Aspire | Action | Acquire
Aspire | Action | Acquire

Seeing it Through

On October 29, 1929, “the stock market fell with such violence that ticket tape printers kept chattering into the night, unable to keep pace with the volume of selling.”[1] Thomas Edison, whilst not the original inventor, developed a stock ticker in 1869 for the Gold & Telegraph Company within weeks of leaving the employ of Western Union. On the day of the 1929 Crash, Edison was at home, having returned from a Golden Jubilee commemoration of his most famous invention, the incandescent lamp, fifty years earlier. The Jubilee was organized by his long-time friend and former employee Henry Ford.

Thomas Alva Edison, was born in Ohio in 1847 and like his contemporaries received very little formal childhood education, availing him to a lifetime of mutual disdain of and by those more learned. He was rejected admission into National Academy of Sciences by his peers on the basis his contributions were to “applied” science and not to the “true” science of discovery.[2] He was, however, revered by the public as celebritocracy, which was fortuitous in that his notoriety gained him access to money for funding his inventions.

Following his return from the Golden Jubilee celebration, Edison was greeted with the news that production of his phonograph had ceased. Being almost deaf, Edison favoured the phonograph to the point of denying that people would alternatively prefer to listen to radio. It is deserving of mention that the speculative pooling of stocks in companies, notably Radio Corporation of America (RCA), laid the groundwork for the 1929 Crash from which Edison’s interests were not immune. Seeking to put downward pressure on the stock prices of utility companies, the Governor of Massachusetts threatened a State takeover of Boston Edison.[3]

The Great Depression that followed October 29 was not all bad news; despite the record number of bank and business collapses that forced widespread unemployment. Eager for relief from financial distress everyday people clamoured to watch animated short films during the decade long Great Depression. Edison had been instrumental to developing motion film and sound decades earlier. After his 1888 invention of the Kinetoscope (aka. Kinetophone) Edison came to chair two of the world’s largest phonograph studios.[4] In his own words Edison wrote the Kinetoscope “does for the Eye what the phonograph does for the Ear.”[5]

One company to benefit during the Depression decade was the Walt Disney Studios, following the creation of Mickey Mouse in 1928. This was despite Walt personally suffering one of two mental breakdowns he would experience during his lifetime. At the end of the 1930s, Walt Disney Studios released the first full length feature animation, Snow White, which broke all cinema attendance records to that time. In the assessment of biographer Neal Gabler Snow White “was the story of what he [Walt Disney] had to surmount and what he had achieved.” The seven dwarfs were each a characterization of Disney’s resilience.[6]

Walt Disney’s commercial success would almost certainly been impossible were it not for a 1915 Federal Court order to break up Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company. The action followed Edison disallowing a would-be competitor to thread rival films through a patented projector.[7] Like Edison, Walt Disney would serially court financial pressures. Unlike Disney, who would delegate financial issues to brother Roy, Edison saw himself as both a businessperson (Principal) and inventor (Producer). Common to Edison and Disney was their ability to transcribe their respective visions into drawings.

[1] Edmund Morris, Edison (New York: Random House, 2019), 87.

[2] Edmund Morris, Edison (New York: Random House, 2019), 57.

[3] S. Nations, A History of the United States in Five Crashes Stock Market Meltdowns that Defined a Nation (New York: William Morrow & Co, 2017), 105.

[4] Edmund Morris, Edison (New York: Random House, 2019), 137.

[5] Edmund Morris, Edison (New York: Random House, 2019), 483.

[6] Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (New York NY: Vintage Books, 2007), 216-217.

[7] Edmund Morris, Edison (New York: Random House, 2019), 179.