 
technician for the Silver Nickel Plating Company, also in New 
York. This was a small outfit, which bore a remarkable resemblance 


to the American Company as Weston had found it the year before. 
It had been attempting to do silver plating without much success 
and was struggling against annihilation. In anything but boom 
times it would have failed long before. Edward took one look at the 
broken-down shop and immediately turned it into a nickel-plating 

Characteristically, he was losing interest in his "expert"' duties as 
a plating chemist. What really engaged his attention now was the 
problem of a better current supply for the tanks. The Smee cells 
universally used were far from satisfactory expensive and short 
lived. He realized that large current demands could never be met 
by primary batteries; the dynamo was the logical source of power. 
But there were no dynamos available in 1872 that could be depended 
upon. He decided to meet the challenge by designing one of his own. 

But this did not solve the immediate problem; it would take too 
long and be too costly. So he went to work on an improved galvanic 
battery and soon had an idea for one which he thought a great 
advance. But a mere idea was a long way from an accomplished 
fact. It would take money and time for development, exactly as 
with a dynamo. Just now he had neither to spare. Blocked, he 
marked time impatiently. 

Weston's stay with the Silver Company was not long. As his 
interest was rapidly shifting to electricity, he quit the job and ob 
tained a position as "consulting expert" to the Commercial Printing 
Telegraph Company, makers of stock-ticker equipment. It seemed 
to him that this would be a fine chance to develop his battery ideas. 
Telegraphy was really the only logical place to use primary batteries. 
The combination of small current and relatively high voltage re 
quired for long lines was well suited to battery output. Edward 
had dreams of perfecting and patenting his invention and winning 
acceptance with it in this large industry. 

He was disappointed. The company regarded him in about the 
same light as an organization of today would regard a young labor 
atory assistant. His days, and sometimes his nights, were filled with 
routine experimental work on telegraph instruments. He was too 
much bound to earning a living to dare to be independent. 

The luck that had attended his first two years in Ainerica seemed 


to have abandoned him now. He had hardly settled himself in his 
new job when the company was bought out by a larger one the Gold 
and Stock Telegraph Company, which was a subsidiary of Western 

In the postwar boom of the iSyo's many a wild commercial battle 
was fought by interests little less than predatory. So much of the 
scientific domain was brand-new, and so many bright young men 
were at work inventing the same thing, that companies were formed 
overnight on the flimsiest of pretexts. It was much like the Cal 
ifornia gold rush of '49. The gold was there; everyone who could 
muster an idea or a dollar plunged into the welter of fierce com 
petition, claim jumping, feuding, piracy, and downright hard work, 
hoping to make his million. There were virtually no laws to protect 
anybody; a patent was no more than "a license to fight." The few 
large organizations like Western Union were constantly harassed 
by infringers, and just as frequently bulldozed their way through 
the legitimate claims of other people. It was a joyful age of stealing 
what you could get with one hand while clinging desperately to 
what was your own with the other. 

Though many an honest man invented and patented what he 
firmly believed to be original, he soon learned that originality did 
not count so much as an ability to fight. And the small inventor 
without funds had no chance at all. If he had anything worth steal 
ing it would be gone before the ink was dry on the patent. 

Consequently, Edward Weston decided not to work for Western 
Union. He sincerely believed that if he did, they would soon pry his 
battery idea out of him and appropriate it. 

Late in the fall of 1872 Edward found himself again without 
work and with little prospect of getting it. He had learned a great 
deal about how business was conducted; enough, perhaps, to believe 
that he himself could succeed at a venture of his own. But not 
without capital. All he had in the world was the few dollars a week 
he still got for helping Professor Stone at Cooper Union. A con 
servative young man would have taken what work he could find and 
waited till he had put something in the bank. But Weston was not 
conservative. He would rather found a business of his own and be 
independent than go on marking time on a small salary. 


Casting about for a reasonably promising venture, he could find 
nothing except commercial photography. It was the only thing that 
he could afford. And so, with some slight protest from his wife, 
he compressed the family living quarters at 96 Sixth Avenue into 
the rear of the two rooms he occupied, and turned the front room 
into a studio. Friends from the Murdock days helped him acquire 
the necessary camera and supplies. By the time he was ready to open 
he had used up every penny of savings. The little family prepared 
to live on what he could make and no more. 

He called his place "Weston's Photograph Gallery," and when 
he was lucky enough to get customers at all, he tried to persuade 
them to sit for a wet-plate portrait. If they didn't have the money, 
he made them an old-fashioned tintype instead. Minnie had hung 
a few cheap drapes about the bare little room so that the subject 
could pose himself against a reasonably neutral background while 
the plate took its long "soaking" in the camera. Those were the 
days before artificial photographic lighting. The subject had to sit 
still long enough for the daylight to filter in through the dingy win 
dows and capture his fixed smile in the rapidly drying collodion 
emulsion. Then he waited while the young photographer retired to 
his tiny dark room and, with the aid of more chemical solutions, dis 
covered whether he had actually caught the portrait or whether 
the tedious posing and exposing would have to be done over again. 

Edward was good at the job; he had a natural instinct for manipu 
lating materials, and a sound knowledge of the photochemical pro 
cess. His portraits were as good as anybody's in town. This brought 
him a fair amount of business enough so that on occasion cus 
tomers had to wait their turn. To keep them from getting tired and 
going away, he provided a number of stereoscopes, complete with 
assorted views of Niagara Falls, handsome flower girls, and the 
Arc de Triomphe in Paris. This famous old device, held to the face 
something like a gas mask, displayed two pictures at once, one for 
each eye, and gave the illusion of three dimensions. Presently they 
became so popular that the customers began "lifting" the prints, 
slipping them into their pockets while the proprietor's back was 
turned. Edward, never at a loss for a strong comeback when justice 
was concerned, devised a very effective antidote. Across the back of 


every view card and sometimes on the front he wrote in large 

Stolen from Weston's 

Photograph Gallery 

96 Sixth Ave. 

Customers callous enough to display booty around their homes with 
this accusation written on it proved to be few indeed. 

But this was purely a negative success and there was no positive 
one to accompany it. No matter how much his frugal German 
hausjrau skimped and saved, the family could not exist on the 
young husband's photographic earnings. Rapidly the supply of 
money approached the vanishing point. 

But Edward Weston never stayed down very long. As Christmas 
of 1872 approached and the photography business faded, he came 
across a man named George J. Harris, who seemed to have some 
money and was looking for a good business to invest it in. With a 
sudden return of enthusiasm, Edward proposed that they start an 
electroplating company together. Harris knew nothing about it, but 
the young man's vigor and his obvious knowledge of his subject 
appealed to him as a fair guarantee of success. He put up the 

The firm of Harris and Weston was organized late in December, 
1872, and opened a modest little shop on Elm Street for general elec- 
' troplating work in copper, nickel, silver, and gold. Weston presided 
over the manufacturing end, while Harris took care of the financing 
and administration and hunted up customers. At Weston' s sug 
gestion they had billheads printed that read: 

"We guarantee our nickel not to strip or peel." 

They had decided to make a specialty of nickel work, using Wes 
ton's numerous improvements in the process. 

The business thrived, for Weston was as good as his word. His 
nickel plating was of better quality than any other obtainable in the 
city. It thrived so well that soon it was necessary to move into 


larger quarters. The firm took two adjacent buildings on the corner 
of Center and Hester Streets, opposite the old downtown station of 
the Harlem Railroad. They employed as many as a dozen men. 

No sooner had the change been made than the country was en 
gulfed in the great Panic of 1873. With catastrophic suddenness, 
on September 18, the famous banking house of Jay Cooke & Co., 
of Philadelphia closed its doors. This was a signal for general 
disaster. Frightened depositors stormed the banks all over the East, 
ruining many, temporarily disabling many more. Almost identical 
in cause with the great crash of 1929, of which it was a progenitor, 
the panic had followed a tremendous postwar boom: overproduc 
tion, overconfidence, wild speculation. Within a few weeks it had 
swept the country. The depression which resulted was long and 
terrible. Five years later, Henry Ward Beecher was still lecturing 
on "Hard Times," assigning the blame for them to the lack of 
confidence between man and man. By 1878, 47,000 businesses had 
failed, more than a billion of invested capital had been lost. 

It was ironic that Edward Weston would have chosen this partic 
ular decade to come to America to make his fortune. Thousands of 
brilliant people were driven to the wall. That he was not among 
them was due partly to his tremendous will to push ahead and 
partly to the rise of the new electrical industry. In fact, it was 
electricity as much as anything that lit the new lamp of prosperity 
as the decade closed. 

Harris and Weston hung on somehow during what Beecher called 
"the darkest days of America." It was an extraordinary feat for so 
new and insecure a concern; due wholly to Weston's courage and 

He had learned something from his friend Belden: women loved 
small shiny objects for self-adornment and would buy such things 
in vast quantities, especially if they were silver-plated. Now he 
reasoned that if he could change the fashion to nickel plating 
a less expensive and more showy style he would have an anchor 
to windward to ride out the storm. No matter how deep a depression 
is, the business of female adornment never quite fails. 

His judgment proved entirely correct. Dozens of small feminine 
ornaments lent themselves to plating with nickel: shoe buckles, hair 


combs, barrettes, buttons, belt buckles, earrings. Soon the plant was 
almost entirely devoted to turning out these things by the hundreds. 
He was able to sell them immediately and in wholesale lots to 
Jewish merchants throughout the city. The virtue of these outlets 
was that these merchants always had ready money, panic or no panic, 
and paid for the goods on delivery. The ladies didn't seem to mind the 
change from silver to nickel; they enjoyed this gesture toward 

When survival seemed assured at the beginning of 1874, Weston 
at last was able to turn his attention to a research he had been con 
templating eagerly for two years. This was the invention of a 
dynamo suitable for supplying current for electroplating. He was 
convinced that the primary battery was not the logical source of 
power for this work, even though he himself had plans for a 
superior chemical cell of his own. Dynamos could be made compact 
and in any size desired; they would not wear out for many years. 
So he turned the full force of his inventive ability toward solving 
the problem. 


We left the history of the dynamo in 1867, when the machine 
was still a crude affair. The designs of Siemens, Pacinotti, Varley, 
Wheatstone, and Farmer had more or less defined the future trend 
toward an efficient arrangement of closed magnetic circuit, cylin 
drical armature, and a double winding on the field poles to level 
off the voltage at all electrical loads. Basic principles were under 
stood; it was now necessary to improve the engineering of the 
device. This Weston undertook to do. 

In 1871 Zenobe Theophile Gramme, a Belgian electrician, had 
begun this work, producing a dynamo with a ring armature similar 
to Pacinotti's. However, it was not till 1873 that Gramme's machine 
arrived in America. An important new element in his design, it was 
found, lay in the fact that he had abandoned the use of a solid 
cylinder of steel for the armature core, replacing this with a bundle 
of iron wires fastened parallel to the shaft. The purpose of this was 
to avoid "eddy currents," generated in the steel by the changing of 
the magnetic lines of force, an action which diverted considerable 


of the useful power into waste heat within the armature. By using 
small iron wires, the eddy current paths were made very short and 
the stray currents, and hence the resistance loss, were greatly reduced. 

Gramme's main contribution, however, was his ability to pub 
licize his designs. He had the backing of many prominent scientists 
in Paris and was able to put squarely before the scientific world the 
need of improving dynamo efficiency by careful attention to prin 
ciples. At this moment the art of electrical design was born. 

Nevertheless, Gramme's early dynamos were clumsy and ineffi 
cient. In fact, as Edward Weston combed the market for an electro 
plating machine to act as a model he could find nothing remotely 
suitable. Illogically, this discovery encouraged him. It meant that 
he could make the advance himself. 

Both Gramme and Henry Wilde had claimed that their dynamos 
could be used for electroplating with better success than batteries. 
But they had had little opportunity to prove it. The plating fra 
ternity did not want dynamos. They had used batteries for a great 
many years and clung tightly to the notion that their jealously 
guarded tricks of manipulating them were responsible for successful 
results. It was no small undertaking for a young man with relatively 
little experience to invade this tight corner of manufacture and 
revolutionize it, at the same time revolutionizing the design of elec 
trical machinery. But that was what he intended to do. 

He must first build a dynamo that would actually do electro 
plating work. The requirements were that rather large, steady cur 
rents must be supplied at a closely regulated voltage and at a better 
over-all efficiency than batteries could do it. It was an uphill job 
indeed, for many a plating establishment could get along very well 
with an outlay of twenty dollars or so in primary cells. Nobody 
could build a dynamo for any such sum as that. His hope, therefore, 
was a long-range one to persuade the industry to expand, and 
in expanding to create a need for machines with an output which 
no battery could equal. 

Weston's first dynamo followed the Gramme design fairly closely, 
except that it did not use iron wire for the armature core but simply 
two pole pieces mounted radially on the shaft. It was a pretty cum 
bersome affair. He got it built in Newark, by the firm that he had 


previously helped out of chemical difficulties with plating solutions, 
When it was completed he set it up in his little Elm Street shop and 
connected it to a small steam engine and boiler. It generated enough 
current so that actual plating could be done with it. 

The machine had two separate armatures on its shaft, revolving 
within the same pole pieces. One supplied the field current, the 
other the outside load. The machine was bolted to a heavy table and 

An early Weston dynamo. 

driven by a belt. To control the output current, Weston inserted 
resistance in the field circuit, using a rheostat made of German 
silver wire and wound around the legs of the table. The machine 
proved to have so much power that he was able to run a primitive 
arc lamp off the field-exciting armature. In spite of mechanical 
shortcomings his electrical design had proved to be remarkably good. 

So good, in fact, that the Newark people asked if they could 
copy it. Weston agreed, and when the parts were ready he did the 
winding for them. This dynamo went into regular service in Newark 
and was still going strong forty years later when It was destroyed 
in a fire. 

Weston had proved to himself that the dynamo could be applied 
"to electroplating. His own business was already benefiting from its 
use. But he knew definitely that he could not sell such a crude 
machine. Consequently, he worked out a second design, using only 


one armature, and making the whole machine more compact. This 
was also built for him in Newark, and proved so much better that 
he decided to standardize on the design and attempt to market it. 
Twenty of the new dynamos were built before he realized that he 
still did not have a commercially useful product. The efficiency was 
still too low and the cost too high to permit it to compete with 

Much time went by, and the Harris and Weston firm did fairly 
well. With its inventor always on hand to make changes and set up 
jury rigs, the dynamo gave admirable service; the shop abandoned 
batteries altogether, except for delicate work in plating with gold. 
But Edward Weston was determined that his future should lie not 
in successful electroplating but in the development of electrical 
machinery. A salable dynamo must somehow be devised. 

The only way to balance the high cost of dynamos against the 
much cheaper battery was to increase their output per dollar of 
investment to such an extent that they would actually be cheaper 
than batteries. This meant a sharp rise in efficiency. The only way 
to achieve that was to make a detailed investigation of the basic 
theory of electromagnetic machines something that no one had 
yet had the patience to do. But Weston had patience to spare, and 
also a natural instinct for getting to the bottom of a scientific prob 
lem. The work he started in dynamo design in the early seventies 
kept him busy for nearly ten years. Though it was spread out evenly 
over that period some of it is telescoped here for clarity and 

His first important observation was that the armatures of his 
dynamos got very hot in service. This heat was a dead loss. It was 
simple enough to calculate the mechanical input from the steam 
engine, and the electrical output of the dynamo. Hence its efficiency 
could be measured with fair accuracy. This turned out to be very 
poor less than 40 per cent. The other 60 per cent was thrown 
away in heat. The large temperature rise prevented the machine 
from being operated at anywhere near its designed load. A simple 
improvement, which he introduced at once, was the ventilation of 
the armature by boring a series of holes through the steel, length 
wise, parallel to the shaft. A stream of cooling air could then be 


directed through these. The result was the end of overheating. This 
improved the capacity but had little effect on the efficiency. 

The cause of the large loss in the armature was pretty well 
known the heating effect of large eddy currents set up in the steel 
by the rapidly changing magnetic flux. These currents circled about 
in the steel which offered them short-circuited paths and permitted 
them to become very large. Only the high resistance of the metal 
kept them from absorbing all the mechanical power supplied to 
the armature. The obvious cure was to break up the electrical circuit 
in the steel. Gramme had done it with some success by using a 
bundle of iron wires. The same scheme was used in the cores of 
induction coils. But iron wires were too weak structurally for ma 
chines of appreciable power. 

Weston's signal contribution here was the breaking up of the 
armature steel into insulated sections at right angles to the shaft. 
He realized immediately that the way to do this was to punch out 
a large number of disks, cut away at the circumference to form the 
typical two-pole shape, and assemble them with thin spacers of in 
sulating material between, thus cutting down the eddy-current paths 
to very small dimensions. But he was too poor at the time to afford 
a large punch press for making such disks. So he made his armature 
of a single piece of cast iron and cut deep circular grooves in it, 
concentric with the shaft. The result was much less heating and a 
considerable improvement in efficiency. 

One of the experimental forms of this arrangement is interesting 
because it was a real forerunner of modern alternating-current 
machines. Its armature consisted of a wooden drum. Over this 
Weston slipped a series of flat iron rings, separating each one from 
its neighbor by a thin ring of stout paper. At one end a larger 
copper ring was fixed, and at the other a commutator. Instead of 
windings of wire, he soldered a group of parallel copper strips to 
the end ring and divided their farther ends equally between the two 
sections of the commutator, so that each "coil** became a group of 
heavy conductors in parallel. The similarity of this arrangement to 
the squirrel-cage induction motor of much later date was quite close, 
but of course Weston was unable to bury the copper in the iron 
and so could not get a good magnetic path around the bars. The 


combination of the large air gap and high cost of manufacture made 
the machine impractical He soon went back to the simple two-pole 
cast-iron armature, similar to the toy motors which we have even 
today; this was relatively cheap to build and, though inefficient, 
produced power in reasonable amounts. He had made the opening 
attack upon eddy current losses and was forced to bide his time 
till there was money for further experiment. 

However, his studies of armature design had pointed the way 
to a second, and quite as important, advance: the use of the largest 
possible conductors in the armature circuit, consistent with the 
voltage required, in order to cut down the resistance losses in the 
copper. Dynamo theory had grown up as an extension of the theory 
of batteries, in which it was a fundamental principle that the re 
sistance of the external circuit should be equal to the internal 
resistance of the battery itself. Inventors had always supposed that 
the same relationship should be maintained for the dynamo machine. 
Weston saw that this introduced high resistance losses in the arma 
ture at heavy loads and answered no useful purpose. He therefore 
made the conductors as large as possible for the number of turns 
needed to produce a given voltage, and was again rewarded with an 
important increase in efficiency. 

He had now established two of the basic principles of design; 
tests showed him that in theory at least it should be possible to 
construct a machine for any given service with an efficiency of better 
than 90 per cent, the losses being confined mainly to friction and 
such electrical resistance in armature and field as could not be 
eliminated. There were other losses, such as the hysteresis of the 
magnetic circuit, which would not be recognized and dealt with 
for many years yet. However, in general, he had tracked down and 
overcome the worst shortcomings, and felt that he could produce a 
dynamo that would be commercially profitable to build and sell. 

In accepting the Perkin Medal Award in 1915, Edward Weston 
harked back to those early days of dynamo making: 

I started to design another machine [he said]. I had to reduce the amount 
of work to a minimum and also the amount of material. Hence, the machine 
was almost entirely made in a lathe cylindrical work. There were only two 
parts . . . which called for a milling machine or plane. After that machine 


was designed and built and tested we could see that we had something with 
which we had some possibility of success, but it probably would require 
quite a lot of hard work to introduce it and get people to buy it. So I de 
signed two small machines: one was about four inches in diameter and about 
six inches long, to be sold for $65 to the little platers. The other size was 
about eight inches in diameter and about six inches in length, the armature 
being somewhat larger, and that was to take care of the pretty good-sized 
plant and sell for $165. 

The remarkable thing about this was that he expected to run a 
whole electroplating shop with a machine no bigger than an auto 
mobile lighting generator of today. It was certainly a tribute to his 
engineering courage, the more so because he had spent most of his 
life so far on chemistry. And he succeeded. 

This was the beginning of Weston's leadership in the electric 
power field. He maintained that lead for a decade; his designs 
were still the best that could be found when they were shown at 
the Franklin Institute Electrical Exhibit in 1884. By that time he was 
a successful manufacturer of dynamos, some of which showed an 
efficiency of better than 90 per cent, well ahead of all his com 
petitors, including Edison. 

Just now, in 1873, it was almost impossible to sell a dynamo, no 
matter how good it was. 

Some of the difficulties we encountered were very amusing. First, . . . 
long-time plating. The platers got ready during the day and ran the baths 
at night so there was on an average twelve to fourteen hours of plating. Of 
course, that could not be done with a machine because it would require 
the steam power all night. Necessarily, we had to change their solutions and 
methods in order to coat as thickly in about two and a half to three and a 
half hours as had been done in twelve to fourteen hours. And solutions were 
a tender subject. Then, the operators themselves did not like the machine 
for they regarded their skillful manipulation of the batteries as part of their 
stock in trade. 

Again, the matter of price was a serious stumbling block. He per 
suaded a Mr. Strickland of Albany to try out a dynamo in his silver- 
plating works. Strickland was quite annoying about it, for although 
he permitted a machine to be installed, he gave little cooperation 
and merely took the newfangled thing on trial, no money down. 


Weston spent many days getting the plant changed over, with scant 
help from anybody. At the end of a month the plater paid for the 
dynamo and kept it. He was convinced. "You tell that fellow Wes 
ton/' he remarked to a mutual friend, "that I did everything in 
the world to insult him when he was trying to do me a favor/' 

This is often the way of great inventions. The people who ought 
to do most to support them usually go out of their way to ignore 
them and cast doubts upon the men who make them. At least, that 
was the way in those days; now, a big invention does not even reach 
the public till millions have been spent on its development and its 
performance can be guaranteed. No doubt the nineteenth century 
was right in its reluctance; the public itself was the laboratory in 
which every invention was developed. It had to stand for some 
pretty hard knocks and not a few expensive disappointments. 

However, Edward Weston was one of those who really had 
something to give, and he knew it. Within a year or two his plating 
dynamos had "caught on" so well that he had begun to devote most 
of his time to them. 

The period from 1873 to 1875 was one f reasonable prosperity 
for Weston, and there was no more scraping to find money for 
the next meal for his family. The plating business kept growing, 
and he was assured of selling as many dynamos as he could get 
built, which was not very many. 

But Weston's mind was broad enough to embrace more than one 
project at a time. Thus, in the midst of his close attention to dynamo 
design he made a second attempt to improve the quality of nickel 
plating and succeeded. The malleable nickel which had eluded 
him in 1871 yielded to capture now. 

His victory resulted purely from his ability to investigate to the 
root of a matter and really know what it was about. In this case 
he was working in a branch of chemistry electroplating which 
was full of notions and taboos, based partly on ignorance and 
partly on rule of thumb. Some of these notions were embodied in 
the Adams patent, on which most platers relied for their methods. 
One of them in particular was that the single salts of nickel could 


not be used for the plating solution that is, nickel chloride, sul 
phate, and so on. The same rule forbade the use of the double 
sulfate of nickel and potassium, or any other combination of nickel 
and an alkali metal. If you worked with the alkalis, you deposited 
the more active metal on the work and got no nickel plating at all. 
If you tried the single salts you would first get a good nickel coating 
but soon destroy it with an added layer of nickel hydroxide, a dirty, 
green deposit that was familiar in every plating establishment when 
depositing was done too fast. 

These rules seemed all wrong to Weston. He knew that the 
alkali metals could never plate out in metallic form, for they were 
too active. They would immediately recombine with water to form 
hydroxides in solution. As for the green hydroxide deposit, there 
was no doubt of its existence, but only a question as to how it got 
there and whether it was unavoidable. The fact that the U.S. Patent 
Office had backed up Adams in these contentions and had given him 
a patent to prove it, meant nothing to the young chemist. He wanted 
to find out what actually did happen and then remedy it. 

It seemed a simple matter to him, now, to prepare some very 
pure solutions in which all the ingredients were under close control 
and to demonstrate what the chemical reactions really were. Con 
structing a miniature electroplating tank he filled it with a solution 
of the single salt, nickel sulphate, then introduced electrodes of 
copper and nickel, and passed current through it. At first the nickel 
plated out on the copper perfectly, then began to deposit the char 
acteristic green hydroxide. Weston tested the solution and found 
that, while it had at first been acid, it was now alkaline. He made 
it acid again by the addition of a little sulphuric acid, and the green 
scum instantly disappeared. This, then, was the real explanation. It 
was not the use of the single nickel salt that caused the trouble, as 
Adams contended, but the preponderance of nickel hydroxide gen 
erated in the solution by the chemical transfer during plating. By 
keeping the bath always acidulous, Weston showed that the single 
nickel salts chloride, bromide, sulphate, or iodide would all pro 
duce good plating. Moreover, a great deal smoother and finer plate 
could be deposited, and much faster than by the old method. 

Then came the crucial test: 


Not satisfied with this I prepared extraordinarily pure nickel, taking great 
precautions to exclude every trace of potash, soda, alumina and lime, and I 
found that the solution acted exactly as did my first solution and the com 
mercial sort. This led to the invention of a nickel anode and a new solution 
that gave me my really first great start. 

Standard anodes were then made of cast nickel. Weston now 
introduced a new type, composed of pure nickel grains mixed with 
powdered carbon and a binder of pitch (later he used molasses), 
all compacted into a block by hydraulic pressure. With this, and a 
solution kept acidified with weak boric acid, he was able to produce 
nickel plating that was as soft and smooth as silver, that could be 
rolled or hammered, and that did not flake or chip off. He had 
reached his intended goal. 

After a year of successful use, he patented the anode. It was his 
first patent, obtained in the summer of 1875, an d became basic in 
the electroplating industry forthwith. 

Three years later he took out another patent, this time on the use 
of the single nickel salt with boric acid added. Again he had pro 
duced a basic change in the art. But this time, he and his patent 
attorney slipped. He should have written "a mild acid" in place of 
"boric" Eventually, smart competitors substituted acetic acid and 
were able to benefit from Weston's invention without the annoyance 
of paying him royalties. 


The triumph in electroplating chemistry, it is true, led to patents 
and the enviable position of having caused a revolution in the 
industry. But it was clouded by continual trouble, which caused a 
serious drain on Weston's time and patience and in fact threatened 
the very existence of his new venture. No sooner had Harris and 
Weston formed their partnership than they fell heir to the lawsuit 
which the United Nickel Company had originally brought against 
the American Nickel Plating Company. But now the complaint had 
broadened from a simple action to recover the use of the Adams 
patents from a licensee, to a full-fledged infringement action which 
sought to put Harris and Weston out of business. 

Although at that time patents were granted in a few weeks after 


applications were filed, infringement suits were luxuries of a dif 
ferent order. They often went on for years. The action against 
Weston, argued before the U.S. Circuit Court for the Southern 
District of New York, was not finally settled until October, 1878. 
The plaintiffs won, proving infringement of two claims of the 
Adams patent. But the delay was fortunate, for by that time the 
young inventor was well out of the plating business and was suc 
cessful enough in dynamo manufacture to have money to pay the 

This first patent suit was a bitter experience to Weston. But it 
was a valuable introduction into a field which he subsequently 
came to love, because it exactly suited his belligerent nature. It 
showed him the kind of competition he was up against and would 
have to meet all his life. In an art as new as applied electricity it 
was to be a downright battle for supremacy, based on the simplest 
fundamentals, evident to all. It was to be a case of one man's 
ingenuity against another's. There was no organized research then 
to supply a great variety of new principles on which patents could 
be soundly based. Technical knowledge was so scant that there was 
no room as yet for patents to be well differentiated. 

But that bothered no one. In fact, inventors seemed to enjoy the 
risks immensely. We speak with horror today of "cutthroat" com 
petition. In those times they lived and thrived on nothing else, as 
eager for the struggle as a group of jockeys pounding along a 
narrow track, constantly fouling each other to gain an inch of 
advantage on the turns. 

In electroplating, in dynamo design, in electric arc lighting, there 
was one set of fundamental scientific facts from which every in 
ventor must start, and the result was that everybody invented ap 
proximately the same thing, hastily patented it, and rushed into man 
ufacture, hoping to sell as many units as possible before th inevi 
table infringement suit started. 

Although Weston's experiments had shown the Adams patent 
claims to be unsound chemically, the lawyers did such a fine job 
of argument, invective, and sarcasm that the bewildered judge 
found for the plaintiffs. In establishing the genius of Dr. Adams, 
Edward N. Didcerson, the chief counsel for the complainant, de- 


scribed an occasion when the inventor had saved a plater whose 
solutions wouldn't work: 

The Remington patent (another alleged infringement) was as compre 
hensive as the heavens. It was a patent for anything nickel-plated. They 
could not make it work; and they accidentally came in contact with Dr. 
Adams and put him in there to see what he could do. ... Adams went in 
there and made the solution and it was then that the hinges . . . were 
plated. . . . Mrs. Peabody, being a Spiritualist, fell into a trance, to find 
out how Adams did the plating, and it was revealed to her that it was done 
by means of skunk's cabbage; and so Remington got skunk's cabbage and 
put it into his solution to make it plate. These were the people who claimed 
to have a patent for the successful art of nickel plating. . . . 

And so on, the intention being to indicate that anybody except 
Adams who tried electroplating was either an alchemist or a pirate. 

By his decision the judge admitted that this was so. 

Seeing how much nonsense enjoyed the dignity of acceptance in 
court, Weston determined to become an expert in the giving of 
testimony, hoping to bring some sanity into so preposterous a situa 
tion. It was apparent that neither the lawyers nor the judges knew 
anything about science. It ought to be easy to confound them by 
producing a little of the truth. In subsequent years he did just this, 
and became a pioneer in raising the level of the typical patent suit 
from the ridiculous to a reasonably competent technical routine in 
which justice could be fairly secured. He was so successful, indeed, 
that litigants sought him again and again for his professional testi 
mony. It became a byword in civil court that if Edward Weston 
was to testify, the opponents had best look to their case. 

But only Weston himself could know how bitter had been that 
first defeat or how cruel the lesson it had taught. 

In 1874, with the case in full swing, Harris signified that he 
would like to withdraw from the business. His retirement was 
only partial, but he ceased to be of any real use. Weston found 
another partner, a Mr, Warner, and the firm name was changed to 
Warner and Weston. But the new blood did not have much color; 
Warner played along but he did not do much work, especially in 
court. Weston found himself virtually running a one-man concern. 
The load was too great. The once profitable business was close to 


ruin. Yet he honored his obligations to his partners and put up a 
valiant battle to guard their interests as well as his own. 

How serious was the situation is shown by one of his rare letters, 
written to a machinist in Newark who was helping him to build his 
early plating dynamos. 

182 Centre St. 
Jan. 30th, 1874 
Friend Theberath: 

I do not see how I can get over to Newark to fix up the 
machine. You know how I have neglected my business for the 
last year and 10 months on account of this terrible law suit. The 
consequence is that our business is almost ruined and we find it 
difficult to make ends meet. . . . You see I am indeed in a pe 
culiarly distressing position. My duty to my partners calling for 
my time in the business; and my duty to you, who has done me 
so many kindnesses, and to whom I am deeply obligated, calling 
upon me to put the machine in such a position that it can be 
placed upon the market. 

Although I am extremely poor and find it difficult to get along 
with the salary I am getting from the nickel business, and really 
wish I was free, yet I cannot, even though I do suffer, conscien 
tiously leave the business. I must as an honest man stick to it and 
struggle to carry it through to a successful issue. 

He could not, he felt, spend any time at all in Newark helping 
Theberath with the dynamo. 

Now, this is what I propose. Suppose you send over every ma 
chine to me to wind, test and run. I mean to say, suppose I take 
charge of the construction of the machine so far as relates to the 
electrical branch of the business; and you give me the machines 
finished so far as the machinist's work is concerned. Now I think 
that by working late nights I can do it and return them to you 
finished and ready for sale. 

It was one of those typical struggles where a talented inventor 
had tied himself up so tightly with the products of one talent that 
he was prevented from making good with the fruits of another 
and greater one. 

Long before the case was settled, or gave promise of ever being 


settled, Weston had resolved to quit the nickel business altogether. 
He was only waiting for the moment when his obligations should 
lighten enough to let him quit with honor. This moment came at 
last, in 1875, when Harris and he quarreled. Harris had never been 
of much account beyond the initial and essential office of furnish 
ing the capital to start the plating venture. He was less and less 
willing to be involved now that the burdensome patent suit was 
taking more time than the business itself. So he quietly removed 
himself. Warner did the same. There was no dissolution of the 
firm; Weston was simply left "holding the bag/' 

Gathering his notes together he decided to apply for a patent on 
the nickel anode. It was his invention alone; he felt no qualms about 
taking it for himself. With the help of a patent attorney he wrote 
the thing up and sent it to Washington. 

Then Edward Weston packed up his family and moved to New 
ark, New Jersey. 


The Fighter 

Edward Weston applied for his first patent on July 10, 1875, 
covering his invention of the compressed nickel anode. It was 
granted to him on August 3. Today this would be impossible, for 
more than seven hundred examiners in the Patent Office are well 
over two years behind in their work. But in 1875 things moved with 
dispatch. There were not many inventions being made. 

The anode patent alone would have been of little use to him, 
had it not been for a chain of fortunate circumstances that was 
slowly forging itself in his life. His decision to move out of New 
York and settle in Newark was of the same sort that had prompted 
him to undertake his own photographic studio a long gamble, the 
principal prize being independence. He was at heart a pioneer; 
the moment an undertaking turned routine he got restless and 
wanted a change. Usually that change involved a great risk, but 
this held no terrors for Weston. He knew there would always be 
new experimental territory to move into, especially in electricity. 

So, he courageously picked up his home in July of 1875 an< ^ 
moved it to a house on Eighth Avenue in Newark. He had resolved 
to devote his entire time to the building of dynamos, with the help 
of his friends the Theberath brothers and their little machine shop. 

That first year in New Jersey was a tough one and he was never 
very far from poverty. Only a very few of his plating dynamos were 
selling, for they were so expensive that only the largest shops could 
afford them. Nevertheless, he was beginning to be known in the 
industry as an expert, and there was a definite interest in switching 
from batteries to dynamos. It could not be denied that his machines 
worked and had numerous advantages over batteries. Many people 


were watching him with attention, to see whether he could bring 
the price down to a competitive figure. 

Among Weston's large customers was Eberhard Faber, the pencil 
manufacturer. Faber was also turning out a large quantity of pens, 
which he plated with copper or gold by means of batteries. He now 
wrote Weston to say that his plating solutions were not working 
very well, and invited him to investigate the trouble. Weston made 
a trip to the Faber plant, which was in Camden, N. J., and brought 
back a sample of the plating solution for test. He soon found what 
the trouble was the same old matter of alkalinity and made a 
second trip to Camden to put it right. By the time he had made 
several visits he had the Faber plating baths in fine order, doing a 
grade of work they had never been able to do before. He now 
thought it time to suggest the purchase of a dynamo. In April, 1876, 
Mr. Faber accepted the suggestion and asked him to supply a ma 
chine as soon as he could. 

Evidently (to judge by the few letters that are preserved in regard 
to the matter) , Weston did not have or could not produce a dynamo 
that pleased Mr. Faber. For the next five months he was unable to 
deliver any machine at all. "When may I expect you to carry out 
your agreement in regard to gilding?" wrote the manufacturer 
tersely. "I am anxious to proceed at once." And, somewhat later, 
after a machine had finally been installed, "The gilding is done so 
poorly that I am not able to use the goods at all. Will you please 
call at my office (in New York) at your earliest convenience?" 

The poor inventor was harassed with more complications than 
he could manage. When there was a choice between his obligations 
to his scientific work and his dealing with customers, he took science 
and let the customers wait. But in the end, Faber was pacified, as 
most people were who came in contact with Edward Weston's 
dynamic personality. Meekly he joined the rest of the buying public 
who were forced to act as guinea pigs at this early stage of en 
gineering development. 

Weston clinched the matter by selling him a considerable num 
ber of his patented nickel anodes, also. 

Gradually, as 1875 ended and *j6 began, he started to make 
dynamo sales rather consistently. His customers included a stove 

The energetic young inventor. 


company, the Stanley Lock works, a number of tableware manufac 
turers, and a sewing machine company, all of them interested in 
doing their own nickel plating of component parts. One of the first 
firms to show real enthusiasm was a large metal novelty establish 
ment in Newark: Stevens, Roberts and Havell, to whom he sold 
a small machine in October, 1875. This customer had come to his 
attention in an interesting way while he was still struggling with 
misfortune in New York. 

The United Nickel Company had not been content to bring suit 
against Weston's little company alone, but had included everybody 
within reach, hoping that by cutting off access to the Adams patents 
on all sides it would become dominant in the plating field. Stevens, 
Roberts and Havell were among the court victims of this high 
handed attempt and one day found themselves in court with Weston 
as a codefendant. When the young man's turn came to speak he 
leaped up and defended himself so ably that the firm's lawyers were 
greatly impressed and told their employers about him. Shortly 
Stevens sought him out and finding that he did not have the funds 
to hire a lawyer, offered to lend him his own. Weston accepted 

It was a fortunate moment for the young inventor, for it gave 
him adequate legal help and a loyal friend. Shortly, it also provided 
him with a new customer. 

The Theberath brothers, Charles and Jacob, were also good 
friends of Stevens, especially the former, who handled the business 
end of his small firm. Charles soon became a strong champion of 
Weston and a useful contact man between the two. It was this 
friendly aid that pulled Weston through his first real business crisis. 
The relationship had begun in 1874 and the Theberaths and Weston 
were quickly on intimate terms, their families seeing a good deal of 
each other socially. 

Friend Weston: [Charles wrote in October, 1874] 

Just this minute I received your favor of the 3oth, noticing all 
the contents. I feel with you. Mr. Stevens has sent you some 
money last Tuesday. I hope you have received it by this time. 
Let me know how much he sent you and if you are in need of 
more, telegraph to me at once and I will see him. Mr. Stevens, 


Mr. Van Winkle and myself went around last Monday and raised 
enough money to see you through. If you have not received 
enough from Mr. Stevens this week let me know at once and 
more will come. Do not get discouraged. We will stand by you, 
and not only that. We will do what we can for you afterwards 
when you get through with this trouble. . . . 

The situation was that Stevens and Van Winkle were business 
men of substance in the New Jersey metropolis. The Theberaths 
had done good work for them and had earned their respect and 
support. Now Weston came into the picture with a remarkable 
invention which the machine shop had decided to manufacture in 
a small way. But the young man was on the point of being swal 
lowed up by litigation, bringing ruin on himself and considerable 
loss to the partners. It was natural that Stevens and his friends 
should want to save this talented inventor with a view to making 
a profitable deal all round. Hence the loan and the great solicitude 
shown in the letter. 

Most of this had happened in 1874. In fact, it was largely at 
Stevens' urging that Weston took the long chance in moving to 
Newark the following year. The first thing he did there was to make 
arrangements for the manufacture of his nickel anode by Stevens' 
firm. The venture seemed like a slender hope; nevertheless it defin 
itely removed Weston from the danger of starvation. 

The year 1876 was a banner year for Weston. As it began he was 
hard at work on basic improvements in his dynamo machine. Since 
the Theberath shop was extremely small too small for experi 
mental work of any kind he set up a "laboratory in his own 
house. It was a little hard for Minnie to manage this. The house 
was none too large and Edward insisted on devoting the whole top 
floor to the clutter and perpetual mess of shop work, whose inevitable 
shavings and metal splinters sifted down the stairs and had to be 
swept up constantly. This may have been an entering wedge between 
them; at any rate it was the beginning of a dislike which she con 
ceived for the whole art of invention and manufacture. 

