GETTING THE MONEY-MAKING HABIT
“Those were the anxious days of the Civil War,” the lecturer continued, “and every-one was worked up to a high pitch of excitement most of the time. When it was rumored that a battle had been fought the newspapers sold ‘like hot cakes.’ Any other boy would have been satisfied if he could supply as many papers as people wanted and let it go at that. But that was not the way with young Edison. He was not content with hoping for an opportunity. He made his opportunity.
“In spite of his getting into trouble so often, Al was a most likable lad, and a real boy,—earnest, honest and industrious. He had a big stock of horse sense and a great fund of humor. Though his life seemed to be ‘all work and no play,’ he took great pleasure in his work. In the course of his daily routine at Detroit, he could hardly help making friends on the Free Press, the greatest newspaper there. In this he resembled that other great inventor, also a great worker as a boy—Benjamin Franklin.
“Young Edison had a friend up in the printing office who let him see proofs from the edition being set up, so that he kept posted as to what was to be in the paper before it came off the press. After the Free Press came out, he had to get an armful and hustle for his train. In this shrewd way the train-boy was better off than ’he who runs may read,’ for he had read, and could shout while running: ’All about the big battle!’ So he sold his papers in short order. He had learned to estimate ahead how many papers the news of a battle ought to sell, and so he stocked up well beforehand. One day he saw in the advance proofs a harrowing account of the great two-days’ battle of Shiloh. He grasped not only the news value but also the strategic importance of that victory.
“Running down to the telegraph office at the Grand Trunk Station in Detroit, he told the operator all about it. Edison has told us himself about the offer he made that telegrapher:
“’If you will wire to every station on my run and get the station master to chalk up on the blackboard out on the station platform that there has been a big battle, with thousands killed and wounded, I’ll give you Harper’s Weekly free for six months!’
“The operator agreed and that Edison boy tore back to the Free Press office.
“‘I want a thousand papers!’ he gasped. ‘Pay you to-morrow!’ This was more than three times as many as he had taken out before, so the clerk refused to trust him.
“‘Where’s Mr. Storey?’ demanded the lad. The clerk snickered as he jerked his head toward where the managing editor was talking with a ‘big’ man from out of town. Young Edison was forced to break in, but the editor noticed how anxious and business-like he was. When the boy had told him what he wanted, the great newspaper man scribbled a few words on a scrap of paper and handed it down to him, saying: