QWHAT feature Of the industrial situation in • Europe has made the deepest impression on your mind, Mr. Edison? Ans. I am free to say that among the countries which I traversed, Germany has left by far the deepest impression on my mind, particularly as regards the enormous strides which she is making in the development of her industries and the extension of her foreign trade. Q. What do you consider to be the fundamental secrets of Germanys success? Ans. Her intelligence, her patience, her industry, and her appreciation of the value of co-operation. In the development of their industries and commerce, the Germans are a united people. They are working upon a carefully co-ordinated plan, having for its Ultimate object the captaring of the major portion of the worlds commerce; and in this effort they have the great advantage over other countries, and particularly over the United States, that they have back of them the assistance and prestige of the German Government. Q. What is the German attitude toward the inventor? Ans. I find that the inventor has better opportunities in Germany than he has in the United States, and this for the reason that any factory which manufactures articles of the character covered by ilis invention is encouraged to take hold of it, because of the financial assistance which it can secure from the great promoting banks, of which the Deutsche Bank, one of the largest in the world, is the most notable example. If an inventor brings a new invention to a factory, he is not likely to be turned down because the company is without the necessary capital to cover the cost of its manufacture and exploitation. They can present the invention for the consideration of I corps of engineers and auditors, which is maintained for that special purpose by the Deutsche Bank, and if they pass favorably upon the invention and upon the sLanding of the manufacturing company, the company will be fnanced to such an extent as the bank may think proper. Now we have no such promoting banks in this country. The inventor must either endeavor to interest the manufacturer by personal application, or he has to fall back upon the professional promoter, who too often is quite unreliable. Q. To what extent does the German Government stand back of the patents which it grants? Ans. Although the German Government does not guarantee the validity of the patent, it practically arrives at the same result by making it a very difcult matter to obtain a patent. In the frst place, the invention must be quite meritorious. The inventor will have a long fght in the Patent Ofce, in which the question of its priority will be most carefully investigated. But when he once obtains his patent, it is a patent, and after a certain number of years it cannot be disputed. The German patent possesses the greatest value, and if an American inventor has a really meritorious invention, I would advise him to fght the German Patent Ofce to the very last ditch. If his invention possesses distinct merit he will be treated fairly and will get his patent. Before leaving the subject of patents, I may say that I do not think the corporations follow the practice of buying up patents simply to pigeon-hole them, and I do not believe that this is done in the United States as much as some people imagine. Q. Have they a “trpst” problem in Germany? Ans. Regarding German business methods, particularly among the corporations, I fnd that ihough they do not have “trusts,” as we understand the term, in Germany, they have what is practically the same thing. They” have pools or cartels, which set the price that all the people, or a portion of the people, as the case may be, engaged in any industry, shall ask_ for their goods. They have a central agency; but over this the Government exercises no supervision, and indeed, it does not prevent the formation of these pools,1 realizing that destructive competition will never build up German trade. Take note, however, that these cartels do not strangle the small man. They take him in; or, if not, do not close the door of equal opportunity. Q. To what extent is American machinery used in Germany? Ans. Every American manufacturer who visits Germany will be at once impressed with the widespread and increasing use which is being made by the Germans of American machinery-machinery either of American make or American design. When they take American designs as their models, they make very little, if any, improvement therein. Their labor costs very much less than ours, and therefore there, is not the same incentive to design automatic machinery, and. very wisely, they leave this particular feld to the Americans. When we have improved our machinery, they come over a)d buy it, and after they have tried it out and found it to be satisfactory, they duplicate it. It would be foolish for the Germans to go ahead and try a lot of experiments in making automatic machinery, when they know that the Americans are bound to do it anyway, and do it better than they can. Undoubtedly, Germany has benefted enormously from the introduction of American tools and American methods, but the debt is not altogether on their side. Germany is a great scientifc nation, continually engaged in scientifc research; ald as the result of this, we not only get from her a large number of scientifc discoveries which we apply to our industries, but she also furnishes us with an enormous amount of chemicals for use in our various industries. The German, on account of his patience and other valuable peculiarities, is well equipped for the task of working out tedious ahd involved processes-something which the average American takes to very unkindly. The American wants quick results. He is forever striving to cut down the time element, and hence, as I have already stated, he is pre-eminent in the feld of automatic machinery. But for the task of developing intricate processes, involving much time