Weston's marriage, while it was a happy one at this stage, was 


taking less and less of his attention. His mind was so completely 
engrossed with his inventions, and every waking moment so filled 
with work, that he had already begun to let his social activities 
languish. His relationship with his wife was increasingly impersonal. 
Here were the seeds of discontent, rapidly sprouting for them both. 
Letters to him from the Theberaths, during his absence on business, 
constantly referred to visits made to his home to see how his wife 
and child were getting on. These loyal friends never failed to men 
tion her charm. But if Weston was worried about the welfare of 
his family while he was away, preoccupation with science prevented 
the expression of solicitude immediately he returned. 

He had a small lathe which he ran by foot power, and a few 
hand tools. That was all he could afford. And yet, early in 1876, 
he produced in this attic room the first really significant advance in 
dynamo design since Siemens had invented the shuttle armature. 
This was the multipolar machine, using a cylindrical frame essen 
tially the arrangement in use today. Up to that time all the world 
had clung to the old concept of a "magneto-electric" machine based 
on the horseshoe permanent magnet, with one north pole and one 
south in the field magnetic circuit, and a similar pair of poles in the 
armature. This gave one rise and fall of induced voltage for each 
half revolution, and required a two-section commutator to produce 
current flow in one direction. Edward Weston reasoned that there 
was too much of the circle of revolution during which the armature 
coils were not passing opposite field poles and hence were doing no 
work. He therefore proposed to multiply the number of field poles 
until the gaps between them were only large enough to prevent 
magnetic flux from leaking directly from pole to pole without 
passing through the cores of the armature coils. He arranged the 
poles symmetrically, alternately north and south, putting a corre 
sponding number of poles on the armature. Another great advance 
in design suggested itself immediately: the use of a cylindrical steel 
shell around the outside of the field poles, joining them all to 
gether, giving them good mechanical support, and at the same time 
providing a short and ample magnetic path. 
This arrangement was directly contrary to the construction then 


held to be necessary. Just as the first automobiles built would look 
exactly like carriages, with only the horse removed, so the first 
dynamos were patterned after the horseshoe magnet. It was believed 
that a long loop of steel was needed in order to "concentrate" the 
flux at the pole tips. It occurred to no one that the shortest possible 
magnetic circuit would be the most efficient. To no one, that is, 
except Weston. This belief persisted for years after this; in 1881 
Edison insisted on designing his first electric light machines with 
towering pole pieces, and only cut them down when the art of 
dynamo design became firmly based on theory. Weston, not fully 
comprehending the theory in 1876, courageously put forward his 
cylindrical dynamo because it seemed like common sense. He was 
going to do that all his life. And for that reason his early dynamos 
were the most efficient that could be had. 

On April 4, 1876, he applied for a patent on the multipolar 
cylindrical construction; the patent was granted in July. 

In the meantime a great event had taken place the breathtaking 
Centennial at Philadelphia. America was showing the world what 
it had done in the arts in its first hundred years. In gigantic Ma 
chinery Hall, overlooking the Schuylkill River, the Centennial had 
assembled every type of appliance that American ingenuity had 
devised, and sparsely sprinkled them with exhibits of similar wares 
from foreign countries. The Gargantuan Corliss steam engine, with 
its thirty-ton flywheel, dominated the scene and attracted most atten 
tion. But history was being made on that floor. In an obscure corner 
a handfull of small electric arc lamps were flickering on, in a valiant 
and unbelievable effort to light the world by electricity. These lamps 
were supplied, not by batteries, but by dynamos. And one of the 
three machines being shown was a dynamo that Weston had hastily 
built in the Theberath's shop and set up himself in the earnest hope 
that it would not be entirely overlooked. 

Whether it was or not will never be known. At the grand award 
of prizes, on September 27, no less a celebrity than Sir William 
Thomson headed the committee of judges. Weston got nothing. He 
was overshadowed completely by the fame of Gramme and Pro 
fessor Fanner. Ironically, the Newark firm of Condit, Hanson and 


Company received an award for excellent electroplating materials. 
In less than a year, these materials would be entirely outmoded and 
replaced by the inventions of this still obscure Englishman. 


Manufacturers of Steel, Brass and Enamelled 


Ladies" Dress Trimmings, Belt Clasps & Buckles, 
Steel and Fancy Metal Buttons, Button Hooks & Shoe Buckles, 
Trunk & Bag Trimmings, Brass and Steel Escutcheon Pins, 

Steel Springs, Thurber's Anti-Friction Metal, 
Men's, Boys' & Ladies' Hat Slides, Buckles and Ornaments 

284 & 286 Washington Street, Newark, N, J. 

Thus went the letterhead on whidh Frederick Stevens wrote to 
Weston soon after his disappointing failure to receive recognition 
at Philadelphia in September, 1876. It was one of the most impor 
tant letters Weston ever got, for it opened the door to his future in 
electrical engineering. It is amusing, perhaps, that a manufacturer 
of women's novelties and metal odds and ends should have been 
so important an agent. Partly, it is explained by the fact that Stevens 
had retired and was giving his thought and his money to promoting 
worthy new enterprises. 

What his letter proposed was that the young inventor join the 
firm and open a new manufacturing department exclusively for the 
making of Weston plating machines. The contract was signed on 
September 10, 1876, and set Edward Weston up in a single small 
room in the factory on Washington Street. The document provided 
that Roberts and Havell were to receive a half interest in the nickel 
anode patent and also in the patent covering the multipolar dynamo. 
Profits, if there should be any, were to go three quarters to the 
company and one quarter to Weston. The young man was to receive 
a salary of sixteen dollars a week for devoting half his time to the 
dynamo business. 

Weston's inventive career was launched at last, with such backing 


as any young scientist might have envied. The arrangement elim 
inated his good friends the Theberaths, and they were sorry to see 
him go. But their little shop was plainly inadequate. The dawn of 
electric power development was coming, and he needed resources, 
both financial and mechanical, to help him meet the fierce compe 
tition soon to spring up on every side. 

Not only did the arrangement promise Weston commercial suc 
cess, but a chance to do real research work as well to have at his 
elbow skilled mechanics who could turn out model after model as 
fast as he conceived them. Today this is a routine requirement in any 
industry. Then, for an inventor to be taken seriously by substantial 
businessmen was a privilege that hardly anybody but the fabulous 
Mr. Edison could command. 

The one small shop in the basement of the Washington Street 
plant soon grew to two, and Weston had "his room" to himself. 

Out of it came most of the significant developments in dynamo 
efficiency already mentioned. So far as Roberts and Havell were con 
cerned, he was to design and build dynamos for the electroplating 
and electrotyping industries. But Weston was beginning to see a 
future for the dynamo in electric lighting, and even in electric motive 
power for machinery. He wanted to expand as fast as possible. He 
planned to experiment on dynamos in general, and soon on arc 
lamps and lighting systems as well. 

From the start his relationship with the heads of the firm was 
most cordial, particularly with George Havell. Weston and the 
junior partner saw a great deal of each other. They lived only two 
doors from each other on Eighth Avenue, and "ran in" constantly. 
In everything but name Weston was soon a partner in the firm. 

Wisely, the company kept the new dynamo business entirely 
separate from its other activities, and in this way prevented it from 
being submerged in other, more proven work. The plating machine 
began to catch on rather startlingly. They were now selling every 
dynamo they could build, which, it must be admitted, was not very 
many, judging by modern standards. They were even selling a few 
in Europe. 

The reasons for the Weston dynamo's quick popularity were 


simplicity and low cost. At first the inventor wisely postponed refine 
ments in design and efficiency. The novelty and convenience of 
electric power in real quantity quantity larger than any battery 
could supply was enough, without too close attention to the cost 
of the steam power to produce it. The machines were of the simple 
two-pole type, with an occasional four- or six-pole machine when 
a very large size was ordered. 

Meanwhile, Edward Weston put in long hours in his new labor 
atory. Aside from the general problem of improving dynamo effi 
ciency, he was faced with a new and serious situation that arose 
from the substitution of dynamos for batteries in electroplating 
work. Customers complained that the machines frequently reversed 
themselves and unplaced partially plated work; that is, they actually 
sent current through the electroplating baths in the wrong direction 
after making a correct start. Weston made a quick study of the 
difficulty and soon saw what was the matter. 

When a new dynamo was first set up for test its field coils were 
given a "shot" of outside current to magnetize the pole pieces. This 
immediately started the machine to generating a voltage of its own, 
which in turn magnetized the field to full strength through the shunt 
winding and established its polarity. The field poles now retained 
a permanent residual magnetism enough to build up an initial 
voltage whenever the machine was run. In service on a plating cir 
cuit it would deliver electrolyzing current in the right direction so 
long as the terminals were properly connected and so long as the 
machine kept on running. But when it was stopped for any reason 
during the process a critical situation arose. The electrodes of dis 
similar metals, being immersed in the electrolyte, immediately 
"polarized'* and produced a voltage of their own in opposition to 
that of the dynamo circuit. This polarization lasted only a few 
minutes and could be eliminated by briefly short-circuiting the bath. 
But in slowing down, the dynamo voltage would drop off and 
presently become less than the polarization potential. Immediately, 
a current would flow out through the dynamo and through its field 
circuit, in the reverse of normal direction, wiping out the residual 
magnetism and setting up a field of the wrong polarity. When the 
machine was again started, it would have changed polarity itself 


and would actually supply current in the wrong direction, so that 
the unplating action would begin. 

A similar difficulty would arise if a properly magnetized machine 
were connected to a bath before its generated voltage was high 
enough to overcome the bath's own voltage. Either way, reverse 
magnetization ensued, ruined the electrolyte, spoiled the work, and 
put the dynamo out of commission until it could be remagnetized 
in the right polarity again. 

A simple disconnecting switch would obviate this trouble, pro 
vided that it was never closed unless the dynamo voltage was higher 
than the minimum required to prevent reverse current flowing. But 
it was not possible to rely upon the workmen in a plating plant to 
know this. One mistake would spoil everything; there were neither 
instruments nor relays to protect the circuits and warn the operator 
of the dangerous condition. Hence the growing list of complaints, 
all of which blamed Weston for selling dynamos that were unre 
liable. Presumably it was this trouble that had made Eberhard Faber 
so furious. 

Weston had to solve the difficulty immediately and permanently. 
So he developed a regulator that would automatically cut the 
dynamo out of circuit unless it was rotating above a certain speed. 
The device was a centrifugal switch, consisting of a cup of mercury 
revolved by a belt from the dynamo shaft. Contact with a center 
electrode was broken only when the pool of mercury whirled fast 
enough to climb the walls of the cup. Weston used this on all his 
machines for short-circuiting the plating bath and dynamo and hence 
rendering them mutually harmless. This arrangement was possible 
only because the electrical losses in the machine were so large that 
serious short-circuit currents could not build up. 

This cutout worked very well indeed. Weston patented it on 
October 3, 1876, shortly after joining the Newark firm. Crude as 
the device was, it remained a stand-by for a considerable time, 
effectively ending the reverse-current trouble and the customers' 
complaints. It was a good many years before the modern electro 
magnetic relay, such as we have on automobiles, was invented. 

The method of short-circuiting was not satisfactory for large 
plating dynamos, since they could not be started under so heavy 


an electrical load without slipping their driving belts off . So Weston 
joined with Edward E. Quimby, an attorney, in patenting an im 
proved mercury regulator which established contact only when it 
was revolving fast enough. This "compound switch" also short- 
circuited the plating tank as it opened the dynamo circuit, so that 
the polarization currents could discharge themselves and leave the 
electrodes in a neutral condition for further plating. 


Although it was Edward Weston's intention to leave the plating 
field eventually, he made one more electrochemical invention in 
this period which had a profound effect on the mechanical arts. 
This was his pioneer work in the electrolytic refining of metals, 
notably copper, silver, and gold. In making the Perkin Medal Award 
in 1915, Dr. Leo H. Baekeland gave Weston the credit for pioneer 
ing this important art in America. 

At this time [1877-8] attempts had already been made for the com 
mercial refining of copper by means of the electric current. But this subject 
was then in its first clumsy period, far removed from the importance it has 
attained now among modern American industries. Here, again, Weston 
brought order and method where chaos had reigned. His careful laboratory 
observations, harnessed by his keen reasoning intellect, established the true 
principles on which economic, industrial, electrolytic-copper refining could 
be carried out 

Professor James Douglas, who was the country's foremost metal 
lurgical authority at this time, and who first experimented with 
electrolytic refining on a big scale for the copper industry, went to 
Weston for advice and help. "I suppose/' he said, "that I may claim 
the merit of making in this country the first electrolytic copper by 
the ton, but the merit is really due Weston, who, in this and in 
numerable other instances has concealed his interested work for his 
favorite science and pursuits under a thick veil of modesty and 

This double tribute to Weston was typical. No one ever had to 
fear that the young Englishman would be predatory or try to claim 
for himself an improvement which was made by another, even 
though his advice was a determining factor. 


Baekeland goes on: 

The whole problem of electrolytic refining, when Weston took it up, was 
hampered by many wrong conceptions. One of them was that a given horse 
power could deposit only a maximum weight of copper, regardless of 
cathode or anode surface. This fallacious opinion was considered almost an 
axiom until Weston showed clearly the way of increasing the amount of 
copper deposited per electrical horsepower by increasing the number and 
size of vats and their electrodes, connecting his vats in a combination of 
series and multiple, the only limit to this arrangement being the added 
interest and capital and depreciation on the increased cost of more vats and 
electrodes, in relation to the cost of horsepower for driving the dynamos. 

Copper refining that is, the separation of pure copper from gold, 
silver, and base metals after concentration of the ores by roasting 
soon came to be an important branch of the electrical art. Without 
the very high purity which was only possible through electrolysis, 
the millions of tons of the red metal used by the electric power 
industry could not have been made into good enough conductors 
to permit efficient machines and apparatus to be developed. Thus 
Weston, though he made no patent claims for it, became one of 
the fathers of the electrical age in a field not primarily his own. 

In the matter of taking credit Weston was properly modest all 
his life. But he was never retiring or faint of heart. As this first 
period of his prosperity began, he was already far different from the 
uncertain youth who had landed at the Battery in 1870. Now he had 
become aggressive, self-confident, and even unapproachable. He 
abhorred writing letters, and never did so unless it was an absolute 
necessity. Time and again his files yield communications from his 
associates, begging, even threatening him with suits if he did not 
answer them or keep an arranged appointment. His conduct often 
seemed willful to his friends and partners; they did not fully under 
stand that any interest that he took up immediately became a rage 
with him and blotted out everything else. His mind had as many 
tracks to it as a railroad yard, but he never proceeded on more than 
one track at a time, and this at the pace of the fastest express train. 

It must have been a trying job for his patent attorney to hold 
Weston in line. Exasperated, Edward E. Quimby once wrote: 


Dear Weston: 

Why don't you send me memorandum of particulars about tele 
graphing apparatus as you promised? Or have you instructed 
somebody else to prosecute for patent? 

I expect to meet next week the parties with whom I should 
negotiate for the sale of the invention. 

I tried to telephone you Sunday but they said they could get 
no reply from your house. 

Answer immediately. 

Yours truly, 

E. E. Quimby 

It is hard for us to realize now, in the midst of world decadence, 
what tremendous energy and singleness of purpose was the gift 
of the men who established our modern easy life. Hours, salary, and 
health meant nothing to them so long as they could work at the 
thing they loved to do. 


The reason for Weston's aloofness as 1877 began, was not hard 
to find. He was involved in a very successful and exciting venture 
indeed. By May of that year Roberts and Havell had sold more than 
one hundred dynamos for electroplating, and the demand was grow 
ing daily. The business, in fact, had outgrown the tiny shop which 
was its incubator on Washington Street, Newark. So, in June of that 
year the firm decided to organize a separate company solely for 
making electrical apparatus. On June 10, the Weston Dynamo Elec 
tric Machine Company began existence, duly incorporated in New 
Jersey. A capital of $200,000 was authorized, and many prominent 
men of Newark immediately subscribed, although stock was not 
issued for the full amount at first. The president of the new concern 
was Abraham Van Winkle, of a prominent platers* supply house, 
and long a friend of the inventor. The treasurership was taken by 
James Roberts, of the parent firm, and Edward Weston became 
secretary and general manager. After exactly seven years in this 
country, the young Englishman had a full-fledged business under his 
own name, and under his own charge as well, for he was the brains 



and the driving force of the organization. Success now was almost 
wholly in his own hands. 

In those days new companies rarely built themselves new plants 
as they do today, but took such buildings as the market afforded and 
made them over to suit their work. The only quarters available in 
the vicinity of Roberts and Havell was an empty Jewish synagogue, 
also on Washington Street, This they took over, with almost no 
alterations, and began operating it as a dynamo factory. It was the 
first electrical machinery plant in America. 

Everybody called it "The Church/' Fortunately, it had not been 
built for worship originally, and so was easily adaptable to its new 
duties. Actual manufacturing was begun on the fairly spacious sec 
ond floor, while the downstairs portion was divided up into tiny 
offices and a storeroom. After a few weeks as the presiding genius 
over this modest little domain, Weston insisted upon moving his 
experimental work into separate quarters, so that he might proceed 
without interruption from manufacturing problems. The building 
next door, being empty also, was hired for the purpose, and his 
entire equipment was moved into it, including most of the primitive 
machinery and the few tools he had gathered at home. It was a 
modest layout indeed, by any modern standard, but a real laboratory 
for him for the first time in his life. The most important thing it 
had was steam power, so that he could actually test his improved 
machines as fast as he invented and built them. 

Production of plating dynamos continued at the old plant at full 
blast until the new one was ready, then proceeded at an ever-in 
creasing pace in "The Church." Here, also, Weston began turning 
out his patent nickel anodes, as well as chemical salts for his im 
proved plating solutions, and numerous products for cleaning and 
polishing the work. The company was a complete source of supply 
for everything that an electroplater of nickel, gold, and silver might 
need. It was now one of the leading manufacturers in the field. Van 
Winkle's own firm, Condit, Hanson & Van Winkle, were appointed 
as sole agents for the distribution of the products. Although they 
had long been in the electroplating supply business themselves, there 
seems to have been no competition. Edward Weston's products rep- 


resented a new era. On the strength of them the Van Winkle firm 
survived, and is still in business in New Jersey today. 

By mid-iSyy the Weston dynamo had thoroughly "caught on" 
and was beginning to drive the primary battery out of the industry. 
A very good reason for this was that the inventor refused to be 
satisfied with the routine sales efforts of his agents and insisted on 
going on the road himself. He had plenty of precedent for this, for 
every inventor who hoped to make headway at all had to tackle his 
sales problems in person. Nobody else appreciated the merits of his 
inventions well enough to overcome the fierce competition on every 
hand. It was long before the days of the high-powered sales depart 
ment. An inventor was an individual who survived or fell strictly 
by the exercise of his wits, in every branch of the business. 

One of the continuing strongholds of the primary plating battery 
was in New England, among the silversmiths. These specialists 
believed that high-quality work could only be done by the skillful 
manipulation of battery current at the hands of lifelong experts. 
Then, as now, Connecticut was a leader in this field. One of the 
larger firms was then depositing as much as two-and-a-half tons of 
silver every year. Weston made up his mind to invade the Nutmeg 
State and make it see the light. 

Mr. Edward F. Weston, the inventor's younger son, born about 
this time, has given an amusing description of his father's energetic 
sales methods, in a recent speech. It runs as follows: 

The method of sales pursued consisted of loading a batch of new ma 
chines on a freight car and shipping it to a central point, such as Meriden, 
Connecticut Then Weston, with some other member of the firm, would 
take a train to the same point and await the arrival of the machines. Upon 
receipt, they were placed in temporary storage, and Weston and his com 
panion would start out to sell them. 

The sales procedure consisted of selecting a likely customer and descending 
upon him with a machine loaded on a truck. While the truck waited at the 
door, the partners would enter the plating establishment and high-pressure 
the management into accepting the loan of the machine, on the ground that 
if it did not improve their work and save money within sixty days, they 
would come and take it away again. Needless to say, the salesmen had such 
confidence in their product that they knew few platers, after having once 
tried the machine, would ever be willing to relinquish it 


Perhaps part of this confidence was an early form of the great 
American art of breaking down sales resistance, all too familiar 
today. Edward Weston was naturally a confident young man, but 
part of this confidence, at least, was pure brashness. According to 
today's idiom, he had "nothing to lose." The speaker goes on: 

Having accomplished such a sale, the two partners would have the ma 
chine taken from the truck and set up in the plating room. Here they would 
instruct the plater in its use, and needless to say, Weston' s knowledge of 
plating baths and plating methods usually enabled him to suggest some im 
provement which reflected to the credit of the plater. 

This method was so successful that I know of only one instance in which 
a failure was scored. In this case the machine was thrown out after the 
trial period, much to the astonishment of the two salesmen. Their confidence 
was restored, however, after they made a more careful investigation of the 
situation and discovered that the owner of the establishment was the nephew 
of a competitor manufacturing a plating machine in the same town. So much 
for making a sales investigation after the facts, instead of before. Suffice to 
say that by this and other sales methods, over one thousand plating machines 
were sold in a relatively short time. 

Although the record does not say so, the competing machine was 
in all probability made by the Wallace-Farmer Company, of Bridge 
port. Professor Farmer, as has been mentioned, had preceded Wes 
ton by a number of years in marketing a dynamo, with the help 
of Wallace, who ran a small machine shop. In spite of local popu 
larity, Farmer's dynamo was so poorly designed that Wallace gave 
up making it altogether in 1878. The most cogent reason for Wes 
ton's growing success in Connecticut, and elsewhere, too, was that 
no other inventor had been able to work out a design nearly so 
compact or simple or inexpensive to build and run. Weston ma 
chines at this early period were marketed at $125 for the smallest 
size and $500 for the largest. The latter, and a huge electric gen 
erator for those days, was twenty inches in diameter and was suitable 
for the largest plating works. These were the only dynamos in 
America that bore any close resemblance to modern machines, the 
reason being that Weston s mind naturally worked toward engineer 
ing designs in which efficiency rather than convention was the 
guiding star. His competitors did not. 


How Edward Western spent his days traveling all over the north 
eastern United States on sales expeditions, and yet had time to 
continue his laboratory work, it is difficult to see. Probably he did 
these two things by bursts, which was characteristic of him, driving 
one activity to its farthest limit for the time being, then switching 
to the other and giving it the same treatment. It is a fact, however, 
that he kept his place in the forefront of the rapidly accelerating 
art by continuing to make fundamental discoveries. 

Always restless and unsatisfied with the area of experiment he 
happened to be covering at the moment, Weston was of course 
aware of the tremendous possibilities of electric power for turning 
the wheels of industry. He could see that important gains could be 
made in flexibility and convenience if electric motors could be substi 
tuted for mechanical drive. At that time, the steam engine was the 
only source of mechanical power and had been developed to a 
reasonably high state of perfection. Every factory that required 
lathes or other machine tools had its boiler plant and engine, and 
its ceilings were filled with a vast network of master shafts, counter 
shafts, pulleys, idlers, and reversing mechanisms. Thousands of 
feet of leather belting reached down, connecting every machine 
separately with the source of primary power. Dripping oil from 
the overhead pillow blocks, noise, dirt, and considerable hazard 
were the annoyances to be put up with. The engineer at the end 
of the shop "rode" the throttle of his engine continually, in a vain 
endeavor to keep the speed of the shafting steady in spite of the 
constantly changing load, as one machine after another came into 
play or was stopped, meanwhile trying to keep the steam pressure 
on his boiler abreast of the varying power demand. It was not a 
very satisfactory system, but like everything else that is an influence 
in human affairs, it was accepted as inevitable, and men swore by 
it and regarded it as permanent. Edward Weston, however, looked 
ahead to better things. Although he knew that shop owners would 
doggedly oppose any improvement, no matter how valuable it 
might be, he faced the fight with energy and with joy. What he saw 
in the future was a steam engine running a dynamo which distributed 
power to electric motors on every machine. It was a wonderful 
concept. But it is an accurate commentary on the snail's pace of 


mechanical progress that even today many hundreds of shops still 
use overhead shafting and belts rather than machines individually 
driven by their own motors. It has taken seventy-five years even to 
approximate the realization of this early dream. 

At the first moment that Weston had time to spare, he designed 
and built a dynamo to be run as a motor, and installed it in his own 
shop for driving some of his lathes and planers. As he had expected, 
it did the job handsomely, and he made it a permanent part of his 
equipment. This motor is credited with being the first regularly used 
in any factory in America. It proved Weston's theory that mechan 
ical energy could be "transformed" and transmitted over wires, then 
changed back again into rotational power, with more flexibility and 
at little more expense than the clumsy system of solid shafting and 
flapping belts between engine and work. 

The owners of a nearby textile mill the Clark Thread Works 
were so impressed with Weston's electric motor that they asked him 
to build and install one in their plant for operating special machines. 
The installation is believed to have been the first commercial electric 
power drive in this country. But it was not very successful, for the 
inventor immediately ran into acute technical difficulties, whose 
solution was to take a great many years. These were difficulties of 
speed regulation and control, of starting the motor under load 
without burning it out, and of preventing serious injury to the 
machine when a sudden overload developed in the tools it was 
driving. These problems kept him constantly busy inventing ingen 
ious cutouts, automatic switches, governors, and voltage regulators, 
which he turned out at a furious rate and tried out in his own shop. 
If they worked well enough, he offered them to his customers. He 
was so busy with so many other things, however, that he did not 
get around to patenting these devices till 1882. Then, with Edison 
and many other brilliant men in competition with him, he brought 
out a system of "electric power transmission," complete with con 
trol mechanisms, and received patents on every element of it. 

But Weston's principal interest remained with the improvement 
of his dynamo. In dealing with so complex a mind as his, it is im- 


possible to keep his inventions in their proper sequence; thus, some 
of the work on efficiency already mentioned was not done until the 
plating machine had become a commercial success. In fact, the 
greatest impetus toward dynamo improvement came late in 1877 and 
in '78, when the technical world was beginning to awake to electric 
power in. general. The years from 1877 on > therefore, showed the 
greatest yield of patents. 

There was no great difficulty in competing with the efficiency of 
the few dynamos then on the market. No one of them could show 
better than 40 per cent over-all efficiency, and figures ranging from 
15 to 30 per cent were much more common. The trouble was almost 
wholly electrical losses in the form of heat within the machine 
itself. It was this problem of heating which he now tackled with 
the greatest energy. As early as 1877 he had arrived at a machine 
which had the extraordinary electrical efficiency of 97 per cent, 
while the over-all commercial figure (electrical and mechanical 
efficiencies combined) had been pushed close to 90 per cent. In his 
early models he was able to obtain this excellent performance only 
by using very expensive construction. His problem now was to 
simplify and improve basic designs so that these high theoretical 
efficiencies could be realized in commercial machines. 

Most of the increased efficiency was obtained by careful propor 
tioning of the iron and copper in the dynamo, eliminating as far 
as possible any metal which was not "working." It was still believed, 
by all experimenters including Weston, that dynamo armatures 
should be very long for their diameter, so that the wires actually 
cutting magnetic flux would be long in proportion to the "end 
turns/' which did not cut across the field. It remained for young 
Professor Elihu Thomson of Philadelphia to discover, some years 
later, that armature conductors must be treated as coils, or turns, 
rather than straight bars and hence that all parts of such coils helped 
to produce the generated voltage. This principle soon reduced the 
unnecessary length along the axis and permitted narrow machines 
of much larger diameter, with the end turns of the windings often 
longer than the parts parallel to the shaft. Thus, much slower 
rotating speeds were required for a given rapidity of cutting the 
field flux. Long cylindrical armatures would not come back until the 


very high speeds of steam turbine drive made it imperative to cut 
down the diameter of the rotating part. 

Everyone in the seventies, therefore, was struggling with the long 
armature and the excessive amounts of steel and copper inherent in 
its faulty proportions. Many ingenious arrangements were advanced 
to overcome the awkward shape. Weston's were among the most 
logical. He understood that he must push the loading on iron and 
copper to the limit, making every part as small as possible for a given 
power output. The result was a beautiful compactness and serious 

One of Weston's early armature designs was a simple disk of cast 
iron, with two coils around it at right angles to each other. This 
was placed inside a 1 2-inch field frame taken from a standard 
plating dynamo. An interesting sidelight was that the winding was 
done by William L. Stevens, the son of the head of the parent firm. 
Young Stevens was learning to be a toolmaker; his father thought 
so well of Weston that he wished to have his son take his appren 
ticeship with him. Will worked for the inventor more than sixty 

The disk-armature dynamo was more of a novelty than a com 
mercial success. It worked well enough but did not have sufficient 
output to be adopted as a commercial type. Weston only tried it to 
prove that he could keep such an armature cool by natural air 
circulation. Though it did run cool enough, it was obviously not 
the solution to the heating difficulty. Stevens connected it up to the 
electric supply lines in the shop and used it as a motor to run his 
coil-winding machine. He found it a great improvement over wind 
ing the coils in a foot lathe, as he had been doing previously. 

The single-disk arrangement, however, was the forerunner of the 
long multiple-disk armature already described, and this was for 
some time a component of the commercial machines. But the mul 
tiple disks with their paper insulating spacers ran too hot, even 
though Weston bored holes through them to let in the air. 

One rather interesting excursion into unusual arrangements of 
electrical components Weston covered in a patent issued to him 
in 1878. Here his dynamo had been turned inside out, with a two- 
pole field magnet mounted on the shaft of the machine, and a 


cylindrical frame with eight coils wound inside it, doing duty as 
the armature. Apparently no such machine was ever built for sale, 
although it had some obvious advantages in the ease of dissipating 
heat through the outside shell. It was an interesting forerunner of 
the turbine-driven alternators of today, which use stationary arma 
tures and rotating fields. 

Another point of Weston's attack upon armature heating was the 
separation of the coils from the metal by winding them in transverse 
slots parallel to the shaft. This was considerably more efficient than 
the single-disk armature. But, being of solid steel it canceled out 
the advantages of easy cooling by reintroducing the large eddy- 
current losses that all were struggling to avoid. A further reason 
against it was that it contained too many infringements. Everybody 
else was trying slotted armatures too. It was becoming a clever game 
indeed to produce a machine that would not instantly bring down 
an avalanche of lawsuits. 

Still another forerunner of modern electrical machinery invented 
and patented by the young Englishman was a hollow-drum armature 
supported by end bells connected to short sections of shaft. The 
coils were wound around this lengthwise and separated by steel bars 
to improve the magnetic paths. These bars were provided with rows 
of holes passing inward to the hollow interior. As the armature 
rotated, the air inside the drum was picked up by centrifugal action 
and thrown out through the holes, creating a strong circulation. 
Access for cool air was provided through holes in the end bells. 
This patent, though applied for in February of 1878, was not 
granted till the end of 1880. It had taken the Patent Office exam 
iners more than two years to make up their minds that Weston had 
not infringed any prior claims. The days of applying for protection 
one month and getting it the next were over. Never again would 
the United States Patent Office catch up with the inventors who 
were flooding it with claims in ever-increasing volume. 

Just how serious and unavoidable the heating problem was in the 
late seventies is shown by an elaborate construction which Weston 
tried out next using the rather obvious but clumsy scheme of 
cooling by means of circulating water. After some little work on 
the idea he decide;d that it was unnecessary for the small machines 


the company was then making. But a little later (in the summer of 
1877, now) Weston went to Boston to find out why it was impos 
sible to sell his plating dynamos there. He learned quickly enough 
that two competing makes had saturated the market: the Wallace- 
Farmer dynamo and one manufactured by a man named William 
Hochhausen. The latter was particularly exasperating to Weston 
because he felt that the man was an out-and-out infringer. Mr. 
Hochhausen was equally annoyed and within a year the two were 
in court, fighting tooth and nail. It had developed that Hochhausen 
was installing water-cooled dynamos in plating plants. He was suing 
Weston for infringement of his patent for the cooling system. 

In his testimony, Weston put his finger on the secret of the 
whole thing: 

I have been building machines for plating and other purposes since the 
latter part of 1872 or the early part of 1873, and did build and sell machines 
in 1874, almost identical with those now sold by Mr. Hochhausen, and 
since Mr. Hochhausen began building machines for plating purposes in 
1876, I have been very much annoyed by finding that as soon as I had a 
new device on the machine Mr. Hochhausen followed suit; and I think that 
I have traced channels through which information given by me has been 
carried to him; particularly in regard to what is known as the automatic 
switch. . . . 

as well as various circuit arrangements and the idea of water- 
cooling the armature. Weston told the court that he had begun 
water-cooling armatures in 1874, simply by dousing them with a 
hose. Naturally, this was only for a test, but it had worked well 
enough to implant the idea in the inventor's head for future use if 
necessary. When, in 1877, much larger machines came in demand, 
notably to gain a fair share of the Boston trade, Weston included 
water cooling. 

He had found, in the latter part of that year, that his large ma 
chines could not be sold without some form of cooling. He chose 
water as a medium, because it was so much more efficient than 
air circulated by natural draft. He made the application reluctantly, 
because he knew that the real way to get rid of the heat was through 
a design that would not permit it to be generated in the first place. 


However, large machines were in demand, and this was a fairly 
satisfactory stopgap. He accomplished it by substituting solid end 
bells for the usual spiders that held the journals of the machine, 
then pumping water in at one end of the dynamo and out at the 
other, being careful to keep the outflow pipe well below the journal 
so that there would be no leakage. It was "not a scientifically sound 
scheme, owing to the danger of impairing the electrical insulation 
on the armature, and also because of rust. But it saw him through 
a tough period of competition. 

Weston never patented the idea, but Hochhausen did, having 
"borrowed" it, along with other things, from his Newark com 

Hochhausen lost the suit, it being proved that he had placed an 
accomplice in Weston's shop, who transmitted to him drawings and 
specifications of anything that looked promising. The case had its 
slightly amusing side, for the invention which caused his downfall 
was only a temporary measure and had no future at all. 

Weston understood the basic requirements of high efficiency 
perfectly, but in that early day he could not fully meet them. The 
dynamo patents which he applied for in '77 and '78 all included 
some form of cooling. But air, not water, was the medium. In 
some of them he used a mechanical blower, in others an openwork 
construction of the armature. This latter, combined with the multi 
ple-disk arrangement of the armature core, gave greatly improved 
efficiency by cutting down the eddy-current losses. An extension of 
this principle and this again was a pioneer advance clearly made 
by Weston was the use of laminated field iron also. He had dis 
covered that there were fluctuations in the field magnetism, resulting 
from the reaction of the armature upon it, and that this set up eddy 
currents and produced heat in the field structure. 

The final solution of the heating problem was the use of exceed 
ingly thin laminations of special silicon steel, which had very high 
magnetic permeability. At the time Weston was building dynamos 
this steel had not been developed, nor had the rolling mills learned 
how to produce uniform sheets as thin as ten thousandths of an inch. 

Actually, by the middle of the Second World War, silicon steel 
was produced in sheets as thin as one-and-one-half thousandths of 


an inch. When the new radar art began, such thin material was 
needed for the tiny transformers used on air-borne radar sets. The 
rolling mills said it could not be made. But it was made, after 
engineers had sat up many a night devising new machinery to do 
it. In Weston's time, however, inventors made use of what materials 
they had, and circumvented their difficulties with odd mechanical 
arrangements. Weston was one of the first men in the electrical 
industry to insist that materials must be "tailored" to suit the needs 
of the new art. 


In the summer of 1878 the city of Paris undertook to put on a 
world-girdling Mechanical Exposition, to demonstrate every phase 
of the art. Inventors in both hemispheres sent the best examples of 
their work. Edison was represented; so were twenty-five-year-old 
Professor Thomson, the venerable Professor Farmer, and a young 
man named Charles Francis Brush. Gramme and Siemens con 
tributed the best that Europe could produce in dynamos and electric 
motors. Ayrton of England exhibited a crude ammeter and volt 
meter. And Weston sent his latest dynamo. 

But by all odds the most spectacular display in Paris that summer 
was a long row of electric arc lamps, known as the "Jablochkoff 
Candles," installed and operated by a youthful Russian engineer, 
Paul Jablochkoff. In Beloved Scientist I have described this spec 
tacular exhibit in some detail: "The great showpiece of the Exposi 
tion was a fine display of electric arc lights running the whole length 
of L'Avenue de 1'Opera and around the Place de 1'Opera as well, 
a full half mile of flooding brilliance. Such an illumination had 
never been attempted anywhere in the world. The size and wonder 
ment of the crowds seemed to show that electric lighting had been 
accepted as the only kind worth having. It had remained for the 
French to show the world the way." 

But the display was really nothing but a stunt, and a hugely 
expensive one, at that. "The ornate rows of Jablochkoff Candles 
along the Avenue were lighted by a battery of Gramme dynamos 
nearby, especially built for the occasion. The current they delivered 
was of the alternating variety, without commutators, and their 


efficiency was exceedingly low. The apparatus necessary to keep the 
arcs lighted up was complicated and expensive and had to be con 
stantly repaired. It was in no sense a commercial installation." 

It was, in fact, principally an advertising trick invented by the 
clever Gramme, who never missed a chance to show his wares in 
public. However, it lighted the world with the brilliance of an 
explosion. Thomson, who was there in person, rushed home to begin 
work upon an arc-lighting system of his own. 

Edward Weston, true to his determination never to set foot in 
Europe again, had remained in America. But, immersed as he was 
in the improvement of the dynamo, he was catching the electric- 
lighting fever too. 

His dynamo had won a great honor in Paris, being awarded a 
bronze medal. He had sent it there not merely as an example of his 
advances in the electroplating art but as a contender for a position 
in the wider field of electric power. It had won distinction in com 
petition with the two greatest names in dynamo history: Siemens 
and Gramme. 

At home in America the three years 1877 to 1880 marked the 
period of almost violent birth of the electric-lighting art. Suddenly 
it had become possible to generate electric current in sufficient 
quantity and cheaply enough to produce great illumination. The 
brilliant arc which Sir Humphry Davy had struck in 1808 between 
rods of carbon by using two thousand voltaic cells, worked just as 
well when supplied by a dynamo one could hold in his hand. Hardly 
waiting to discover whether the electric arc was commercially fea 
sible, every experimenter who could scrape the money together 
rushed into a machine shop and developed a system of his own. 
This included a dynamo, an arrangement of wires, and a lamp 
structure to hold the carbons together, then draw them apart to 
strike the arc. 

At first there were not many who cared to risk their time and 
money for this wild venture. Electric lighting was a consumer's 
invention. It would be used directly by and for the public. And 
citizens of that day were not quite so receptive to technical innova 
tions as we are now. Bell had just earned the reputation of being 
a crazy man, not by promising but actually by proving that he could 


talk over electric wires. Edison was still shut up tightly in his 
laboratory, working on the "subdivision of the electric light" by 
incandescent filaments. In fact, as this absurd controversy on sub 
division raged, even scientists were apt to laugh at each other's 
discoveries. Many did laugh at Edison. It was actually believed by 
no lesser men than Sir William Preece, Britain's great electrical 
authority, that only one lamp could be operated by any one electric 
current. You could not divide the light up into several luminous 
points independent of each other. Professor Joseph Tyndall remarked 
humorously that he would rather have Edison struggle with the 
problem than do it himself. 

The truth of it was, simply, that the carbon arc had very definite 
characteristics as to voltage and current and could be made to burn 
properly only at one set of values and with one level of brilliance. 
Hence, it appeared to be indivisible. But there was nothing to pre 
vent stringing a number of lights along a single circuit, in series, 
using the same current to operate them all, and supplying enough 
voltage to care for the sum total of the drops across all the arcs. 
This the inventors very quickly began to do. Edison soon showed 
that incandescents could burn in multiple as well as in series, and 
the controversy passed into history. The arc lamp, however, grew up 
as a series-connected device, because the voltage drop across it was 
too low to permit economical electric distribution in a multiple cir 
cuit. Thus the subdivision objectors prevailed, in a manner of speak 
ing. Even today most street arcs are operated on this series principle. 

