Edison’s Boyish Ambition.
In a recent number of The Continent Thos. A. Edison gave the following interesting account of his earliest aspirations as to what he wanted to do when he became a man:
As a little boy I wanted to do the various things that attracted my attention, and had always some scheme afoot that completely absorbed my interest.
I couldn’t begin to recall all those fanciful aspirations of that busy boyhood. But I think about the first thing I attempted was to be a gardener, owing to the fact that my father had a ten acre garden lot. With another boy I got my father’s permission to plant six acres of turnips on shares. Well, we started in, and putting the seeds not less than fourteen feet apart, had the whole lot ’’ done” in two hours and a half. The trouncing my father gave me for that practically ended my brief career as a gardener.
That was when I was nine years old. It was about this time that all my spare hours were given to organizing a secret service among my companions and digging caves in whicn to meet, suggested by my reading Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.’s, stories— particularly “ The Gunmaker of Moscow.” We dug a cave with a concealed trap door, and then from this an inner dungeon, fitted up with a fireplace, table, chairs, papers, games, and a stock of provender laid in from the old gentleman’s garden.
At one time, in an effort to accumulate wealth by collecting old scrap iron, I went so far as to tear the zinc from under my mother’s stove. But a new field was opened to me when I was about twelve years old by the coming of a railroad to our place. At first I was dead set on being engineer of a locomotive. By persevering bribes of apples and cigars I won favor with one of the firemen, and was permitted the freedom of the cab at waiting times. This was a pleasure I never tired of.
In the years that followed of my experience as a trainboy merchant, with a rushing business, rapidly on the increase, I never lost my interest in the engine. Many a time I employed a substitute so that I might take the tripin the engine. Often I was permitted to handle the machinery, to shovel coal and rub up the brass and steel work. I couldn’t have been over thirteen years old when 1 did run a freight train all alone for sixty-two and a half miles with the fireman dozing in the cab.
I knew the thing to be looked out for was to have enough water to avoid an explosion. The result was that I got too much water, and before long it rose in the smokestack and poured out a dirty stream of muck all over the shining boiler and roils and wheels.
It was as a news agent that my attention was first called to the practical importance of the telegraph. By sending ahead along the road first edition headlines of the news of the battle of Shiloh I was enabled to dispose of a thousand paper* at an « enormous profit. From that time I was resolved to be a telegraph operator, and in five month* I secured a good position. While at this I practiced taking press reports at night on plugged wires until in an emergency I got the longed-for post at the end of a through wire at a good salary.
While I was trainboy I began to read the papers I sold, and was ambitious to run a newspaper. 1 still have some copies of a little paper I printed on a stamp press during my waits on the baggage car. It was called The Grand Trunk Herald, and had 400 or 500 subscribers at $1 a year. That’s why I belong to the New York Press Club. In it I had all the railroad news and gossip and advertisements of my wares. The baggage master wrote the editorials. He is now one of the head men of the Grand Trunk system. I also had on this same baggage car a chemical laboratory. Then, in my desire to know everything, I began to read the public library of Detroit by shelves, beginning at the bottom on which stood the Encyclopedia Britannica. Every word of every volume of this I devoured, and then struck into the ” Anatomy ol Melancholy.” But I had to give that up finally and then chose my liooks hit or miss. The things I read and my boyhood experiences led me to get up a little machine shop shortly after I became an operator. Faraday did the rest, by turning my mind to the immense possibilities open in the application of electricity. I simply kept trying the work that gave me the greatest pleasure and satisfaction in the doing, without much thought as to where I was going to bring up.