Dover Publications Inc 1990, originally published by the
Edison Institute, 1937
pages 96 - 99
"Many advertisements dealing with the pen or some form
of it were published in magazines and journals of the
time. One told of the 'Woodbury Holder,' designed to keep
the electric pen automatically in a vertical position,
thus relieving the operator of that necessity. It was, as
I well knew, hard on the fingers to keep the pen upright
while writing with it.
"The Woodbury holder could be attached to any pen and
was much liked 'by those who are not expert with it, as it
enables anyone to write in their natural handwriting
without practice.' Its price was five dollars.
(((Illustration: "In this picture the electric pen
rests in its holder, which formed part of the outfit and
held the pen when it was not in use. The holder was of
metal painted black and made an attractive desk
"Another device was the so-called 'Reed Pen,' an
extremely rapid form of the electric pen devised by Mr.
Edison for fast, skillful penmen. Its speed was so great
that it sometimes cut the center out of round letters.
Then there was the 'Music Ruling Pen,' an electric pen
having five needles for the purpose of ruling music. The
stencil paper had to be placed on thick, firm cloth or the
edges of paper when this particular form of pen was used.
Two batteries instead of one were required to supply the
"After the Western Electric Company acquired the
selling rights to the pen, it made quite a business of it.
In one of its catalogs there was a full page showing parts
prices for the pen from a bottle of ink to the complete
unit, which cost twenty-five dollars.
"Bought separately, a pen cost eight dollars, a wet
battery was five dollars and twenty-five cents, a press
ranged from eight to seventeen dollars, and a roller from
two dollars and twenty-five cents to three dollars and
"Perhaps you would be interested in the directions
given for preparing a wet battery. (((Why yes! We would!
Consider that at this point Thomas Edison has not yet
invented the electric light. Without this killer
application for electric power, there is no electrical
power grid anywhere in the world. Every Edison Electric
Pen requires its own, individual power source, a desktop
chemical power generator, the "wet battery." It's a
fiendish and troublesome device containing zinc, carbon,
sulfuric acid and mercury.)))
"'Place the porous clay cups or cells in the glass
jars, one with the flat side turned from you and the other
toward you. Then attach the zincs and carbons to the
rubber discs so that one zinc and one carbon will be
secured to the brass posts, and one of each to the iron
screws. The brass posts always rest on the rubber discs,
the iron screw on the little brass strap.
"'Fill the porous cups to within three-quarters of
an inch from the top with red fluid.
"'Fill the glass jars to within three-quarters of an
inch of the top of the porous cups with water, into which
a tablespoonful of common sulphuric acid is then poured.
Move the porous cups backward and forward in the glass jar
a few times to thoroughly mix the acid and water together.
If this is not done the acid, which is much heavier than
the water, settles to the bottom and does not mix.
"Slip the battery plates secured to the rubber discs
on the upright rod in such a manner that the black plates
of carbon shall go into the porous cells, and the zincs
into the water.
"'It will be noticed that the zinc and carbon plates
on one disc are reversed on the other, hence the necessity
of placing the porous cells on opposite sides of the glass
"'The collar to which the two discs are secured is
provided with a screw sliding up and down in the long
groove in the rod, which prevents the collar from turning
around, and with a catch which drops into a notch on the
opposite side when the discs are lifted high enough, and
holds the plates out of the liquids. If they are allowed
to remain down when the pen is not in use, the sulphuric
acid and water would soon eat the zincs away. To prevent
this, they should always be lifted out after using.
"After considerable use the mercury with which the
zincs are amalgamated becomes eaten off, and the action of
the acid upon the pure zinc is more intense, causing what
is termed 'boiling.' This can be obviated by removing the
zincs from the discs, washing off all superfluous matter,
and allowing them to remain in the acid and water a few
moments; then remove and add a few drops of quicksilver
to them, making them good as new. By this precaution,
zincs will last a long time. (((Unlike the operator, who
will soon the suffering the tremors of "hatter's madness"
if he inhales enough of those mercury fumes.)))
"'The battery fluid should last from one to two
weeks, according to the amount of work it has to perform.
When it is in daily use, for an hour or so at a time, it
is recommended that it be changed once a week. Operators
will have to be guided by experience.'"