Controversy or not, there were few enough contenders in 1878 
to give an arc-lamp inventor serious trouble. In fact, there were only 
six starters in the race who were important: Farmer, Thomson, 
Brush, Weston, and two smaller men: Hochhausen and Palmer. 
Only half of these survived. Farmer was old and tired. His great 
monuments were completed: the fire alarm telegraph system and 
certain mechanisms in the naval torpedo. He ceased to be a con 
tender when, in 1877, ^ e Franklin Institute tested his dynamo 
against two others and found that it showed an over-all efficiency 
of only 14 per cent, against 38 for its poorest competitor. Palmer, a 
Boston engineer, simply did not have the backing and the inventive 
ability to keep up with the others. Hochhausen, as we have seen, 


worked in the shadow of dishonesty and was presently eliminated. 
That left only Elihu Thomson, Charles Brush, and Edward Weston. 
These three were, indeed, the true pioneers in electric arc lighting. 

Elihu Thomson was a professor of chemistry in Philadelphia in 
the late seventies and was just making a start in the electrical field. 
His first important contribution was the closed-core alternating- 
current transformer, and his thinking at this stage was involved 
mainly with electrical distribution by the a-c system. He did not 
design a direct-current dynamo till 1879 seven years after Weston 
had begun his own experiments. And though his first commercial 
venture, the Thomson-Houston Company, did do its principal busi 
ness in arc lighting, this did not come until 1880. Then he became 
a major contender and the nucleus around which a major unit of 
the electrical industry was built. 

Charles Francis Brush, however, was from the start the successful 
contender for top honors in electric lighting, and deserves the prin 
cipal credit for developing a practical arc system. Brush began as 
an Ohio farm boy who was fascinated with electricity. But the 
demands of earning a living forced him to become a chemist. He did 
not have time or money to build a dynamo till 1876, when he was 
twenty-seven years old. Like Weston at an earlier age, he was em 
ployed by an electrical concern, the Telegraph Supply Company, 
and had some access to manufacturing machinery. Unlike him, 
Brush had a very difficult job persuading his employers to take his 
dynamo seriously. However, late in 1876 he induced the company 
to start manufacture in a small way, and from that moment became 
the unquestioned leader in arc lighting. 

Brush had the advantage of complete devotion to a single idea: 
a lighting system composed of a dynamo, wires, and arc lamps. He 
never did anything else. Consequently, his progress was rapid and 
his ideas sound. By 1879 ^ e was manufacturing equipment for 
burning as many as forty arc lamps in one circuit. , At Christmas 
in the previous year he had installed twenty lights in John Wana- 
maker's Philadelphia store and had begun lighting the streets of 
Boston. He had even illuminated Niagara Falls by a dynamo driven 
by a hydraulic turbine. The final goal was reached when Brush 
opened the world's first electric generating station in San Francisco 

The Weston arc lamp, opened and dosed* 


a public utility offering to sell the most intangible yet the most 
valuable product on earth: electric power. 

Edward Weston's interest in electric lighting reached back con 
siderably beyond Brush's or Thomson's. He had installed his first 
arc lamp in his own shop on Centre Street in 1874, when he had 
first constructed a successful plating dynamo. Lighting by electricity 
continued to intrigue him; in each subsequent shop he installed at 
least one, to be run from the plating machine mains. However, he 
made no attempt to develop a commercial lamp until 1877, when 
the Weston Dynamo Company was formed. From that time on, he 
was in the thick of the fight. 

The birth of commercial arc lighting in 1877-78 found Weston's 
dynamo in possession of four distinct advantages. It was effectively 
air-cooled; its laminated-iron magnetic circuit made it the most 
efficient machine in existence. It had a commutator with spirally 
laid copper segments, so that there was no serious sparking under 
load as the brushes passed from one segment to the next. And, 
lastly, the brushes were adjustable, either by hand or by electro 
magnets, so that the voltage could be regulated and held nearly 
constant at different loads. 

These features of advanced design gave Weston's dynamo a flex 
ibility and economy no other had advantages sufficient to offset 
the more concentrated work Brush had done and to start the two 
men more or less evenly in the exciting race for light. 

Being a chemist it was natural also that Weston should have 
interested himself in arc-light carbons. He had never forgotten his 
boyhood experience at the coking ovens, hacking out chunks of 
carbon for his wet batteries. He felt that he knew this interesting 
element pretty well. About 1874 he began experimenting with the 
manufacture of carbon rods, fully aware that if an arc lamp was 
to burn well it must have material of great uniformity, both in size 
and chemical composition. Suitable carbons were not made in 
America; the only ones obtainable came from France and cost $1.20 
a dozen. They were a long way from meeting his requirements. His 
good business instinct told him that as soon as electric lighting 


became popular there would be an enormous demand for carbon 
electrodes. He made up his mind to learn how to make them himself. 

It was at about the time that he was perfecting his compressed 
nickel anode that he became interested in arc-lighting carbons. The 
anode was made of a mixture of powdered nickel and carbon, com 
pacted under pressure. Weston employed the same general scheme 
to make his earliest lamp rods, using carbon dust and a tar and 
asphalt binder. The black paste was packed tightly into round 
moulds by hand, then baked in an oven. The result was a fairly 
uniform stick of reasonably good strength. 

During his first two years in Newark, Weston experimented 
steadily with arc lights supplied by a plating dynamo, and estab 
lished the fundamentals of satisfactory operation. Although he had 
no knowledge of the true electronic action in the arc, he determined, 
pretty closely, the values of voltage and current that were necessary. 
An arc would operate over quite a wide range of current values 
the more current, the fatter and brighter the flame. He chose an 
arbitrary figure of 20 amperes as the best, and based all his designs 
on that. 

He had not been experimenting long when he observed that the 
normal carbon arc gave a very blue light, which was garish and 
unpleasant. Women who saw it complained that it made them "look 
dead." Weston realized that this objection would be a very great 
deterrent to public acceptance, and made up his mind to do some 
thing about it. The cure at first seemed to be to shorten and fatten 
the arc, which increased the temperature and made the light some 
what whiter. However, this remedy was only partial, and there were 
serious difficulties from heat and from the instability of the arc. 
The actual distance between carbons was only one thirty-second of 
an inch so little that much of the light was lost within the flame 

He now came upon an idea that proved to be a basic discovery. 
It occurred to him to introduce a metal or metal salts into the arc, 
changing its color to anything desired by properly choosing the 
material. As a start, he used lime glass. The calcium oxide content 
burned with a reddish flame, thus reducing the blue glare to a 
better color. 


It was still very early in the electric-lighting timetable when 
Weston patented this invention on November 26, 1878. And though 
the device described is exceedingly crude, the claim is worth quoting 
from, since it was one of the great milestones of the lighting art: 

My improvements are of twofold character [he says in his patent No. 
210,380]. They relate, first, to devices for introducing into the electric arc a 
conducting vapor, which, by lessening the resistance between the points of 
the electrodes, affords an effectual means of retaining the arc in a prescribed 
path between the electrodes and by its combustion increases the illuminating 
power of the arc ... my invention consists in the application to, and con 
sequent combination with, one or each of the electrodes of an electric lamp, 
candle or torch, but preferably with the positive electrode only, of a cylinder 
or stick of any material, which, although not placed between the electrodes, 
is capable of being slowly volatilized by the heat of the electric arc, and 
which, when volatilized, affords a vapor of better conductivity than the 
carbon particles, which vapor, by its combustion affects the illuminating 
qualities of the arc, and by its passage to the negative electrode, fixes and 
defines the path in which the arc is maintained. 

The drawings accompanying the patent showed a pair of carbon 
rods mounted vertically on a baseboard, one of them being hinged. 
The rod of lime glass (or other material) stood close alongside the 
fixed carbon. A second feature of the invention, also basic, was an 
electromagnet, placed in the lamp circuit, which pulled the movable 
carbon away from its companion when current was turned on, and 
thus drew the arc automatically. 

What Weston had there was the invention of the "flaming arc," 
although it was not called that for twenty years. The principal was 
reinvented after the expiration of this patent and applied universally 
to making arc lights more pleasing, and more efficient. During the 
decade of the nineties, flaming arcs were used with many metals 
to give brilliant color effects, especially outside stores and on theatre 
marquees. But Weston's name had been forgotten in connection 
with them. In these later types of carbons the metallic substance was 
placed inside the carbon as a core. This, also, was Weston's idea. 

The aesthetic value of better color was by no means Weston's 
only reason for inventing the metallic arc. Even more important 
was the improvement of the efficiency. An arc drawn between two 


carbon sticks was very unstable and traveled round continually, 
which made it flicker and give unsteady light. As Weston claimed 
in his patent, the metal stabilked the arc. When he adopted the 
cored type of carbons he found that they definitely centered the 
arc; flickering ceased. 

The probable reason why his cored metallic carbons did not find 
favor at once was that they gave off so much heat that they could 
not be enclosed in glass. No glass blower in those early days could 
make a globe that would not melt under the intense heat. When the 
invention was finally adopted, new types of refractory glass had 
been found that could stand the strain without blackening or melt 
ing away. 

Although Weston's work with the arc lamp was fundamental and 
ingenious and led to highly successful commercial results, it was 
not his most outstanding contributon to electrical science. Never 
theless, he was able to meet the competition of Brush and Thomson 
and the growing number of others who soon entered the field. One 
difficulty he had was that he had adopted too high a current value 
for operating his lamps. All of the early experimenters were in the 
dark as to exact theory, and the choice of operating values was a 
matter of inspired guesswork. By good fortune Brush had hit upon 
a current value of about eleven amperes, which proved to be the 
ideal figure. Thomson fixed upon ten; some others adopted as little 
as four-and-a-half amperes, which was far too small. Weston him 
self chose twenty. 

Long afterward, when the science of electronics at last identified 
the conditions within an electric arc, it was found that nearly all 
the voltage is consumed at the surface of the negative electrode and 
hence is virtually constant for all carbon lamps. The flow of elec 
trons making up the current proceeds from negative to positive 
carbon, the voltage being used up in helping the electrons to escape 
through the surface layer of the carbon. Once free, the tiny particles 
move swiftly across the gap, requiring very little voltage drop to 
propel them. 

Now, if too small a current Is permitted to flow, the arc will be 
quite long, but it will be thin and its light will be poor. On the 
other hand, if too large a current is used, the voltage of electron 


escape becomes so large a portion of the total that very little is left 
for the gap itself, and the arc becomes extremely short. This gives 
a fat white flame, which on first appearance seems to be highly 
desirable. But it is found that light is given off only by the incan 
descent carbon tips and by the surface of the arc, so that much of it 
is masked in the interior of the flame and serves no useful purpose. 
Hence the large added power necessary to produce a heavy-current 
arc is not answered by a corresponding increase in illumination, and 
an inefficient light source results. 

Brush had hit upon the perfect combination of arc length and 
fatness to give the most lumens of light per watt of power. Weston, 
trying to beat him commercially, made the mistake of crowding too 
much current through his system, thus reducing its efficiency. But he 
never admitted it. A dogged man who had complete faith in him 
self, he stuck to his powerful lamps, believing that brute force was 
the criterion. He had long since abandoned the arc lighting business 
when the true state of affairs was disclosed by more complete theory. 

However, it must be understood that these differences were slight 
and that in the pioneer days anything that gave electric light at all 
was bound to sell. Early customers were so intrigued by the novelty 
of brilliant lighting that they did not count efficiency as very impor 
tant Weston, while perhaps behind his competitors in that regard, 
unquestionably had the best dynamo and a very good control system. 
So long as his lamps worked, they were bound to find many 


In the course of his early work on carbons, Edward Weston 
chalked up another pioneer discovery: the electric arc furnace for 
the industrial melting of metals. This he did as far back as 1875. 
He used this method for melting platinum and iridium, two of the 
most refractory elements common in electrical usage. But he did not 
patent the idea. Several years later, Siemens did, in Germany, and 
hence received the credit of being the father of this important 
branch of metallurgical engineering. 

Weston, however, did get the credit for an even more important 
improvement, when he devised a method of coating the ends of 
arc-lamp carbons with copper in order to make better electrical con- 


tact with the clamps holding them in the lamp. This was a logical 
procedure for him as a plating expert. As early as 1873 he had 
immersed rods of carbon in a jar filled with copper sulphate solu 
tion and electroplated them with a fine layer of the metal, for the 
making of positive battery plates. When the arc-lamp industry began 
to look up, some years later, he revived the idea and standardized 
upon it, this time using large vats of the sulphate solution, and a 
dynamo to do the plating. The earliest commercial carbons he plated 
over their entire length, in order to improve conductivity. Later, 
only the butts of the carbon rods were plated. 

In March of 1877, Weston appeared before the Newark Scientific 
Association and gave a lecture on dynamos and electric lighting. 
Young Bill Stevens acted as his assistant. They had with them an 
electric "hand-lamp" two carbons mounted vertically on a small 
wooden base. This lamp used coppered carbons. But the principal 
thing Weston wanted to show was the safety of the device. The 
voltage was so low that there was no danger whatever of receiving 
a shock. We know pretty well now what voltages are dangerous. 
But in those days the word electricity, most familiar as lightning or 
as sparks from Wimshurst machines in school laboratories, caused 
consternation and fear. Any electric current was thought deadly. 
In proving his crude little "candle' 7 safe, Weston was doing a great 
service to the future of the industry. 

It was a service, however, that would have to be done over and 
over again. The controversy over the relative hazards of Edison's 
direct-current system and the Westinghouse Company's a-c power 
was to rage for nearly fifteen years before a sensible understanding 
of the real danger would be reached. 

Charles F. Brush, in these early years, was just as busy as Weston, 
and, like so many of the pioneers, invented many things that others 
had also invented. Early in the game he hit upon the same idea of 
copperplating his carbons and proceeded to standardize on it. The 
two men were thus marketing practically the same product. For the 
moment neither of them had time or money to waste in infringe 
ment suits, and by letter they agreed to let each other alone, depend 
ing on their commercial prowess to encroach upon each other's terri 
tory as much as possible. This worked very well while the field was 
wide open. But when efficiency began to play a large part and 


customers stopped to consider which system they had better buy in 
order to get the best return on their investment, the competitors were 
forced to look to their rights in order to survive. 

At last, in 1882, the Brush Company brought suit against Condit, 
Hanson, and Van Winkle, who were then producing coppered car 
bons under Weston's patents. The case dragged on for two years, 
exposing virtually every detail of arc-lighting history in America 
and a good deal of unimportant nonsense besides. Eventually, 
Brush's suit was lost in 1884. 

"The bill for the metal -plated carbon patent was dismissed, with 
costs, upon the complainant's motion," a contemporary electrical 
journal exulted. Weston had become the unquestioned originator 
of the copper-coated carbon rod. And with that he was acknowl 
edged to be the founder of the arc-carbon industry in this country. 

Long before the dismissal of the suit he had become the largest 
manufacturer of this product and was energetically selling carbons 
to friends and competitors alike. Once started, demand soared and 
the early hand methods of manufacture proved inadequate. Weston 
was ready with energetic measures to increase production. Iron Age 
described it thus, in July, 1879: 

Mr. Weston now compresses a finely divided mixture of gas-retort carbon 
and a small quantity of material destined to increase its adhesiveness, by a 
powerful hydraulic press into the shape of six-inch cylinders. The latter 
are introduced into a strong cylinder, which can be heated by steam. The 
material, thus rendered plastic, is forced through a die having a diameter 
equal to that of the rods required, by means of a hydraulic press. The carbon 
is obtained in the shape of a long rod which need only be cut up into 
lengths, which are slowly dried and are then baked at a high temperature in 
black lead crucibles. The carbon rods thus obtained are dense and hard, 
and possess a metallic ring. They are given a slight coating of copper in an 
electroplating bath, and are then ready for use, their length being about 
twelve inches and their price 72 cents. One pair of twelve-inch carbons 
will suffice for eight hours' illumination. 

These were production-line methods, although the price of a car 
bon was hardly a mass-production figure yet. It is interesting that 
the manufacturing method was almost identical with today's art of 
producing thermoplastic extrusions. If one had substituted a poly 
merizing resin for the mysterious "material destined to increase 


adhesiveness/' one would have leaped seventy years into the future 
at one stride. 

Which is slow motion indeed when compared to the meteoric 
rise o the arc-lighting business in the late seventies. Only two years 
before the date of the quotation just given, Weston had not been 
able to sell carbons at all. In fact, he had had to give them away 
for nothing, in order to induce people to burn his strange new lamps. 


Probably the earliest public exhibit of the arc lamp in America 
was at the Philadelphia Centennial in the summer of 1876. A flicker 
ing but brilliant point of light would occasionally burst from the 
high peak of Machinery Hall and startle the crowds milling through 
the stifling night. Few of the people realized that they were seeing 
the first beacon of a new era. But this was not the world's first dem 
onstration of "commercial" arc lighting. Ten years earlier, an Eng 
lishman named Ladd had tried to interest London in these lamps 
and had only succeeded in frightening the citizens, who much pre 
ferred the soft haze spread through their city by the dependable gas 
lamp. Actually, arc lighting had been giving practical service for 
three years even at that time, having been installed in a number of 
French lighthouses with very good effect. A contemporary news 
paper account describes the still more spectacular electric instal 
lation in St. Catherine's Light on the Isle of Wight: 

The original mineral-oil lamp has been lately replaced by what is stated 
to be the most powerful electric light In the world. . . . The engine house 
contains three of Roby's compound engines, each of thirty-six horse-power, 
and two De Meritens magneto-electric machines, each capable of producing 
a light of 3,000,000 candles. . . . There are three lamps; the carbons are 
two and a half inches in diameter and six-pointed star-shape in section. . . . 
On a bright night the lantern is clearly seen at a distance of forty miles, 
and at the Needles, about twelve miles distant, a newspaper has been dis 
tinctly read by this powerful flash. 

Yet, fifteen years later, with the technical difficulties largely 
solved, American inventors were having a real struggle to interest 
their public in their new product. 

All of them realized that the most powerful way to create interest 


was to arrange a public showing literally to hit people in the eye 
with the advantages of the arc lamp. Brush, Weston, Thomson, 
Farmer all of them were making brave efforts to startle the public 
into a familiarity with the new system. Cleveland, Boston, Phila 
delphia, New York, all had their trick displays in 1878 or soon after. 

Some months before Brush succeeded in lighting Wanamaker's 
store in 1878, "Weston persuaded the city fathers of Newark to let 
him put up an arc at the very center of town. "At the time/' said 
his son, in a speech many years later, "the Newark Fire Department 
had no electrical fire boxes, so it was necessary to keep a constant 
visual watch over the city, much as forest rangers still do from their 
towers in the woods. The Department's watch tower was a cast-iron 
affair, which I well remember. It was perhaps six or eight stories in 
height, and located on Washington Street, north of Market, about 
on the site of one of the Prudential Insurance Company buildings. 
The tower had a glass enclosure at the top and a large bell hanging 
about half way up. In the glass enclosure firemen were constantly 
on watch, and reported to the ground any unusual smoke seen dur 
ing the daytime, or bright light at night/' 

It was in full view of this commanding point of vantage that 
Weston installed his first arc-light display at the corner of Wash 
ington and Market streets. 

"It was plainly visible on the tower, so that when the arc light was 
first turned on, the firemen were duly notified and warned not to 
turn in an alarm. Perhaps it is just as well that this was done, 
because not only was the light the most brilliant seen in the city, 
but it straightway gathered a great crowd of people who were 
attracted by the unusual and beautiful sight." 

It is amusing to imagine a crowd gathering today, say in Times 
Square, to stare at an arc light. Only a group of aborigines visiting 
New York would do that. Such is the change in the level of human 
experience in a few decades! 

This demonstration alone would have brought in no more busi 
ness than if the crowds had indeed been composed of South Sea 
Islanders. But Weston pursued his display advertising technique 
with his usual vigor. A little later he "considered it desirable" to 
install a battery of arc lamps on the roof of his synagogue-factory, 



to test out their ability to stand all kinds of weather. These were 
often burned day and night. "Whenever this was done," said his 
son, "the factory was sure to be visited during the next few days by 

curious and helpful sea captains, who had observed the light from 
Newark Bay or New York Harbor, had traced its location, and had 
come to learn and to suggest the desirability of having such lights 
in lighthouses/' 

It was inevitable that such displays should create public interest, 


The company began to get "bites. During the summer of 1878 the 
Newark City Council approached Weston and offered to accept one 
lamp for installation in Military Park. Weston put one up a power 
ful light that equaled 7,000 candles, and it drew vast public atten 
tion and millions of bugs and moths. It was believed to have been 
the first light ever supplied on contract to a municipality. As he had 
been forced to do with his early plating dynamos, Weston had to 
furnish both light and the dynamo to drive it, free on several months' 
trial. This concession had to be given with every prospective cus 
tomer. But it usually turned out that the lamps attracted so much 
attention that they were retained and purchased even if people 
blocked the streets looking at them. They provided the most power 
ful advertising ever invented. 

During 1879 Weston made a successful installation in Boston's 
Forest Garden one lamp in front of the dancing pavilion, one 
inside it, and one under the theater marquee. Shortly he had a 
similar exhibit at Newark's Union Park also. These didn't work 
very well, because an overzealous assistant of Weston's had broken 
some of the wires in an effort to screw them down securely. 

That summer five more Weston lights appeared at Fort Lee, an 
amusement center up the Hudson River. Charles F. Beers, a factory 
hand, put them in. The owner wanted them for the Fourth of July. 
"I belonged to a benevolent aid club in this city/' Beers testified in 
one of the lawsuits that came nine years later, "and we were going 
to parade on the morning of the Fourth. While I was waiting for 
the procession to come along in front of Weston's factory, so as to 
join it, Mr. Weston asked me to go to Fort Lee. I did not want to 
go and told him so, but he seemed to get angry and said I must, 
so I went . . ." 

Weston was in no mood to lay off his men for the holidays. He 
never was. Commercial survival, to him, meant absolute loyalty to 
the job, day and night for him and everybody who worked for him. 

Many a night he never went home at all, but stayed in the lab 
oratory, personally testing new lights that were about to be shipped. 
"Business" kept him occupied all day, he used to say, and left no 
time for his own work except at night. His assistants, like Edison's 
nearby, got no quarter; if some new invention was in process, they 


were expected to hang on till it was completed. "If Mr. Weston 
thought of any idea," said one of them, "it would have to be worked 
out immediately, if it took all night/* 

There wasn't much time, and Edward Weston knew that better 
than most. It was this sense of urgency that put him in the lead in 
this business, as in many another. 

There was a peculiar hazard with these arc lights that nobody 
understood the danger of serious eye injury from the ultraviolet 
radiation. It was obvious enough that one should not look directly 
at the arc, any more than one should stare directly at the sun. And 
Weston had the good sense to adopt smoked glasses for his experi 
mental work. If he had not done so, he would probably have gone 
blind early in the game. As it was, his eyesight was seriously im 
paired quite soon after he began work. "I can remember," his son 
says, "in later years hearing my mother complain that father almost 
ruined his eyes during this period, as a result of his frequent obser 
vation of the arc lamps. In fact, at one period it became necessary 
for her to lead him from the factory to his home." At times, indeed, 
she would have to take him there and fetch him back every day, 
and he suffered from constant headaches, which doctors were many 
years in assigning to ultraviolet burns. 

Such narrow escapes forecast the terrible tragedies that overtook 
many an eager experimenter with X rays, toward the end of the 
century. There were so many critical dangers to electricity that it is 
a wonder that the pioneers survived at all. 

In the midst of the drive to establish an electric-lighting business 
the inventor's second son was born Edward Faraday Weston 
on October 24, 1878. If his father stayed at home from his work 
that day, or in any way altered his exacting schedule in honor of 
the event, it is not on record. 

Arc lighting, for the moment, was his breath and his being. 


The work progressed steadily. 

Late in 1879, fire broke out in the front offices of the synagogue- 
plant on Washington Street and made such a shambles of the place 
that it was decided to move to a new plant. With the extraordinary 


dispatch of those days the entire manufacturing establishment was 
dismantled and set up again in new quarters one week after the 
fire ! The location chosen was on Plane Street, and the factory, huge 
for those days, covered nearly a block. It was standing conveniently 
empty and Weston took possession of it without complicated nego 
tiations of any kind. 

The plant is still standing and still operating as the Meter 
Works of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. 

Very soon after the move Weston and his associates decided to 
change the firm name to the Weston Electric Light Company. With 
this move they gave notice that they intended to become a serious 
contender for first place in the mushrooming electric-light field. 
Their ambitions were not without foundation. The move seemed to 
inject an extraordinary new vigor into the company's affairs. As the 
year 1880 began, orders crowded in. It was necessary to buy vacant 
land beside and behind the plant, and shortly Weston, just ten 
years from a penniless youth landing at the Battery, had become 
the proprietor and moving spirit of the largest electric lamp and 
dynamo plant in the United States. Business was so good that a 
New York office was needed to handle it. 

It was no surprise to find that the Plane Street plant was lighted 
from end to end by Weston arc lamps, and that Weston dynamos, 
running in reverse as motors, were driving some of the machinery. 

As 1880 arrived electric lighting was just beginning its meteoric 
rush to popularity. In the previous October, Thomas Edison had 
finally discovered how to make an incandescent lamp that would 
burn for a hundred hours before it failed. His young engineer, 
Francis Upton, had designed a dynamo, and Edison was well along 
the road toward inventing his famous three- wire distribution system 
by which electric lights could be supplied over a considerable area 
from a "central station." There were at least a do2en contenders in 
the dynamo field now, and every city in the country was being 
invaded by excited young men who sought local funds to start up a 
Brush Electric Light Company, a Weston Electric Light Company, 
a Wood, a Thomson-Houston or some other public utility. The 
fellow who got there first, with the most appealing arguments, 
usually got the business. 


Weston was getting there first in a sufficient number of instances. 
One, which brought considerable public attention, was an installa 
tion of arc lamps on a hotel construction job at Rockaway Beach, 
near Coney Island. Said Leslie's Weekly at the time: 

In order that the building and grounds may be finished in time for the 
summer business, it has been found necessary to employ over 1000 men and 
100 teams, work being carried on night and day, which, with the aid of the 
Weston Electric Light, is perfectly feasible, and much time will be saved 

Weston had fitted the lamps with special reflectors and provided 
a dynamo to supply them with current. 

Another first for Weston arc lights was the constructing of the 
famous Iron Pier at Coney Island, which was to receive uncounted 
thousands of New Yorkers sailing down the bay on holidays. 
Weston long remembered the difficulties of this installation. For 
driving the arc-light generators he had to use a balky engine that 
had no governor and could not keep to a steady speed. He often 
spent the night at the pier, firing the boiler himself in an effort to 
keep uniform steam pressure and so regulate the speed. 

The incandescent lamp was never a serious threat to the arc light, 
for the former was naturally adapted to the lighting of individual 
rooms, while the arc could not be tolerated except outdoors or in 
large halls, where the incandescent was entirely ineffective. But gas 
light was an arch antagonist to both and now, in 1880, it was so 
firmly entrenched that the gas companies, powerful everywhere, 
could afford to laugh at what they mistook for weak competition. 
Arc-lamp inventors, however, did not intend to be confined to the 
small business in showy lighting which the gas companies spurned. 
They proposed to drive the gentle little fan-shaped flames out of 

It was a tough problem to compete with gas. What could equal 
the simplicity of the small, lava-tipped pipe protruding from the 
wall, kindled in a jiffy with one match, and controlled perfectly by 
a simple stopcock? The arc was a powerful brute, temperamental, 
and controlled only at the cost of intricate electromagnetic mecha 
nisms. It could not be sure of public acceptance until it became 


entirely automatic and completely reliable. It is a great tribute to 
American inventive genius that, within a year or two, every one of 
the limitations had been overcome, so that arc lighting was not 
only as cheap and reliable as gas but many times as good. 

"What we were confronted with," Weston said in 1915, "was a 
really serious mechanical problem that of getting the regulators to 
keep all the arcs always the same length when they were [operating] 
in series, because there must be the same amount of energy on 
each lamp. Therefore, the resistance of the individual lamp must 
be almost exactly the same for equal lighting power. That difficulty 
was overcome in quite a variety of ways by both Brush and myself 
long before the others were reading about means of subdividing 
incandescent light/' 

That was the problem to operate many lights in series, at the 
same time, and still allow the user to turn one or more on or off at 
will without upsetting the whole system. A single lamp was no 
good commercially; everybody wanted a whole string of them, 
under as perfect control as gas. 

The first systems were very crude. Everything had to be done by 
hand. If a customer bought a dynamo and a set of lamps, somebody 
had to stand over the machine constantly to manipulate its brushes 
so that when some lights were turned off the increased voltage 
would not swamp the others and blow them up. Every inventor 
immediately had to devise an automatic regulator, either on the 
dynamo or in the lamp. One reason Elihu Thomson succeeded so 
well was that he had an electromagnetic regulator that automati 
cally shifted the generator brushes in response to the load. His 
company maintained its advantage in 1880, when Thomson and his 
partner, Edwin Houston, invented a constant current dynamo in 
which regulation was built in electrically. No matter how many 
lights were in circuit, the amperage remained the same; hence the 
lights could not be oversupplied. 

As Weston saw it, the simplest form of regulation was to build 
the control into the lamp itself, making it self-sustaining and self- 
eliminating if it went out. In pursuit of this end, he took out no 
less than thirteen patents on lamp mechanisms in the two years 
between 1880 and '82. 



All arc lamps were similar in basic arrangement: The two carbons 
faced each other end-to-end, vertically, the lower one being fixed, 
the upper moving up and down to adjust the gap and maintain the 
arc. The control mechanism manipulated this upper carbon. From 
the beginning, inventors had used some sort of electromagnetic 
clutch which held the carbon rod and automatically dropped it 
when the material burned short and the arc went out. Weston's 
clutch was similar to the others. The problem was to feed it down 
evenly and not drop it suddenly. 

In October, 1880, he was discussing with his patent attorney, 
Chauncey Smith, in Boston, the matter of improvements in clutch 
mechanisms, when Smith suggested that any kind of a clutch at all 
would probably be an infringement on others. 

"I think you would do well, Weston, to try something entirely 
different," he said. 

Weston went back to Newark and set to work devising a new 
lamp mechanism. Shortly he had invented a carbon feed which in 
corporated a chamber containing mercury, with a float to which the 
upper rod was attached. The scheme worked perfectly well, and a 
number of test lamps were produced in the shop. But just as the 
model was ready to go into production, Weston scrutinized it more 
closely and decided that it was too vulnerable and so abandoned it. 
It seemed better to him to invent his way around other patented 
feed mechanisms than to introduce something entirely new. 

This decision yielded a long line of ingenious and increasingly 
intricate arrangements, which he promptly covered by patents. The 
whole scheme of the thing was to employ the slight voltage rise 
which occurred when the carbons burned off and the arc gap length 
ened, to hitch the upper carbon downward slightly and shorten the 
gap again. One of Weston's first ideas involved a ratchet wheel 
connected to the carbon rod through a pulley and cable, and worked 
by an electromagnet. This was soon followed by a more effective 
method, using the differential principle one magnet in series with 
the arc, the other across it. As the arc lengthened the series magnet 
weakened and the shunt coil strengthened. The tendency for the 
two to balance provided a delicate control. But the mechanism was 
pretty complicated. 

Prototype of the theater spotlight. The carbons were adjusted by hand. 


As time went on, the inventions were more and more in the nature 
of refinements on the same basic principle. At one point [this patent 
was granted in September, 1882] Weston changed from plain 
magnets to solenoids, using the motions of two plungers trans 
mitted through a closely designed set of cams and links, to move 
his carbon downward. This also worked well and required consider 
ably less power to be diverted from the main circuit, since the 
solenoid is a more efficient means of transforming magnetic energy 
into mechanical force. 

Still another variation was a "derived circuit*' magnet, operated 
by a rise in temperature at the arc. A small box containing a fusible 
wire was placed close to the arc. If it lengthened too much and 
heated up, the wire melted, the magnet operated, and the lamp was 
short-circuited. This was not so much a control mechanism as a 
safety device. Lamps were now being operated in strings of fifteen 
or more. If their feed mechanisms stuck and they went out, the full 
circuit voltage could be impressed across the faulty one, quickly 
ruining it. 

By 1881 practically everybody who made arc lamps had solved 
the worst difficulties, and Weston was holding a very high place 
among them. 

In this year the city of Paris again held an electrical exposition, 
and the Weston Electric Light Company made a prominent showing 
there. But the situation of three years before had changed. Arc 
lighting was one of the biggest features of the exhibit, and compet 
ing systems were legion. Gramme, Siemens, Edison, Brush, Maxim, 
Lonton, Crompton-Burgin, Gulcher, Jablochkoff, de Meritens, 
Weston all were there. Of them all, Hiram Maxim was perhaps 
the most spectacular. As chief electrician for the United States 
Electric Lighting Company in New York, his brilliant and fruitful 
mind was at the moment passing through its electric-lighting phase, 
before going on to greater things. Weston was destined to be a 
partner of Maxim's a little later on, and then to wish he had never 
set eyes on him. 

Weston's patents covered almost every item in an arc lamp and 
served as the basis for an extremely profitable business venture, 
which was further aided by his virtual control of carbon electrode 


manufacture. He was in an enviable position indeed. The patents 
included not only mechanisms, but the original safety fuse, com 
posed, simply, of a strip of metal melting at a very low temperature, 
mounted upon a block of wood between two terminal posts. This 
was the forerunner of the ubiquitous little fuse plug which every 
householder has met with in dark cellars to his sorrow. 

But by far his greatest contribution to the art was the high- 
resistance shunt circuit which he standardized upon for all his 
lamps. This comprised a magnet coil in series with the lamp, having 
another coil of German silver wire concentrically wound upon it. 
When the lamp was first turned on, current flowed in both coils, 
and the armature piece, drawn toward the poles, lifted the carbon 
electrode and established the arc. At the same time it interrupted 
the shunt circuit and removed the German silver winding from 
operation. The virtue of this was that if the lamp should fail for 
any reason, the mechanism would introduce into the lighting circuit 
a resistance equal to the arc when operating properly. Thus, other 
lamps would not be affected by the failure. 

The Paris Exposition of 1881 was really the rising curtain for 
world-wide electric lighting. Tom Edison was putting the finishing 
touches to a complete incandescent system, and within a year would 
open the world's first electric light plant the famous Pearl Street 
Station. In the arc-lighting field Brush and Weston were the 
acknowledged leaders. According to Sir William Preece in England, 
Weston's system was clearly the best mechanically. Preece had 
found it wise to retire from his earlier contention that the electric 
light could not be "subdivided," and was industriously approving 
of the whole art as rapidly as he could. 


Here in America the business was rapidly approaching a state of 
private civil war. A town which had no electric lights would be 
invaded by various competing teams, and while there was not much 
actual shooting, there was plenty of vilification, political finagling, 
and occasional hijacking of supplies and laborers, as one aggressive 
sales force met another. "Each of the pioneer manufacturing com 
panies," said the Electrical World, "was possessed with a religious 


zeal for converts to its own particular 'system' which made each 
promoter deny that any virtue was to be found in the camps of his 

By today's standards such behavior would be considered highly 
reprehensible among scientific rivals. It was not, then. 

Now that the art had become a vigorous industry, and public 
acceptance had created a dependable and expanding market, the 
various contenders began to look around them for patent protec 
tion. There was not much to be had, for the overworked Patent 
Office examiners, buried under the deluge of applications, were 
generously protecting everybody for almost exactly the same thing. 
In other words, the electric light business had become a chaotic 
mass of infringements and infringements of infringements. If any 
one of the inventors had been able to make good on all his claims, 
not another person in the United States would have been able to sell 
a single arc lamp. 

Thus the period of the middle eighties was the beginning of the 
great heyday of litigation. Everybody sued and went to court. Judges 
and attorneys found themselves inextricably entangled in technical 
claims so nearly identical that the only hope of unraveling them 
was to establish some kind of priority by means of detailed exami 
nations into personal histories before specially appointed masters. 
Court cases of this period dragged on for as much as five years and 
frquently ended in a draw, with nobody profiting except the 
lawyers. Clearly, business could not be conducted with all the prin 
cipal workers arguing for their lives in stuffy courtrooms. 

Weston's big case was fought by his agents, Condit, Hanson & 
Van Winkle, against Brush, beginning in December, 1880. Brush, 
the complainant, claimed infringement of two of his patents, one 
covering metal-coated lamp carbons, the other a "completely auto 
matic arc lamp," including a clutch arrangement and many other 
devices. A brilliant array of legal stars was lined up for each side. 
Brush called in three college professors and an engineer as expert 
witnesses; Weston relied mostly on himself and his patent attorney, 
Edward E. Quimby. The case started off in the Southern District of 
New York but was later switched to Hartford, Connecticut, occa 
sioning severe hardship to both inventors and their technical asso- 


dates, who had to waste approximately four years, either traveling 
back and forth to testify or helping others prepare arguments and 
collect historical data. 

Long before the end of the struggle Brush's attorneys petitioned 
to drop the coated-carbon complaint, acknowledging that the inven 
tion had been fully described and used by Weston before Brush 
patented it. And long before the end of the case, Weston's firm 
had been absorbed by the United States Electric Lighting Company, 
and the suit had been shifted to their shoulders. 

The suit is mentioned here because it was so typical of the intoler 
able situation that was hindering the orderly advance of electrical 
engineering. Obviously, the various contenders would have to learn 
to live and work together without dissipating their energies in com 
mercial murder. Two attempts were therefore made to relieve 
matters; a consolidation of the principal patent interests, and the 
formation of the National Electric Light Association. 

The consolidation took the form of a pooling of patents under 
a holding company called the Gramme Electric Company and was 
completed in 1882. It obtained control of Weston's arc light and 
dynamo patents and those of Brush, Fuller, Jablochkoff, and the 
United States Company; shortly it added some of Edison's as well. 
The arrangement was no guarantee of industrial peace, however, 
for it was primarily an agreement among the parties to combine 
their resources to fight all outside infringers. It was effective enough 
in smoothing the troubled waters of the arc-light interests, but it 
only set the stage for the grand finale the titanic battle over the 
origin of the incandescent lamp. When serious contention arose 
within the family, fratricide followed instantly. But this is a story 
for a later section. 

The National Electric Light Association, which was organized in 
1885 and included virtually everybody, was a more beneficent body. 
Its aim was to prepare the whole lighting field for orderly progress, 
to bring the many warring interests together before they stamped 
into court, and to cut down the piratical invasions incident to estab 
lishing electric systems in new territory. It lived to do a most useful 
regulatory work in the vast public utility industry. 

With consolidation in the air, Weston was naturally on the look- 


out for a chance to enlarge his horizons. The chance came in 1881, 
in the midst of a most profitable business year and during the first 
violences of the struggle with Brush. The United States Electric 
Lighting Company began buying the Weston Company's stock, and 
presently had a controlling interest in the enterprise. It was a high 
compliment to Weston that this group of New York bankers, who 
controlled the work of the brilliant Hiram Maxim, and of the 
veteran Professor Farmer, should choose Weston as the one man to 
improve their own position. But it meant the end of Weston's solo 
venture in manufacturing. 

A few years after the company had absorbed Edward Weston, 
one of its brochures gave this refreshingly naive example of the 
sales talk that was considered necessary in that day: 

The United States Electric Lighting Co. was organized in 1878, before 
any system of electric lighting had been commercially introduced. Believing 
that the near future would witness the rapid development of electricity as 
an illuminating agent, its Directors sought the best apparatus to manufacture, 
and the brightest and most practical electricians. The Company was not 
formed for speculative purposes, but for the legitimate development of a 
manufacturing business, and consequently its history is free from imputations 
of stock gambling and fraud, which are so justly connected with some 
Electric Light Companies. 

Entering the field so early on this comprehensive plan, not being tied 
down to the inventions of any one man, and with abundant capital, it was 
able to procure a large number of valuable fundamental patents and the 
services of several eminent inventors and electricians. 

They did not say that the reason they bought out Weston was that 
they badly needed a dynamo to compete with Brush, Jimmy Wood, 
and Thomson-Houston; and that Weston was the only man that 
had it Yet this was the purpose in making the deal. 

