[LB030153], Letter from Thomas Alva Edison to George Edward Gouraud, May 30th, 1889


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[LB030153], Letter from Thomas Alva Edison to George Edward Gouraud, May 30th, 1889

Editor's Notes

[phono quantity] Dear Sir:-- Your letter 4th instant 4th instant instant, wherein you state that the Iast phonographs received fully realize the expectations which I have confidently held throughout and if you are now ready to produce them in large numbers, as I understand indirectly you are the moment has come and no time will be lost in proceeding," has been received.##On the 7th instant, I cabled you that I was ready to ship phonographs in practical commercial form for sale and use commercially in such quantities as you require. Am impatient to get your orders, which, while written before the receipt of your letter above referred to, answered your implied question as to whether I was ready to produce machines in large numbers.##Your reply to the above was embodied in your cable to me under date 9th instant: Must first see commercial machine and price. If both satisfactory large orders. Express sample. Cable departure. Wrote Saturday," which I answered on the 16th inst.: can't give price until three thousand made. However, are billing them at forty-five dollars to Company here for first thousand, forty for next and probably thirty-five for next thousand, subject to final settlement by books. Ultimate price will be lower, as we have stopped making changes and are cheapening work. We have up to to-day delivered seven hundred. They are working satisfactorily in hands of public. Send order for what you want now, whether one a week or one hundred." To this you replied on 17th instant: Must decline ordering until see machine proposed. Last received proves unsatisfactory. I prefer waiting automatic to injuring otherwise splendid business," which was followed up by your letter of complaint dated 18th instant. I quote all these cables in their proper order in compliance with the suggestion in your letter last referred to that I read the telegrams in the light of those immediately proceeding." Viewed strictly in this light it would appear that the phonographs last sent you "fully realized the the expectation which you had confidently held throughout" up to the the date of my cable of 7th inst. Asking for your orders, and that your troubles then began.##I find your specific complaints to be as follows, and I will answer that by the numbers I give them. (1) Great irregularity. (2) Diaphragm easily broken. All broken thus far. (3) One cell seems to little. Two too much. (4) New machines less to be relied on than previous machines received. (5) New machines require experts.##First. We encounter no such troubles here. The Phonograph governor is as perfect a piece of mechanism as exists today and performs its work with absolute accuracy, as I have proven time and time again by tests made under my personal supervision, and I have never had a single complaint as to bad governing in connection with the 900 machines which have been delivered to date to the licensees of the North American Phonograph Company. ##Second. This to me is conclusive evidence of the incompetency of the persons in whose hands you have placed your instruments. There is no reason whatever why the diaphragms should be broken. They are well protected, and the ordinary handling of a machine in practical use should result in no damage to the diaphragm. This complaint also is original with you. Third. It was never my intention to adopt permanently the first batteries sent out with the phonograph. I know they are very imperfect. I have experimented steadily for more than a year to obtain a suitable battery for this business, and I have succeeded. One of the first of these which I have made will be shipped to you on Wednesday next, 5th prox. It will run the phonograph four (4) hours per day for thirty days, and then by adding a small quantity of compound to the solution will run for twenty days more. I can prolong the life of this battery to six months, or any part thereof, by increasing the size of the cells proportionately.##Fourth. This is another criticism entirely original with yourself and is disproved by an experience which we have had here, that is far wider than your own. Your trouble is without doubt want of knowledge on the part of your operators.##Fifth. I have had vast experience in the marketing of novel inventions and I have never yet seen a piece of special mechanism designed for ultimate use by the general public that could be placed directly in their hands without employing experts to instruct them. The telephone, the Electric Pen, the Mimeograph, and the various devises embodied in the electric light system, which are handled by the public, all require to be explained by men who are familiar with them, and even so simple an instrument as an improved flat-iron involves a certain amount of explanation by an "expert" before it can be intelligently introduced into domestic use. Probably ninety per cent of all the sewing machines employed to-day are operated by women and the Companies employ paid agents or "experts" to educate these, which takes from three to four weeks time. Every new device which from time to time is brought out by sewing machine people has to be explained by an expert, and compared with this instrument the phonograph is a marvel of simplicity. It takes us just about two hours to thoroughly instruct a person with no previous knowledge in the operation and care of the phonograph, but the instructor must be thoroughly competent and familiar with the machine, or his instructions would serve only to confuse and add to the ignorance of his pupil. Your trouble seems to be that you have no one who is master of the new instrument, consequently you can have no efficient graduates and the phonograph is blamed for faults which exist only in those who handle it. Your complaint, therefore, in regard to experts is absurd. To the majority of people this term "experts" conveys the idea of intricacy. It is a case where there is a great deal in a name. I think if we were to call our men "Phonograph Operators" seventy-five per cent of the visionary difficulties of the instrument would disappear.