He offers his former chief aide John Kruesi, who had built the first phonograph, a financial partnership: “We are full of work but I haven’t a good man… we could arrange that you could get a percentage of the profits”
By 1878, Edison had been granted a patent for a phonograph, and ten years later had become interested in extending that technology to include combined moving pictures and sound. “I am experimenting upon an instrument which does for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear, which is the recording and...
By 1878, Edison had been granted a patent for a phonograph, and ten years later had become interested in extending that technology to include combined moving pictures and sound. “I am experimenting upon an instrument which does for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear, which is the recording and reproduction of things in motion,” he wrote in 1888. Decades before Edison began his work on what would become the first kinetoscope and kinetograph, people were fashioning crude hand-drawn motion pictures, similar to today’s animated cartoons. But Edison’s concept was different, involving moving photographs.
The basic concept of Edison’s motion picture devices – the kinetograph and kinetoscope – was to employ a cylinder similar to those used in the phonograph, place it inside a camera and then coat it with a light sensitive material. Every time a picture was taken, the cylinder rotated slightly, taking another picture. The crude film was then processed and run through a viewer in slow motion.
One of the first films Edison made was of a laboratory worker in his Newark, NJ, laboratory, named Fred Ott, who acted out a sneeze on February 2, 1893. The sound of the sneeze was recorded on a phonograph to be played back with the film, and the experiment proved to be a success.
Edison Phonograph Works was incorporated in New Jersey on May 3, 1888. It controlled the manufacturing rights for Edison’s phonograph and many of the supplies it used, as well as certain other products. It operated a factory in West Orange, New Jersey, where it manufactured phonographs, cylinders, machines for the Bates Manufacturing Company, and electrical devices for the Edison Manufacturing Company.
As he geared up his various phonographs and kinetoscope operations, Edison need a good man in charge and he turned to his chief lab operator, John Kreusi.
Kruesi had been apprenticed as a locksmith in Switzerland, and migrated to the United States where he settled in Newark, New Jersey. There he met Thomas Edison, who was impressed with the young Swiss immigrant and took a liking to him, employing him in his workshop starting in 1872. He became Edison’s head machinist through his Newark and Menlo Park periods, responsible for translating Edison’s numerous rough sketches into working devices. Since constructing and testing models was central to Edison’s method of inventing, Kruesi’s skill in doing this was critical to Edison’s success as an inventor. By the late 1880s, Kruesi was General Manager of the Edison Machine Works, which in 1889 moved to Schenectady, NY.
Historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel summed up Kruesi’s remarkable ability: “If the devices that emerged [from Kruesi’s workshop] didn’t work, it was because they were bad ideas, not because they were badly made. And when the ideas were good, as in the case of the phonograph, the product of Kruesi’s shop would prove it.” Kruesi was involved in many of Edison’s key inventions, including the quadruplex telegraph, the carbon microphone, the telephone, phonograph, incandescent light bulb and system of electric lighting. Kruesi was particularly proud of building the first phonograph.
Autograph letter signed, May 1, 1893, to Kruesi, seeking to lure Kruesi back to run his phonograph facility. “I suppose your salary is so large at Schenectady that you would not care to come and take charge of the Phonograph Works at six thousand per year. We are full of work but I haven’t a good man. Perhaps you could work it up to a good paying institution and we could arrange that you could get a percentage of the profits. You would be your own boss and I think it would be more pleasant here in the long run for you.”
As attractive and flattering as Edison’s offer surely was, Kruesi stayed in Schenectady, where he ended up supervising over 4000 people. When his company merged with several others to form General Electric Company in 1892, Kruesi was promoted to General Manager and Chief Mechanical Engineer. He died just a few years later.
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