The United States Company had been manufacturing in New 
York. Now, with the purchase of the Weston Electric Light Com 
pany, the concern moved its center of gravity to Newark, and took 
up quarters in Weston's factory at Plane and Orange Streets. There 
was practically no change in the setup except the enlargement that 
came from the welcome inflow of new capital. Edward Weston, as 
always, became the focal point for all engineering and production 


activities. He was named Consulting Electrician for the company, 
and took on the duties of Works Manager as well. 

This restless and self-assured man had made another great stride 
forward. He was now fully revealed on the world stage, illuminated 
in the light of his own inventions. 

Brooklyn Bridge blazes with Weston light. 


One of the first important contracts which the company received 
was the lighting of the new Brooklyn Bridge with two rows of 
Weston arc lamps on ornamental poles. The Weston dynamo to 
run them, with all subsidiary equipment, was housed in a small 
building on the Brooklyn side. 

This greatest monument to John A. Roebling, America's most 
famous builder of suspension bridges, was completed in 1883 and 
opened with a tremendous celebration on May 24. President Chester 
Arthur and Governor Grover Cleveland of New York drove across 
the bridge at the head of a huge parade which included almost 
every notable of the day. An entire afternoon was expended in 


speeches, bandplaying, and inspection tours of the marvels of the 
new structure, while streets and rooftops were packed with a mam 
moth crowd estimated in the millions. But the evening celebration 
dwarfed what had come before. 

"At eight o'clock/' says D. B. Steinman, in his biography of 
Roebling, "the first fuse was touched off, releasing fifty giant 
rockets, and a few seconds later the two cities lay under a sparkling 
shower of gold, bine, red, and emerald fire. From both shores burst 
fountains and jets and tremendous geysers of varicolored flames and 
living cascades of brilliance eclipsing the stars. 

"Countless thousands witnessed the unforgettable spectacle. They 
saw the span flooded with the miracle light of eighty powerful 
electric lamps strung along the arching roadway! And above the 
Bridge, they beheld the flight of numberless bombs and rockets, 
together with great showers of gold and silver rain, and Niagaras 
.of fiery sparks and floating stars/' 

If Weston himself was there, we have no record of it. He made 
no speeches; his lights celebrated his fame instead. The chances 
are that he was in his shirt sleeves in the power house beneath the 
Brooklyn tower, watching like a hawk as his men closed switch after 
switch and the sturdy little dynamo picked up its load. This was 
the most spectacular installation of arc lamps he ever made, and 
he was proud of it. 

So proud, that his son Edward can still remember a great (fey 
when he was no more than five or six, when his mother led him by 
the hand along South Street, to see the great soaring span of the 
bridge, and the lights which his father had installed "in the sky/* 


If Edward Weston had invited trouble and hard work as a con 
tender in the arc-lighting race, he now found himself in a field in 
which trouble was utterly certain. With the independence of his 
new consulting position, and the larger funds available for labora 
tory experiment, he was able for the first time to take up long- 
deferred work on incandescent lighting. Here was perhaps the 
greatest single advance in human well-being ever devised by man. 
And the inventors of it were bitterly at each other's throats. 

Throughout the United States, Thomas A. Edison is known as 


the man who invented the incandescent lamp. In the public mind 
it is as though everyone in America had stood perfectly still, breath 
lessly waiting for Mr. Edison to accomplish the impossible. This is 
as wide of the fact as are most popular notions about science. It is 
true that Edison's brilliant ability to cut through to the fundamentals 
of a problem and devise a solution resulted in the first commercially 
practical electric light. In addition, his natural sense of timing and 
his talent for showmanship helped him to publicize his invention 
and procure world-wide acceptance for it. But, so far as history is 
concerned, he was not the sole inventor of electric incandescence. 
In fact, the first Edison lamp came some 59 years after the French 
man, De La Rue, had produced an electric "glow" by heating a 
coil of platinum wire in a glass tube. 

Many investigators followed De La Rue, all of them trying to 
obtain useful light from the heating of a wire by electric current. 
For many decades they failed, because all of them believed that a 
metal conductor must be used. No metal then known had a high 
enough resistance to make it light up with any reasonable current. 
Platinum was the best, but it was far too expensive. 

By Edison's time the basic elements that would make a successful 
incandescent lamp had been separately suggested: a glowing ele 
ment of high-resistance carbon rather than metal, and a sealed glass 
container exhausted of air to prevent oxidation and burning of the 
conductor. It was Thomas Edison's genius for simplification that 
showed the world how to put these things together into a practical 
whole. He reduced the conductor to a fine thread, or "filament," 
and raised it to white heat by using a high voltage and little current. 
He formed the thread into a loop and mounted it upon two metal 
lead-in wires, which he sealed into the base of a glass globe, the 
base acting as a support. Finally, he exhausted the air from the 
globe and sealed it hermetically. 

A number of people had tried these things before Edison. But 
no one had conceived this beautifully simple combination as a whole. 
His basic patent on it had a clear priority, at least in the United 
States. But it had hardly been granted when several other inventors 
hurried into the field with patents that covered nearly the same 
thing, and began making and selling lamps of their own, Weston 
among them. And in the invention of the homogeneous carbon 


filament he corrected the one weak point in Edison's system: the 
short life which made the earliest carbon lamps impractical. But the 
story of this discovery comes a little later. 

Exactly as in the case of arc lighting, the successful incandescent 
lamp brought on a chaos of litigation. Edison's backers, the most 
powerful financial interests in the country, adroitly engineered a 
series of purchases and consolidations, grouping supporting patents 
into an impenetrable wall of legal protection, and then haled the 
rest of the patentees into court. The record-breaking case, involving 
scores of lamp makers here and abroad, ended in a clear victory for 
Edison. Everyone, everywhere, either had to stop making lamps or 
obtain a license from Edison's company to continue making them. 
For a time there was great bitterness over the decision, but now, in 
the calmer light of retrospect, it is agreed that the courts acted 
fairly. Edison, and Edison alone, had discovered the workable lamp, 
whose main feature was the sealed-in wires in an exhausted bulb. 
Able patent attorneys had covered the invention so thoroughly that 
any other lamp that would operate at all was an infringement. 

By the time the case was decided, Weston's lamp patents had 
passed to Westinghouse, along with the United States Company, 
and were casualties along with the rest. The loss of the Weston 
patents almost ruined Westinghouse a fact that was demonstrated 
in 1893, when this company obtained the contract to put up thou 
sands of incandescent lamps at the Chicago World's Fair. The 
lamps had just been completed when word came that the courts 
had invalidated their patents. In a terrible scramble to save this 
large piece of business, company scientists hastily invented the 
"stopper" lamp a bulb not sealed at the bottom but closed by a 
glass stopper with a ground joint. It was an expensive expedient, 
but it saved the day. Stopper lamps were not practical for sale to 
the public and disappeared after successfully performing at Chi 
cago. Westinghouse, like everybody else, became a licensee of Gen 
eral Electric under the Edison sealed-bulb patents. 

J. W. Starr, an American, obtained the first patent on incan 
descent lamps in 1845, describing a carbon rod inside a glass tube 
temporarily exhausted of air by the dropping of a column of mer 
cury. Moses G. Farmer was another early contender, with a bulb 
containing a platinum wire. Many other attempts followed, mostly 


without adequate means of removing the oxygen surrounding the 
heated element. Platinum was used because it oxidized very little, 
even when incandescent. 

These crude lamps actually burned and gave light, though the 
cost for power was tremendous. It has been estimated that the 
platinum-filament lamps of the sixties, supplied by Grove batteries, 
were burned at a cost of about $100 per kilowatt-hour, and with an 
illuminating efficiency close to zero! 

The key to the whole situation was a good vacuum, and this key 
was provided in 1875 by the German, Sprengel, who invented a 
mercury pump which exhausted the air from a vessel by trapping 
small portions of it between slugs of mercury passing down a tube. 
In theory, this pump could reduce the air pressure to the vapor 
pressure of the mercury itself. In practice, it gave a vacuum high 
enough for making satisfactory incandescent lamps. Inventors every 
where rushed into the fight. 

Weston's interest in incandescent lighting preceded Edison's by 
a year or more. In the spring of 1876, while he was still working 
on his early dynamos in the little attic laboratory of his home on 
Eighth Avenue in Newark, he found time to make some experi 
ments with lamps of the type Farmer had used as far back as 1857. 
As he had no means then of producing a good vacuum, the platinum 
wire lamp was his only hope. He could not afford more than a little 
fragment of the precious metal, and immediately ran into the prob 
lem of fashioning a strip of uniform cross section, so that it would 
heat up evenly. It was for this purpose that he invented his electric 
arc furnace, this being the only possible way for him to heat and 
work platinum. During the experiments Weston also tried iridium, 
but that was more expensive still. Almost the only good that came 
out of the trials was the arc furnace itself, which has already been 

Weston very quickly decided that carbon was the only possible 
element that would be cheap enough and resistant enough to make 
an incandescent lamp. Carbon was an old friend, too. It was not 
difficult to have strips cut from ordinary battery-plate material, and 
in the spring of 1876 he was doing this with interesting results. 
For bulbs he was using ordinary chemical flasks, with a pair of 
wires passing through the cork and connected to the carbon strip. 


To prevent combustion of the carbon, Weston introduced a little 
metallic potassium, which rapidly absorbed most of the oxygen in 
the flask. But this was not satisfactory, and he tried exhausting the 
air with a small mechanical pump. This also failed. A third alterna 
tive, he found, was to put some phosphorus in the flask and burn 
it, thus combining the oxygen. That, too, worked badly. However, 
he actually made a "lamp" in that year of '76 that burned two hours 
before the carbon strip failed. 

All of the incandescent lamp pioneers realized that carbon was 
the ideal filament material. But instead of adopting pure amorphous 
carbon as Weston had done they were trying to work with cellulosic 
material such as paper, wood, and thread, carbonizing it by charring 
it in an oven. Edison, more thorough than any of them, was making 
an exhaustive search for a fine homogeneous material, which even 
tually led his assistants to South America and China in pursuit of 
a fine-grained bamboo. The problem that blocked them all was the 
extreme difficulty of obtaining any material that would be uniform 
when reduced to the very small dimensions of a filament. No matter 
how carefully Edison and his competitors selected their fibers, the 
stuff was bound to have weak spots. As soon as the current heated 
it to incandescence, these spots glowed more brightly than the rest, 
and presently the filament would burn through. Weston used to 
amuse himself by pointing out such weak places to his little son. 
"That lamp," he would say, "will burn out in an hour. . . ," And 
it would. 

Weston approached the problem as a chemist and technician 
rather than as an explorer. Arguing that there is no fiber in nature 
which is exactly uniform, he refused to waste time on carbonized 
thread and slivers of bamboo. He insisted that the carbon must be 
amorphous, and the final thread a synthetic one carefully fashioned 
by forcing it into a mould. Immediately putting this thought into 
practice, he mixed carbon dust with tar and squeezed the resulting 
paste into a very small opening between two blocks of metal. The 
resulting "wire" he baked in an oven to form a hard and apparently 
uniform conductor. Bet the uniformity was only apparent. Placed in 
a circuit inside an evacuated bulb, this filament material quickly 


showed the same weakness as fibrous carbon. Though he experi 
mented for many months he could not achieve an unvarying cross 
section in the few inches of length that he needed for a lamp. 
And the slightest unevenness would quickly show up in a rapid 
burning out of the filament. 

Half a century later a brilliant young engineer attempted to 
design the steel structure of the great 2OO-inch telescope so rigidly 
that its own weight would not distort it and throw the optical 
system out of line. But the more massive he made it, the greater its 
weight became, and the distortion remained prohibitive. Then he 
changed his attack: he decided to let it distort, and by making the 
structure like a pin-connected truss, keep the optical axis a straight 
line even though the steel work deflected considerably. This brilliant 
solution has virtually avoided distortional errors in the world's 
largest telescope. 

In 1877 Edward Weston had discovered this same principle that 
if you cannot avoid an embarrassing obstacle, adopt it and make it 
work for you. So now, being unable to prevent weak spots in his 
carbon filament, he decided to make these spots repair themselveSj 
by virtue of the very fact that they glowed more brightly than their 
neighbors when current was passed through them. 

"Weston remembered/* said Dr. Baekeland in his Perkin Medal 
Award address, "that as a boy, when he went to visit the gas works 
to obtain some hard carbon for his Bunsen cell, this carbon was 
collected from those parts of the gas retort which had been the 
hottest, and where the hydrocarbon gas had undergone dissociation, 
leaving a dense deposit of coherent carbon. 

"In this chemical phenomenon of dissociation at high tempera 
ture, he perceived a chemical means for 'self-curing' any weak spots 
in the filament of his lamp. The remedy was as ingenious as simple. 
In preparing his filament, he passed the current through it while the 
filament was placed in an atmosphere of hydrocarbon gas, so that 
in every spot where the temperature rose highest on account of 
greatest resistance, brought about by the irregular structure of the 
material, the gas was dissociated and carbon was deposited auto 
matically until the defect was cured." 

Here was probably the only way possible to construct a filament 
of precisely uniform diameter. Nature alone could not do it. 


'The next step," said Weston himself, in accepting the Perkin 
Award, "is to continue the deposition of carbon all over the loop 
[of the filament], so as to bring the resistance to exactly what you 
want it before it goes into the lamp. Thus, you have a chemical 
control of the resistance, not only of the bad spots but of the loop 
as a whole." 

Weston's early method of doing this was as simple as the idea 
itself. He filled a glass jar with ordinary kerosene oil, then im 
mersed in it a small chemical flask, and filled it. The flask was then 
inverted, with the neck below the surface of the liquid. Into it 
Weston carefully inserted a drilled cork, carrying two wires with 
the filament under treatment fastened between them. The ends of 
the wires were bent around so that their ends protruded above the 
kerosene. He then connected a battery to them, with a controlling 
rheostat, and allowed a weak current to flow. 

As the filament warmed up it heated the kerosene in the flask 
until it began to vaporize and the vapor, collecting in the inverted 
bottom of the container, drove the oil out into the jar until the 
filament was exposed to the vapor. When this point was reached, 
Weston increased the current enough to make the filament glow 
brightly. At once its weak spots appeared and the vaporized kero 
sene began to deposit carbon on them. In a few minutes, the spotty 
nature of the light subsided, and the process was carried on for a 
predetermined time, to coat the whole length of the wire with hard, 
shiny carbon. 

This was, of course, a crude beginning, and during 1876 and '77 
Weston made many improvements in supporting the apparatus and 
connecting the wires. Eventually he adopted the scheme of electro 
plating the ends of the filament with copper, to facilitate electrical 
contacts. As time went on, he abandoned kerosene as too clumsy. 
When the company began to manufacture incandescent lamps for 
sale, filaments were lined up in small vertical glass tubes connected 
in a row to the source of current. The tubes were then pumped down 
to a partial vacuum and filled with a hydrocarbon gas, and the 
process was completed as before. 

Weston's ingenuity did not stop there. He found that it was 
necessary to test very delicately for unevennesses in the filament too 
small to be seen by the eye. To do this he put the filament loop 


between the poles of a very powerful permanent magnet, and then 
passed alternating current through the carbon thread. This of course 
made it vibrate in tune with the alternations of the circuit. If there 
were any weak spots in its structure, they would show instantly and 
the filament would quickly break. "That was a severe test," he said, 
"but it showed us whether we had completely eliminated the de 
fective spots." 

It was an interesting sidelight on Weston's scientific method. 
While everybody else was doing the best he could with fibrous 
filaments which were sure to develop trouble later on, Weston went 
them one better and turned out a virtually perfect product of its 
kind. It was not long before the hydrocarbon method became a 
basic requirement in the incandescent lamp industry, and was 
adopted by everyone in one form or another. 

"Substantially, every incandescent lamp in the world is made by 
the process," Weston said. "But there is a curious story in that 
connection. Who invented it? The courts ruled that I didn't. That 
is a strange fact. Hiram S. Maxim got the credit for it. Sawyer got 
the first patent on it. Sawyer and I had a terrible fight over this for 
a number of years. The courts decided that I had not made the 
invention. Such are the vicissitudes of an inventor's life. I had made 
it very early in the history of the work, long before Mr. Maxim or 
Mr. Sawyer had any knowledge of it whatever." 

If this was true, a great injustice has been done. And Weston 
was never one to take injustice meekly. He did not feel, as many 
great men do, that he had made enough inventions for which he 
did get credit, so that this detail, important as it was, could well be 
surrendered to others. He was mad clean through and went after 
Sawyer with all the resources at his command. 

The legal battle between Weston and Sawyer began in 1882, 
when Weston saw in the Patent Office Gazette, the notice of a 
patent granted to Sawyer* on the 'hydrocarbon idea. He instantly 
filed an identical patent of his own and brought on an interference 
action at once. In an interference, the lawyers of each side visit 
the headquarters of the opposition and hold courts of inquiry, grill 
ing witnesses and examining every possible circumstance in an effort 
* Sawyer was associated with another inventor named Man, and the patent 
was issued to them jointly, But the action was taken against Sawyer alone. 


to break down the opponent's claim to priority. Large masses of 
testimony are taken and a museum of exhibits collected. When it is 
all done, the evidence is submitted to the Patent Office, and a Trial 
Examiner, with a board to help him, decides the issue. The winner 
gets the patent. 

Weston's position was weak. The only witnesses he could muster 
were Edward E. Quimby, his patent attorney, and Levi Broadbent, 
onetime foreman of his machine shop and himself. Neither 
Quimby nor Broadbent could remember accurately when they had 
first seen Weston experimenting with his hydrocarbon filament 
treatment. They could not establish the origin of the idea closer 
than "some time in 1877." As Sawyer and Man had made applica 
tion for their patent in October, 1878, there was little margin to 

But Weston's fiery determination could not be dampened by poor 
support. In his testimony he gave so accurate and lucid an account 
of the whole thing that he was completely convincing. The exam 
iners found for him and against Sawyer and Man, and their hydro 
carbon patent was thrown out. Weston himself received a patent 
on the idea in 1884. Sawyer, however, refused to be defeated so 
easily, and appealed the decision to the civil courts. It was here 
that the judge eventually ruled against Weston. 

By that time everybody was using the "flashing" process, of 
necessity. Hiram Maxim had come into the picture, and Edison. 
The decision was at best academic. Though Weston had undoubt 
edly thought of the process first, a number of others received the 
idea independently and almost at the same time. Weston, being by 
nature a lone wolf, had failed to announce his discovery and patent 
it when he should have. He had preferred to keep it secret, and, 
being too busy with other profitable things, had simply let it slide. 

But the court decision did not do Sawyer much good. He and 
Weston and everybody else were presently swept overboard by the 
irresistible wave of Edison's popularity and prestige. 


Weston was not satisfied with a compacted mixture of carbon 
dust and tar for the making of filaments. At best it produced a 
grainy material that could never be made entirely homogeneous. 


even by the hydrocarbon treatment. He wanted something that was 
molecularly smooth and unbroken in texture. Carbon never ap 
peared this way in nature; therefore it would be necessary to go 
back to charring some form of cellulose, as the others were doing. 

But what form of cellulose? Nature was again of no help; there 
is no form of it that does not grow with a grainy structure. Every 
one else had accepted this fact and was making the best of it. Wes- 
ton declined to do this ; he would make a synthetic cellulose product 
without grain. 

He set about searching for an absolutely uniform, structureless 
substance. The search was not immediately successful, and led him 
through many weeks of discouraging trial and error. But in the end, 
his skill as a chemist brought him through. The result was a product 
he called "Tamidine," and a process which gave him lamp filaments 
far superior to any of his competitors*. So superior, indeed, that the 
industry adopted it everywhere. When the tungsten filament finally 
superseded carbon, the Weston homogeneous carbon, in the form 
of the "squirted filament," had virtually displaced all other mate 
rials; practically every one of the millions of light bulbs used by 
the world contained it. 

Weston's own description of his difficulties tells the story with 
authority and clarity: 

I then took up the problem of producing the structureless carbon, a 
homogeneous thread, of uniform cross section, and of uniform electric 
resistance from end to end for any given section. This was a chemical prob 
lem, of course. At first I attempted to dissolve cellulose. After various expe 
dients, finally including squirting through small openings, I came back to 
collodion film. 

He never forgot anything he had ever done. Now, his early 
experience with the making of collodion solutions for photographic 
plates came to his aid. 

If you pour a solution of pyroxylin in ether and alcohol on a glass plate 
it leaves behind a beautiful thin horny film. It has great strength if the 
cotton from which the collodion is made is good about 16,000 to 20,000 
pounds per square inch. Its tensile strength closely approaches that of some 
of the poorer metals and some of the rare, good metals. But if you attempt 
to use a filament of this material for an incandescent lamp, the double 


solvent causes trouble. The alcohol-ether does not hold the pyroxylin In 
solution quite as well as it should, and shrinkage and pockmarking happen. 

We got over that by putting a frame of wood around the glass plate on 
which the liquid was poured and covering the top of the frame with a very 

Early Weston incandescent lamp with Tamidine homogeneous filament. 

thin but very good filter paper. The vapor of the ether and alcohol traveled 
slowly through the filter paper and left a perfectly smooth film. Another 
way was to dissolve the pyroxylin in methyl alcohol and allow the solvent 
to evaporate. But this absorbed moisture from the atmosphere and caused 
a precipitate so that the film would turn milky a result of cooling pyroxylin 
in a finely divided state in the film called "chilling" in varnishes. A tray 
of anhydrous calcium chloride over the plate absorbed the vapor and 
allowed it to evaporate without the interference of moisture. We finally used 
ammonium sulphide hydrate to convert the material back again to cellulose. 


A great deal of the detail in all this is omitted, but it included 
many subsidiary discoveries which were then new. Weston was now 
working in the field which modern chemists call "plastics" a field 
which would not be opened for twenty years more. He was encoun 
tering some of the mechanical difficulties which even today cause 
trouble. In fact, he was attempting to manufacture filaments for 
operation at white heat, out of nothing other than guncotton! 

After we got the film in that shape the next thing was to get the gases 
out of it without getting little explosions in the solid substance. That gave 
us a lot of trouble. We placed the films in the usual apparatus for baking 
them and raised the temperature slowly and got films, but the bulk of them 
would be full of little volcanoes, caused by explosions of gas. We analyzed 
the gases and then we got along all right. That filament slowly displaced 
everything else. The process was later modified by squirting cellulose dis 
solved in chloride of zinc through a very fine tube into alcohol; the homoge 
neous carbon filaments were obtained and the method was within the limits 
of the invention as stated in the patent. 

Weston was older and wiser now it was 1882 and lost no time 
in applying for protection. He and Quimby wrote the patent with 
utmost care describing the original process, before the squirting 
method was devised. 

If cellulose [says the patent] that is to say, cotton, cotton waste, linen 
or paper be subjected to the action of a mixture of nitric and sulphuric 
acid, the result is a substance which, though fibrous and possessing in some 
other respects nearly the same physical qualities as the pure cellulose, differs 
radically from it, being explosive and burning without appreciable residue 
when out of contact with the air. This substance is commonly known as 
"pyroxylin/' "guncotton," or "nitro-cellulose." By dissolving this with a 
mixture of ether and alcohol, collodion is produced. ... By treating it with 
various other solvents, such as nitro-benzole, naptha, camphor, and other 
well-known solvents the substance known as "celluloid" is produced. Both 
collodion and celluloid may be formed in thin sheets and dried; but so long 
as the characteristics of the nitro-cellulose remain they are both unfit for 
the production of carbons, for the reason that they burn without residue. 
In order, therefore, to render them suitable for my purpose, I deoxidize 
them, so to speak, or, in other words, I treat them with such chemical agents 
as wiH deprive them of their nitrous qualities and bring them back to the 


chemical condition of cellulose. Among such reducing agents may be men 
tioned ammonium sulphide, protochloride of iron, sulphate of iron, and 
others. The sheets of collodion or celluloid are immersed in a solution con 
taining one or the other of the above-named agents and allowed to remain 
therein until they are entirely reconverted to their original chemical condi 
tion. In many other respects they resemble closely the ordinary celluloid. 
They become transparent, very tenacious and flexible, and carbonize slightly 
less readily than ordinary cellulose. From these blanks strips are cut or 
stamped, having approximately the shape and si2e desired for the carbon 
conductors. They are then carbonized by being packed in a closed retort or 
mufHe, between plates of refractory material, and exposed to a high tem 
perature. . . , After carbonization, the strips may be mounted and inserted 
in the lamps in well-known ways, no further treatment being required. 

The patent was granted on September 26, 1882, and became the 
first real source of wealth to Weston. It was one of his most cher 
ished inventions, this Tamidine. There is no record of the source of 
the name itself. Presumably, Weston picked it out of the air, as 
George Eastman was to do with "Kodak" later on. It was a sonorous 
name and one of the earliest product designations in the electrical 
business. Weston always delighted in it. 

In fact, he always had a specially $oft place in his heart for the 
chemistry of carbon. He was a great friend, for instance, of John 
Wesley Hyatt, the inventor of celluloid, and kept closely in touch 
with what might be called the prenatal days of the plastics industry. 
Out of these earliest patents on plastic incandescent filaments grew 
the tremendous arts of modern organic chemistry, and in particular 
the lacquer, rayon, and cellophane branches of those arts. 

At the time the Tamidine invention was made, the United States 
Company was manufacturing incandescent lamps under patents 
granted to Hiram S. Maxim. These were pretty much the same as 
Edison's using carbon filaments made of carbonized fibers. But 
as soon as Tamidine received patent protection, the company began 
using it in its standard line of lamps. 

An amusing view of the brand-new incandescent system can be 
gained from a United States Electric Lighting Company catalogue of 
this early period. The pamphlet is in the nature of an argument. Its 
front cover carries a lithograph of a nearly naked giant riding the 


clouds, holding a Weston lamp in one hand and using the supply wires 
for reins to drive the world. Weston's lighting system is featured 
prominently next to the light. 

"Gas having for years ranked first as an illuminant," says the . 
catalogue with gentle belligerence, "it is only necessary to prove that 
the incandescent light or glow-lamp is superior to gas . . . for the 
following reasons: 

". . . safest, not only because there is no flame with which articles 
can come in contact, but also because the use of matches is unne 
cessary and there is no danger of explosion or suffocation. Further 
more, in case of fire, it adds no fuel to the flames. ... As it con 
sumes no oxygen, its superiority as a healthful light is undisputed. . . . 
One gas jet consumes as much oxygen as eight or ten people. If in 
any office, store or workroom, there should be placed eight or ten 
people for each gas jet in addition to its regular occupants, who 
would question the evil results of such crowding ? 

"Under almost all conditions it is a cheaper light than gas. . . . 
Properly installed, (incandescent light) can be produced at a cost 
equal to gas at from 35 cents per 1000 cubic feet." 

The catalogue then goes on to say, with a fine sense of modesty, 
how much better its system is than anybody else's. (This was about 
as reasonable as its equivalent sales talk is today; everybody was of 
course saying the same thing.) "Important facts," the catalogue 
averred, "are that the United States system produces 20 to 40 per 
cent more candle power per horsepower than others. It affords 
perfect automatic regulation, so that any number of lamps may be 
burned with perfect safety to the lamps and dynamo, without re 
quiring the attention of an attendant at the dynamo. Its wiring 
system is at least 25 percent more economical than competitors'. 
Its lamp globes do not blacken." (This was a sideswipe at Edison, 
who had first called attention to the gradual distillation of the car 
bon filament onto the inside of the bulb. The so-called "Edison 
effect/' however, was beyond the control of Weston or anyobdy 
else. United States lamps blackened too, but more slowly because 
the voltage of their system was much lower than Edison's, being 
about 53 volts.) 

These arguments all seem puerile now, since it is hard to believe 
that gas light ever could have held its own for a day after the first 


incandescent was lighted. But we must remember how doggedly 
the world resists change, no matter how obvious the improvement 
offered. Like the accused in ancient law, the new invention is pre 
sumed to be guilty until it is proved innocent. 

The gas companies, however, were already sufficiently alarmed. 
They had laughed briefly when news of Edison's "discovery" o 
the incandescent lamp struck the world. Then they had cautiously 
examined the threat and now in the mid-eighties they were 
definitely on the run. And, like all men under fire, they were des 
perately searching for any weapon they could find. It proved to be 
Danger. The electric light was "deadly." The public would become 
enmeshed in a network of copper cords that would kill on contact 
... It was all very silly, as we see it now, but it led directly into the 
fantastic period of accusation and counteraccusation, vilification 
and litigation, out of which only Edison himself emerged free 
and triumphant. 

Tamidine, however, was a major contribution, as important as 
Edison's own greatest contribution: the high- resistance filament, 
capable of operating on 100 volts or more. It was so important, 
indeed, that it rapidly put the United States Company in the lead 
among all the warring factions. Even Edison knuckled under for a 
time. There is still among Weston's trophies an envelope containing 
a browned shest of a tissue-thin substance that looks like the skin of 
a mummy. On the outside of the envelope some faithful secretary 
had written no doubt at Weston's dictation: 

Edison's Pseudotamidine Received October 5, 1885 

This commanding position of the United States Company, based 
purely on Weston's inventions, made it the major bone of contention 
in the coming battle of the electrical giants. Both the Edison and 
Westinghouse interests tried to annex it, and Westinghouse finally 
did so. It is doubtful whether the latter would have survived with 
out this infusion of new blood. Though Weston did not remain 
a leading figure in electric lighting, he had inscribed his name on 
the center of this page in history. He was unquestionably one of 
the primary inventors of the incandescent lamp, and Tamidine was 
without doubt his greatest contribution. 

Edward F. Weston tells an amusing story of the effect which the 


invention had on Edison's elaborate search for bamboo. "When a 
young man," he says, "I personally knew one of [Edison's] emis 
saries who had covered the island of Japan and part of the mainland 
of China. He was quite fond of telling me of his experiences in 
exploring parts of Japan which were practically unknown to white 
men at that time. His travels were mostly on foot or by jin riksha, 
and his particular search was for a bamboo fiber. His method was 
to cut samples from every thicket that he came across, label these 
as to the point of origin, bundle them up and ship them back to 
the U.S. 

''My friend related how one day he received a cablegram instruct 
ing him to abandon his search and return home. When he received 
these instructions he was much upset because he surmised that some 
of the other emissaries, who were covering Brazil and other parts 
of the world, had probably been successful in their quest. Upon 
reaching home, he received no explanation of the recall, but soon 
heard that all of his co-workers had also been recalled. This en 
couraged him somewhat, as he felt that he had at least been as 
successful as the others. In due time he learned the particulars of 
the Tamidine filament, and concluded that this was the real reason 
for his recall/* 

Of course, Tamidine was not perfect when first invented, and 
constant work went on in Weston's laboratory to improve it and 
drive the "bugs" out get rid of air bubbles, learn to control thick 
ness to the exact six-thousandths of an inch required, work out a 
production-line hydrocarbon treatment, and so on. One important 
reason for Tamidine's superiority was that, when carbonized, it had 
a distinctly higher resistance than the fibrous materials. This per 
mitted larger cross sections for the same voltage and made the fila 
ments mechanically stronger and gave a greater area of incan 
descence, hence more light per watt of power. Weston's customary 
method of producing filaments was to place sheets of his reconsti 
tuted cellulose in a press and punch out the looped conductors with 
dies. This gave a beautifully uniform product, but the rectangular 
cross section of the filament had one disadvantage: it gave an un 
even distribution of light. Weston puzzled long over this, finally 
invented the crinkled filament which was bent in a series of sine 


waves. This almost entirely corrected the distribution difficulty and 
made the filament even stronger than before. 

Edison's first lamp, tested on October 19-20, 1879, burned out 
in forty hours. He was jubilant. "That's fine that's fine!" he cried. 
"I think we've got it! If it can burn forty hours, I can make it last 
a hundred." For quite a number of years he and most of the others 
were content with filaments that lasted a few hundred and so 
were the customers. Weston's Tamidine had another story to tell. 
It was not uncommon for his lamps to burn a total of 2,000 hours! 

The four years from 1882 to 1886 were productive ones indeed 
for Edward Weston filled with new ideas for dynamos, arc and 
incandescent lamps. The patents granted to him in this period rep 
resented constant improvements in the fundamental elements of 
electric power and light. A short resume of the most important is 
all that we can consider here. 

Although he had devised a successful lamp filament there was 
still the very serious matter of evacuating the bulb so that the 
residual oxygen would not consume the carbon. One of his earliest 
solutions was to construct a lamp with several filaments in it. An 
ingenious switching device in the interior connected one filament 
after another, as previous ones burned out. The mechanism was 
operated by an electromagnet from outside the glass. Needless to 
say, it was not a practical solution. 

More useful was the gas-filled lamp, of which Weston was un 
doubtedly the original inventor. He made no attempt to exhaust 
the air, but blew other gases in, gradually displacing the oxygen. 
Hydrocarbon vapors were his first choice for this, and he later tried 
nitrogen, then abandoned it as impractical. The gas-filled lamp did 
not come into favor again till long after Weston had left the field, 
and did so then because nitrogen, argon, and other inert gases could 
be produced cheaply and in high purity. 

Of considerably greater importance was his invention of the 
thorium oxide "getter," for cleaning the residual air and occluded 
gases f rom lamp bulbs while they were being exhausted. In his pat- 
eat application of July 12, 1881, he describes It thus: "In carrying 


out my invention I make use of any ordinary form of incandescent 
lamp, and in the globe, before it is finally sealed, I introduce a small 
quantity of a substance possessing the property of absorbing, under 
certain conditions, air. Such a substance is thorina or thoria, the 
oxide of the metal thorium, which is used in the following manner: 
a small quantity being introduced into [the base of] the globe, the 
latter is connected with the air-exhaust apparatus, and while the 
air is being withdrawn the thorina is strongly heated. When the 
exhaustion has been carried as far as possible the heat is withdrawn, 
the globe detached from the exhaust apparatus and hermetically 
sealed. On cooling the thorina absorbs the remaining gas or air 
with such avidity as to leave an almost perfect vaccuum in the 

The chemistry of it was simply that, on heating, thorium oxide 
was broken down into metallic thorium and its oxygen was pumped 
off with the rest of the air. On cooling, this active metal imme 
diately sought oxygen again and took up what little there was left 
in the bulb. It is interesting that in this patent Weston speaks of 
preparing his thorium oxide from ores containing uranium. The 
uranium, dissolved out with iron and other impurities by means of 
hydrochloric acid, was thrown away. He was experimenting with 
the world's most historic metal fifty years before its rise to fame 
in the atomic bomb. 

A second patent, filed later but granted a little sooner, described 
what he felt was an improvement on this scheme. Here, the inventor 
showed a row of completed incandescent lamps attached by tubes 
extending from their tops, to a glass manifold in the form of a T. 
The bottom of this was connected to the exhaustion pump, while 
at the side a small retort was sealed into the system, containing 
thorium oxide. When all possible air was removed, the retort was 
heated from below and the compound then acted as an absorbent 
for the residual gases. The advantage as he saw it was that the 
thorium could thus be saved and used over and over again. 

These two patents put Weston clearly in the lead in an invention 
that has become essential in the making of the billions of modern 
lamp bulbs and vacuum tubes. If you examine a radio tube, for 
instance, you will see a slight brownish stain on the inside of the 


glass at one point. This is the "getter'* the thorium and thorium 
oxide mentioned by Weston. The silvery sheen is the, excess of pure 
thorium left after all the oxygen has been combined. In the case of 
vacuum tubes not intended for lighting, it is cheaper now to put 
a small charge of the chemical inside, heat it with a special filament 
during evacuation. Lamp bulbs are still made by a modification of 
the manifold principle shown in Weston's second patent. 

While the thorium scrubbing technique became a standard part 
of lamp-manufacturing procedure, Weston still needed a better way 
to obtain a good vacuum. He had been trying for years to get a 
good pump, without very happy results. There were two kinds 
the mechanical piston pump, working in oil, and the Sprengel mer 
cury pump. As he began work on incandescents in 1876, nothing 
was available but the mechanical type, and he bought one after 
another of these, only to find them ineffective. Even now, the best 
laboratory mechanical pump can only produce a "rough" vacuum, 
because of leaks and the fact that the lowest possible pressure 
obtainable is no lower than the vapor pressure of the oil itself. It is 
used today only as a means of assisting the diffusion pumps, which 
do the principal work. 

As late as 1879 Weston was still hunting for a satisfactory air 
pump, and commissioned a New York importing firm to find "the 
best vacuum pump made in Europe/' The importers corresponded 
with Swan in England, the foremost incandescent lamp inventor 
east of the Atlantic, but no pump was forthcoming until Dr. Rich 
ards, a consultant of the firm, went abroad himself. Weston asked 
him to see Swan, and also Gimmingham, who was making pumps 
for Sir William Crookes. Richards did so, but the Swan pump he 
brought home a year later was inferior to the ones Weston already 
had. Finally, in 1881, Weston "inherited" a group of skillful Ger 
man mechanics with the laboratory of the United States Electric 
Lighting Company, and these men made him a pump that gave 
reasonably good results. It was of the mechanical type, for the 
Sprengel mercury pump could not care for anything but small 
capacity. It was not till many decades later that Dr. Irving Lang- 
muir brought out his improved mercury diffusion pump, which 
drove the air out of a space by bombarding its molecules with mer- 


airy vapor from a jet, discharging them into a trap kept at low 
pressure by a mechanical pump. The diffusion principle, in various 
forms, has now become the standard method of obtaining high 
vacuum. In "alpha" and "beta" processes used in the separation of 
the uranium isotopes in the recent atom bomb project, gigantic steel 
tanks of hundreds of cubic feet capacity were kept exhausted by 
diffusion pumps to a vacuum far higher than any found in modern 
electric lamps. 

But Weston was unable to accept the Sprengel pump without 
trying to improve upon it. The most objectionable thing about it 
was that the mercury, having fallen to the bottom of a tube into 
a beaker, had to be raised and poured again by hand. Weston sought 
to make this operation automatic, redesigning it so that a set of 
heating coils vaporized the mercury in a lower chamber and raised 
it to a reservoir on top. This gave continuous circulation. 

He got several patents on his improvements, among them a 
rearrangement of the tubes, which gave a better air seal and pro 
duced considerably higher vacua. These changes have become 
standard in this type of pump, although it is still known as Spreng- 
el's invention. 


To obtain a high vacuum was one thing; to keep it intact in the 
bulb for months or years was another and equally important. 
Everybody working in the incandescent field had to provide some 
kind of a seal where the lead-in wires passed from the lamp base 
through the glass. The common practice was to fix a couple of small 
platinum wires in place with the bulb stem hot, then crimp them 
tight. Metal and glass had coefficients of expansion so nearly alike 
that the seal did not separate when it cooled. At least, that was the 
hope, and all patents described some variation of this method. 

Weston, as usual, went at the matter from a scientific rather 
than an inventive standpoint, using his broad technical knowledge 
to help him. His own patent on incandescent lamp seals, dated 
March 21, 1882, was an Ingenious one indeed, and gave him a 
highly satisfactory solution to the problem. The bottom of the lamp 
bulb was made separately, in the form of a glass cup, through 


which two small glass tubes protruded above and below. The proc 
ess consisted of fitting into the tubes a pair of copper wires of the 
same diameter as the bore. At the lower ends, both glass and copper 
were painted with a mixture of platinum chloride and oil of laven 
der. Moderately heated, the organic compound picked up the chlo 
ride radical and left a thin film of pure platinum coating the joint. 
This was then exposed to a high temperature, fusing a thin layer of 
the metal securely to the glass. The platinum was then electroplated 
with copper till it was strong enough to resist atmospheric pressure, 
giving a continuous seal between wires and glass. The whole opera 
tion could be performed on a long row of lamp bases in a few 

Carbon filament loops were now attached to each pair of lead- 
in wires and secured either by riveting or electroplating methods. 
Then the cups were welded to the lower opening of the bulbs, and 
the lamps were complete. 

