Mr. Edison's Ear:


Runes, Dagobert D., The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison, New York: Greenwood Press, 1968.

Menlo Park NJ, Sunday July 12, 1885
Awakened at 5:15am. My eyes were embarrassed by the sunbeams—turned my back to them and tried to take another dip into oblivion—succeeded—awakened at 7am. Thought of Mina, Daisy and Mama G—. Put all three into my mental kaleidoscope to obtain a new combination ala Galton. Took Mina as a basis, tried to improve her beauty by discarding and adding certain features borrowed from Daisy and Mamma G. A sort of Rapahelized beauty, got in too deep, mind flew away and I went to sleep again. Awakened at 8:15am, powerful itching of my head, lots of dry white dandruff— what is this d—mnable material. Perhaps it’s the dust from the dry literary matter I’ve crowded into my noodle lately. It’s nomadic; gets all over my coat; must read about it in the encyclopedia.
I became deaf when I was about twelve-years-old. I had just got a job on the Grand Trunk Railway and it is supposed that the injury which permanently deafened me was caused by my being lifted by the ears from where I stood upon the ground into the baggage car. Earache came first, then a little deafness and this deafness increased until at the theatre I could hear only a few words now and then. Plays and most other “entertainments” in
consequence became a bore to me, although I could imagine enough to fill in the gaps my hearing left. I am inclined to think did not miss much. After the earache finally stopped I settled down into steady deafness. There were no great specialists I presume, in that region at the time, but I had doctors.
They could do nothing for me. (p. 165)
Machinery has changed things in our society and it will change them a great deal more. The man and machine act and interact. The time is coming when the machine will do all the work and man will just set it to work. We will feed the raw material in one end and will see our shoes, clothes and everything else we need come out of the other end. The general use of such automatic machinery will be forced by the tactics of radical labour, and at first the working people will suffer, but in the end they will be benefited. (p84)
A great fault with musicians is that most of them have not studied the science of the instrument they profess to play. They never take the pains to determine the mechanism of the things which produce their art, and hence they fail to get the most of them. For instance, I heard pianists playing on the instruments of which one key would vary extraordinarily in timbre from the adjacent key and yet be unaware of it. I admit that the piano is not a true musical instrument but is in fact a musical compromise. The notes are measured out for the player, and he is able to produce consonances and octaves exactly, because the maker of his instrument has measured them out for him. This however, in many other instruments. Take the violin; it is utterly impossible to play true consonances and octaves on the violin, though most musicians are unaware of this. The fact is very easily explained. In a stringed instrument a movement of one ten-thousandth of and inch along the string changes the tone, and in order for a player to give an absolutely exact tone he would have to intone it within a tenth of the thickness of tissue paper. When a violinist plays single notes he can generally correct a slight falsity of intonation by an almost instantaneous turn of his finger. His auditors do not catch this tuning for it occurs so rapidly. In the case of octaves he may correct and hold the right tone in one note, but he is utterly incapable of doing this with two notes, as two simultaneous actions are impossible to the human brain; hence one note remains untrue. Octaves on stringed instruments are highly unpleasant aurally and yet composers continue to write them
and virtuosi to play them because they do not appreciate their ugliness.

An illustration which strengthens my belief in this failure of artists to know the materials with which they work was that of an American artist well known, who recently made some records for us. After they were finished I paid, but destroyed the records. When she demanded my reason for this I told her she had high harmonics on her G-string. I had her play for me again, and again the falsity was apparent to me although she was unable to
discern it. Then I took her instrument and put the string under a microscope, discovering that the string had worn square. It was only after I showed this to her and explained it that I could convince her of her fault. (p. 93)

Harnessing of New Powers
Quite apart from atomic energy, the motion of the earth alone as it sweeps through space would give us all the light, power, and heat that we want, and a thousand times over.

Some day, we may harness that motion. Not only that, but one day we may harness the rise and fall of the tides and imprison the rays of the sun.