[D8802ABX], Letter from Sigmund Bergmann to Thomas Alva Edison, November 20th, 1888


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[D8802ABX], Letter from Sigmund Bergmann to Thomas Alva Edison, November 20th, 1888

Editor's Notes

"What I shall communicate to you in this letter, I might say to you in person, but when my feelings are as deeply involved as they are in this matter, they might get the better of my judgment and lead me to say what I might perhaps afterwards find some difficulty in explaining or substantiating. ### This will not be the case with the statements that I shall make in this letter. ### On every hand I get the information that your whole wrath has been concentrated upon me. I am constrained to defend myself and through I do not seek justification, that I shall state my defense to you, if no other result follows than that my communication will bring to you a few truths, to which you will do well to listen as you get these too seldom nowadays. ### First you tell everyone that you have made me rich. Let us concisely review the history of our business connections and in how far you have done so. I shall be as brief as possible and will not go back to the time when, a skilled mechanic, I first worked for you in 1870 for $12.00 a [unclear]; but only to the time when I already had an established business of from $35,000.00 to $50,000.00 per annum and you first turned work into my shop. ### You gave me your telephone work at that time, because, as you yourself tole Pre'dt Orton of the Western Union Telegraph Co and others, you knew of no one who could do the work sharper, quicker, and more satisfactorily and who generally was better acquainted with the details than I. Shorly after, or at about the same time, you sent Mr. Johnson to me after he had been floundering around in shiop after shop trying to get Phonographs made to suit him both in quality and price. ### From that time on, I filled a large portion of your experimental orders. The books will show that I charged less profit on your work than I easily got on all others. ### My own time on it days, nights and Sundays, never was reckoned. Besides I had to wait for my money for most of it a year or more, which was no small hardshop for me then. I even took payment of part of the a/c in E.E.L.Co. Stock at $1750.00 per hare for which I could only get $900.00 per share a month later. ### Up to this time, did I do your work because you wanted to make me rich, or because I did it as well and cheaply, or more so, than any one else? ### In October 1887 I bought this property. I bought it at a big bargain and right from the enemy--your enemies who, three days later, when they saw who had bought it, offered me $10,000.00 to return the property and cancel the contract. At this time I asked you to come in as a patron in Bergmann & Co which you did and paid 38,000.00 On this investment you have since drawn in profits and dividents up to Sept 1st $77,785.81 in cold cash. To this is now added the value placed on the property itself by the accountants viz: 133 per share making the 1/3 purchased by you for $38,000.00 worth $333,000. to which add what you have drawn on above and you get a grand total of over $410,000.00 as the result of your investment of $38,000.00 in partnership with me. ### You moved your laboratory into the building and the rental which I charged you was much less than what it was worth or what anyone else would have had to pay. It was a pretty good bargain for you. Bergmann & Co did your experimental work at 45[cents] per hour. For the same kind of work we got then and get now from 60 to 75 cents per hour. ### At this time also, you will recollect, I again worked days nights and Sundays on Telphone experiments, and together with Mr. Johnson made and second patents not only for improvements but even for entirely new telephone which you yourself thought sufficiently novel to start an opposition Company on, as you advised me to do. I know that I was not the one who reaped the benefit of of these imventions. I had not even the empty honor of being considered the real author of my own, when you negotiated with [unclear] American Bell Telephone Co to dispose of them. ### I do now know to this day what value they placed on them. ### The Phonograph business was taken away from this establishment, and I consider that there was no justification for doing it. ### We were given no chance whatever though you kow that I was more thoroughly acquanited with it than anyone else excepting yourself, and it was given into the hands of Strangers. You have made the accusation and spread it abroad that I sold my phonograph stock twice. I risked my own money when I went into that speculation and bought the stock and when I sold it again you accused me of selling it twice. ### You know as well as I do that this is not so. When you called me to Mr. Lippincotts office. You complained that Mr. Painter was squeezing you and I told you that as far as I could prevent it, your own deal should not be interfered with, and that my stock would be at your service to prevent anything of the kind if needed; and that I would be satisfied with 15.00 per share for it. When afterwards the contract was signed and the wholse stock sold for $21.50 per share, and Mr. Painter insisted on having $25.00 for his, I sacrified mine, and so that you could get your payments, I took $17.50 per share. Nor did I do this because you told me that you had me down for $5000.00. ### Of a piece with the taking away of the phonograph from here is the constant encroachment that is being made on Bergmann & Co stock by the other shops, and how far this encroachment has gone you know as well as I do. I think tha tyou also know how much of Bergmann & Co would be in existence now if I had not fought all their attempts, as hard as I have. ### I must not forget my connection with the United Co of which you are personally the largest owner. You may or may not know what I have done to help it along. In its councils and deliverations I have always to the best of my ability advised and acted for your best interests, recognizing all of the time, as I have stated above, thatit practically belonged to T.A. Edison. I have acted as its Treasurer since its beginning without reservation and whatever others might have done in the same position. I know that its treasury was carefully guarded in my hands. Not only that, but I lent it when it needed it, the assistance of my personal credit and influence with the directors of its banks and secured for it a line of discount which, at that time it would otherwise have been unable to get. I have not been and do not claim to have been any more responsible for the results which it accomplished than its other officers and directors but I have the gratification of knowing that my voice and vote are on record in its minutes on the side of whatever policies it has pursued with any measure of success and against many that would have probably resulted in the opposite. ### So much for the manner in which we have trusted each other in matters of business and money. I will go before any unprejudiced jury with the above