This ingenious system was adopted for all the company's lamps, 
and worked perfectly. But the patent succumbed, like every other 
of the same kind, to the irresistible Edison. The great inventor's 
wizardly attorney, in writing the original incandescent patent, 
claimed only two things: the sealing of conductors into a glass 
bulb, and the closing off of the bulb itself after exhausting the air. 
The courts decided that Edison had covered all possible methods of 
making a permanent seal. And since no one could make a com 
mercially practicable lamp without a durable vacuum, every patent 
in the field was declared an infringement of Edison's. In the general 
debacle that followed, Weston lost not only his sealing patent but 
his hydrocarbon and Tamidine patents as well. Nobody in America 
could make an incandescent lamp that would work, without paying 
royalty to Edison's commercial heirs for the use of the vacuum bulb! 

Fortunately, Weston did not anticipate this sweeping decision, 
and he went on, during the eighties, making valuable inventions, 
as others were doing, and thus greatly benefiting the art and ren 
dering great service to future millions who would use the electric 

Among his minor patents of this period appeared one that over 
came a serious annoyance the heating of the ends of the lead-in 


wires where they were joined to the carbon filament ends. The 
incandescent carbon often overheated or even fused the wires, de 
stroying the joints and ending the life of the lamp. It was customary 
to add carbon washers at the points of connection or to attempt to 
enlarge the carbon filaments there. These were difficult and expen 
sive methods and not very satisfactory. The Weston patent described 
an alternate, and much simpler, method. It consisted merely of 
increasing the density of the filament ends so as to make them more 
conductive and hence less heated in service. In the case of Tamidine, 
cut filaments were reinforced at their ends with more of the same 
material, then pressed to the same cross section throughout. A short 
end section was thus given a much greater density. 

This invention also worked so well that it was adopted for all 
the United States Company's lamps. 

The year 1884 found Weston in the full swing of the electric 
lighting tide, riding high and far out front. He now decided that 
incandescent lamps could properly compete with the arc light for 
outdoor illumination, and set about producing a "mammoth'' lamp. 
The candle-power rating of this was 125, something like eight times 
as much as the standard Edison lamp. People told him that it would 
be impossible to build. This quantity of light seems trifling now, 
with modern tungsten filaments producing light intensities in the 
thousands of candle power. But it must be remembered that candle 
power is not a measure of total light but only of the intrinsic bril 
liance of the source, so that Weston's new lamp did indeed repre 
sent an advance of eight times in the effectiveness of his filaments. 

The mammoth lamp was not merely an enlargement of the ordi 
nary size; everything about it had to be redesigned filament, globe, 
base, connections. It consumed 2.3 amperes at 160 volts and turned 
out to be far more efficient than standard sizes. It was a third to a 
half as powerful a source of light as the arc. But it had so many 
advantages that it was rapidly adopted for factories and public halls 
and did actually appear on the streets. Said the Scientific American: 
"Unlike arc lights [the Weston lamp] casts no shadows" meaning 
no shadows produced by its own structure "and requires no atten- 


tion. There is no pulling up and down every day and renewing of 
carbons; the lamp is simply switched on and off. . . ." 

In addition to the lower cost for attendance, said the Electrical 
Review, "the incandescent lamp has a considerable advantage in 
distribution and utilization of the light produced. Much of the light 
from an arc lamp is dissipated in directions where its effects are 
not useful, owing to the impossibility of properly adjusting reflec 
tors to the constantly shifting arc." All the light from the incan 
descent, Weston found, could be readily directed downward by 
simple white shades. For the first time, also, street lighting could 
be run on the multiple system, with each light independent of 
every other. 

Incandescent lighting for streets began in the early eighties, and 
it was Weston's mammoth lamps that first appeared. By means of 
a "series-multiple" system of wiring, he could operate at reasonably 
high voltages and low currents and yet avoid the troubles inherent 
in the single-circuit arc system. He invented relays and automatic 
rheostats to substitute resistance equal to a lamp when it burned 
out. These devices were built into the shades over the lights. Wil 
liam Stevens, who had been his faithful right-hand man ever since 
1875, worked out some of the details. 

In 1884, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia put on an electrical 
exhibition, which gathered together the latest apparatus of all sorts. 
After the exhibition had closed, the Institute proceeded to make 
comparative tests on dynamos and electric lighting systems for the 
benefit of the competing companies. In the lighting field the testing 
committee, headed by Professor W. D. Marks of the University of 
Pennsylvania, drew up a set of rules outlining rather severe life 
tests on twenty lamps from each competitor. Edison and the United 
States Company were among those who entered their product. 

When preliminary testing was begun on the Tamidine lamps, it 
was at oace apparent that they were inferior, lighting unevenly and 
varying widely in resistance and current demand. Weston, who had 
been extremely busy with other matters, suddenly heard that the 
tests were going wrong and wrote a hurried letter to Marks. "I 
commenced an investigation of the matter," he said, "and soon 
found that you had been supplied with a singularly bad lot of lamps, 


the defect being due to imperfect baking of the loops (filaments) . 
The resistance of the loops will rise rapidly and the lamps will fail 
in such a short time as to leave no doubt in your mind that if we 
made such lamps regularly we could not possibly continue to do 

He had been away from Newark; no one at the plant had taken 
pains to inspect the lamps to be tested in Philadelphia. 

Weston now asked for a second test, and got it, with the same 
unfavorable results. He then wrote Marks that "it is useless to spend 
any time on the lamps of our make which you now have," and 
requested that the defective lamps be thrown out and good ones 
substituted. The committee would have complied, but Francis Upton, 
Edison's chief engineer, protested strongly and insisted the tests go 
on with the original Weston Tamidine lamps. It was an opportunity 
not to be missed. Weston protested this, but the committee decided 
that Upton was right, and the life tests and photometric measure 
ments continued. Several conferences in person with them did not 
change their minds. 

Weston's difficulty soon got into the press, and the technical 
journals quickly took sides. Among other things it was discovered 
that the Tamidine lamps had been bought by the committee in 
Boston, out of regular dealer's stock, while most of the Edison lamps 
had come directly from the factory, it being known they were 
intended for technical tests. The Edison company had a rule that 
lamps could not be sold unless the purchaser stated what he was 
going to use them for! 

Tests began in April, 1885, with four companies competing. All 
lamps in the competition were guaranteed to last 600 hours. In June, 
when the trials had run continuously for 1064 hours, the scores 
were taken. Edison had won hands down, with only one lamp of his 
twenty failing. Weston had lost seventeen. The Stanley lamp, made 
by the Thomson-Houston Company, had lost nineteen. An English 
firm was little better off, with eleven, (which was all they had 
entered). But this latter company had shown the best average 
efficiency, with Weston next and Edison a poor last. In 1000 hours 
his lamps had lost half their candle power. 


The affair was infuriating to Weston, and produced an entering 
wedge between him and the United States Company, which rapidly 
split them apart. The profession did not blame him for the poor 
lamps; this was understood to be carelessness in manufacture, 
Actually, he had become so thoroughly expert in the illuminating 
art that he was named a member of a committee to determine a 
better method of standardizing upon the efficiency and output ratings 
of electric lamps. In this connection he advocated a new type of 
spherical photometric measurement which did not find favor with 
his associates. The old system of measuring light intensity merely 
in the horizontal plane was retained. 

Eventually, the spherical system was adopted. Today, nobody 
would think of measuring a lamp in any other way. 


Until the year 1886, Edward Weston worked day and night for 
the advance of the commercial lighting art. His fame had spread 
throughout the land. Not only had he become one of the great 
pioneers in electrical engineering, but he was known, too, as the 
most formidable adversary that any man could have in court. He 
had met practically all of his competitors in infringement or inter 
ference battles, and had ousted them all, including Edison. He had 
not won every time, but nobody denied that if an electrical subject 
were under discussion, Weston was likely to know more about it 
than anybody else. 

And this was not strange, for he had taken a more scientific view 
of the whole field than any other inventor who was engaged in a 
commercial enterprise. He was, at heart, a laboratory man, not a 
promoter, and his laboratory procedure was the most highly devel 
oped in the country. Out of his work rooms had come many of the 
fundamental theories of electrical engineering. 

Weston was at least the equal of Brush in fathering the arc 
light, and his superior in pushing its development to the practical 
stage. He had invented one of the most successful incandescent 
lamps and had given the world two basic elements of it: the noo~ 
fibrous filament and the method of "flashing" to eliminate weak 


spots. He had also invented the technique of "getting" the residual 
gas in a bulb. All three of these were permanently absorbed into 
the art. 

He had produced many lesser inventions also, in order to make 
his electric systems complete: switches, regulators, rheostats, fix 
tures, brackets, fuses everything from a minor arrangement on an 
electric lamp support to whole systems of wiring for a community. 
In this, of course, he was not unique. Every electrical pioneer had 
to do the same thing, making his system complete without outside 
help, in order to avoid being eliminated from the race altogether. 
Weston simply had more fundamental knowledge to support his 
ingenuity than most of the others. He lacked, however, the great 
dramatizing power that Edison possessed, and his inventions of this 
period were largely submerged thereby. 

By mid-i886 Weston had been granted 186 patents, a worthy 
record indeed. 

He had been an important pioneer, too, in establishing electric 
central-station service. Weston electric light companies reached all 
the way from Brooklyn to Denver and San Francisco, from Alabama 
to Canada, and were found in France and many other foreign 
countries, too. 

When Edison was still struggling to open his famous Pearl Street 
generating plant in New York in 1882, Weston was quietly opening 
the Weston Electric Lighting Station for the Newark Electric Light 
and Power Company on Mechanic Street. Distribution was by over 
head wires, at the voltage actually used in the lamp circuit. More 
than 300 arcs were supplied. The station consisted of a large "hall" 
in which as many as forty-eight dynamos were installed in four rows, 
based on wooden frames like double saw horses. Overhead, as many 
pulleys whirred, as they drove the dynamos through a forest of 
individual belts. At the rear the giant flywheel of a 3oo-horsepower 
steam engine kept the whole thing in motion. The boiler house was 
built directly behind the power room. There were no switchboards, 
merely small boxes along the wall containing cutouts and regulator 
mechanisms. The dynamo of this period was not the ring-frame 
machine which Weston had applied to electroplating. It was a 
massive and rather ugly affair with a rectangular frame supporting 

Weston "central station.' 


four field magnets. Pole shoes were in the middle, with the armature 
centered between them. 

Beautiful or not, this machine was considerably more sensible 
in design than the "Long Waisted Mary Anns" which Edison still 
insisted were necessary to obtain effective magnetic field circuits. 

The United States Company's catalogue claimed the highest 
efficiency of dynamos and lights of any system on the market; they 
probably made good on this boast. They were frankly competing 
with gas and even had the temerity to suggest that the gas com 
panies themselves might like to enlarge their income by installing 
a few electric light plants. 

Gas men knew they were being pushed to the wall, and prepared 
to fight accordingly. In Newark, they attempted to obtain a mo 
nopoly franchise for all lighting, from the City Council, by a route 
now long familiar. "Considerable indignation has been aroused in 
Newark, N. J./' said a contemporary engineering journal, "over the 
proposition of the gas companies to reduce the price of their product 
to the citizens as well as the city, provided they are protected in their 
monopoly for a period of ten years. As Newark may be called the 
home of the Weston system of lighting, the United States Company 
will no doubt jealously guard the interests of the people in its efforts 
to obtain a firm foothold for the electric light/' 

The company did indeed do that, and within two years was itself 
buying up a competitor and becoming an even bigger monopoly 
than the gas company had been. But this is the necessary way with 
public utilities. 

For a time in Newark, gas prevailed because it was cheaper than 
arcs. But presently gas could not be given away to store owners. 
Electricity at any price was worth it. The price was no bargain, 
however; 75 cents for each arc lamp burning till midnight, and a 
dollar for all night; another dollar for day lamps. Incandescents 
were not much easier on the customer. It cost them i% cents an 
hour for each lamp. 

There were two sides to this bargain, though. The City of New 
York extracted an indemnity of $1.40 for each light that failed to 
burn the night through. 

The Electrical World reported upon an amusing reason why 


hotels were clamoring for electric lights to replace gas, even at the 
exorbitant rates. The villain in the piece was the drummer, whose 
endless travels had taught him to beat the game in every possible 

The drummer, ever alert for any scheme to further his own interests, has 
adopted a plan to ''get even," as he calls it, with the hotels. Every one of 
them carries gas burners and a pair of pliers to put them on brackets or 
chandeliers. The average hotel gas burner is of three-foot size, that is, 
burning about that number of feet per hour, which gives ample light for 
rooms under ordinary circumstances. But the drummer is not satisfied with 
this. He unscrews the three-foot tip and replaces it with his own six- or 
eight-foot burner, which he lights just as soon as he gets to his room, and 
lets it blaze away all night, giving enough light to illuminate a hall and 
sufficient heat to warm the room. . . . With electricity this trick is done 
away with and a big saving is made. 

Nowadays, it is towels and silver. 

The early arc-lighting systems were not without their dangers, 
and the gas companies at least did nothing to prevent the circulation 
of gruesome stories of sudden death. New York reacted rather 
violently, at first, against what was undoubtedly the carelessness of 
the lighting companies. In 1888, when broad use of current was just 
beginning to make personal danger a problem, a report ran: "At the 
inquest of a young man who was killed in a Bowery clothing store 
through touching an arc lamp, the jury's verdict censured the United 
States Illuminating Company {a subsidiary] for having lamps in 
a position that makes them dangerous to the public, and for not 
having their lamps and wires insulated. It also recommends all 
electric light companies to insert a clause in their contracts with 
patrons, warning them not to touch the lamps and wires." 

As late as 1895, death was still stalking the wires. Franklin L. 
Pope, an engineer of Great Harrington, Mass., and a long-time col 
league and friend of Weston's, accidentally made contact with wires 
leading to a transformer in his cellar. Two thousand volts killed him 
instantly. This was one of the early alternating-current installations, 
invented by William Stanley, who had made his first a-c transmis 
sion experiments in Great Harrington. Edward Weston went there 
with a committee from the American Institute of Electrical Engi- 

Interior of Weston's Newark station. 


neers to investigate, reconstructed every detail of the tragedy, and 
reported the system to be dangerous. The case got tremendous pub 
licity and was a large factor in forcing the safety code for wiring 
and grounding, which men like Elihu Thomson had been urging 
for years without result. 

Just how panicky the public could be about a thing they did not 
understand is shown by a story of the early arc lamps unearthed 
long afterward by H. L. Mencken and published in his book News 
paper Days. A lazy Baltimore reporter, it seemed, was about to be 
fired one rainy Sunday night unless he brought in a lively story. 
Finding that there was nothing more newsworthy at the Police 
Department than a runaway horse and two lost children, he fell 
to contemplating a row of brilliant arc lamps hung outside the 
shops. It occurred to him that if a man soaked to the skin should 
prod one of the lights with the metal point of his umbrella, he 
might get an interesting shock. 

Next morning, a headline story appeared, describing just such an 
incident, in which an unfortunate visitor from Washington, William 
T. Benson, had tried the experiment and had landed in the Balti 
more hospital. The reporter kept his job until 200 merchants hastily 
removed their arc lamps. "By noon/* says Mencken, "the number 
was close to a thousand. By 3 P.M., the lawyers of the electric com 
pany were closeted with the business manager of the Herald, and 
his veins were running ice water at their notice of a libel suit for 
$500,000. They were ready to prove in court that it was impossible 
to get a shock from one of their lights." 

The newspaper got no satisfaction by checking up on the story. 
There was no record of any Benson at the hospital; the only man 
of that name in Washington had not been to Baltimore for nine 
years. Clearly there was no possible defense. But frenzied attempts 
to repudiate the story as a hoax did not stop the complainants, who 
had soon fixed a date for the trial. And the merchants were not 
reassured; they feared that such an accident might really occur. 

There was no trial. For, on the eve of the day of its opening, 
which also happened to be rainy, "a man carrying a steel-rodded 
umbrella lifted it to clear another pedestrian's umbrella in West 
Baltimore Street and the ferrule toadied the lower carbon socket of 


one of the few surviving arc lights. When the cops got him to the 
hospital he was dead." 

Nevertheless, the electric light companies were doing well, and 
the United States Company especially so. By the middle of 1885 
they had 23,000 horsepower of generating equipment in service, in 
the hands of subsidiary lighting companies far and wide. They had 
lighted the Brooklyn Bridge, many hundred miles of city streets, 
thousands of stores, homes, and hotels. Their business was well on 
the road to a million dollars a year. And practically all of this was 
the result of the Weston dynamo and Tamidine filament, with some 
help from Hiram Maxim's ingenious hand. 

At thirty-six, Edward Weston had established himself as a suc 
cessful pioneer; he had done work enough to last a lifetime. And he 
was on the way to being rich. But he was not satisfied. Electric 
lighting and power were no longer in their infancy; the ground 
breaking had been done. 

He was restless. He wanted new fields to conquer. So he decided 
to strike out for himself. On the first of July, 1886, he resigned and 
became once more a lone eagle. 


The Measurer 

On the first of July, 1886, Weston departed from the United 
States Electric Lighting Company in something more than a huff. 
In fact, it was the culminating act in a long, bitter wrangle with 
George W. Hebard, president of the company. Since the beginning 
of the year Weston had been growing more and more dissatisfied 
with the way the officials were handling the company's affairs. 
Though he did not have specific authority to direct the business, 
he never hesitated to voice criticisms when he had them. Having 
many, he proceeded to precipitate a number of very painful inter 
views, both in his laboratory and in the president's office. It ended 
by his becoming a sworn enemy of Hebard and various other officers. 
He even carried the feud into his social life. 

Typically* Weston identified personal animosity with business 
criticism. Not approving of Hebard's way of running the company, 
he also disapproved of Mr. Hebard himself, and violently. Being 
stormy of nature, and so very sure of himself, Edward Weston put 
his whole heart into the fight. All that spring of 1886, he made it 
his principal object in life to best the company's management. He 

His contention was that Hebard was more interested in manip 
ulating the stock of the company in Wall Street than in selling 
electrical goods on a highly competitive market. Before Weston's 
dynamo company had merged with the United States Company, the 
latter had operated principally in New York City, where a "reign of 
extravagance" had been indulged by the directors. Fancy salaries 
had gone to these men for doing very little about the business. After 
consolidation, the reign had continued. The cost of making sales, 



so Weston charged, was actually greater than the profits. Hebard 
and his friends, manipulating the stock on the strength of Weston's 
reputation, were making big money, while many of the inventor's 
friends and he himself were in effect paying the bill, by failing 
to receive dividends. 

Weston repeatedly confronted Hebard with these allegations, and 
Hebard steadily denied them. The Englishman got madder and 
madder, and the less satisfaction he received from his superior, the 
harder he worked to unearth proof of his malfeasance. It began to 
affect Weston's health. He became irritable and preoccupied, he 
slept less and less, and eventually stood on the brink of a nervous 
breakdown. It ended with a physical collapse. 

A second irritant was Maxim, who had been more or less dis 
placed when Weston joined the company. Maxim's brain was fan 
tastically prolific, and he had become a constant liability for the odd 
reason that he invented improvements in the company's products 
so fast that he was forever making them obsolete. Since the com 
pany was not big enough for two such inventors, he was finally 
persuaded to return to England, where he became the driving force 
in the Maxim- Weston Company, Ltd., spreading the application 
of electric lighting through Great Britain and the Continent 

Weston's resignation in 1886 was by no means the end of the 
imbroglio, as it was called by the technical press. He went right 
on trying, for the next two years, to reform the United States Com 
pany by remote control, fighting doggedly to protect the interests 
of the minority stockholders. This was further complicated by the 
fact that, upon resigning, he had signed a new contract, becoming 
"consulting electrician" to the firm. Such an arrangement was 
necessary, because virtually everything the concern made was covered 
by Weston patents assigned to them on a royalty basis. Develop 
ment of Weston dynamos and lights virtually ceased when he quit. 
Hebard was forced to deal with him or go out of business. 

The dealings were not pleasant. For months the two men wrote 
each other angrily, wrangling over the amount of royalties to be 
paid. The argument was never settled satisfactorily, but an act of 
God finally put an end to it. But that is perhaps unfair to the Deity, 
for the cause was plain carelessness. On Friday, June 17, 1887, tbe 


Newark lampworks burned down, temporarily putting the company 
out of business in that field. According to a contemporary journal: 

The fire broke out in the laboratory, and spread rapidly through the 
entire building. Most of the building was occupied by the manufacture of 
carbon filaments and glass globes for incandescent lights. Owing to the in 
flammable nature of the contents of the works and the delay in sending 
out an alarm, the whole structure was in flames when the engines arrived. 

A second and third alarm were sent out on the arrival of Chief Kierstead, 
and the entire department of the city was soon at the scene. It required, 
however, the hardest work on the part of the firemen to save the new main 

The entire building in w r hich the fire started, occupying about 230 feet 
of Orange Street and 100 feet on Plane Street, and the engine house, which 
is situated in the center of the block, together with their contents, were 
entirely destroyed, the walls falling in about two hours after the fire started. 
The loss is estimated at $150,000, which is covered by insurance. One hun 
dred and fifty hands are thrown out of employment by the fire. 

Insurance could cover the physical loss, but it could not replace 
the lost time. In the fierce battle then raging with Edison for com 
mercial supremacy, the United States Company was hopelessly 
crippled. It never recovered, and eventually went bankrupt. When 
Westinghouse bought the remains, it was largely Weston's designs 
and what were left of his lamp patents, that constituted their pur 

Weston's resignation had indirectly caused the fire. During his 
tenure, he had carefully stored all Tamidine in the damp cellar of 
the building, thoroughly protected. But after his departure, stacks 
of the raw sheet material were moved up to the first floor to be more 
handy, and stored in cardboard cases on high shelves in the hottest 
part of the room. Electric wires directly behind them presumably 
short-circuited and set off what amounted to a guncotton explosion. 

Western never forgave Hebard for his mismanagement. As late 
as 1898 he was still telling his friends about the iniquities of his 
former associates. This was not peculiar to Weston, however. Almost 
every inventor in those early days was victimized by the sharp 



businessmen of the times, and many a bitter feud stained the 
memory of the pioneers long after they had retired full of honors. 

In terminating the work that had absorbed his entire days and 
much of his nights for nine years, Weston did not end his usefulness 
to the electrical arts. In fact, it was one of those unhappy breaks in 
a man's life that leads quickly to something even more important. 
Immediately his resignation was in and his health somewhat re 
stored, he was eagerly sought by almost every opposing inventor 
as an expert witness in the cutthroat patent suits then raging. He 
asked and was cheerfully given fees as high as the most expensive 
experts, such as his friend Pope, and in a short time, having to 
refuse offers from sheer lack of time, got even better figures. Several 
companies gave him a yearly retainer for furnishing court assistance 
when it was needed. 

The stage was now set for the "Battle of the Century" in electric 
lighting. In 1885, the Edison Electric Light Company decided to go 
after everybody at once, and in that year instituted twenty-six suits. 
The United States Electric Lighting Company headed the list. "As 
the suits in these cases are for the determination of absolute owner 
ship by patent of the right to control the essential principles of 
incandescent lighting," said the Electrical World, "their issue in 
volves the question of the existence of the companies and affects 
in this way, $15,000,000 of invested capital/' The action, decided 
the Scientific American, "is on a scale which promises to give a 
large number of lawyers a fine field of labor." 

It would indeed, and with it, an equally fine field for expert wit 
nesses, of which Edward Weston was sure to be one. 

Weston combined two invaluable talents as a technical witness: 
He could express himself with force and clarity, and his memory 
for the chaotic history of electric power and lighting was as detailed 
as a printed catalogue. He was a tower of strength, and was loved 
by his own side and respected by the opposition. He would never 
accept a job as a witness unless he believed his employer's cause 
to be just. 

But for all his proficiency in court he could not prevail in the 
Edison lamp suits, and eventually lost everything he had done in 
respect to incandescent lamps. 


Late in the eighties, the United States Company brought a counter 
suit against Edison for infringement of Weston's hydrocarbon 
patent. This seemed like sure ground on which to strike back at the 
successful giant. The suit dragged on for four years, being repeat 
edly postponed because of legal maneuvers and crowded court 
calendars. The decision was not handed down till 1892, and was in 
favor of Edison. 

The United States Company immediately appealed the case to a 
higher court and was slapped down again, this time for good. 

Weston himself had not testified in his own behalf, refusing to 
have anything to do with his former associates. It is interesting to 
note that Edison got little or nothing from his victory. By this time 
he had been pretty much eliminated from the growing combine of 
the electric light in all but name. 

In 1893 Weston made the wrangle the subject of an address at 
a National Electric Light Association convention in St. Louis. 'They 
applied to me for assistance," he said, referring to the United States 
Lighting people, "which for just reason was refused, and they went to 
argument with a case which was essentially weak in every point where 
it could easily have been made conclusive. ... I can truly say that 
I have honestly endeavored to discover the existence of any moral 
qualities in some electric light companies, and failed to find any. 
In this particular matter, the course of both parties would bring a 
blush of shame to the face of an honest man/' 

Why he did not get into the fight and make it an honest one, he 
did not explain. 


In the summer of 1886 Weston entered the work for which his 
name has become a household word the science of electrical meas 
urement. Like everybody else in the field he had been plagued by the 
lack of simple and accurate measuring instruments for testing 
dynamos, motors, and lights, and for determining the quantity of 
electricity which customers used and should be charged for. He 
determined now to go to the root of the matter and devise a reliable 
means of doing these things. 

Having a comfortable income from the royalties on his numerous 


inventions, he built himself a large laboratory at the back of his 
Newark home, now on fashionable High Street, above the main 
part of town. It consisted of a remodeled wooden building with a 
good-sized brick addition, and a small boiler room in between. A 
beautifully ornate Armington & Sims high-speed steam engine 
occupied a prominent place in the main building. The manufacturers 
had made him a present of it. Belted to this was a five-horsepower 
dynamo of his own make, wired for lighting the laboratory and 
supplying motors for machines and ventilating fans. 

All kinds of light machine tools were present, including an 
accurate set of rolls for shaping thin metal. There were lathes, 
shapers, milling machines, planers, and drills everything that the 
best "model room" in a large factory might have. Nearby benches 
abounded in hand tools of every description, both for metal and 
wood. Weston had made a special effort to obtain the finest gauges 
of all sorts, for he intended to do precision work of the highest 
order. He was tired of the limitations imposed upon an inventor 
by slipshod workmanship and lack of equipment. 

In still another part of the laboratory was a chemical department. 
Here again, he had specialized in delicate balances and testing 
devices. But the place also included shelves and cabinets wonderfully 
stocked with every substance he could possibly need. Gas pipes and 
electric wiring were conveniently placed near the work benches. 

Nearby was a companion physical laboratory, including every 
thing that had been devised for analysis and measurement resist 
ance coils, galvanometers, photometers, spectroscopes, and photo 
graphic and magic-lantern equipment. 

Office space was also provided, and the inventor immediately set 
up a complete system of records, data books, and drawing files. And 
lastly, he had collected a library of no less than 10,000 volumes. 

Within a few months he was regularly employing as many as 
five men, and often more. His weekly payroll ran as high as $100* 

This unique private laboratory was the expression of the success 
ful scientist such an outlay as most of his contemporaries dreamed 
of but never attained. It symbolized Edward Weston accurately 
the pioneer of middle age, who had won his spars and his fortune 
by signal contributions to an infant art, and who now, at the age 


of forty-six, intended to go on into the realms of near-perfection. 
Every room and every shelf bespoke the determined, self-willed man 
who knew exactly what he wanted and was supremely confident 
that he knew how to attain it. 

But this laboratory was more than that: it was, indeed, the fore 
runner, the "pilot plant/' of the great industrial laboratories for 
pure research institutions which businessmen would not deem val 
uable for at least another decade. 

In December of that year Weston dedicated the laboratory by 
inviting the Society of Mechanical Engineers to visit him during 
their annual convention in New York. "The visitors were greatly 
pleased with what they saw/' remarked the Electrical World, 
primly. But the editors of technical magazines all over the United 
States hastened to send their reporters to get the story of the lab 
oratory. It was a landmark in American engineering. Weston was 
thoroughly pleased, in his unexpressive way. He had at last attained 
independence from commercial worries, and had in his hands the 
implements to make real and satisfying progress. 

Soon he had begun a regime of experiment that kept him at work 
for as much as fifteen to twenty hours a day. "I have often known 
him to work," said his secretary, "all during the night and not leave 
his laboratory in time to dress for breakfast He was the hardest 
working man I have ever known." One of the things which helped 
to crowd his time was a steady stream of lecture engagements and 
the reception at the laboratory of students from the engineering 
colleges everywhere. Cornell, Sibley, the Franklin Institute, Stevens, 
and many more heard him on electrometallurgy, lighting, and power, 
and their professors of engineering sent delegations of students to 
visit him in return. 


Weston now began upon an intensive study of electrical meas 
urements, determined to continue methodically until he had reduced 
a chaotic situation to an orderly art. This was not a new field to 
him, nor to many other scientists, principally Europeans. Every in 
ventor of an electric system had had to have measuring devices, and 
a crude beginning had been made upon their design and construe- 


tion. But even after fifteen years of experiment there was little 
agreement as to principles. Nearly everybody who needed instru 
ments was forced to make them for himself, or buy them in crude 
and bulky form in Europe. 

In 1886 the crying need was for devices to measure the large 
voltages and currents of electric power. Portable meters had never 
been heard of. All instruments of the day depended upon the inter 
action of a circuit carrying the current and a movable iron piece, or 
a magnetic needle influenced by the earth's field. The coil carried 
current from the circuit to be measured; the magnetism was pro 
vided either by a permanent magnet or by the earth's natural field. 
They were all clumsy and inaccurate. 

Hans Christian Oersted produced the first measuring instrument 
in 1819 a large ring of wire with a magnetic needle swinging 
inside it. This principle was seized upon and improved by many 
others, until the "galvanometer" emerged as a fairly reliable device. 
But it was extremely bulky and delicate. For the first three decades 
of electrical application, telegraphy was the only art in need of 
measurement. Its voltages were fairly high but its currents were 
minute; both could be readily measured with some type of galvanom 
eter. The most important thing in telegraphy was a line without 
leaks, that is, with high resistance to ground. The British scientists, 
particularly Wheatstone, had devised extraordinarily effective means 
of determining faults in lines. These methods were brought almost 
to perfection by Thomson, Varley, and others, for use on the great 
Atlantic cable. The siphon recorder, the quadrant electrometer and 
the string galvanometer, with its tiny mirror supported on a hair- 
like quartz thread, have scarcely been surpassed. Thomson, in one 
marvelous demonstration with his siphon recorder, received signals 
after they had traveled through six thousand miles of cable. The 
current was supplied by a single voltaic cell made of a thimble, with 
a few drops of acid and tiny fragments of metal for electrodes. 

It was a shocking fact that when the electrical art turned to the 
use of "brute force," there was nothing available for making meas 
urements but soperdelicate instruments of this type. 

All of the early dynamo makers ran into the same difficulty: To 


test their machines they had to set up elaborate galvanometers, 
spend hours adjusting them, then apply mathematical formulas to 
the readings they took in order to reduce them to simple electrical 

In his own laboratory in 1886, Weston installed a large and 
highly accurate tangent galvanometer in a special room. It had a 
six-foot semicircle of wood, with a scale inscribed inside the curve. 
Its suspended mirror and magnetized needle were held in the zero 
position by the earth's field. When the current to be measured, 
passed through a surrounding coil it set up an opposing field and 
deflected the needle until the two fields balanced. The angle of 
deflection was then read on the scale and used to compute the value 
of the current. Successful operation depended upon absolute stillness 
and the absence of all stray magnetic influences. No one could carry 
a pocket knife nearby, or even enter the room with nails on his 

Weston had a trusted assistant named Young, whose job it was 
to go on scouting expeditions for special supplies. Every few days 
Young would return to the laboratory to report. Whenever he 
dropped into the galvanometer room the big instrument would go 
crazy. So they would send him outside, first to take off his shoes, 
then his iron-rimmed spectacles. It did no good. Mr. Young's 
presence was fatal to the instrument. His friends finally decided 
that he was personally magnetic, and whenever he came along, 
word would go around jokingly to close down the measuring room. 

This phenomenon appealed to Weston as a mystery worth solving. 
Painstakingly he searched Young for bits of steel, got his sus 
penders away and removed the iron buttons from his pants. Still 
no good. At last, however, the mystery was cleared. Young wore 
a battered derby hat. Inside it was a thin iron-wire stiffener. 

The work Weston had first planned to do in his new quarters 
was not on instruments but on delicate measurements of the light 
distribution of arc lamps and on the efficiency of his dynamos. But 
he soon found that, even in the absence of Mr. Young, it was 
taking him more time to adjust his few instruments and convert 
their readings into useful data than to apply tbe results to further 


experiments. He would perhaps have continued to put up with this 
annoyance a while longer if he had not had a practical demonstra 
tion of its seriousness at that moment. 

The Franklin Institute, in the fall of 1886, held a second electrical 
exhibition and included a large booth of Weston's inventions, among 
them several dynamos. It was necessary to make careful tests of 
these machines before the opening, and this took a full week. The 
only instrument for measuring voltage and current was the tangent 
galvanometer. Most of the week was wasted in setting it up, leveling 
it, and calibrating it. Among other things, the earth's magnetic field 
had to be determined a factor which can easily vary from day to 
day under the influence of magnetic storms generated by the sun. 
To obtain reliable data from such an instrument was a matter of 
purest chance. Weston came back from Philadelphia thoroughly 
exasperated, feeling for the first time in his life that he was blocked 
by the inadequacy of the tools at hand. He resolved to carry through 
to a conclusion the invention of a satisfactory new measuring device 
something he had often worked on in spare moments but had 
never finished. 

Edison, Brush, Elihu Thomson, and Weston himself all had 
makeshift indicators to go with their dynamos. Edison's first method 
of measuring the current that was going out of his power stations 
was to hang a shingle nail on a string near one of the feeder wires. 
As the current built up, its increasing magnetic field pulled the nail 
more and more out of the vertical. When it had swung a certain 
distance Edison would adjust his generators till the lamps in the 
station seemed to be "going about right." This was his only -test for 
operating voltage in 1882. A little later on he invented the elec 
trolytic meter, which was the earliest watt-hour indicator. Part of 
the load current was diverted through a jar of zinc-sulphate solu 
tion, containing two zinc plates. Zinc was removed from one plate 
and deposited on the other in proportion to the amount of current 
used in a given time. Meter readers went around to the customer's 
quarters every week, took out the plates, and "weighed the bill." 

Obviously, this was a poor makeshift. But it had to suffice till 
someone found a way to make instruments that read the product 


of volts, amperes, and time directly on a scale as watt hours. Mean 
while, electric companies charged flat rates for each light. 

Siemens, Ayrton and Perry, Sir William Thomson and Deprez in 
Europe, and Weston in the United States were all working to pro 
duce an accurate, direct-reading meter. The Patent Office was 
crowded with applications showing ingenious variations of the old 
galvanometer principle. But D'Arsonval in France was the first to 
announce a really significant improvement, when in 1881 he pat 
ented an instrument design in which the magnetic elements were 
reversed. The usual method was to suspend an iron bar or compass 
needle at the center of a large stationary coil of wire. The French 
inventor used a fixed horseshoe magnet with a small rectangular 
coil of wire suspended between the poles, and free to turn. The 
taut wire by which the coil was supported brought current to and 
from the instrument. The application of this "dynamometer" prin 
ciple to instruments was obviously a great advance, for the coil could 
be made featherlight and the magnet very strong. At the same time 
it was independent of the earth's field, insensitive to vibration, and 
inherently rugged and simple. 

Weston, too, had hit upon the moving coil idea. According to his 
own testimony in subsequent lawsuits, he had been struggling with 
the measurement problem ever since he began dynamo-making in 
1872, and had reached an understanding of the new principle long 
before D'Arsonval. Unfortunately, his habit of keeping his ideas 
jealously to himself until he was thoroughly ready to release them, 
lost him the priority. He did not announce his inventions in this 
category till 1884, thereby making certain of the usual tedious round 
of interferences and infringement suits. From the minute he did 
start work on instruments, D'Arsonval was his sworn rival, only 
less bitter an enemy than men like Edison and Brush, because he 
was so far removed. 

Weston worked sporadically on the moving coil scheme for a 
voltmeter from 1882 on, giving it special thought only when his 
crude instruments annoyed him; making a burst of experiments, 
then dropping them for more pressing work. In 1884 he really put 
his mind to the problem, and almost immediately turned up impor- 


tant new material, "In the beginning of 1884," his assistant, 
Benecke, wrote in his notebook, "Mr. Weston made the first attempt 
to pivot the moving coil of an instrument, which was specially 
designed for the purpose of aiding in the adjustment of the Auto 
matic Regulators used in conjunction with large incandescent lamps. 
The system was used at the Philadelphia Exhibition of the Franklin 
Institute in that year, for the adjustment of said regulators." This 
was the instrument already referred to. As Professor D. C. Jackson 
once said: " Dissatisfaction, not necessity, was the mother of Wes- 
ton's invention." 

The important advance was the use of pivots to hold the swinging 
coil, just as the movement of a watch is pivoted for frictionless 
turning. In abandoning the taut suspension wire used by D'Arsonval, 
Weston immediately lost the restoring effect given by the torsional 
twist of the wire, but was soon able to overcome it by adopting a 
coiled steel spring, again following watchmaking practice. 

The poles of his magnet he fitted with curved "shoes/' in much 
the same way that dynamo field pieces were tipped. This brought 
the magnetic flux equally close to the coil and made it uniform in 
all positions of swing. To enhance the effect still more, he added a 
central soft-iron core, fitting inside the coil but not touching it. 
This general arrangement was the basis of his first instrument 

One other advance of the greatest importance was added. D'Ar 
sonval was winding his coils on a form, then making them rigid 
with cement and hanging them by themselves in the magnetic gap. 
Weston devised a thin, rectangular frame of copper (later changed 
to aluminum) and wound his coil on that. It gave a very solid 
support and, in addition, introduced something quite new an auto 
matic damping action. All delicately balanced instruments of the 
day would swing to and fro for a long time when placed in the 
circuit. The user had to wait patiently for them to stabilize by 
friction. Weston's copper support amounted to a single short-cir 
cuited turn of low resistance cutting the magnetic field. As it moved, 
eddy currents were induced which set up their own opposing field 
and so brought the coil to a standstill in the position dictated by 
the strength of the current to be measured. 


The irony of it was that D'Arsonval had his name firmly attached 
to the moving coil arrangement; for years the moving coil instru 
ment was known as the D'Arsonval type. It is even today. 


Weston now had the prototype of the modern electrical measur 
ing instrument in his grasp. It was 1885, and high time to com 
mercialize the idea. But there were still serious hurdles in the way. 
The most serious and scientists believed it insurmountable was 
the fact that a permanent magnet, as then known, did not stay 
permanent. Gradually, over a long period, it weakened. This being 
the case, a reliable instrument was impossible because if the field 
strength changed, the coil and its pointer would take different 
positions for the same current flow. 

Weston analyzed the situation and for a time agreed. He saw 
that the iron crystals oriented in one direction by the original mag 
netizing action gradually drifted back to a random arrangement and 
lost their combined force. The obvious answer was an artificial 
electromagnetic field whose strength could be held constant by 

This principle was satisfactory for a dynamo field, where a regu 
lator could be used to control the generated voltage. But in an instru 
ment intended as a reliable standard, such regulation would be a 
paradox. However, he decided to pursue the idea to its end. 

Weston kept one assistant in charge of each line of investigation 
in the laboratory. His instrument man was George B. Prescott, Jr. 
Prescott was solidly against permanent magnets, and took up the 
artificial type with great zeal. With Weston closely following his 
work, he designed and built a compact little instrument that 
looked exactly like a miniature Weston dynamo. It had a rectangular 
frame with a pair of coils on each of the four legs and curved pole 
pieces in the middle. The coil was pivoted between these and carried 
a pointer that swept a scale arrangement along an arc of cardboard 
at one side. This was called a "potential indicator" and was in 
tended to measure voltage. 

