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Thomas Edison

First Patents and Contracts

Telegrapher for Hire

First Patents and Contracts, page 2

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Summary

In October 1868, while working in Boston, Edison got his first patent for an invention, the electrographic vote recorder. This was a device that allowed legislators to vote yes or no instantly by tapping one of two switches. Unfortunately, he was told by congressmen in Washington that "if there is any invention on earth that we don't want here, it is this."

This failure led Edison to explore possibilities in the field of the telegraph. He moved to New York City in 1869 and created an electrical firm with two colleagues, Franklin Pope and James Ashley. He also received his first invention contracts from a major firm, the Gold and Stock Telegraphing Company, in the spring of 1870. He was assigned to develop a telegraph to compete with the Morse system and a facsimile printer of a successful stock ticker.

The new assignments brought a measure of financial freedom, and Edison organized two new companies with business partners: the Newark Telegraph Works and the American Telegraph Works, both in 1870. Newark Telegraph Works lasted until 1872, when Edison's partner moved to New York City. American Telegraph Works was bought by Gold and Stock in 1871; relations had deteriorated between Edison and his business partners by this time.

In 1870, Edison moved to Newark in order to operate several telegraph manufacturing shops. In the shops, he continued to work on contracts and manufactured electrical products for companies in New York City, especially Gold and Stock. And when Western Union bought Gold and Stock in May 1871, Edison was careful to build a new relationship with them. In the shops, he supervised workers for the first time and came to be known as a demanding employer.

While in Newark, Edison continued to work on his own inventions. He also began to build a reputation in the business world. His most famous invention of this period is the quadruplex telegraph in 1874. The device was simple but had the potential to change the telegraph market. It was capable of sending two messages simultaneously in both directions. Although Edison was under informal contract with Western Union to sell all of his invention patents to them, things went awry when a financier named Jay Gould began showing interest in the quadruplex.

For months after Edison revealed his new invention, Western Union did not bother to contact him about signing a contract for it. When they finally sent him a letter in January 1875, Edison informed them that he had sold the contract to Jay Gould. This news sparked a patent fight and a court battle over the quadruplex. Gould lost the court fight (and his hopes of taking over Western Union's share of the telegraph market), but nobody came away pleased with Edison.

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