##In regard to loudness and other qualities you mention I can reply to all your questions of this nature by saying that we find the new instrument superior in every respect to the old ones.##I find in your correspondence the following queries, answers to which follow:--##(1)How many phonographs can you rely upon in monthly deliveries beginning in June?##This depends entirely upon yourself. We are turning out phonographs at the rate of from 215 to 240 per week, and doing everything necessary to increase the output rapidly to meet the full number ordered by the North American Phonograph Co., viz., 300 per week. When you made your contract with me you secured to yourself privileges regarding the number of machines to which you would be entitled. You surely do not expect us to organize provisional deliveries, dependent upon your future decision as to whether you will order the instruments or not? This is practically what you ask me to do, and I, of course, decline.##(2) What are the maximum prices of (a) Motor Machines (b) Treadle Machines. © Motor Machines for Electric Light Circuits. (d) Regular Chromic Battery € New Oxide Battery?##(a & b) We are billing these to the North American Phono. Co. at $5 each, exclusive of battery power for the former, which will be billed separately as explained below. When we have turned out three thousand machines the correct price will be determined. The effect of this will be to make the average price of these 3,000 instruments considerably lower than would be a price arrived at at the present time on instruments manufactured to date, as the percentage of general expense will be lower when applied to the former owing to the increased output consequent upon the increasing efficiency of our operatives, who as they become familiar with this new work are able to finish a larger number of parts within a given time.##(c) For the present we are going to bill these machines at (200) fifty dollars each. They require a little more work than the battery instruments. Ultimately we do not think the difference in price of the two classes of instruments will be so great.##(d) The price of this battery is $3.00 per cell complete. The solution costs about $[--] per gallon. [following sentence illegible]##(e) We have just erected a new building in which to manufacture this battery. We will make various sizes proportionate to the life desired, the maximum being six months. We have not yet made any but the thirty day size, which, for the present, we will bill at $[--] per cell. Solution costs about $[--] per gallon.##(2) What is price of combined motor and treadle machine? We do not intend making an instrument of this kind. As we make a treadle machine and a motor machine, I cannot see the utility of a combination of the two in one instrument.##(3) Are the last instruments sent you the same as the 700 which I stated in my cable 18th inst. Had been supplied to the North Am. Phono. Co. up to that time? A proportion of these are the same and the others like the machine which goes to you on Wednesday, upon the arrival of which you will find that the difference in no way justifies your vehement criticism to the affect that I have furnished the North American Phonograph Company with instruments vastly superior to your own. The spectacle adjustment of these later machines is more simple than that of the earlier instruments, which constitutes the only change.##There are fifty of these phonographs in the hands of the public right around Newark, and no complaints. The only trouble I hear of is in connection with the old batteries, which we are replacing as rapidly as possible. Mr. John L. Butterfield, Manager of the Michigan Phonograph Co., writes me under date 19th instant:--##”I am glad to say that the phonograph, with the exception of the battery, is giving entire satisfaction.”##Having provided a reliable battery, the only remaining difficulty is in the wax. We have trouble freeing it from impurities which have the effect of cutting and dulling the knives, and this of course results in a rough recording surface on the cylinders. We are after this trouble and will eliminate it very shortly, producing also a cylinder which will neither warp nor crack.##All these minor differences are incidental to the development of an entirely new enterprise, and will in due time disappear. We are thoroughly familiar with all points where improvement is desirable and are straining every nerve to make the instrument absolutely perfect.##There is no reason, however, why business should he delayed while we are going through different degrees of perfection. We have passed the comparative and will reach the superlative in good season. That we are now making a practical commercial machine is beyond dispute. Any changes which are made in methods of adjustment or in other directions will not render useless other parts of the instruments. Phonograph parts are all interchangeable—are gauged to [position?] fit in manufacture—and any new designs will be adapted to instruments already sent out, requiring only the removal of the part intended to be replaced—nothing else will be interfered with. I explain this fully to you, because you apparently desire to be assured that I will make no further changes, which would mean practically that I do not intend to improve the instrument in the future. If you want assurance to the effect that I am not going to make a radical change which would render useless all the instruments sent out so far, and necessitate their abandonment and result in a heavy loss to the present purchasers, I give it to you most readily, though to interpret your desire in this manner would be crediting you with having formed but a poor opinion of my judgement.##Altogether your criticisms are superficial and are the result of a very imperfect acquaintance with the machine.##I can only reply to your question as to when you will receive a commercial phonograph by stating that you already have commercial instruments and we will be glad to increase the number when you advise us definitely of your wishes in that connection. Yours very truly Thos. A. Edison




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