Prescott immediately ran into tremble with variable magnetism. 
He found he could not mpi.?**"* a field strength that was anywhere 



near constant, although he tried every kind of soft Iron and all sorts 
of shapes. Weston thought that the problem might be solved by 
keeping the iron at its magnetic saturation point. But no iron alloy 

Western's "potential indicator"' forerunner of the voltmeter, 

could be found that had an absolute value of saturation. The metal 
became nearly but not fully magnetized as excitation continued 
upward. Nearly was not good enough. 

After Prescott had butted his head against the problem for many 
weeks, his employer said, one day, "Give it up, George. It won't 
work. It can't work" 

"Well, Mr. Weston," Prescott asserted, "it's got to work, or else 


we can't make satisfactory instruments. Permanent magnets are no 

"Nevertheless we will go back to them/' Weston decided. "A 
permanent magnet is right, scientifically. We simply do not know 
enough about it. We've got to find out." 

"Then you admit defeat?" 

"Nothing of the kind! Get back to permanent magnets, and let's 

With great reluctance his assistant began investigating the "age 
ing" of magnet steel. He was soon ready to eat his hasty words. 

A close analysis of the impermanence of permanent magnets pres 
ently revealed the probable cause. An actual flow of flux around the 
magnetic circuit seemed to be necessary to keep the crystals properly 
oriented. If this circuit was broken, the magnetic forces took short 
cut paths and tended to weaken themselves. So long as a soft-iron 
bar or "keeper" was placed across the pole ends, the flux flowed 
smoothly and kept to its proper path. But when the keeper was 
removed, each pole began to influence the crystal alignment at the 
knee of the magnet and break it up. This action continued very 
slowly till a steady state was reached perhaps after many years. 

Weston's answer to this was twofold: Build the instrument to 
have the very smallest air gaps possible and find some way to 
produce premature ageing in the magnet steel, so that it would have 
settled down before use began. He set Prescott to work in the 
chemical laboratory, testing every available type of steel for its 
magnetic properties. He himself went on to other research. 


The work on Tamidine had attracted a great deal of attention in 
the chemical industry, especially because of Weston's great knowl 
edge of cellulose. He had recently been asked by his old friends, 
Hanson and Van Winkle, to develop a pyroxylin varnish or lacquer 
that would dry fast and present a very hard surface. Feeling that 
he must do the job at once, he set to work and drove ahead steadily 
for three months, putting everything else aside. At the end of that 
time the formula was ready and was immediately sold to the cus 
tomer. The inventor had proved to himself, if he still needed proof. 


that he could proceed in his own establishment with difficult prob 
lems and solve them profitably. 

Weston patented the lacquer formula, of course, and it antedated 
by many years any other disclosure of the kind. There is a story 
that, some thirty years later, when General Motors scientists sought 
protection for their first automobile lacquer, they were informed 
by their attorneys that the idea was not patentable. A search had 
showed that Weston's patent had covered the field so broadly that 
lacquers had been in the public domain ever since its expiration. 

In the fall of '86 Weston was ready to go back to electrical 
instruments. By this time the laboratory was finished and ready 
to concentrate all its facilities on this important problem. 

Prescott, meanwhile, had thoroughly investigated steels and was 
ready to specify the best magnetic alloy. "But it still shows ageing," 
he warned. "You'll never get away from that." 

"Then well accept it and use it," Weston retorted. "I have an 
idea for speeding up the ageing and getting it out of the way." 

The scheme was as ingenious as anything he had ever devised. 
First, the steel was properly shaped and then stabilized by very care 
ful heating and cooling, so that no strains were left to mar the 
smoothness of the magnetic circuit. Then it was aged many thou 
sand times as fast as nature could do it by contact with the poles of 
a specially designed electromagnet in which the flux could be re 
versed. With this the steel was repeatedly magnetized in one direc 
tion and then the other, until the many reversals had completely 
oriented the crystals in a single direction, regimenting them like 
an army of obedient soldiers. 

The final step was the permanent magnetizing of the material 
up to a strength no more than two-thirds of its saturation point. 
Weston reasoned that at this low value there would be very little 
tendency for the magnetism to decay, even over a long period of 

With these three factors ageing, low saturation, and a carefully 
designed dosed magnetic circuit Weston had solved the problem 
of the constant magnetic field for instrument use. 

It is difficult to decide whether the magnetic ageing of the steel 
or the reduction of the leakage gap was the greater contribution. 


The latter was certainly the more obvious fundamental. Kelvin, 
Ayrton, and D'Arsonval were all using magnets with large gaps, 
and accepted the fact that their instruments had to be recalibrated 
continually, which made them useless in nontechnical hands. It is 
certain that ageing alone would not have solved the problem. The 
closed magnetic circuit was essential. Modern instruments, indeed, 
are designed with gaps about 5/iooths of an inch wide, all of them 
recognizing Weston's basic discovery. 

From the completion of the first experimental instrument, Wes- 
ton knew that he had solved the principal problems. In December, 
1886, Prescott finished the pioneer model a voltmeter the first 
truly portable instrument ever made. Without further delay he called 
in Quimby and they wrote up a patent on it. This was granted on 
November 6, 1888. On that patent rested the company which he 
was soon to form, and to which his real fame is due. 

Regardless of Weston's pioneer work, the Europeans were loath 
to give him the credit, even after his products had flooded the world. 
As late as 1892 the Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers 
in London damned him with faint praise: 

There is one species of D'Arsonval galvanometer which does not hail 
from France, nor is it an English copy of French instruments. It is made in 
America, We always assume that Americans cannot make instruments, and 
that may be true generally; but there is certainly one American who can, and 
that is Mr. Weston. His voltmeters are only D'Arsonval galvanometers in 
which the current is led in by two hairsprings, which also act as the con 
trolling force. 

This was a considerable understatement. Weston's instrument con 
tained many more improvements on the D'Arsonval principle than 
are here credited. 

But Europe was indeed difficult to win over. As soon as the new 
instrument company had been started, Weston sent one of his stock 
voltmeters to Germany to the Deutsche Physicalische Reichsanstalt, 
then the oily standardizing laboratory in the world. The Germans 
were exceedingly skeptical of the magnetic permanence which he 
claimed, and refused to give the instrument a certificate until they 
had tested it continuously for five years. At the end of that time it 


was as accurate as ever; with considerable admiration they gave 
Weston their full endorsement. 

Nowadays, meters are frequently returned to the factory after 
twenty-five years of steady use and show no measurable weakening 
of the magnets. 

By the end of 1886 Weston had been granted four patents on 
electrical instruments, embodying practically every step in the devel 
opment, from the delicate galvanometer type to the final dynamom 
eter principle. This included an integrating current meter what 
we should call a watt-hour meter and several forms of mercury 
device, indicating current by the amount of mercury transferred from 
one portion of the apparatus to another. He had not, however, 
entered his claims for protection on the compact new instrument 
which had reached a workable state in December, 1886. His mind 
was already off on a tangent. 

This is only explainable by the fact that he moved so rapidly 
from one matter to another that he failed to consider the practical 
importance of early protection. He believed he was so far ahead 
of his competitors that he could afford a delay. He may also have 
felt that to support the heavy expenses of his private laboratory, he 
had better get out and earn some money. At any rate, with the 
coming of 1887, he plunged himself and his entire staff into the 
business of furnishing expert witness service to various concerns 
who were anxious to hire him. The new electrical instruments had 
to wait. 

Weston was in no danger of starvation, for he entered into agree 
ments with several firms for acting as an expert court witness at an 
annual retainer of $5,000 or thereabouts. This was by no means a 
one-man job. It devolved upon him to furnish the technical back 
ground for the inventions he was defending for others, and soon the 
entire laboratory was busy making elaborate models of machines, 
principles and details of early inventions. He had a genius for 
demonstration, and under his guidance many ingenious wood models 
of dynamos, arc-lamp mechanisms, and incandescent-lamp com 
ponents were turned out Weston abundantly earned his salaries, 
because in those days the patent cases were being tried before judges 
who knew next to nothing about the technical aspects of electricity. 


His great clarity and logic, coupled with the exhibition of the 
models helped the jurists to render favorable decisions for his side. 

In this model work, one of his assistants, H. F. Nehr, was the 
principal genius, an instrument maker of great skill who had been 
with him since 1880. Nehr was intensely loyal, too. One day in the 
summer of 1887, Weston rushed into the shop, got hold of Nehr 
and started him working on a model of an electric traction motor 
which was needed in court. Nehr got busy at four o'clock in the 
morning and worked 43 hours without stopping, in order to get the 
job finished. In the midst of it, the main steam engine in the labor 
atory went out of whack, and everybody had to drop what he was 
doing and help repair it. 

Things went on like this till the fall of '87, when Edward 
Quimby wrote to him, scolding him for letting the instrument mat 
ter languish. He pointed out that everybody else was working on 
electrical instruments, too, and that a patent was absolutely essen 
tial, immediately. The instrument, Quimby thought, had great com 
mercial value and should be pushed with all possible haste. 

Weston, for once, listened to him, and the laboratory was 
switched back to instruments as suddenly as it had been taken off 

There were still a few matters that needed to be solved. One was 
the problem of the spiral springs supporting the moving coil. The 
only springs obtainable were, of course, made of steel, and this 
interfered with the proper stability of the magnetic circuit. They 
also offered too high a resistance to the currents flowing in and out 
of the coil. Everyone else who was attempting instrument making 
was using steel springs, thinking that nothing else was possible. 
Weston rejected the idea and started his metallurgical department 
on a search for a nonmagnetic material that would have the resil 
ience of steel but a much better conductivity. After considerable 
research, this was found in a special low-resistance alloy for rnilli- 
voltmeters and a phosphor-bronze alloy for other instruments. 
Nothing else has been used in ordinary instruments since, though 
beryllium-copper has recently come into the field for special pur 

Another problem in materials was posed by the pointer to be 


carried by the coil as it swung around. Weston decided that a thin 
aluminum rod would be best. But in those days aluminum could 
not be drawn into wire fine enough for this purpose. He solved the 
difficulty by developing a special alloy of aluminum which was so 
ductile that small-diameter wire of high uniformity could be made. 
Satisfactory pointers were turned out with this. Later, he found 
that he could draw exceedingly fine tubing with the alloy, and this 
quickly replaced solid wire. Weston now had a stiff, almost weight 
less pointer. 

But the weight, although small, had to be balanced. The answer 
to this was a small metal quadrant fixed opposite to the pointer, 
carrying a rim with threaded holes in which small screws could be 
adjusted in and out. Perfect balance could thus be assured. In later 
designs a balance cross was substituted for the quadrant. 

Weston's pointer arrangement has come down through the art 
virtually intact. In the late war, when instruments in ships and 
planes had to withstand explosive shocks, pointers were made so 
strong that they could withstand an acceleration of 1500-6 that 
is, they could support 1500 times their own weight without bending 
out of shape. In fact, the whole structure had to meet this require 
ment. A modern military instrument could be dropped on a concrete 
floor without putting it out of business. 


A far more important problem than the pointer, which led to one 
of Weston's most important inventions in the instrumeht field, was 
the "shunt/* 

It was well understood that when a current passed through a 
resistaiace a voltage drop occurred, according to Ohm's law. The idea 
soon struck him that all electrical measuring instruments could be 
constructed as voltmeters if a secondary circuit were arranged in 
parallel to the moving coil. When an ammeter was to be built, it 
was only necessary to give this parallel circuit a low but appreciable 
resistance and then measure the drop across it. Such a circuit in 
general was called a "shunt," following British engineering prac 
tice, whkh had borrowed the term used to describe a railroad siding. 

In other words, the current would divide between the two circuits 


in inverse proportion to their resistance values. If the coil had a 
very high resistance in proportion to the shunt, only a minute cur 
rent would flow in it. But this would still serve as an accurate meas 
ure of the much larger main current. The instrument scale could 
then be calibrated directly in amperes. 

The only material available for producing a measurable resistance 
drop in a short length of conductor was German silver. But this he 
soon found to be unsatisfactory because of its large temperature 
coefficient. As current flowed through it, it heated, and like all other 
metals, its resistance increased with temperature. A shunt would be 
no good if its resistance changed, unless all measurements could be 
related to temperature. To measure this as a condition to making 
electrical measurements was not desirable. 

The electrical profession at that time labored under a misconcep 
tion quite as foolish as the contention that the electric light could 
not be "subdivided." This was the definition of a metal a sub 
stance whose resistance increased with temperature. Conversely, a 
nonmetal was defined as one whose resistance went down with rising 
temperature. Carbon, a nonmetal, was considered an excellent ex 
ample of this rule. 

Weston realized that there was something wrong with the defini 
tions and decided to improve upon them. It should be possible, he 
thought, to make a metallic alloy with a negligible temperature 
coefficient, or even a negative one. At least, he hoped to discover 
one whose resistance remained reasonably constant for ordinary 
working temperatures. If this could be done, his shunt instrument 
would be practical. 

He began experimenting immediately with commercial German 
silver, an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc, but found that there was 
little consistency in its behavior, since every slight variation in its 
proportions greatly changed its electrical properties. The alloy was 
all imported from Germany, so that there was no simple way to 
control the manufacture. So he undertook to make new alloys of 
his own. Very soon he had devised a formula which contained some 
30 per cent nickel and which gave a resistance of almost twice that 
of German silver, together with a much smaller temperature co 
efficient. This was known as "Alloy No. i." 


The alloy was not suitable for shunts, still having a variable 
resistance. But it was highly encouraging as a start in the right 
direction. Weston now set his laboratory men to work on a sys 
tematic search for the right alloy. More than three hundred were 
compounded, while the inventor himself supervised every experi 
ment, even to the final drawing of the wire. The final result was an 
alloy of nickel and copper which actually had a small negative 
coefficient. With this, for the time being, he decided to be satisfied. 
He called it his "Alloy No. 2." 

But Weston was not satisfied long. These early metallurgical re 
searches were only the beginning of a struggle that he kept up for 
many years. "The very best German silver we could make/' he ad 
mitted later, "was not good enough for instrument work, nor was 
it good enough for standard. It had to be used with great care, and 
you had to be very careful about measurements. You can scarcely 
imagine what that means in a laboratory where thousands of elec 
trical measurements are made in a day." 

Nevertheless, it was not wise to delay the completion of the first 
commercial instrument because of imperfect shunts. So he decided 
to go ahead with what he had. Unfortunately, American wire mills 
were unable to draw the new alloy into wire fine enough for Weston, 
and he was forced to send the specifications abroad and have the 
work done in Germany. There it was renamed "Constantan" and 
soon became so popular that everybody began using it. Presently the 
electrical profession got the impression that the Germans had 
Invented it. 

In the spring of 1888, Weston applied for a basic patent on the 
moving-coil voltmeter, and the patent was issued on November 6th 
of that year. In this very long and involved specification, the entire 
arrangement of the modern direct-current instrument is set forth 
the permanent magnet, pivoted coil, the damping frame of copper, 
the curved pole pieces, the spiral springs, and, lastly, a simple 
arrangement for incorporating several shunt coils so that the instru 
ment, by the shifting of a plug, could be given various voltage 
ranges or used as an ammeter for currents up to 150 amperes. 

This first commercially practical instrument was actually a milli- 
voltmeter, and several designs were built in the early part of 1888 


in order to drive out the worst of the "bugs" that were bound to 
be present while an experimental model was being refined into a 
production unit. 

The third version of this instrument was taken in hand by Wes- 
ton's good friend, Professor E. A. Colby, who was anxious to see 
how it behaved in service. In the next few months he visited elec 
trical laboratories in many eastern universities and also a number 
of testing rooms belonging to Weston's competitors, where he com 
pared the instrument with the very best galvanometers in America. 
"The result of Mr. Colby's use of this instrument," Weston testified 
later, in a lawsuit arising from its patent, "was to show that its 
accuracy was greater than the laboratory standards ordinarily em 
ployed and that it could be used extremely roughly without injury 
or deterioration. A careful test showed that the magnetic field re 
mained permanent/ 1 

Weston was confident, that spring, that he had the best instru 
ment so far made. The question was what to do with it to make it a 
profitable commercial proposition. 

Instruments at that time were principally important for laboratory 
use, and there would undoubtedly be a good market for them. But 
the large demand for measuring instruments was bound to come 
from the mushrooming electric power and light business, totally 
unequipped with efficient means of rapid measurement. Voltmeters 
here would be useful in maintaining the quality of the service 
lights burned well or poorly according to the steadiness of the circuit 
potential. The real need, however, was for an ampere-measuring 
instrument to determine the quantity of the service, and hence the 
revenue. The crude apparatus for measuring load required massive 
equipment and elaborate calculations, even for the simplest read 
ings. The field for ammeters was wide open. 

Westoti knew well enough that he would not be able to meet this 
demand immediately not until he had devised a high-capacity 
shunt that would be virtually free of temperature coefficient trouble. 
Nevertheless, he decided to make a beginning. In this he was strongly 
urged oo by the Qtiimbys, father and son, who insisted that no time 


was to be lost. It was important to start up a new manufacturing 
concern at once, they insisted. Weston would have liked to be in a 
position to put up the money and make a start with full control in 
his own hands. But this he could not do, even though his own pre 
mises were used for the factory. The laboratory had taken most of 
the extra money he had earned from his witness fees. There was 
nothing to start a business with. 

The Quimbys loyally offered to come forward with some cash 
themselves, and one of them suggested a third investor who might 
be willing to participate. This was Franz O, Matthiessen, who owned 
a sugar refinery in Jersey City and who had purchased a number of 
arc lamps from Weston some years before. Matthiessen was a very 
different sort from the United States Company's people. A self-made 
man and an immigrant like Weston, he knew the value of hard 
work, particularly at the beginning of a new enterprise. With very 
little persuasion he agreed to come in, with considerable money. 

On March 31, 1888, the partnership was officially formed. One 
thousand shares of stock were solemnly issued and distributed among 
the four partners, at a book value of $100 apiece. Weston received 
580 shares in return for his patents on electrical instruments, and 
for the use of his laboratory as a temporary starting point for the 
venture. The Weston Electrical Instrument Company was chartered 
in New Jersey in April of the same year. 

"Thus was Weston's fourth and last company born," says a com 
pany booklet, issued fifty years later. "Like the three which pre 
ceded it his nickel plating business, his dynamo business and his 
arc light business this company was concerned with making, im 
proving and selling a new kind of electrical apparatus. But in one 
very important respect it was different from the other three. For 
this time Edward Weston had started in a business that had to deal 
with the whole field of electricity and not just one corner of it. His 
problems from now on were not confined to dynamos or lights or 
electrolysis; he had to follow every electrical improvement that came 
along and find some way to measure it efficiently. That is the chief 
significance behind the founding of the Western Electrical Instru 
ment Company in 1888. It meant that the 38-year-old inventor had 
finally reached the life be was looking for, a life spent in constantly 


devising and discovering new mechanisms that satisfied him 

This is a significant comment. Weston had taken on what is per 
haps the most difficult road to prominence in any field of endeavor: 
a work which brings a man and his achievements to the test in every 
phase of an art, rather than by merely developing a single item 
and perfecting it; what might be called the horizontal rather than 
the vertical approach. He succeeded so well that Weston instru 
ments have been the unqualified leaders ever since, both in the 
United States and abroad. 

Manufacturing was begun with a small staff immediately, the 
product being simply the millivoltmeter already described, with Con- 
stantan shunts to transform it into an ammeter. For the next five 
years Weston put his time almost exclusively on instruments, and 
took out a constant stream of patents which, taken together, cover 
almost the whole history of early instrument development. Save for 
a momentary digression to write a patent on the utilization of solar 
energy for generating electricity, he did not depart from instrument 
work at all. And this interesting digression was, in fact, an off shoot 
of his instrument work. 

The alloy Constantan, which he had invented, served extremely 
well as a low-coefficient material for instrument shunts. But it had 
one serious drawback. At the points where the shunts were con 
nected to the copper or brass terminals of the instrument, any change 
in temperature would generate "parasitic" currents another way of 
describing the action of a thermocouple composed of dissimilar 
metals. These currents, or potentials, upset the steady action of the 
Constantan itself and produced almost as bad an effect as though 
the shunts were made of the highly variable German silver. 

The solar energy patent described a blackened thermocouple coil 
placed in the path of rays from a lens or mirror. Currents generated 
by the heat were passed into a storage battery and there accumulated 
for later use. Weston never built such a device; if he had, he would 
have found that it gave too small an amount of energy to be useful. 
But it is interesting to note that one of the most modern of sugges 
tions for the transformation of heat units in fuel into mechanical 
energy contemplates a bank of highly sensitive thermocouples ex- 


posed to the radiant energy of rapidly burning fuel, thus producing 
electrical energy direct. 

This problem of thermoelectrical action at the junctions of the 
shunts was so serious that it kept Weston busy for several years 
and made it nearly impossible to produce a reliable ammeter suitable 
for large currents. In the meantime, he ran into another difficulty 
in the form of the heating of the moving coil itself. As the tempera 
ture of this coil rose, its resistance increased about 2/10 of i per cent 
for every degree Fahrenheit, and the readings were considerably 
thrown off. He spent a great deal of time devising and patenting 
methods of combating the trouble. In one of these schemes he 
ingeniously included a thermometer, bent in an arc parallel to the 
arc of the scale. The bulb of the thermometer was placed close to 
the coil, and the indication of temperature was in plain sight as one 
began reading the instrument. A small rheostat was built into the 
base connected in series with the moving coil. Its handle passed over 
a scale calibrated in degrees. One need only observe the temperature, 
then move the rheostat to the proper position to compensate for the 
heating effect in the coil. 

After the first voltmeter design was stabilized, the new company 
rapidly began expanding its line of instruments. Voltmeters up to 
five or six thousand volts were easily made, and these were followed 
shortly by ammeters of fairly high capacity. Then Weston began 
patenting alternating-current instruments of like capacity. They were 
very nearly the same in general design, except that the permanent 
magnet was replaced by a stationary coil connected in series with 
the moving coil. 

The little factory-within-a-laboratory was a great success. From 
the very beginning, Weston instruments were accepted as the best 
that could be made. There was never any difficulty about obtaining 
customers. The inventor was known to be a stickler for accuracy 
and excellence in everything he designed and built. No one ques 
tioned his supremacy. His competitors never reached an equal 

The market for the new instruments immediately broadened to 
include every phase of the industry. But the most important demand 
in the early days came from laboratories. Here at last was a portable 


instrument that could take the place of the cumbersome tangent 
galvanometer. College engineering departments hastened to provide 
themselves with Weston voltmeters and ammeters. Within a short 
time, hearing that such reliable results were possible with the new 
instruments, competing instrument makers began to buy them for 
use in calibrating their own products. Ironically, Weston was helping 
others to raise their standards toward the level of his own. 

So, he went on to design even more perfect instruments. The 
patents of these first years cover continual small improvements: 
better balance, better ways of winding the coils, better materials, 
better pivots, better appearance. Meanwhile, recognizing the fact 
that the tangent galvanometer was still the most sensitive means 
of standardizing electric currents, he designed and built a few 
instruments of that type for his own use in manufacturing his regu 
lar line of instruments. 

He had reached a goal that few inventors in history have ever 
reached. He had become a criterion in a great new art, a standard 
of reference for everybody else. Although his competitors made and 
sold instruments for as little as one-third of his own prices, he still 
sold more than they did. So good was his product that he sealed 
each instrument when it was made, guaranteeing its accuracy as long 
as nobody broke the seals and tampered with the mechanism. 

In a symbolic way he had sealed his supremacy beyond reach of 
his competitors. All over the world his name became synonymous 
with top quality. "It is particularly noticeable in all of the technical 
schools in Germany," said a contemporary journal, "that the elec 
trical equipments are decidedly German. Scarcely an instrument, 
dynamo or motor of foreign make . . , can be found in any of the 
laboratories, with the exception of Weston ammeters and volt 

A reporter from the Electrical World, visiting the laboratory in 
1890 wrote; "The Western Electrical Instrument Company, under 
the supervision of Mr. Edward Weston, the celebrated electrician, 
have had such a big run on their new voltmeters that they have had 
to make special arrangements for their production in large quan 

The special provisions were the establishment of a new factory. 



Two years in the laboratory had completely swamped its space and 
machinery. The new plant was a four-story building on William 
Street, and here at last there was room for everything. Every standard 
tool and machine for doing delicate work was installed,, and Weston 

The world's first portable voltmeter. 

and his growing corps of assistants were diligently at work designing 
and building many more that were highly specialized for the work 
in hand. 

That factory was the beginning of an industry, and the lead it 
achieved then has never been lost in the half century that has passed 


Having captured the top position in the laboratory instrument 
field, Weston next tackled the much larger market in the growing 


power industry. By this time practically every city and town in the 
country had its own electric light system. The demand for a good 
method of measuring ampere load was urgent. No one had been 
able to devise a reliable ammeter. His own, good as it was, could 
not cope with the now huge currents that were everyday practice. 

Ever since inventing the alloy Constantan, Weston had been 
worried about the variable resistance of the shunt ammeter. In the 
laboratory this was not serious, since provision could be made for 
temperature readings and the interpretaion of instrument indica 
tions by formula. But in power stations this was impossible. A 
simple pointer had to indicate the current values and these had to 
be right. 

Instruments then in use had two soft-iron cores, wound with wire 
and placed so as to repel each other with a force proportional to 
the current. It was a crude scheme, and involved large errors. The 
indicators they could not be dignified by the term instruments 
were so bulky that they could not be installed on a switchboard; 
their scales were not evenly divided; their pointers swung back and 
forth interminably before settling down; they used up appreciable 
current in heat; they were expensive. 

Actually, one ammeter designed for Edison by Lord Kelvin was 
as large as an office desk. J. Van Vleck, Edison's chief station 
engineer, stated in 1890 that no conveniently small instrument was 
possible. Of all the experts consulted, here and abroad, only Weston 
told him that a shunt instrument would solve the problem. Van 
Vleck said that was impossible, too. 

Weston knew that if he could overcome the single difficulty of 
the shunt, he would have a clear field for his highly accurate, com 
pact moving<oil type of instrument. Four years after Van Vleck's 
statement, he had overcome it, and Van Vleck himself was installing 
long rows of Weston ammeters, capable of reading as high as 7,000 
amperes. By 1895 *** company stated: "We are prepared to make 
ammeters of any capacity up to 100,000 amperes." 

The researches that resulted in a successful shunt instrument were 
begun by Weston in his laboratory even before the company itself 
was started, and were, indeed, a part of his general investigations 
iato special alloys. But it took full five years to reach success. As 


we have seen, he began his intensive search for a shunt metal by 
experimenting with German silver, and eventually developed "Con- 
stantan." This had a reasonably small rise of resistance with tem 
perature, but was troublesome because of thermoelectric action. But 
in the course of further experiments Weston tried adding a little 
manganese to the copper and nickel, and immediately got better 
results. The first improvement resulted in alloys having a specific 
resistance (per unit volume) about three times as high as German 
silver sixty times that of copper. But it was found subsequently 
that the best material had about half these ratios. 

A very high specific resistance was an essential for good shunts, 
because it would permit large cross sections to be used with a small 
length of conductor, and still provide the appreciable voltage drop 
required to operate the instrument. 

With this encouraging beginning, Weston drove ahead, spending 
long hours over his chemical bench, trying first one proportion, then 
another, fusing the new alloy and shaping it into wire, then 
making careful test runs at many different temperatures. Almost at 
once he noted that the second vital requirement had been met a 
very low temperature coefficient. Early samples of the alloy showed 
even less resistance change than Constantan. It was only a question, 
he felt, of keeping on till he found what he was after: a metal whose 
temperature coefficient was negligible. 

Supervising and inspiring thousands of experiments and tests, 
Weston gradually approached this goal. Other work intervened; the 
instrument company was formed, prospered and finally moved into 
its own plant. Still the alloy investigation continued. Then Weston 
finally produced a metal that actually had a negative temperature 
coefficient: its resistance went down as it grew hotter. This was the 
achievement he had been trying for; it was only a short additional 
step to work backwards from a negative to a negligible dependence 
upon temperature. 

He had done what physics books said was impossible, and with 
it had broken down the accepted distinction between a metal and 
a nonmetal. 

It had not been a simple proposition. These remarkable results 
were not obtained merely by trying one thing after another, but by 


reasoning out the probable influence of each phase of the com 
pounding of the alloy. An essential step was an exact method for 
pretreating the metal before use. Weston showed that the alloy by 
itself fell short of the desired characteristics. Only when it was 
carefully heat-treated did it produce results. The treatment itself 
proved to be quite as important as the exact composition of the alloy. 


Jn 1892 Weston had finally completed his discovery an alloy 
of copper, nickel, and manganese prepared by a complicated series 
of heat-treatments. In May, 1893, he received a basic patent on the 
composition, manufacture, and use of the material for electrical 
resistors. The first use of the alloy was in the series resistance coils 
in Weston voltmeters. For the first time, such instruments could be 
built that were free of inaccuracies caused by temperature. It was 
one of Weston's greatest contributions to the electrical art. Out of 
three metals whose possible combinations were practically infinite, 
he had made an alloy which would change the standards of pre 
cision in electrical measurement. He had done this in the face of the 
solid opposition of thought of the scientific world. 

Samples of the new zero-temperature-coefficient metal soon 
reached the Reichsanstalt in Germany, and its scientists accepted it 
eagerly and began to make studies of their own. Presently they had 
standardized its proportions to definite percentages of each metal, 
and had given it the name Manganin. But they were careful to credit 
Weston with the discovery. In the eyes of the rest of the world, 
however, he was not so fortunate. He had driven the research 
through with his rare gift of concentration, practically immuring 
himself from the outside world while he did it. This insistence on 
secrecy prevented him from receiving the acclaim that was due him. 
It was the Germans, not Weston, who got the credit for Manganin. 

In 1892 Lord Kelvin addressed the British Association for the 
Advancement of Science. He was tfien the world's most famous elec 
trical physicist. He was taking his countrymen to task for having no 
national standardization laboratory such as the German Reichsan 
stalt. Professor voo Helmholtz had just preceded him in lauding the 


organization. "One thing Professor von Helmholtz did not men 
tion/' said Kelvin, "was the discovery by the Anstalt of a metal 
whose temperature coefficient with respect to electrical resistance is 
practically nil. This is just what we have been waiting for for twenty 
or thirty years. . . . The Physicalische Anstalt had not been in exist 
ence two years before this valuable metal was discovered." 

Professor von Helmholtz rose quickly. 'The discovery of a metal 
whose resistance diminishes with temperature was made by an Amer 
ican engineer," he said succinctly. 

Ayrton was on his feet too. "By an Englishman Weston," he 

Kelvin made an adroit escape from his predicament. "That serves 
but to intensify the position I wish to take," he suavely observed. 
"Whether the discovery was made by an Anglo-American, an Ameri 
can Englishman, or an Englishman in America, it is not gratifying to 
national pride to know that these discoveries were not made in this 

Thus Weston's name upon this great forward step was inadver 
tently blurred by the work of the German laboratories. The Ger 
mans could not be blamed for this, however. In fact, the German 
rolling mill, Isabellenhuette, that had first made Manganin to the 
Anstalt's specifications had coined the name "Westonin" for it. 
Later "Manganin" seemed simpler and more descriptive, and was 
adopted instead. 

Credit or not, Weston's alloy rapidly swept the world. Eventually, 
instrument makers everywhere were using it for shunts and resistors. 
Nothing else could equal it even remotely, 


But in 1893, with the first basic patent on his desk, all this was in 
the future. The immediate problem was to tackle the great new field 
of electric-power instrumentation, which meant the design of central- 
station ammeters. 

There was no important change to be made in the instrument 
mechanism. The problem was to introduce the resistive shunt ma 
terial and to dissipate the beat generated in it. Weston felt that it 


was important to hold the temperature down as much as possible, to 
avoid variations in the resistance and to prevent damage to the ma 
terial. Therefore, he tackled the design from the viewpoint of the 
most efficient means of heat dissipation. The simplest arrangement, 
and the one he used first, was to provide the shunt circuit resistor 
material with massive terminal blocks, large in volume compared 
to the shunt itself. The heat quickly flowed to these and was radiated 

This may not sound like a great invention, but it caused much 
stir in scientific circles. Nobody else, either in America or Europe, 
seems to have thought of the idea of dissipating shunt heat through 
the terminals. 

A word should be said about the loss of energy sustained in the 
shunt. Though the temperature rise was considerable, the loss in 
watts was nearly negligible. Weston quotes an example in an article 
in Electrical Engineering in 1894: 

This [competing] ammeter was a good deal better than the average, so 
far as efficiency is concerned. It was a 6oo-ampere instrument, and in the 
conductor there was a loss of 21 watts. That looks rather small ... it 
amounts to a quarter of one cent per hour six cents a day and a little over 
$22 a year. But if you have ten of them that means $222. But the meter had 
joints and these were not well fitted, and there was a further loss there. . . . 
To use that ammeter would require and average of ten feet of conductor to 
carry the current to and from it. In this there would be a loss of 64.2 watts. 
The instrument and conductor together would represent $89 waste of energy 
on the basis stated. Now, you can eliminate [these losses] if you use a shunt 
type of instrument properly designed, . . . the instrument which consumed 
1 8 watts now consumes only .0021 of a watt, and instead of costing $18 a 
year to run it costs you 0.22 of a cent. 

In one instance, in a railway power station, an instrument loss of 
$459.64 per year was reduced to a few cents when Weston ammeters 
replaced the older instruments. 

It was not surprising that the Weston Instrument Company was 
swamped with business. Again his inventions had become a world 
standard. The station ammeter of the shunt type really put the com 
pany on the map. Ten years later, the statement was made in the 


shunt litigation that "hardly a single station ampere meter can be 
found on the switchboard of any direct-current central station or 
isolated plant either in this country or abroad, in which there is not 
made use of the shunt described in [Weston's] patent/' 

If he had needed it, Weston could not have had a more fortunate 
"break" than the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. At the 
suggestion of Professor Ayrton, who had come over with Kelvin 
from England to sit on the committee judging electrical apparatus, 
Weston instruments were adopted exclusively for the making of 
tests on the various dynamos and lamps that were shown, Weston 
had received the highest honor which it was possible for his col 
leagues to give him. 

Among the prominent technical men at the Exposition was Dug- 
aid C Jackson, then an electric traction engineer and later Professor 
of Electrical Engineering at M.I.T. Jackson was on the Jury of 
Awards, which held numerous meetings in the evenings, before 
which the various inventors appeared to discuss their work. When 
Weston's turn came, he launched into a detailed description and 
explanation of his many inventions. "When he told us about his 
shunt instruments," said Jackson, "the Europeans among us just did 
not believe it could be done; they had to be shown. But it was done. 
And we were all much impressed when Weston explained his empi 
rical formula for calculating the saturation and other data in mag 
netic circuits for generators and motors. John Hopkinson in England 
later worked out a theoretical approach to this same problem. His 
findings corroborated Weston in nearly every detail 

"Weston was so successful because he was mechanically expert. 
He knew how to do things well." 

This tribute and many others implied in the soaring demand for 
his instruments gave Weston great confidence. As one expression 
of it he offered to replace the cumbersome and wasteful measuring 
devices in the great Edison Duane Street Station in New York with 
his own instruments and take in payment only one-half of one year's 
savings. The proposition was not accepted. But Weston instruments 
completely supplanted the old, and solved the heavy problems of 
losses in measurement 



Now that the moving-coil type of voltmeter and ammeter had 
become standardized in the power stations of the world, new prob 
lems began to plague the inventor. Weston's instruments were 
famous for their accuracy, which came from the extreme sensitivity 
of the magnetic circuit and the rotating element. But in spite of the 
fact that he had done everything possible to close the magnet around 
coil and core and thus confine the circuit to the instrument, it re 
mained sensitive to outside magnetic fields. As soon as Weston sta 
tion meters began to spread about the country, complaints arose that 
they were seriously affected by stray fields. 

At first Weston was angered by this, and stated categorically that 
his instruments could not indicate incorrectly. But presently he had 
to retreat from that position and do something about the problem. 

A paper presented before the Franklin Institute by J. A. Stewart, 
a Philadelphia engineer, gave much interesting data on stray fields. 
He had found that a common file placed near a Weston voltmeter 
would produce an error in readings. A bench vise near by would 
do the same thing. If two voltmeters were placed side by side, they 
might throw each other out, or not, depending on their positions. 
Another engineer, commenting on the paper, said that a Philadel 
phia power station had tried to use moving-coil voltmeters on a 
switchboard behind which a bus bar was carrying heavy currents. 
The instruments were entirely unreliable. It was his guess that meters 
could not be installed on switchboards at all, but must be placed in 
some special location remote from magnetic fields. 

Still another complaint emanated from the Imperial Bureau of 
Standards in Vienna, and covered not only Weston's but all European 
instruments. The Bureau stated that, "among many other things," 
merely to rub the glass over the instrument dial with a clean dry 
cloth would put such a charge on it as to introduce a large error in 
pointer readings. This would not happen on a rainy day. Perhaps 
one should not attempt to use precision instruments except in bad 

Finally there came a reminder from closer to home. D. C Jack- 


son, then in charge of the Cleveland street railway powerhouse, 
wrote Weston that his instruments, installed on the main switch 
board, were not giving reliable service. He suggested that the stray 
field from the dynamos might be causing the trouble. "Dr. Weston 
replied in his customary positive manner/' says Jackson, "stating 
that this 'just could not be so*; that Weston meters were always 

"However, Dr. Weston's statement did not correct the inaccuracies 
and after several more exchanges of correspondence he was induced 
to make a special trip to Cleveland to show the men how to use his 

What he found when he strode grimly into the station, was that 
a battery of venerable Edison dynamos was being used, in close 
proximity to the instruments. These machines had smooth drum 
armatures with the windings placed outside the metal instead of in 
slots, as Weston had his. Under heavy load the dynamos filled the 
vicinity with a powerful stray field that upset the magnetic condi 
tions of every device within range, meters included. 

Although Weston had long since conceived an enduring dislike 
of Edison and a certain contempt for his engineering designs, he 
recognized that this time he himself was wrong. Characteristically, 
he took one look at the situation, admitted his error to Jackson, and 
caught the first train back to Newark to remedy the trouble. 

The problem of keeping stray magnetic fields away from a delicate 
instrument was not simple. Shielding must be used, but it must not 
influence the shape of the field within the instrument itself. But it 
was the sort of difficulty Weston liked to solve. He did solve it, 
though not until he had tried many types and methods of shielding. 

Generally, the scheme was to analyze the magnetic circuit of the 
instrument and determine its vulnerable points, These appeared at 
first to be only in the region of the pole pieces and coil. But by 
testing with a strong external magnet, Weston discovered that stray 
lines of force from almost any direction would cause trouble. Shield 
ing of the entire instrument would be required. Beginning with a 
soft-iron cover to enclose the whole thing, he added more and more 
metal until every part was heavily iron-clad. The practical difficulties 
of doing this were considerable, and Weston hated to see his origi- 


nally beautiful design buried in iron. But it had to be done. It was 
many years before gradual refinement eliminated the clumsiness and 
gave us the compact, streamlined instruments we have today. But it 
was Weston's habit of frontal attack on a situation the moment he 
discovered it, that saved the moving-coil instrument from failure in 
the important power field. 


So far we have dealt wholly with Weston's direct-current instru 
ments. However, he was not unmindful of the rising importance of 
alternating-current power. While he was making his start as the 
world's leading authority on electrical measurements in 1888, the 
spectacular "Battle of the Currents" was joined. Edison, far in the 
lead as a central-station builder, had covered the country with direct- 
current systems. Opposite him were arrayed a number of important 
competitors: Westinghouse, Stanley, Thomson all of whom were 
scrambling to perfect an alternating-current system of generators, 
transformers, motors, and switchgear that could oust Edison from 
his supremacy by destroying the "three-mile limit." Direct current 
could not be distributed at operating voltage for more than three 
miles without prohibitive loss. Alternating-current power could be 
transmitted economically at high voltage for many miles, as Stanley 
had shown. The Edison companies, however, were not disposed to 
admit that the limitation was serious. They proposed to keep electric 
power decentralized, with generating stations close to their loads 

The controversy became extremely virulent, in the fashion of those 
days. Libelous booklets were distributed by both sides, magnifying 
the dangers of the opposition system. In a pamphlet bound in scarlet 
covers and titled "A Warning from the Edison Electric Light Com 
pany/ 1 every competitor in the field was pilloried, and with them 
the a-c system itself. "It is clear," asserted the direct-current cham 
pions, "that high pressure, particularly if accompanied by rapid 
alternations, is not destined to assume any permanent position. It 
would be legislated out of existence in a very brief period even if it 
did not previously die a natural death." 

