“One of the striking things about Thomas Alva Edison is his gameness. In this respect he has been greater than Napoleon, who was not always a ‘good loser,’ for he had come to regard himself as bound to win, whether or no; so when everything went against him, he expressed himself by kicking against Fate. But when Edison saw the hard work of nine years which had cost him two million dollars vanish one night in a sudden storm, he only laughed and said, ’I never took much stock in spilt milk.’
“When his laboratories were burned or he suffered great reverses, Edison considered them merely the fortunes of war. In this respect he was most like General Washington, who, though losing more battles than he gained, learned to ‘snatch victory from the jaws of defeat,’ and win immortal success.
“Some of Edison’s discoveries were dramatic and amusing. During his telephone experiments he learned the power of a diaphragm to take up sound vibrations, and he had made a little toy that, when you talked into the funnel, would start a paper man sawing wood. Then he came to the conclusion that if he could record the movements of the diaphragm well enough he could cause such records to reproduce the movements imparted to them by the human voice.
“But in place of using a disk, he got up a small machine with a cylinder provided with grooves around the surface. Over this some tinfoil was to be placed and he gave it to an assistant to construct. Edison had but little faith that it would work, but he said he wanted to get up a machine that would ‘talk back.’ The assistant thought it was ridiculous to expect such a thing, but he went ahead and followed the directions given him. Edison has told of this:
“’When it was finished and the foil was put on, I shouted a verse of “Mary had a little lamb” into the crude little machine. Then I adjusted the reproducer, which when he began to operate it, proceeded to grind out—
“’Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go’
“with the very quality and tones of my voice! We were never so taken back in our lives. All hands were called in to witness the phenomenon and, recovering from their astonishment, the boys joined hands and danced around me, singing and shouting in their excitement. Then each yelled something at the machine—bits of slang or slurs—and it made them roar to hear that funny little contraption ‘sass back!’
“Edison has always had a saving sense of humor. Though such a driver for work—sometimes twenty hours a day seemed too short and they often worked all of twenty-four,—there was not unfrequently a jolly, prank-playing relaxation among the employees in the laboratory. If some fellow fell asleep and began snoring the others would get a record of it and play it later for the culprit or they would fix up a ‘squawkophone’ to outdo his racket. Most amusing was Edison’s means of taking a short nap by curling up in an ordinary roll-top desk, and then turning over without falling out.