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Edison on renewables

Reader R writes: "The following piece of writing illustrates the views of Mr. Thomas Alva Edison on the alternative energy sources like solar energy, wind energy etc. Just an interesting piece which gives a peek into the mind of the great genius."

Source: Interview in Elbert Hubbard's Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great (Vol. 1 of 14), now in the public domain and available from Project Gutenberg.

The interview apparently took place in 1910. The original has much more on Edison.


... Edison was born in Eighteen Hundred Forty-seven. Consequently, at this writing he is sixty-three years old. He is big and looks awkward, because his dusty-gray clothes do not fit, and he walks with a slight stoop. When he wants clothes he telephones for them. His necktie is worn by the right oblique, his iron-gray hair is combed by the wind. On his cherubic face usually sits a half-quizzical, pleased smile, that fades into a look plaintive and very gentle.

...In the Laboratory, Edison works, secure and free from interruption unless he invites it. Much of his time is spent in the Chemical Building, a low, one-story structure, lighted from the top. It has a cement floor and very simple furniture, the shelves and tables being mostly of iron. "We are always prepared for fires and explosions here," said Edison in half-apology for the barrenness of the rooms.

The place is a maze of retorts, kettles, tubes, siphons and tiny brass machinery. In the midst of the mess stood two old-fashioned armchairs—both sacred to Edison. One he sits in, and the other is for his feet, his books, pads and paper.

Here he sits and thinks, reads or muses or tells stories or shuffles about with his hands in his pockets.

... said Edison as we sat at lunch... "Some day some fellow will invent a way of concentrating and storing up sunshine to use instead of this old, absurd Prometheus scheme of fire. I'll do the trick myself if some one else doesn't get at it. Why, that is all there is about my work in electricity--you know, I never claimed to have invented electricity--that is a campaign lie--nail it!"

"Sunshine is spread out thin and so is electricity. Perhaps they are the same, but we will take that up later. Now the trick was, you see, to concentrate the juice and liberate it as you needed it. The old-fashioned way inaugurated by Jove, of letting it off in a clap of thunder, is dangerous, disconcerting and wasteful. It doesn't fetch up anywhere. My task was to subdivide the current and use it in a great number of little lights, and to do this I had to store it. And we haven't really found out how to store it yet and let it off real easy-like and cheap. Why, we have just begun to commence to get ready to find out about electricity. This scheme of combustion to get power makes me sick to think of--it is so wasteful. It is just the old, foolish Prometheus idea, and the father of Prometheus was a baboon."

"When we learn how to store electricity, we will cease being apes ourselves; until then we are tailless orangutans. You see, we should utilize natural forces and thus get all of our power. Sunshine is a form of energy, and the winds and the tides are manifestations of energy."

"Do we use them? Oh, no! We burn up wood and coal, as renters burn up the front fence for fuel. We live like squatters, not as if we owned the property.

"There must surely come a time when heat and power will be stored in unlimited quantities in every community, all gathered by natural forces. Electricity ought to be as cheap as oxygen, for it can not be destroyed.

"Now, I am not sure but that my new storage-battery is the thing. I'd tell you about that, but I don't want to bore you..."

Editorial Notes: Seems to be a genuine interview. Author Elbert Hubbard is an intriguing figure in American history. He is famous for his inspirational work, A Message to Garcia. He founded Roycroft, an Arts and Crafts movement community in East Aurora, NY, as well as Roycroft Press. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Hubbard was a very popular writer and lecturer, part entrepeneur, part social reformer, part humorist. He and his wife died in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. Wikipedia Autobiography Entry in history of Buffalo Thanks for the intriguing bit of history, Reader R. -BA

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