And a great deal more besides. But the march of alternating cur- 


rent was not stopped. Edison well knew that it could not be. It was 
the logical method of distributing electricity. 

From 1890 onward, electrical engineers constantly urged Weston 
to invent an a-c meter that was as accurate and as portable as his 
d-c instruments. He needed little urging. He had seen the demand 
coming for some time and had been considering the new problems. 
About 1889 he had begun to build prototypes and apply for patents 
on fundamental principles. He was of course not alone in this. The 
Westinghouse people, and particularly Elihu Thomson, were deeply 
immersed in a-c design. It was to be a race from the start. 

Weston's primary aim was to utilize the essentials of the instru 
ment already existing, and to develop an interchangeable meter that 
would work equally well on a-c and d-c. His contemporaries thought 
he was crazy, but he proved otherwise. Not, however, until a multi 
tude of harassing problems had been solved. The main stumbling 
block was that in alternating-current work the self-inductance of 
even a small coil of wire might be so great as to produce enormous 
errors. The coil set up an opposing magnetic field of its own, which 
definitely limited the current that could pass. Other inventors who 
had tried to ignore this effect had been unable to build voltmeters 
that were of any value at all. The use of soft-iron cores, as then 
designed, introduced eddy currents and upset the linear relationship, 
and of course permanent magnets could not be used at all. 

Weston swept all obstacles quickly aside. Instead of the per 
manent magnet he used two stationary coils wound on rubber spools. 
Then he adopted a coil of exceedingly fine wire for his moving ele 
ment, eliminated the frame to avoid eddy currents, and reduced the 
turns to the lowest possible number. By fixing the pivot pins to the 
coil itself and swinging them in jewel bearings, he produced an 
element which would operate on currents so small that self-induc 
tance was nearly, though not quite, wiped out. Finally, he added 
series resistance by means of a stationary coil wound noninductively 
in order to reduce self -inductance. With this combination, his first 
a-c voltmeter gave extremely promising results. 

This was simply one more triumph for Weston's genius for high- 
precision work at a time when clumsiness and crudity were the 


order of the day. It was a vast surprise to his assistants when the 
a-c voltmeter proved a success; they had been telling him that this 
time he was bound to fail. His only answer was that there must be a 
way and that he would find it. Though they hardly believed this, 
they faithfully followed his directions and turned out the designs 
and the parts which did the job. 

All that remained was to produce a commercial model ? and this 
Weston did by reexamining every part of the instrument and refining 
it to the utmost for weight and balance. 

The new meters were perfected and ready for production in 1891, 
accurate at all scale readings to H of i per cent. They were accepted 
as readily as the direct-current variety had been. 

The first Weston a-c voltmeter was shipped to the Edison General 
Electric Lamp Works at Harrison, N. J. Very shortly it was adopted 
as the official standard by the Association of Edison Illuminating 
Companies in their Lamp Testing Bureau. If any one thing had been 
needed to give the instrument the country's stamp of approval, this 
was it. Within a very short time the Weston factory had fallen so 
far behind on orders for a-c instruments that customers had to wait 
ten months for them. Among such cheerful waiters was the Edison 
Company of Brooklyn. If Weston had allowed himself time for 
gloating over his rivals 1 defeats, this would have been a banner 
opportunity to do it. 

In the tangled skein of electrical invention it is rarely possible to 
trace back the threads to any one man; usually a modern device is 
the result of vast joint effort by many minds working for many years. 
The portable ammeter and voltmeter of today, however, trace 
straight back to the laboratory on High Street in Newark, and to 
Edward Weston's genius for devising delicate mechanisms that 

In 1902, in the patent litigation which Weston brought against 
an imitator, the judge's opinion included this: 

Few patents that come before the courts are entitled to more liberal 
treatment. This is a case where, tipon the undisputed testimony the inventor 
has accomplished something which has been of unquestioned benefit to the 
electrical world. In an art crowded with indefatigable and brilliant entta- 


siasts he has made the only successful alternating-current voltmeter in use 
at the present day. He alone has succeeded, even against the ablest com 
petitors which England, France and Germany could produce. 

We now come to Weston's next important invention the 
standard cell. This obscure little device, completely unknown outside 
the technical field, has become comparable to the standard meter 
bar in the vaults in Paris. It is, in fact, the gold standard of electrical 

From the very beginning of his work with electricity, Weston 
had insisted on accuracy and excellence of workmanship. When 
almost every other inventor was rushing into the market with hastily 
rigged machines which worked poorly if they worked at all, Weston 
remained aloof; he was willing to charge double what his competi 
tors did, if that was necessary to insure reliable performance. He 
was richly rewarded for this high purpose and, as we have seen, 
became the world's leading electrical instrument maker as a result. 

The prime factor in this practical idealism, in which Weston set 
the pace for the entire scientific world, was that he was never satis 
fied that he had done well enough. He was forever trying to im 
prove; while others were content to increase production and reap 
quick profits, he increased values. It was an exhausting method to 
pursue, for successful work was only work begun an invitation to 
continue and to solve every problem again and again, always better. 

From the beginning of his interest in measuring instruments, 
Weston had been plagued by the difficulty of obtaining a basic 
standard of departure. One could not build a voltmeter and cali 
brate it without a fundamental working definition of the volt. Long 
since, of course, an international agreement had been reached as to 
the value of the "legal" volt, ampere, and ohm. The ampere had 
been chosen the controlling unit and was defined as that value of 
current which would deposit a given fraction of a gram of silver 
from a plating solution in one second of time. The volt and ohm 
followed, by the application of Ohm's law. But for practical meas 
urement, even in standardizing laboratories, a direct criterion had 
been necessary, and this had been fixed upon by the use of a 


"standard" electrolytic cell, or primary battery, called the Clark cell, 
invented about 1878. In this country, Professor H. S. Carhart of the 
University of Michigan had studied the means of producing the 
standard volt for years, and the unit was known here as the Carhart- 
Clark cell. It consisted simply of a glass container using electrodes 
of zinc and platinum immersed in the sulphates of zinc and mercury. 
But it had three serious shortcomings. Its voltage changed consid 
erably with temperature, its error was uncertain because of an un 
known amount of lag between voltage and temperature change, 
and it was highly sensitive to impurities in the zinc electrode. How 
ever, a useful cell had been developed in spite of these variables, 
and laboratories everywhere had adopted it as the best that could 
be had. 

Weston first felt the annoyance of the temperature limitation 
when he was developing his early voltmeters in the High Street 
laboratory. In May, 1890, he invented and applied for a patent on 
an improved voltage standard which consisted of a circular glass 
vessel with seven small Clark cells fixed in it and held securely by a 
hard rubber cover. The cells were in their turn sealed into metal 
cans. One cell of the group was provided with a thermometer. The 
usual platinum and zinc electrodes were used, the electrolyte being 
a paste of mercurous sulphate and zinc sulphate. 

The specification stated that the entire battery connected in series 
would produce ten legal volts at 67% degrees Fahrenheit, or each 
alone would give 1433 volts at this temperature. Weston proposed 
to hold the temperature constant at this value by circulating water 
in the outer vessel. The invention did not find wide acceptance, be 
cause of its cumbersome size and the need of a water connection at 
controlled temperature. But it called attention to the bothersome 
variation inherent in the Clark cell. Weston, the chemist, therefore 
got to work on a search for a better chemical composition for the 

Six years before, in 1884, he had made an early attempt to im 
prove Clark's arrangement, by designing a similar cell which used 
an unsaturated rather than a saturated electrolyte. His reasoning was 
that the degree of saturation would vary with changes in tempera 
ture and so tend to hold the voltage of the cell constant. Results 


had been unsatisfactory, although the principle seemed to him 

Now, in 1893, he had time to concentrate again upon the inven 
tion of a voltage standard that was truly independent of tempera 
ture. The final result, covered by a basic patent issued in April of 
that year, was the Weston standard cell, now accepted throughout 
the world. The secret lay in the substitution of cadmium for the 
zinc electrode and cadmium sulphate for the corresponding zinc 
salt of the Clark cell. While there was still a slight temperature 
variation, it was twenty times smaller than with Clark's. The patent 
covered both saturated and unsaturated types. 

A further advantage of the cadmium cell was its characteristic 
potential of 1.0183 v olts, so close to unity that it was much easier 
to use in calibration work than the Clark i.433-volt cell. Weston 
found that he could reproduce the same voltage in any number of 
identical cadmium cells within i/iooth of i per cent. 

The new cadmium cell was first mentioned at the Chicago Exposi 
tion of 1893, where much work was done by a committee to stand 
ardize electrical units. Shortly after this the International Electro 
chemical Commission was formed, and serious studies of both zinc 
and cadmium cells were begun in laboratories here and abroad. 

The Weston cell was not immediately adopted as a criterion. In 
fact, as studies progressed, a great deal of criticism arose. It was 
said to be more troublesome to construct than the Clark cell, and to 
suffer more voltage reduction with age. But as test data accumulated, 
scientific opposition diminished. The celebrated electrical measure 
ments laboratory of the German Reichsanstalt reported in favor of 
the cadmium cell. Professor Carhart, who from the first had sup 
ported Weston, published a series of papers refuting the critics, who 
were mainly in England. 

In the year 1903, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers 
appointed a committee to decide upon the merits of the two con 
tenders. The committee, upon the urging of Carhart, and Carl 
Hering, finally selected Weston's saturated cadmium cell as the pre 
ferred standard, and petitioned Congress to make it the legal 
standard for the country. 

Two years later, the Weston cell had been so widely accepted in 


all countries that the International Conference on Electrical Units 
and Standards also recommended it. In 1911 it finally became the 
official standard of electromotive force for the world. 

When news of this great honor reached him, Weston published 
a statement waiving his patent rights in the cell, thus permitting 
anyone to manufacture it who was capable of doing so. 


The Man Behind the Mask 

We have seen the highlights of Edward Weston's professional 
career and have briefly examined his most important inventions. 
But we have not seen much of the man himself, except as a silhouette 
behind the screen of steadily brightening electrical progress. This 
short biography would not be complete without an attempt, at least, 
to record his personality and to sketch in his human side. This is not 
easy, for Weston was, to all intents, a two-dimensional man, both 
of them lying within the plane of technology. As a human being in 
contact with the everyday world of emotions and pleasures, he was 
woefully negative not because he never played or laughed or in 
dulged in social intercourse, but because, when he did these things, 
he insisted on engineering them with as much vehemence as though 
they were design problems in electricity. 

The fact is that Weston never did and never could relax mentally. 
His preoccupation with whatever he happened to be doing was vast 
and devastating. He never "took it easy" for one moment at least, 
not until he was an old man nor was anyone around him allowed 
to do so. His drive to accomplishment was grim and sometimes 
brutal; he was a man who never took a rest. 

Thomas Edison has been celebrated the world over for his habit 
of working around the clock, snatching a nap now and then on a 
laboratory bench. That was not as unique in those days as the 
Edison myth would have us believe. In fact, Edward Weston did 
exactly the same thing in about the same way. It was not at all 
uncommon for him to remain at the instrument plant for a week at 
a time, when some problem refused to yield sooner. Then Mrs. 
Weston would be forced to bring him his meals in neatly wrapped 



packages, trailing young Edward along as she came. Mrs. Weston 
did not approve of this in the least. Not that she objected to hard 
work or long hours. But in all their fifty-odd years of married life 
she never fully understood the importance of the mechanical arts 
or appreciated the peculiar eagerness of an inventor's temperament. 
She could not see why her husband did not drop his troubles when 
the day was done and come home to sit, like the farmers in her 
native German countryside. 

There was a little jealousy mixed up in her resentment of his 
work, and she can hardly be blamed for it Very early in their 
marriage he retired into his laboratory and was never seen again, 
so far as her emotional needs were concerned. He was driven by 
the most powerful of emotions the will to surmount obstacles 
and to succeed. But she had no direct part in it. There was nothing 
for her to do in his immensely crowded life but tend the house and 
bring up her children. Another type of woman would have in 
sisted on sharing her husband's interests. Minnie Weston accepted 
dismissal and became, like him, a two-dimensional character, whose 
plane was parallel to his and so never really touched it anywhere. 

On his side Edward Weston felt that his wife did not understand 
him. It seemed to him utterly logical that he should keep the house 
in a clutter of machinery and wires, and when she objected, he felt 
frustrated and withdrew still further into his shell. He had much 
natural charm, but it did not work at home. He came to believe 
that women were an annoyance to be avoided as much as possible. 
After the first flush of his romance back in the seventies he turned 
his back on them for the rest of his life. 

There it was the tragedy of two people who might have helped 
each other enormously if only they had understood each other bet 
ter. It was indeed a lack of understanding, for beneath it lay a 
solid bedrock of loyalty that was never disturbed. Though they went 
grimly ahead, conceding not an inch to each other, fundamentally 
they believed in one another; either one would have defended the 
other to the limit if need had arisen. It was unfortunate that such 
a need did not arise. It might have pulled them together. 

How definitely it was a lack of understanding is shown by Min 
nie Weston's parsimonious attitude toward money, and her bus- 


band's great annoyance with her for it. She was forever nagging him 
to cut down expenses, to save for a rainy day. He detested the men 
tion of financial failure, because he had far more wealth than he 
knew what to do with, and he knew that he could always make 
more money if he wanted it. With no time to spend his earnings 
on himself, and no wifely extravagances to pay for, his fortune piled 
up. It got so that he did not bother to collect the damages which his 
many successful lawsuits poured in his lap. 

Weston's relationship with his subordinates and employees was 
rather better. At the plant he was surrounded with keen and eager 
minds like his own. And here everybody loved him and showed their 
affection with quick attention and real solicitude. On his staff were a 
number of mathematicians, engineers, chemists, as well as many gifted 
artisans. They respected his every word. It was traditional in the fac 
tory that whenever the short, chunky figure of Mr. Weston, with its 
quick, snappy walk, hove in sight the working people turned and 
smiled, hoping that he would stop and talk to them and perhaps give 
them a hand with their job. He was always neatly dressed but without 
show, and the lowliest apprentice felt comfortable in his presence. It 
was his habit to walk through the manufacturing departments every 
day, stand at the shoulder of some man or girl, then gently take the 
work out of their hands and do it himself for a bit. Not so much in 
the spirit of demonstration, was this little act, as to corroborate and 
to give them the feeling that The Boss approved of them. 

Weston was especially interested in young men, and went out of 
his way to help them. This tendency was accentuated by the fact that 
he did not get on well with his eldest son, Walter. The difficulty was 
a temperamental one, for Walter had inherited some of his father's 
own stubbornness. He had also received very hard training, being put 
to work too young and made to carry responsibility beyond his age. 
The young man was a hard worker and spent his youth in the plant, 
year after year, with little or no vacation. He suffered, too, from his 
father's terrific ambition for him, for Weston continually criticized 
him for failing to reach the heights he had set for him. 

Walter loved and respected his father but gradually developed a 


defensive shield to protect himself from the ever-present criticism. 
This made him stubborn and morose, and eventually closed the door 
to an understanding between them forever. 

Weston never realized what he had done to Walter. But to com 
pensate himself for the loss, he treated many a youthful apprentice 
as if he were of his own blood. He even tried to help his brother-in- 
law, Ernest, and gave him a job making electric lamps. But he soon 
got into a row with him; presently he fired him. They never saw each 
other again. 

Many were the beginners whom Weston discovered in his plant 
and took great pains to inspire and help. He did not believe in 
paying high wages and so never offered them a raise. But he did 
believe in higher education, and saw to it that these young men had 
the money and the time necessary to go to night school, buy books, 
and make important scientific contacts. One of his pet projects was 
the founding, with other prominent men of the city, of the Newark 
Technical School, which he financed and watched over all his life. 
Eventually it became the well-known Newark College of Engineering. 

A special favorite of the great man during his first years as an instru 
ment manufacturer was young Fred Runyon, son of a onetime city 
auditor and close friend. Fred came to work at the Williams Street 
meter plant in 1890, when only fifteen, starting out as a sweeper. 
Within two weeks he had graduated to a real job in the toolroom. But 
the smell of machine oil nauseated him and he got himself transferred 
to an assembly section, where he soon developed a method that greatly 
speeded up the work for which he got himself roundly disliked by 
his associates, in the approved manner of today. 

One day Weston sent for Fred. "Why didn't 1 know you were here ?" 
he demanded. "You shouldn't be wasting your time in the assembly 
department. What you need is more education." Immediately he 
arranged for the boy to go to night school, bought him books and 
drafting instruments, and moved him to his own laboratory, Runyon 
thrived, and by 1893, when only eighteen, was put in charge of the 
Weston booth at the Chicago Exposition* They became almost like 
father and son. 

Gradually Weston imbued the boy with his own philosophy of hard 
work, to be applied even during faotars of so-called recreation. One 


night the protege came to the house on what amounted to an order to 
play billiards. During the game he excused himself to go to the bath 
room, where he found a huge dictionary conveniently placed. When he 
returned he remarked that it was a funny place for so important a book. 
"Not at all," Weston retorted solemnly. "I keep it there on purpose. 
It's a waste of time just sitting." At times he could be as good a "kid- 
der" as anyone. 

Waste was anathema to the inventor. He used to come and stand 
over Fred at his work, laying his big black cigar on the window sill 
and invariably forgetting it. Next day he would be back, scolding him 
for throwing the butt away. "An old cigar tastes just as good as a 
fresh one/' he would say, "and it is weak-minded to waste it." 

Fred Runyon left him after a few years because he needed a better 
salary and could easily get it elsewhere. But he never ceased to sing 
Weston's praises. As head of a well-known engineering firm he 
looked back on his severe boot training as the best possible start he 
could have had. 

The Weston factory was probably no more noted for low wages 
than any other plant of that era. The spirit of the times required long, 
hard hours and real devotion. The enterprisers of the day knew that 
the young art could only survive upon a foundation of fine workman 
ship and deep loyalty to the cause, which is a principle that modern 
America may have to learn over again if it is to continue its scientific 
supremacy. Weston, however, believed in keeping a "happy ship" and 
made many provisions for recreation at noon hour and on holidays. 
The greatest element in this forword-looking program was a sort of 
interindustrial baseball league embracing many of Newark's larger 

Runyon himself deserves some of the crttdit for Weston's interest 
in this sensible scheme, for he induced him to furnish the uniforms 
and the diamond and to take a real interest in the contests himself. 
At one point the Sloane-Qiase plant employed a toolmaker who was a 
marvelous pitcher and "cleaned up" on the whole league every season. 
Weston, as usual a perfectionist, visited a game to see why everybody 
was losing to this rival and immediately spotted the pitcher. After 
the game he broke a company rule by offering the man five dollars a 


week more than he was receiving and got him. After that the Instru 
ment Company topped the league. 

In all this Weston did not forget his younger son, whom he had so 
proudly piloted across Brooklyn Bridge to see the new arc-light instal 
lations. Edward, only ten when the instrument factory was opened, 
gave every sign of following in his father's footsteps, and received all 
the attention that Weston saved for young men he sponsored. Edward 
was always tagging after his mother to the plant, often staying the 
day out, to return home with his father at night. He was fascinated by 
the delicate manufacturing operations; more especially he was de 
lighted with the smooth organization which sent the products out to a 
sure and growing market. 

Edward remembers back to a day when he was no more than five, 
when his mother took him along on a trip to the old Plane Street 
lamp plant. Here he was immediately entranced with the glass-blowing 
operation; before long he was a regular visitor in that department 
and had many friends among the Bohemian experts who sat all day 
long at their benches and twisted glowing glass tubes in the Bunsen 
flames. One of them taught Edward a neat trick brought over from the 
old country a glass swan quickly blown out of a small piece of 
tubing, with the end of the pipe sticking out for a tail. Just behind the 
proudly arched head, the glass blower would puncture a little hole 
and the job was finished. You filled the swan with water, then gave 
it to a crony with instructions to blow very hard and produce a lovely 
whistle. A good puff would send a quick spurt of water out of the little 
hole into the surprised whistler's eye. A delightful trick it was, and 
a sure way to earn the admiration of one's school companions, for 
whom Edward was glad to have a great many glass swans made. 

Every art has its peculiar trade-mark, bound up in the human foibles 
of the men who pursue it. Electric lamp bulbs in those days displayed 
small brown bubbles, cast securely in the glass and quite ineradicable. 
These were called "beer spots," and had to be tolerated as long as the 
Bohemian artisans controlled the trade. The spots were accurately 
named; the glassblowers spent their lunch hours drinking beer and 
when they returned to work would joyfully belch carbon dioxide and 
beer into their blowpipes as they worked the hot glass. Weston tried 


to train girls to the blowing, but they made a mess of it till metal 
molds were invented to control the shape of the bulbs. After that beer 
spots became a museum curiosity avidly sought by historians of the 
early electric days. 

Edward grew up and into the Weston business as naturally as the 
beer spots themselves, and when his father retired in 1924, became 
its president and, later, chairman of the board. 


Though Weston never went in for politics in his adopted city, he 
was extremely public-spirited whenever a technical advance was in 
prospect for Newark. More than once his scientific knowledge and 
his expertness in court brought great advantage to the town. He was 
one of the principal organizers, stockholders, and officers in the New 
ark District Telegraph Company, started by Fred Runyon's uncle, 
Frederick T. Fearey. Like many other similar systems, this one had 
circuits to all parts of town and sold messenger and burglar-alarm 
service to banks and stores. 

Fearey was the moving spirit in many important business ventures 
in Newark, among them the local telegraph office. One of his most 
fruitful projects in the expansion of the city was a cigar store, which 
he had opened in the center of town for the benefit of his war-crippled 
brother. The store was the favorite gathering place for reporters, 
editors, and financiers during the downtown lunch hour. Here, under 
the Feareys* guidance, many an important civic project was born. 

It was in Fearey's cigar store that the plans were hatched in the 
eighties for a local telephone company, operating under a franchise 
from the Bell interests. The Newark Domestic Telephone and Tele 
graph Company was duly organized, with Fearey and Weston among 
its promoters, and most of the leading citizens as investors. The 
venture was very successful and highly profitable; at one time it 
had more crossarms on its poles [and hence more circuits and sub 
scribers] than any other telephone system in America, except the 
New York Telephone Company itself. 

The Bell interests, at this time, were sending missionaries all over 
the country, persuading local businessmen to organize their own 
companies under a ten-year franchise, using Bell patents and equip- 


ment. Then, when the companies were on their feet and showing a 
good profit, the New York people would buy them up and operate 
them at a better profit still. When Newark's franchise ran out, Wes- 
ton and his friends, being fully aware of what they had, demanded 
a renewal, as provided for in the original papers. Bell refused, and 
the Newark Company, probably at Weston's urging, sued them. 
The inventor performed as the star witness with such telling effect 
that the company won. Then the Newark people sold out to Bell 
for three dollars on the dollar. The parent company was perfectly 
aware that even at this extraordinary markup they were making a 
profitable deal. Newark Tel. and Tel. was one of the best-run en 
gineering properties in the United States. 

If Weston had needed any further recommendation in the eyes 
of his townsmen, he had it now. They were very grateful to him in 
deed. The certainty that he knew what he was about earned him a 
host of friends and made him the most celebrated and respected 
scientist in a city which had contributed more useful inventions 
than any other town in America. 


But even a man as absorbed in his work as Edward Weston could 
not work all the time. Occasionally he had to play in spite of him 
self. He did not take to it easily, and would never have done it at 
all if his health had not broken down periodically and thrown him 
into the hands of a doctor who straightway ordered him on a va 
cation. The old trouble with his eyes kept cropping up, and after 
the fracas with the United States Lighting people in 1886, nervous 
breakdowns plagued him continually. 

Weston regarded vacations with horror and disdain; he "solved" 
them with the same grim determination to succeed that he used in his 
laboratory. Consequently he did not enjoy them, and succeeded only 
in making himself and whomever he chose to take along with him, 
miserable. He never took a vacation except by doctor's prescription. 

During his active years the only "vacation" he could tolerate was 
to go fishing, and this he did with an energy and expertness born 
of desperation. Weston could never permit himself to be a duffer 
at anything; he was no novice at fisbing, after the first experience. 


Once when he was ordered off for a month's rest, he chose the 
Rangeley Lakes, taking Walter with him. His fishing kit included 
everything from a 2 Bounce fly-rod [the lightest ever made] to a 
harpoon. Not being sure of the variety of fish in the Maine lakes, 
he wished to be fully prepared. When he got there he hired a guide, 
though the Rangeleys, even in that day, were rather thickly sur 
rounded by summer people, villages, and stores. He did not make 
a record catch on the expedition, and never went to Maine again. 

Gradually Weston got to like fishing and counted himself an 
- expert at fly casting, which he came as near enjoying as he did any 
thing outside his work. He tried nearly every well-known body of 
water in the East, dropping each one instantly if it did not give 
him immediate results. Seabright, N. J., was one of his haunts; 
so was Atlantic City. Neither satisfied him. Finally, he settled upon 
Greenwood Lake, an isolated little place some forty miles north of 
Newark. There was an old guide there who "knew every fish by 
name," and whom Weston hired, rowboat, biceps, and all. While 
the old native rowed steadily around the lake, he would cast dog 
gedly for hours till he had caught or repulsed every hungry fish in 
the pond. It was an exhausting experience; the guide took it calmly 
only because he was a wilderness philosopher. 

One way or another Weston exposed himself to practically every 
form of gentleman's sport, from owning and riding a horse through 
Newark traffic to parading down Fifth Avenue in a top hat and 
full beard, swinging a tight-furled umbrella. This latter had been 
his earliest form of recreation and was soon abandoned. But it left 
him with a feeling that he should occasionally exhibit himself in 
public for the benefit of his own morale and the neighbors' edifi 
cation. The horse expanded into an elegant rig, both carryall and 
sleigh, with the inventor silently managing the reins as he drove his 
equally silent family out on a fine Sunday. 

Later, driving struck him as too costly for the small good he got 
out of it, so he took to a bicycle, experimenting with every Ameri 
can make and finally sending abroad for both Humber and Swift 
makes. He was one of the first to "risk his life" on a "safety" the 
earliest form of bicycle with two wheels the same size. With this 
and numerous later models he rode determinedly all over northern 


New Jersey, spending whole weekends at it sometimes. Not satis 
fied with that, he joined a bike club and submitted to the grueling 
"runs" that were popular before the motorcycle infested the planet. 
Edward Weston was an extremist when it came to sport, working 
it to death until he had got everything possible out of it, then drop 
ping it overnight for something else that was new. 

Bicycling was followed in due course by automobiling. Weston 
was never one to wait until an invention had turned commonplace; 
he was always up in front, trying out the early, scatterbrained 
models. So it was with the horseless buggy. His first venture in auto 
mobiling was taken about 1901, and the car a Columbia, Mark 8. 
As in everything else, he had combed the market for what he 
thought the soundest engineering job and had chosen this contrap 
tion because it advertised itself as combining the best features of 
the European makes. 

The Columbia was the first car to get the engine out from under 
the seat and put it in front. This power plant was mounted on 
springs to prevent its vibrations from shaking the passengers to 
pieces; the resilience would often bring on a rhythmic convulsion 
so violent that the gasoline was jounced clear out of the carburetor. 
Then the car would hesitate while gasoline fumes collected in the 
muffler. A deafening explosion rearward would then signal its re 
turn to life, and the Columbia would lurch forward through New 
ark, Weston like a cast-iron figure gripping the wheel, and horses 
up and down the street rearing and neighing and dragging car 
riage wheels over curbs. It was a lurid but brief episode in the in 
ventor's life. Like everything else, he gave it up as soon as he felt 
he had mastered it, and later joined the millions of car owners with 
out flourish, 


Edward Weston could no more take second place in the depart 
ment of personal skill than he could in engineering. If he went in 
for a sport at all it was in the vigorous belief that he could master 
it completely. And so he did, in more than one instance. Trap- 
shooting seemed to be his outstanding road to local fame. Once it 
had been brought to his attention, he immediately bought all sorts 


of shotguns and joined the South Side Gun Club, which had a hut 
on the Jersey meadows. For a long time he went there religiously 
every Saturday and Sunday, banging away at the clay pigeons with 
such rapidly improving aim that he got to be top man in the club 
and wore a gold pigeon w T ith a paper tail in his buttonhole. 

There wasn't a shotgun made that Weston had not examined; he 
owned an arsenal of them. In those days sportsmen made their own 
shells, loading them with powder and shot according to personal 
formula. Weston got to puzzling over the matter, decided to be 
scientific about it, and began an elaborate piece of research into 
the effect of varying the ingredients. He was working for the United 
States Company at the time; in the cellar of the plant was a little 
flat car that ran on narrow-gauge track to handle freight. Weston 
took this over, mounted several shotguns on it and then banged 
away at paper targets on the wall, studying the shot patterns that 
resulted from his experimental shell loadings fired from different 
ranges* Sometimes when the Chief Electrician's advice or instruc 
tions were needed and he couldn't be found, and everyone was 
running up and downstairs looking for him, there would come a 
mighty roar from the cellar. Then Young or Stevens or some other 
loyal assistant would say, "There's your man, down in the Ord 
nance Department. But you'll get your head blown off if you go 
down after him." 

It was this painstaking if noisy research which won Weston the 
shooting prize on the Meadows. Once the honor was his, he lost 
interest and quit cold. 

Billiards and golf he took in the same spirit. To become expert 
with the cue he joined the Chatelet Club and spent night after 
night, practicing interminably till he was the best shot in the place. 
Progress toward this end being too slow to suit him, he purchased 
a billiard table of his own, set it up in his High Street home, and 
played constantly, getting some young fellow like Fred Runyon to 
act as an opponent just to keep the game alive. 

Western's endurance during his expert rages was phenomenal; 
even the young men he befriended could not keep up. During the 
billiard period the impish side of his character was in full flood. 
Having worked intensely for a week on some invention, he would 


suddenly knock off late in the afternoon, gather up his laboratory 
assistants, then hustle them to a downtown restaurant and stuff 
them with a magnificent dinner, fully garnished with beer or wine. 
Hardly able to stand up under this cargo, the young men would 
be dragged to a pool hall and made to play literally till they dropped. 
Next morning, while they were so groggy they could hardly go to 
work, Weston would gallop into the plant as if nothing out of the 
ordinary had happened at all. 

With golf it was the same, though the machinery of the game was 
rather more cumbersome. He joined a country club, of course. There 
he found that what seemed easy driving the ball in the desired 
direction and to the right distance was indeed impossible for him. 
This made him furious; he decided that the clubs were badly de 
signed. Calling in his chief engineer, Goodwin this was now about 
1906 and the instrument company was well seasoned and profitable 
he outlined an elaborate series of studies on the center of inertia 
and percussion effect in golf clubs. Goodwin dutifully sidetracked 
his meter work in order to make the research, eventually came out 
with new designs. When the clubs were made, Weston got even 
worse scores with them than he had with the commercial variety. 
His answer was to set himself a terrific schedule of practice, which 
included dragging his caddy, Bud, to the links at five in the morn 
ing all one summer and shooting as many as two hundred balls, 
one after the other, before breakfast. Weston's health was so poor 
at this time that he could not stoop to tee up his own shots. Finally 
he moved to the club and lived there, practicing golf exclusively. 

Results still proving unsatisfactory, he moved back home and 
began practicing stance on a canvas ground cloth specially made for 
him till he had worked out what he thought was the most scientific 
position. When the club pro disagreed with him about it, he col 
lected all the pros from the surrounding clubs and brought them to 
his house for a conference. The meeting was a dud, for the pros did 
not believe that stance was the secret of good golf at all Then Wes 
ton sent a man to Scotland to buy up the finest old dubs to be had 
in the land of the game's origin. When these did not improve his 
game he quit, reluctantly admitting that he had exploited his poten 
tial skill to its utmost. 


Golf was the one game that competed with Edward Weston and 
came out ahead. He never forgave it for this ungallant act. 

But he restored his confidence by becoming an unquestioned 
expert at photography. Ever since his early days in New York he 
had understood the chemistry of picture taking, and the delight in 
snapping a camera shutter never left him. It was the only hobby 
that followed him loyally all through life. 

Weston owned every conceivable camera, plate, film, and chemi 
cal, and shelf upon shelf of lenses, foreign and domestic. He took 
hundreds of pictures of the same object nothing more interesting, 
usually, than a tree in the back yard, striving continually for photo 
graphic excellence, and utterly indifferent to any pleasure which the 
pictures might give later on. He was not interested in records of 
events or in the pictorial value of a scene, but only in the technical 
perfection of the result. Not a single picture survives that is worth 
more than a cursory glance. 

Thus was this strange genius driven , by his demanding nature 
to seek improvement in every skill and process he touched, ignoring 
the relaxation of a hobby in the furious pursuit of expertness. It 
was tragic for him that he could not simply have fun. All living was 
work to him, all the world an engineering graph on which he was 
impelled to draw only ascending curves of achievement. The one 
partial exception to this was yachting. He did enjoy that for its own 
sake, and followed the sport keenly for more than forty years. 

There was only one thing that Edward Weston really loved and 
enjoyed, and that was a fight. The struggle to master a hobby was 
too weak to suit him; the solution to his scientific problems too 
easy or too readily delegated to others. What he craved was per 
sonal struggle; like a wrestler who will not step onto the mat till 
he is confronted with an opponent of equal weight and skill, he 
wanted something that would use every ounce of his ability, enclose 
him in a hammer lock that could be broken only by utter victory 
or complete defeat. 

That is why Weston perpetually involved himself in patent suits. 
Here at last he found the opportunity to use his utmost strength. 


He would go into court over a shoe button or the fundamentals of 
electric power with equal zest and at the drop of a hat, then omit 
to collect when the case was won. If he had no battles of his own 
he would take on somebody else's just as eagerly. It was the fight 
itself which gave him his sense of completeness and power. 

Weston wasn't a very good churchman. Unlike Michael Faraday, 
whom he worshiped, he found religious formality at odds with 
science and chose the latter throughout. Though he often dragged 
his whole family to church, it was only a stiff formality that im 
pelled him. He chose the Universalist faith, which seemed to him 
the most liberal. But he had several minister friends, and one of 
these was the Reverend Hannibal Goodwin of the Newark House 
of Prayer, Weston was not impressed by his spiritual views but liked 
him because he had invented the celluloid photographic film and 
was in a fight with George Eastman over the patents to it. Good 
win had offered to sell out to Eastman and had been turned down. 
The good minister would come to Weston's laboratory and walk 
the floor, inveighing against the Kodak magnate in most unclericai 
language and begging Weston to tell him what to do. The inven 
tor's answer was simply: "Fight 'em!" 

So Goodwin fought them, through the Ansco Company, to whom 
he had meanwhile sold his patents. The suit is said to have lasted 
for twenty years and to have ended in a multimillion dollar settle 
ment on paper. But by that time Goodwin was dead. 

Edward Weston was glad to lend fuel to other people's fires but 
really preferred to start a legal conflagration of his own. Once he 
got into a litigation over a fishing rod and won. It was a Gilbert 
and Sullivan affair which started abruptly one day as he was setting 
off on a fishing "vacation" with his son Edward. Among the welter 
of tackle and gear that accompanied them to the railroad station 
was a special fishing rod in a leather case with a padlock. Though 
they were only going to Lake Hopatcong, the station agent refused 
to check the rod on Weston's ticket, saying that it was freight, not 
baggage, and must go by express. Weston went livid with rage; train 
after train went off without the vacationists while the argument over 
the rod grew hot. Finally, he left it behind and boarded a train. But 
he endured the trip only for the sake of getting back and going into 


court against the railroad for failure to live up to the printed con 
tract on its tickets. The suit dragged on for months, with everybody 
in the plant testifying, including small Edward. It was a jury case 
and the jury finally found for Weston. The judge awarded him six 
cents and costs. But he had won and had had immense satisfaction 
doing it. 

Not only the railroads but every other business firm came to know 
"Weston as a bad man to cross in an argument. He was too apt to 
take offense over a small injustice and to cost them thousands in 
court. Needless to say, Weston ignored the six cents. He was just 
as apt to ignore favorable judgments of thousands of dollars. The 
fight was what he wanted. 

Legal warfare was not only a fine technical exercise for him; it 
was his one opportunity to exert his personality to the full upon the 
personalities of others. Once he met a man in court who had worked 
for him and had absconded with an invention and made a success 
of it in a rival concern. "Hello, Mr. Weston," said the offender, 
offering his hand. The inventor gave him one sharp look and put 
both hands in his pockets. "I only shake hands with people I re 
spect/' he growled. 

No inventor of that day who had made his mark failed to come 
to blows with the great Thomas Edison. Weston began early with 
this fight and continued it till the onrush of electrical engineering 
had left them both far behind. He did not regard it as a struggle 
between Edison's patents and his own, but as a personal feud. To 
him Edison was no scientist but a promoter who "grabbed every 
thing that was not nailed down." He hated him so bitterly that 
when he was named a recipient of the Edison medal by the Ameri 
can Institute of Electrical Engineers, he refused it. 

Edison was rather amused at all this. A mutual friend called on 
him ooe day and mentioned a recent stricture that Weston had made 
against him. "I guess his liver must be out/' he remarked. 

"Shucks!** laughed Edison, "his liver is always out. It's been out 
for twenty years." 

A good deal of the litigation, of course, was necessary to defend 
the commercial position of the contending parties. During the early 
1900'$ the Instrument Company actually had sixty-four suits in court 


at the same time. Its whole future hung in the balance, for every 
competitor had appropriated the Weston instrument in detail, from 
the ageing of the magnets to the Manganin shunt. Although the 
company's finances were sound and its sales strong, it could not 
muster the money to fight General Electric and Westinghouse. Wes 
ton smartly compromised by starting separate suits against his 
weaker opponents first, picking them off one by one and gradually 
establishing a body of evidence by which to confound the big fel 
lows later on. His judgment was sound; in every case, by intense 
application and the devotion of all his time and strength, he won. 
Finally he stood on top, having beaten small fry and giants alike, 
and making the Weston Electrical Instrument Company the unas 
sailable leader in its field, 

It was not till Westinghouse and General Electric were forced 
to pay royalties on the manufacture of instruments that the Weston 
Company attained the leading position in the industry 7 , which it has 
held ever since. That victory would never have been secured if Ed 
ward Weston himself had not fought on, year after year, oblivious 
of the cost, oblivious of everything but to win. 


If it had not been for Edward Weston's pugnacious drive to 
down every opponent in court, his fortunes would undoubtedly have 
failed. But he won everywhere because a legal fight was one thing 
he refused to delegate. He took on every suit personally, fought them 
with a furious energy which involved everyone near him and cost his 
subordinates many a sleepless night. As his inventive career closed, 
his legal one blossomed. He became a professional fighter; if a 
battle was not handy at the moment, he would make one. The start 
of the famous Jewell shunt case, which set the whole instrument 
litigation in motion in 1899, was a brazen punch on the nose ad 
ministered by Weston upon Jewell to furnish an incident upon 
which to begin a war. He was looking far ahead and his strategy 
was masterly from the start. 

In his testimony in this suit he said: 

My application for a patent [on a voltmeter] was filed with fee express 
intention of bringing about an interf ereoce between Mr. Jewell and 


and the drawings shown in Jewell's patent were taken and embodied almost 
exactly in my application for the purpose of insuring an interference. I had 
no desire to obtain a patent embodying the features of the several issues here 
in dispute and so stated this to Mr. Kintner [his lawyer]. For I had to take 
this opportunity while the proofs were still in existence and the witnesses 
were available, to establish priority of invention of all the several devices 
embodied. ... I deemed this necessary in view of the menace to our business 
arising from Jewell's patent. 