statement, evey word of which is true, and abide by their verdict as to whether you are justified in the implication of unfair dealing on my part which contained in the statement that you made me rich and now find me ungrateful. ### Second. Having dealt with what I have done that is on record and can be proved, I canot complete this communication without stating what have been my motions and aims in my dealings with you. It is no credit to anyone to be honest but whatever virtue there is in such a course is all the pay that I now have for the way in which I have always dealth in all matters that involved your interests. ### When the Sprague Company was formed about 3 years ago, I had the opportunity of taking an active interest in the enterprise and by investing a few thousand, of making a hundred thousand. I did not stay out of it, because, as I told Mr. Johnson, and others, I had no faith in it, but because in this, as in all other ventures of this kind, I did not want to take a hand until I knew that you were in accord with the scheme; a fact which at the time I had reasons to doubt. ### It cannot be a secret to you, for the fact is known to many, tha tBergmann & Co have been solicited time and again by Rival Electric Light Companies to make for them the same kind of apparatus and appliances as they were making for the Edison System. It would have been unnecessary for them to make anything that the Edison System was using. They were so anxious (and are now) to secure our facilities for making and perfecting their own devices, that they would have paid good prices, and as time has shown their business would have been enormously profitable. Was it a regard for your interests or my own that kept me from making a great deal of money in this way? ### I do not hesitate to claim for the work that Bergmann & Co have done and the improvements which I made, and the fact that rival companies could not get our facilities, a large share of the success which has been the portion of the Edison business. ### While on this topic, I also wish to remind you that half of the business that has been done by Bergmann & Co had no connection whatever with the Edison Electric Light and that half too has been by far the most profitable. ### As for the money that I have made, much of it has accrued to me as the result of judicious investments in real estate and other speculations which involved much less work and care. ### I have stood alone many times in the history of the Edison Electric Light business and defended your interests against wily plots and schemes, and there are those who can now tell you that otherwise we would be paying enormous royalties thereto had I not foreseen and defeated them. ### Last but not least by any means, I never failed to do for you whatever you asked of me. That you know this is proved by the fact that when you wanted assistance particuarly in a financial way, I believe I was the first one to whom you came; and how often my private purse appeared to you to be that of the concern you did not know and I daresay did not give the matter a thought. I am not sorry that you are no longer obliged to call on us. I am glad you are prosperous. ### I made one great mistake however, it is time that I would make it over again under the impression that it was praise-worthy: but it was a mistake for all that in my dealings with you. I ran the affairs of the concern which I managed on my own responsibility and according to my judgment. The fact that they have not met with some measure of success does not justify the course which I took. I was told htat I did not see you often enough, but I thought that I had your good will if not your friendship and that I could run my own affairs and look after your interests in Bergmann & Co without continually divining into your ear, nursing your little hobbies and blowing my own horn to you as I am told many others do. On the contrary rather than do this and carry complaints to you, I have stood slights and insults. But when you got complaints against me, which was not seldon I am sure. I feel that the decision was against me befor emy case was heard. ### What I thought you should see and know, as for instance, new devices and improvements on old, whenever they were important enough I sent to you never reached your hands but were filed away, and many of my samples you never saw. They were mislaid (?) by subordinates, I suppose, whose ambitions were not helped by your recognition of any vlue in my work. ### I can close fittingly by referring to the only evidence, or perhaps I should say want of evidence, that I have of any desire on your part to signify that you appreciated or thought well of anything that I did. ### For two years I managed the affairs of Bergmann & Co for $50.00 a week, and paid my expenses out of my own pocket too, but you never troubled yourself to suggest any of the gradual additions that have been made to my salary since then. I was left, when faced by a sense of injustice to myself and my family, to ask for that compensation which was clearly my due. ### Now I have told you some of the things which I have done for you. What have you done for me? Only this, that you gave me an opportunity to do some of your work. I think I can ask of you now, one thing more and that is that you will hereafter pocket your ill feeling to me and call off your barkers. I do not want this misunderstood--I do not want any favors--I never did and do not now, but I have the right to demand that I be let alone. All this of which I have now relieved my mind has [unclear] me a long time and in the face of all that I have thus plainly recorded, I am puzzled to account for your always having taken such a stand against me. Perhaps even this letter may afford further opportunities for ridiculing and picking me to pieces, but whether it does or not, the cold facts that I have therein recorded cannot thereby be wiped out. ### Regardign the stock of Bergmann & Co that I have sold--no one can question my right to dispose of my own property, and ithas not been sold, as it is rumored, because I purposed going into an opposition concern, but simply because I have been squeezed so hard that the pressure became too much for my comfort and I was tired of playing the foot-ball for others. ### You have been trying to get control of this business and I have not wished to hinder you from doing so. If I had, I would not have sold my stock to your own people at the price that I took for it; and you had better now find someone to look after your interests in this concern, whom you have no suspicions against, as a short time ago, you said you had against me, and who can do so better than I have done, for I do not intend to remain in charge of it any longer. ### I send you this statement of facts in the hope that it may contain some of which you have till now had no knowledge, and not for the purpose of starting any controversy and remain" Yours truly, S. Bergmann




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Thomas A. Edison Papers, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University
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