This statement, made for the benefit of the patent examiners, 
did not secure Weston a new patent which he did not want but 
brought out invaluable testimony in his behalf, which he immedi 
ately set out to use in court. 

The elaborate care which he took to prepare himself sometimes 
reached fantastic proportions. He always went into the background 
of a case with terrifying thoroughness, reading volumes and poring 
over articles and catalogues until he had the entire matter at his 
fingertips. Once a magazine published some very minor criticism 
of him. Minor or not, he sued them, and in the course of it made 
Caxton Brown, then manager of the New York office, write an en 
tire brochure on the subject of the original slight. 

He was even harder on himself in preparatory work. Using sheets 
of cheap yellow paper, he would write page after page of exposi 
tion and argument to familiarize himself with the points he wanted 
to make on the stand. A glue pot always stood open on his desk; as 
each sheet was filled with his energetic longhand, he would paste 
an empty one to the bottom of it and go on writing, pushing the 
finished stuff over the back of the desk. Often he reeled off twenty 
or thirty feet of the stuff before he was satisfied. 

When the manuscript was finished, Weston would call in young 
Goodwin or some other official and make him listen to the whole 
thing. Sometimes the job would not be finished till every one had 
left the plant. Then Weston would roll the script up and take it 
home. There James, the butler, would be the victim, standing stiffly 
against the wall of his master's study into the small hours while the 
unintelligible jargon was read to him. 

John Hardin, the firm's principal lawyer, eventually became wor 
ried about the immense amount of time wasted in listening to 


Weston's outpourings. Hoping to put a hint in his head, he sent 
Weston a huge bill for extra time spent at this unprofitable task. 
Weston failed to take the hint. So Hardin made his next bill even 
worse. This time the boss sent for him. "Your rates are going up, 
John/' he complained. "Don't forget you're a vice president of the 

"Doctor," pleaded Hardin, "it was the only way I could think 
of to teach you not to waste our time." 

But the lesson was never learned. And when the shunt case was 
won and the company immensely strengthened thereby, nobody had 
an argument left. 

The shunt case against the Empire Electrical Instrument Com 
pany and its officers was probably the most important litigation 
Weston ever entered, and in it his histrionic talents were at their 
best, and his preparation complete. Empire had been making shunt- 
type instruments, as everybody else had, on the assumption that Wes 
ton had patented something already in the public domain. At least, 
this was their stated assumption. It was established later that they 
were perfectly aware of the infringement, but assumed that if every 
body else infringed, Weston would find the situation hopeless and 
give up the fight. They had seriously misjudged him; the mistake 
cost them their business. 

Eight or ten Weston suits were brought against Empire in all, 
covering, one by one, the patents on electric instruments. The shunt 
was only one of them, but the definitive one. It was first brought in 
1901, and as usual, dragged on for a number of years. 

Early in the game Weston realized that he was dealing with 
crooks. It appeared that one of Empire's principal backers, F. A. 
La Roche, had approached Charles D. Cooke, a manufacturer of 
locomotives, and had persuaded him that he had valuable patents 
covering electrical instruments. On the strength of this, Cooke had 
organized the Empire Company and La Roche had accepted stock 
in it in return for the patents. Manufacturing had begun in 1899, 
continuing for about five years thereafter. 

It was not until January, 1903, that La Roche himself had been 


tracked down and brought to the stand. Here he had proved to be 
a most plausible witness, giving glib accounts of his "invention" of 
shunt-type instruments as far back as 1888. These, he testified, he 
had installed in various power plants in Philadelphia. The judge 
accepted him in good faith. 

In later testimony, given when the case was still in full swing in 
1907, Weston related: 

On the day that Mr. La Roche first appeared on the witness stand, which, 
if my recollection is correct, was Friday, January 2nd, 1903, Mr. William H. 
Kcnyon [his lawyer] called me upon the telephone from New York, and 
stated that Mr. La Roche had concluded his direct testimony in that case, 
and the following morning Saturday, January 3rd I read the testimony, 
and from that time on I took up the subject of this shunt case and spent 
almost the whole of nine months of my time in prosecuting and directing 
the investigation to elicit the truth of the allegations made by La Roche . . . 
and in assisting and preparing the matter for the cross-examination of La 
Roche. Almost all of the cross-questions submitted to La Roche were drawn 
by me while living at the Waldorf. 

Weston had moved into New York to the old Waldorf on 34th 
Street, in order to give his whole time to the affair. 

In those nine months La Roche was sick a great deal and at crucial 
moments could not appear on the stand for cross-examination. Wes 
ton, suspicious of this, had him followed by detectives and discov 
ered that when the man was supposed to be ill in bed he was actually 
drinking in bars or going to the theater. 

Although he was virtually certain that he could win the case, 
Weston, with characteristic thoroughness, set himself grimly to 
track down every shred of evidence. Here was a perfect case of 
patent piracy, offering a clear opportunity to show up the sharp 
practices so prevalent in the young electrical industry. He was will 
ing to devote all his time and any amount of money to making a 
thorough expos^ of the whole affair. 

Systematically Weston traced every one of La Roche's statements 
to its source, particularly his claims that he had installed instru 
ments of his own invention in power stations. Long search was nec 
essary, but his scouts eventually found the men who had erected 
and operated the plants. Every one of them denied all knowledge 


of La Roche instruments or that instruments of any kind had been 
used. This proved that the man had been committing perjury on the 

Discovered, La Roche became a more willing witness, and gradu 
ally the truth came to light. But it would never have done so without 

"I wrote most of the [cross-] questions during the night," he re 
lated, "frequently working all night, getting my reports from parties 
that were investigating the case, and framing my questions largely 
upon these reports. After the examination of the day, Mr. Bissing 
and Mr. Benneke came to my rooms and read from the testimony 
that had been taken. When questions were not satisfactorily replied 
to, I pointed out wherein I thought we needed further informa 
tion. From many of the answers during that day I framed the ques 
tions that night, and from further reports received, added new ones 
on these subjects. My only chance for sleep was, most of the time, 
in the daytime, and not very much at that, because I had to have 
my rough manuscript put into typewritten form and had to look 
over that before it was turned over to counsel and my technical 
assistant, Mr. Benneke, for the next day's work. When the examina 
tion was not going on, I made it my special purpose to make visits 
wherever I could glean information at first hand, myself. I visited 
the various establishments, or buildings, where La Roche had been 
located, measured the dimensions of the buildings, determined what 
portions had been occupied by other businesses, and what portions 
had been available for occupation by the business he had alleged 
he had carried on. Where changes had been made in the buildings, 
I ascertained those facts and the nature of the changes, and found 
the parties who had made them. In this way I checked the accuracy 
or inaccuracy of any statement he had made in regard to machinery 
allegedly used by him in any one of the places in the production 
of any part or all of the alleged anticipating devices. I had carefully 
analyzed the exhibits put in the case as alleged prior anticipations 
of the devices, and each part thereof, and knew precisely what 
operations and what tools were required to do the work on each 
part, and whether it was possible, therefore, for him to have had 
those tools in tihose places. I had made investigations as to the na- 


ture of the sources of electric current he had alleged to have used, 
such as dynamos and batteries, and of the power required to run the 
dynamos, and the power of the engine he would have needed to 
run them to produce the results that he asserted he had got from 
them. I had computed the heating effect of the currents that he said 
he had used on certain of the alleged anticipating shunts, and I had 
determined it experimentally on exact duplicates of those shunts. I 
had made duplicates of the shunts and put these in the hands of 
competent searchers to take around to be shown the people who had 
used plants erected by La Roche and I had photographs in the hands 
of these searchers of the instruments with which the shunts were al 
leged to be used, and those were carried around in precisely the 
same way, and for the same purpose, namely, to elicit the exact truth. 
In this way, I tackled every branch of the case, personally directed 
it and largely conducted it. The labor was enormous. No fact, I 
think, would be likely to escape my attention or my memory in re 
gard to it, especially where I have an opportunity to refer to the 
original documents before me/' 

In June, 1904, an interlocutory decree was handed down, en 
joining the Empire and La Roche companies from further infringe 
ment of the shunt invention and appointing Samuel N. Hitchcock 
as Special Master to review all the evidence and set the damages. 
Hitchcock held hearings for two more years, during which time 
La Roche died. His report to the court corroborated all previous 
findings and established the guilt of the Empire and La Roche com 

This meant the ruin of both. Their businesses were disbanded 
and their tools and plants sold. 

But Weston was still not satisfied, because he had not yet suc 
ceeded in bringing punishment upon any individual. He now went 
after Cooke personally, successfully petitioning the court to reopen 
the hearings before the Special Master for the purpose of involving 
Cooke himself. 

Way back in 1901 Cooke had gathered together as many as pos 
sible of the instrument companies Weston was suing, hoping to pool 
their resources in one grand fight for existence. Weston had abso- 


lutely refused to deal with them collectively, knowing full well that 
to divide was to conquer. Cooke had then offered to sell him the 
Empire company outright. This had infuriated Weston all the more; 
it was tantamount to buying his own inventions from the thief who 
stole them. 

But at this time he had not suspected Cooke himself. "I believed 
him to be an honorable man, and that he had been misled. . . ." 

Cooke had come to Weston's Newark office to plead in person. 
Weston would not hear of a sale, but devoted several hours to ac 
quainting him with La Roche's duplicity. "I told him that I thought 
it was about time that he looked into the case himself." 

Cooke had left, apparently determined to do so. There was an 
interval of four years now; in March, 1907, the case was reopened 
for the last time. For the next twelve months Weston worked harder 
than ever to amass evidence; he dug up the entire testimony again, 
went over it, filled in the weak spots, directed his attorneys in every 
move, practically wrote every question for them, as he had done 

The final result was the triumph he had spent seven years to 
achieve. The Master found that "Cooke was not only one of the 
original defendants named in the bill of complaint . . . and entirely 
failed to exercise reasonable diligence to ascertain the actual facts 
and see justice done, but that he thereafter continued to advance 
money in support of the defense of the suit. 

"There would be a failure of justice if the plaintiff, who has 
seen its patents boldly appropriated for a number of years, should 
be denied relief against an individual through whose pernicious 
activity it has been made to suffer the consequent loss. I find 
therefore, that judgment should be entered against the defendant, 
Cooke. . . ." 

It was upon this finding that Weston was able to base the entire 
structure of his battle against the host of infringers of his instru 
ment business. There is no doubt that his dogged fight to make the 
case complete and all-inclusive was a major factor in cleaning up 
the mess into which patent litigation had fallen in the formative 
years of the electrical art. 



It would be inaccurate to call Edward Weston a lonely or even 
a solitary man. His life, as we have shown, was crammed with activity 
and with continual striving for success and the winning of it. He 
knew thousands of people, among them the most prominent en 
gineers and scientists of his day. To a man they respected him, and 
many loved him. But it is doubtful whether any knew him intimately 
or shared his personal confidence. Weston lived unto himself, like 
a figure being carried swiftly down a broad river in a very small boat. 

He had no cronies, in the accepted sense. Colleagues, coworkers, 
subordinates, but no bosom friends with whom to discuss the state 
of the nation and of the world. 

When he did come out of his workroom it was to receive an 
honor richly deserved and too often long overdue. Such was his 
election to the presidency of the American Institute of Electrical 
Engineers, in 1888. The Institute was founded in 1884, as one way 
to relieve the rapidly worsening patent situation. Responsible elec 
tricians everywhere felt that by banding together and discussing their 
differences they could avoid much litigation and cut down the bit 
ternesses and misunderstandings. Weston was a charter member of 
the organization. Having joined as an associate, he was advanced 
to full membership within a few months, then placed on the first 
Board of Directors. For the following three years he was manager 
and then became President for a year, the limit of tenure specified 
in the by-laws. Following that, he served a year as Vice-President. 
He was steadily active in Institute affairs, at one time heading a 
committee which ejected the notorious La Roche from membership. 

Weston's membership in other prominent engineering groups ran 
about the same as for most men of scientific prominence. They in 
cluded the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American 
Electrochemical Society, American Physical Society, American Chemi 
cal Society, the Franklin Institute, and the American Association for 
the Advancement of Science, of which he became a fellow. He was 
more active in the Electrochemical Society and the Franklin Insti 
tute than in the others. Besides these, he belonged to several still 
more specialized organizations, such as the American Geographical 


Society, the Illuminating Engineering Society, the Society for the 
Promotion of Engineering Education, and the National Electric 
Light Association. Honorary memberships were accorded to him 
in various other groups: the American Museum of Natural History, 
the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, the Inventors Guild, the Newark 
Board of Trade, and the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, in 
England. He did considerable work for the Guild on its membership 

He was on every list of prominent professional men, and was 
frequently invited to shindigs for which he had little time and 
less inclination, though he was always most exemplary in acknowl 
edging the honor. Such was the elaborate "breakfast" in New York 
in honor of Prince Henry of Prussia, on February 26, 1902. This 
gala affair occupied Sherry's entire establishment and turned out a 
glittering roster of the city r s elite. Weston broke a rigid rule and 
went. But he listened to the speeches with only one ear; he was ab 
sorbed in shunts and litigation, much more important to him than 
welcoming visiting firemen. 

So devoted was Weston to his own affairs, and so little given to 
publicizing himself, that he was nearly unknown to the world in 
general. But his name was far from unknown to the scientific fra 
ternity and especially to the men of higher education. 

"It gives me very much pleasure/' wrote Dean H. T. Bovey of 
the Faculty of Applied Science of McGill University, "to inform 
you that this afternoon the Corporation of McGill University de 
cided to confer upon you the honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws, 
at the Convocation to be held on April 29th." This was in 1904. 

Weston's reply was typical in its gratitude and humility. In part 
he wrote: 

I assure you that I cannot express in words to you and to the 
other eminent scientific men composing the Faculty of McGill 
University, my full appreciation of the high honor conferred 
upon me. Nor do I know how to appropriately and adequately 
thank you and the other friends who have been so kind as to 
remember me and my humble work in the dectikal field, and to 
take so much interest and trouble in mj befeaif * 


He was as delighted as any other man at being immortalized, as 
only a great university can do it. 

Weston's affection for McGill, his first honorary alma mater, 
continued, and he gave much time and thought to the welfare of 
the University science department, even to the point of seeking an 
assistant from among its faculty. In April of 1907, the University 
suffered a disastrous fire, losing most of its buildings, including its 
large technical library. Weston immediately telegraphed his sym 
pathy and offered help. When the time came to rebuild he gave a 
large sum of money and a complete set of standardizing instru 
ments for the new laboratory. 

A degree of Doctor of Science followed, in the same year, from 
nearby Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. 

The third and most signal honor accorded Edward Weston in the 
academic world came to him from Princeton University in 1910, 
during the presidency there of Woodrow Wilson. Through the 
good offices of Professor Charles F. Brackett, he was named a re 
cipient of the degree of Doctor of Science. Brackett was an old 
friend ; on several occasions he had come to New York to appear as 
an expert witness in the various instrument suits. He had the highest 
regard for Weston's genius. 

Characteristically, the inventor kept Brackett waiting for an ac 

My tardiness in writing you [he finally replied] has not been 
due to want of courtesy or appreciation, but rather to the fact that 
I have been intensely occupied in pushing to completion a very 
large number of new instruments and in prosecuting a very 
elaborate series of new researches on resistance alloys. . . . Indeed 
I may truly say that I have never been so busy as I have been 
since last September, and my physical and mental endurance have 
been taxed to the utmost limit in carrying on personally and 
directing this work. 

I have found new resistance alloys much superior to anything 
I previously discovered . . . Manganin is a thing of the past. But 
so also are most of my favorite working hypotheses, things of 
the past 

You sec, at sirty, I am still in harness and I find I can endure 
more labor than either of my sons. 


At sixty, active as ever, putting off the pleasant duty of receiving 
a first-rate honor in order to improve on something already the 
standard of the world! Weston was a true scientist. 

On June 14, 1910, he received his degree at Princeton, along 
with two old friends and electrical pioneers Elihu Thomson and 
Frank Sprague. But even at Princeton we do not find him relaxing 
and merely enjoying the sunlight of high praise. He spent much of 
his time discussing galvanometers with Professor Augustus Trow- 
bridge of the Physics Department a discussion which led to much 
later correpondence. 

Not less desirable, if somewhat quieter, were the professional 
honors given to Weston by the technical societies. The first came 
to him in the Princeton year, 1910, from the Franklin Institute. 
This was the Elliott Cresson medal, accorded "in recognition of 
your brilliant and successful research in the field of electrical dis 

"Ajnd also," said Dr. R. B. Owens, Secretary of the Institute, "in 
recognition of the indomitable energy you have so lavishly and so 
effectively expended throughout a period of nearly half a century 
in the advancement of the applications of electricity to fill the needs 
of and supply the wants of an ever-increasingly complicated and 
exacting civilization." 

Of greater significance, perhaps, was the honor which came in 
1915, at the hands of the Society of Chemical Industry, on January 
22. He appreciated it all the more, since chemistry had been his first 
love, and since all his work had been done with the fineness of 
touch and appreciation of minute detail which a scientist dealing 
with the fundamental particles of nature could command. 

The occasion was, indeed, a summing up of all his work, a kind 
of capstone to his career. It was the more telling because it was 
staged and watched over by his first friend in America Professor 
Chandler of Columbia the man who had got him his first job with 
Murdock in 1870. 

No man was ever lionized more fully than was Weston that night, 
with Chandler, Leo H. Baekeland, and Carl Hering giving lengthy 
biographical sketches of his work, each as it appealed to him. Then 
Weston himself got up. If his voice ever shook, if his armor of de- 


tachment and of concentration ever cracked, they did so now, as 
he addressed himself directly to Chandler. 

"Dr. Chandler, it is nearly 45 years since I first met you. You 
were then Professor of Chemistry at the School of Mines in the old 
Columbia College Building. I was then just out of my teens and, 
only a short time before, I had left the land of my birth in order 
to escape from parental coercion intended to compel me to continue 
to follow a profession which I intensely disliked . . . and to carve 
out there, in my own way, a career in directions which I had pre 
viously diligently pursued and really loved. Tonight you have most 
kindly and appreciatingly referred to my career and work and you 
have presented me with this beautiful Perkin Medal. I thank you 
most sincerely for both. But I wish also to now publicly express to 
you my thanks and my deep sense of gratitude for the gracious man 
ner in which you received me when, in the year 1870, I was a soli 
tary stranger in a strange land. ... In your long, useful and honor 
able professional career, I know you have frequently done for others 
what you then did for me, and I assure you that I have never for 
gotten, but always have cherished the memory of the kindness and 
real service you did me then." 

What a situation! To be able to dramatize and round up an en 
tire career in terms of thanks to a man who had given him a start 
and who had remained his friend, to watch him make good upon 
that start and become one of the great geniuses in an alien land al 
ready packed with them! A boy who had landed at the Battery with 
a family Bible and a few pounds of English money, and who now 
could count his fortune in the production of more than 300 patents 
and in comfortable wealth. 

Two more important recognitions came to him during the gentle 
downward slope of his life. One was the highest award within the 
power of the Franklin Institute to give: the Franklin medal, which 
carried with it Honorary Membership in the Institute. The occa 
sion, held in Philadelphia on the twenty-first of May, 1924, was 
unique in that Weston shared the hooor with another great English 
man, Sir Ernest Rutherford, the world's leading physicist. The com 
bination of these two was more especially fitting, since tibe new 
science of atomic physics, unfolding io laboratories tfae world over, 


could not move forward at all without the precise electrical-measure 
ment techniques in which Weston was the pioneer and master tech 


Weston fell seriously ill a few days before the ceremony and 
could not be present. His old friends, Dr. Frank Sprague and Dr. 
Leo Baekeland, stood in his place. Sprague said: "I have gladly 
come here to join, insofar as lies in my power, in paying tribute to 
one of the greatest lights in the electrical field, a man whose name 
is a household w r ord wherever accuracy of quantitative measurements 
is necessary, one who by his individual work has contributed more 
to the facility of carrying on the electrical industry than any other 
I know. 

"He is one of a trio of famous men of foreign birth, one of whom 
a great Belgian, Doctor Baekeland is here today to receive for 
him the honor of a distinguished award. The third, Doctor Elihu 
Thomson, who came to this country from England, long ago bla 
zoned his name upon the industry." 

Could Weston have chosen better company? There was something 
so essentially right about the scientific approach of these men 
quiet, self-effacing, abhorrent of self-advertising that each helped 
to define and to raise the stature of the others. 

The fourth and last of his honors came to Edward Weston as a 
very old man. This was the Benjamin Lamme medal of the American 
Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1932, and again an award which 
he was unable to journey the many miles to accept in person. At the 
time he received it, he was one of only six living charter members 
of the Institute. 


In 1924, at the age of seventy-four years, Weston relinquished 
active direction of the Instrument Company, to become Chairman 
of the Board of Directors. His great work in electrical measure 
ments was largely done, for he had established the world's foremost 
imtrament-makiag company and had piloted it through thirty-six 
years of infancy into vigorous youth. He had fought its every battle 
himself and had seen it through every crisis in the laboratory, on 
the manufacturing floor, and in the courtroom. Probably there has 


never been a company in the history of the United States so com 
pletely fathered and nurtured by one man. No other electrical 
pioneer, certainly, kept anything like the control that Weston did, 
of the products and ramifications of his inventive genius. While 
Thomson, Sprague, Westinghouse, Edison himself, faded into the 
background as the industries they had created grew to full strength, 
Weston never for a moment lost his place at the head of electrical- 
instrument making. If he had chosen to do so he could have re 
mained the driving force of his industry till he died, and no one 
would have advised him to quit. 

But after fifty-four years of constant expenditure of energy he 
was tired. At last he wanted to sit on the sidelines and look on; 
cheer the team when he felt like it, coach them occasionally, and 
simply keep the score. 

His health had caved in the year before, when his wife had died. 
Though she had never shared his hard work or his triumphs, he 
missed her badly. He wanted to withdraw now, take account of stock, 
and plan for a peaceful old age. His son Edward had come along 
most gratifyingly, developing a decided talent for management. He 
was content now to let him run the business. 
* Weston had a little old safe which he turned over to the engineer 
ing department when he retired. In the process of clearing it out, 
Goodwin found one of the drawers locked. Inside, when he opened 
it, was a quantity of radium. Weston had meant to experiment with 
it some day but in the press of more practical matters had put it away 
and forgotten it. 

Another tribute to the ambitious mind which meant to play a part 
in every branch of science, and failed to do so only because the days 
and nights were not long enough! 


All his life Weston had remained a subject of His Majesty the 
English King. Now, preparing to retire, he decided to become an 
American. Papers were taken out for him and on the thirteenth of 
November, 1923, he became a citizen of the United States, Nobody 
in the world but himself would have known the difference if he had 
remained English till his death. He had become a citizen of the 


world, and a valuable one, regardless of his flag. It may be that 
Weston had more than a general motive in taking out his citizen 
ship papers. He may suddenly have become interested in politics and 
decided that he must make his weight felt at the polls. We shall never 

Retirement, to Edward Weston, at the age of seventy-four, did not 
mean idleness. For the first few years he wandered restlessly about, 
missing his wife, missing his regular going to work, missing the 
inexhaustible redundance of the lawsuits. He had accumulated a 
splendid library, and this, in the hands of a paid librarian, afforded 
him real pleasure. The publishers all knew of Weston's passion for 
books and regularly sent him new volumes on approval. Many of 
them he kept, especially those that had to do with the strange inter 
regnum between wars, into which he and the rest of the world were 
blindly plunging. 

Shortly after he was eighty years old, the inventor bought a large 
mansion in Montclair, N. J., formerly occupied by the Van Vleck 
family. He had not followed the modern world into a compact, effi 
cient little house. He was still the erect, quick-stepping Englishman 
whose taste in homes had always been a trifle baronial. He wanted 
his last years to be spent in a place big enough to "turn around in/* 
Here he came to live with a housekeeper and a resident nurse to 
look after him, his daily routine enlivened by the frequent runnings 
in and out of his three charming little granddaughters. Walter had 
died in 1926, increasing the gloom of his father's loneliness by ac 
centuating the fact that he had never really known or approved of 
his elder son. Such are the dark threads In the fabric of old age. 

When he moved into the great Montclair house the old man 
called in a bevy of electricians and carpenters. "Now, he said, with 
something of his former spirit, "I want the best electrified place in 
town. Don't ask me what I want, except to consult me as to the 
lighting for the pictures. But omit nothing, mind. He was thinking, 
perhaps, of the dd home on High Street, where he kad installed 
the first private electric light plant in Newark a dynamo with a 
gas engine to drive it, and storage batteries of his own design. 

He took his nurse, piled into his car, and had himself driven all 


over New York City to find hangings, rugs, new furniture. He felt 
remarkably happy and able again. 

It was a source of broad satisfaction to him that in 1924 the Wes- 
ton Electrical Instrument Company had been incorporated, sym 
bolically moving into a new and secure mansion of its own. Until 
that moment it had been his own personal property, a monument 
to a lifetime of travail, but lately an increasing burden as if, in 
deed, it were a monument and he the pedestal which alone held its 
weight aloft. Incorporation at last placed it beyond the fortunes and 
talents of any one individual; in a sense bequeathed it to posterity 
for all the world to enjoy. 

It was now that Weston called in his lawyers and wrote his will, 
as accurate in detail and as pungently conceived in its bequests as 
though he were again sitting up all night studying court testimony 
and formulating a shattering reply. Typical of his good thinking was 
his bequest of all his laboratory apparatus and equipment to the 
Newark College of Engineering, together with his general tech 
nical library of many thousands of volumes, and sufficient funds to 
house and maintain it. Beyond this he entrusted to them his draw 
ings and the designs for his many patents and discoveries, as well as 
a wealth of papers and other data concerned with the lively history 
of electrical engineering. 

Sadly, if with deep gratitude, President Allan R. Cullimore of the 
College wrote, after Edward Weston had died: 

"This material will be gathered together and arranged in a man 
ner which will form a proper record of his contribution to science 
and technology. This will take a long time, but if it be done properly 
and with enlightenment and a sympathetic appreciation of the part 
Dr. Weston played in the general advance of science, it will con 
stitute an exhibit whose influence will extend far beyond the walls of 
our institution or the limits of this particular community." 

It is as a small part of this general project that this book has been 
written. If Weston were alive today, he would probably find much 
fault with this short and too cursory biography. Who knows but its 
author would be hailed into court even, with a bevy of attorneys 
after him! But at any rate, the work has been done with affection 


and respect and with an honest attempt to set down the man in his 
true greatness. 


While he was scouring the metropolis for house furnishings, Wes- 
ton's eye fell upon a luxurious motor cruiser in a display window. 
It occurred to him suddenly that he had not owned a yacht for some 
time. Why not go back to sea again? Very shortly, he was set up 
with a fine little vessel captain, crew, and all and entered into 
the last phase of his life. Now, for the first time in eighty years, he 
was having fun for fun's own sake. 

So, in whites and a captain's cap, Weston sat in the beautifully 
appointed cockpit of his private vessel and wished that he could still 
go into court. . . . 

Instead, he cruised, and as he cruised, something of the old vigor 
for work came back to him. He proposed to scour the eastern sea 
board, and to leave no bay or inlet or harbor unlearned. The old 
fervor to face the problem, whether it be arc lamps or incandes- 
cents, dynamo losses or regulators, the delicate movements of meas 
uring instruments, or the third-place decimal of voltage in a standard 
cell; whether it be golf, billiards, fishing; the shooting of clay 
pigeons or the commanding of a yacht it must be done well, done 
thoroughly, done with integrity, done with an accuracy and atten 
tion to detail that counted no cost. . . . 

On August 21, 1936, The New York Times said: 

Dr. Edward Weston, scientist, is dead. Dr. Weston died fifteen minutes 
-after arriving home in a private ambulance from New London, Conn. He 
was stricken aboard his yacht, the Lorna Doone III, at New Bedford, after 
having attended the yacht races off Newport, R. I., and traveled on his yacht 
to New London. The cause of his death was cerebral hemorrhage. 

He died, as he would have wished, with his boots on, in the midst 
of a voyage of discovery. 


Adams, Dr. Isaac, 31, 53, 54, 55 

American Institute of Electrical En 
gineers, 141, 190, 206, 214, 220 

American Nickel Plating Company, 
29, 31, 34, 35, 38, 54 

Ampere, Jean Marie, 9 

Anecdotes, i, 28, 155, 196, 197 

Arc lighting, 83 

British pioneering work, 95 
Brooklyn Bridge installation, no 
Coney Island Pier lighted, 101 
danger to vision, 99 
development of carbons, 88 
flaming arc, 90 
Niagara Falls lighted, 86 
regulator mechanisms, 102 
Wanamaker store lighted, 86 

Arthur, Chester, no 

Association of Edison Illuminating 
Companies, 187 

Ayrton, William, 157, 163, 179 


Baekeland, Leo H., 70, n 6, 217, 220 

"Battle of the Currents/' 185 

Beecher, Henry Ward, 44 

Beers, Charles F., 98 

Belden, W. H., 29, 32, 34, 39 

"Blade Country," 15 

Bovey, H. T., 215 

Brackett, C F., 216 

Brady, Matthew, 27 
British Association for the Advance 
ment of Science, 178 
Brooklyn Bridge lighted by arcs, no, 


Brown, Caxton, 208 
Brush, Charles F., 83, 85, 86, 88, 91, 

93,96, 105, 107, 109, 137, 156 
"Brynn Castle," 3 
Bunsen battery, 67 

Cadmium cell, 188 

Carhart, H. $., 189, 190 

Castle Gardens, 25 

Cavendish, Sir Henry, 6 

Chandler, C. F., 26, 28, 217 

Citizenship, 221 

Clark cell, 189 

Clarke's dynamo, 1 1 

Cleveland, Grover, no 

Colby, A. E., 170 

Coleman, E. H. and H. M., 20, 22, 


Columbian Exposition of 1893, 113, 
182, 190, 195 

Commercial Printing Telegraph Com 
pany, 40 

Commutator, invention of, 9, 13 

Condit, Hansen and Van Winkle 
Company, 65, 73, 94, 107 

Constantan alloy, 168, 172, 177 

Cooke, CD., 209, 212 




Cooper Union, 28, 41 
Courtship and marriage, 
Crookes, Sir William, 130 
Cullirnore, A. R., 223 


Daniell cell, 7 

D'Arsonval, 157, 159, 163 

Davenport, Thomas, 10 

Davidson, Robert, 10 

Davy, Sir Humphry, 7, 84 

De La Rue pioneer electric lamp, 112 

Dental apprenticeship, 20 

Deutsche Physicalische Reichsanstalt, 
163, 178, 183, 190 

Dickerson, E. N., 55 

Douglas, James, 70 

Dynamo, pioneer models, u 
history of, Bff. } 45, 46 
Weston's pioneer work, 46^. 

Dynamo Electric Machine Company, 

Eastman, George, 123, 205 

Edison, Thomas A., 4, 16, 20, 65, 67, 
85, 98, 100, 105, 106, 108, in, 
115, 119, 124, 127, 132, 134, 
137, 138, 140, 148, 150, 156, 
176, 185, 192, 206, 221 

Edison Electric Ught Company, 149 

Edison Geaertl Electric Company, 

Electric battery, earliest, 7 

Electric lamp, earliest, 7 

Electric mote, earliest, 9 

Electric power transoaissioa, 77 

Electromagnet, 16 

Electroplating, earliest, 12, 29 
Weston's pioneer work in, i$>ff.) 

Faber, Eberhard, 60 

Faraday, Michael, 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, 15, 

17, 23, 205 

copper disk dynamo, 8, 10 
discovery of induction, i r 
Farmer, Moses G., 7, 14, 45, 65, 75, 

81,83,85, 96, 109, 113, 114 
Fearey, F. T., 198 
Franklin Institute, dynamo tests in 

1877, 85 
electrical exhibition, in 1884, 5 r > 

in 1886, 156 

Galvanometer, 155 

General Motors Company, 162 

Gold and Stock Telegraph Company, 


Goodwin, Hannibal, 205 
Goodwin, W. N., Jr., 203, 208, 221 
Goodyear, James, 4 
Gramme, Z, T., 14, 45, 46, 49, 65, 

83, 105 

Grant, Gen. U. S., 36 
Greeley, Horace, 36 
Grove battery, 7 


Hansen and Van Winkle Company, 

Hardin, John, 208 



Hare cell, 7 

Harris, George J., 43, 56, 58 

Harris and Western Company, 43, 44, 

48, 54 

Havell, George, 67 
Hebard, G. W., 146, 148 
Helmholtz, von, Hermann, 6, 15, 178 
Henry, Joseph, 6, 7, 9, n, 16, 17 
Hering, Carl, 190, 217 
Hitchcock, S. N., 212 
Hobbies, 200 ff. 
Hochhausen, William, 81, 85 
Hopkinson, John, 182 
Houston, Edwin, 102 
Hunt, Robert, 7 
Hyatt, J. W., 123 
Hyjorth dynamo, 12 


Incandescent lighting, De La Rue ex 
periments, 112 
Edison lamp suit, 113, 149 
stopper lamp, 113 
Weston begins work on, 11$. 

Induction coil, n 

Instruments, electrical, ammeters, 156 
D'Arsonval type, 157 
Weston begins work on, 1 53 

Insulated wire, 9 

International Conference on Electrical 
Units and Standards, 191 

International Electrochemical Com 
mission, 190 

Inventions of Edward Weston, arc 

lighting, carbons, 88 
flaming arc, 90 
feed mechanisms, 105 
furnace, arc, 92 
regulators, 102 

Inventions of Edward Weston, bat 
tery, experiments with, 18 

dynamo, 45, 46 
armature design, 49 
cooling, 48, 79 
efficiency improvement, 78 
rmiltipolar type, 64, 65 
regulator, 69 

electroplating, anode, 54, 59, 60 
chemistry of, 33 
dynamo troubles, 68 

electrolytic refining of metals, 70 

galvanometer, 155 

incandescent lighting, filament 

flashing, 116, 150 
lamp fixtures, 138 
mammoth lamp, 133 
oxygen "getter," 127 
seals for lead-in wires, 131 
Tamidine filament, 120, 136, 
148, 161 

instruments, advances in design, 

earliest, 158 
ammeters, 173, 176 
Constantan alloy, 168, 172, 176, 


German silver experiments, 167 
magnetic shielding, 184 
magnets, aging of, 162 

construction of , 159 
Manganin alloy, 178, 179, 216 
pointers, 166 
shunts, 166$. 
springs, 165 
voltmeter, a-c, 186 

earliest model, 168 
watt-hour meter, 164 
'^estoflin'' alloy, 179 
insulated wire, 17 
pyroxylin varnish, 161 



Inventions of Edward Weston, rub- Mendelejeff and Meyer, periodic 

her tire, 20 

solar energy work, 172 
standard cadmium cell, 188 
vacuum pump, 114, 130 


Jablochkoff candles, 83, 105 
Jackson, D. C, 158, 182, 183 
Jacobi electric motor, 10 
Jones, Margaret Weston, 3, 4, 5 

table of elements, 6 
Mendelian theory of heredity, 15 
Meritens, de, early dynamo, 105 
Metals and nonmetals, definitions of, 


Motor, electric, 76 
Murdock, W. H., & Company, 27, 30 


National Electric Light Association, 

108, 150 
K Nehr, H. F., 165 

New York Telephone Company, 198 

Kelvin, Lord (See Thomson, Sir Newark, N. J., 59 

Newark College of Engineering, 223 
Newark District Telegraph Company, 

KirchhofFs electrical theory, 6 

Laboratories, 64, 150 

Lamme Medal, award to Weston, 220 

Langmuir, Irving, 130 

LaRoche, F. A., 209 

Lind, Jenny, 25 


Manganin alloy, 178, 179, 216 
Marks, W.D., 134 
Matthiessen, Franz O., 171 
Maxim, Hiram, 105, 109, 118, 119, 

123, 144, 147 

Maxim- Weston Company, Ltd., 147 
Maxwell, James C,, 4, 6, 15 
McGill University, 216 
Medical student, 21 
Mencken, H. L., 143 


Newark Domestic Telephone and 
Telegraph Company, 198 

Newark Weston Electric Lighting 
Station, 138 

Nickel plating, 34 


Oersted, H. C, 154 
Oswestry, 3 
Owens, R. B., 217 

Padnotti, Antonio, 13, 45 

Page, C G., 10 

Paris Exposition, of 1878, 83 

award, 84 
of 1881, 105 
Pasteur, Louis, 15 



Perkin Medal, award to Western, 50, 

Patent suits, Brush Company, 94, 107 

Edison lamp, 113, 149 

Empire Instrument case, 209 

first litigation, 55 

fishing rod affair, 205 

Hochhausen case, 82 

Jewel shunt case, 207 

love for a fight, 204 

meter suits, 187 

professional witness, Weston be 
comes, 164 

Sawyer- Man case, 118 

Westinghouse - General Electric, 

Philadelphia Centennial of 1876, 65, 


Photographic work, 27, 42, 204 
Pixii, Hypolite, 9, 10 
Pope, F. L., 141, 149 
Preece, Sir William, 85 
Prescott, G. B., Jr., 159, 163 

Quimby, E. E., and son, 70, 71, 107, 
119, 122, 163, 165, 170 


Reis, Philipp, 7 

Ritchie, William, 9,11 

Roberts, James, 72 

Roberts and Havell Company, 72 

Roebling, John A., no 

Royal Society (London), 14, 15, 24 

Ruhmkorff coil, 17 

Runyon, Fred, 195, 196, 198 

Rutherford, Sir Ernest, 219 

Sawyer incandescent lamp, 118 

Saxton dynamo, n 

Seidel, Ernest, 38 

Seidel, Wilhelmina, 36, 38 

Siemens, Werner, 12, 13, 45, 64, 83, 

92, 105, 157 

Silver Nickel Plating Company, 39 
Simpson, G, B., 7 
Smith, Chauncey, 103 
Society of Chemical Industry, 217 
Society of Mechanical Engineers, 

J 53 

Society memberships, 214 

Sprague, Frank, 217, 220 

Sprengel vacuum pump, 6, 114, 130 

Stanley, William, 141, 185 

Stanley Lock Company, 62 

Starr, J. W., 113 

Stevens, W. L., 79, 93, 134 

Stevens, Roberts and Havell Com 
pany, 62, 66 

Stewart, J. A., 183 

Stone, C. F., 28, 41 

Tamidine, 120, 136, 148, 161 
Telegraph Supply Company, 86 
Theberath, Charles and Jacob, 57, 62, 

64, 67 
Thomson, Elihu, 4, 78, 83, 85, 86, 

91, 96, 102, 143, 156, 185, 186, 

217, 220, 221 

Thomson, Sir William, 3, 6, 15, 65, 

154, 157, 163, 176, 178, 182 
Thomson-Houston Company, 109, 

230 INDEX 

Transformer, u, 86 
Trowbridge, Augustus, 217 
Tyndall, Sir John, 23, 85 


United Nickel Plating Company, 31, 
38, 54, 62 

United States Electric Lighting Com 
pany, 105, 108, 109, 113, 123, 
125, 130, 134, 137, 140, 144, 
146, 148, 149, 150, 171, 199 

United States Illuminating Company, 

Upton, Francis, 100, 136 

Van Vied, J., 176 
Van Winkle, Abraham, 63, 72 
Varley's dynamo, 6, 14, 45, 154 
Voita, Alessandro, 7 

Wallace- Farmer Company, 75 
Warner and Weston Company, 56 
Watt, James, 4 
Western Union Telegraph Company, 

Westinghouse Company, 93, roo, 

113, 185, 186, 221 

Weston, Edward (Senior), 3, 4, 5 

Weston, Edward Faraday, 3, 74, 99, 
115, 125, 197, 221 

Weston, Minnie, 63, 193 

Weston, Walter, 39, 194 

Weston Electric Light Company, 100, 
109, 206 

Weston Electrical Instrument Com 
pany, 171, 174, 18 1, 220 

Wheatstone, Sir Charles, 6, 14, 45, 


Wilde, Henry, 13, 46 
Wilson, Woodrow, 216 
Wolverhampton, i, 5, 15 
Wood, James, 109