and extraordinary patience-processes which, as in chemistry, involve many unknown reactions-the German is wonderfully weI! qualifed. Q. Does German superiority extend beyond the chemical industries? Ans. It must not be thought that German advance is restricted to the feld of the chemical industries. Not only is she' already preeminent here, but she is threatening our supremacy in many other branches of manufacture. The danger for us lies largely in the raw methods of interference by the Government and the weighting down of business with cumbersome and little-understood laws, some of which are enforced and others not. Furthermore, while political interests in Germany are universally friendly to trade and commerce, in this country politics is one of the heavest burdens that industry and cominerce have to carry. Here in America we have no mercantile marine to carry our goods; and, even if we had, we possess no banking facilities in outside countries to assist the exporter in seIling the goods. We have no corps of young men specially educated to go out to foreign countries and hustle for business. A large and rapidly-increasing part -of the products which I saw in courSe of manufacture and being shipped from German factories was not for use in Germany, but in countries outside of its borden. Unless business in the United States is put on a more satisfactory basis, and is rid of the present interference by the politician, Germany will be in such a strong relative position that she will win out against us right down the line. Q. Do you think the German dream of commercial supremacy wiII be realized in the near future? Ans. Personally, I do not believe that Germany will attain pre-eminence in the commerce of the world as rapidly as some people think. To-day, Great Britain is the leading nation in manufacture, engineering, and shipping, with all that this implies. She has an enormous, well eo-ordinated and harmonious empire, and at present she has the great advantage that she holds the leading position in fnance. Germany does not hesitate to let the world know that she aims at the high position now being held by the English people as the leading commercial nation, and in the race for supremacy she is going, just now, very much faster than any other country. She is giving England a great run, and, judging from present conditions in the two countries, it looks as though- in time she should reach the goal"but not just yet. Q. Do you see any signs of decadence in Great Britain? Ans. I do not think that the English nation is decadent. Far from it. But I do consider that there are conditions in the English industries which, unless they can be changed, must lead to commercial decadence. I refer to the very serious question of her union troubles. In Germany I saw a man working three planers; I understand that in England the unions will not permit such a thing to be done. All through the German shops, any man will work as many tools as possible. All the factory operatives are on piece work. This, I believe, is not permitted in England. Hence the Germans can manufacture goods of the same quality as the English very much more cheaply; export them .in their own ships; and fnance the sale of them over a long period-and I can see but one ending to a competition of this character. Further- more, the English business man does not come as early to his work, and he leaves it earlier than does the German. Q. This great increase in the German navy-does it mean war? Ans. 1 do not believe that this commercial rivalry between the two nations will lead to war. Emperor William is a pretty good business man, and he would be very foolish, now that German commerce is spreading so rapidly over the world and German ships are found upon every trade route, not to take the proper measures to insure these enormously valuable and growing interests. The best insurance for a large foreign trade is a navy adequate to its defence. I do not think thaL the Emperor and his people are building the big Germ,lll navy with any express intention of fghting E'ngland or any other nation. Germany in building her navy, has simply given notice to the world that she is a big manufacturing nation and that she is going to fnd a market for her goors in every corner of the earth. Therefore, she is go'ng to see to it that no more countries shall be shut up against her commerce. This, of course, is makIng Germany unpopular; but I cannot see that her attitude is anything but perfectly reasonable and proper. Q. While in Germany did you look into the matter of municipal government? Ans. I wish to pay tribute to the high state of perfection to which they have carried their system of municipal government. In the frst place, they appoint a very high-class man for mayor, and he holds this' distinguished and greatly honored position for life, or until such time as he is retired. One direct result is that these mayors are all the time trying to better the government of their cities, to bring in new industries, and to improve them artistically and otherwise. I had the pleasure of meeting six or eight of the mayors of diferent German cities. They were certainly the very fnest type of men. Most of them spoke English without any accent Whatever, which greatly surprised me. murthermore, their knowledge of engineering was of quite a high character. I could not learn that there was any graft whatever in any of these German cities. I have spoken of the artistic improvement of the German cities. The same spirit is observable in France, and generally in such European cities as I visited. Ugly or unsightly buildings or freak buildings of any charaCter whatsoever are not allowed to go up. They carry this principle to such an extent that in Paris where they have a great many double-deck 'buses ,un by gasolene, an order was recently promulgated that after a certain date no more double-deck 'buses must be used in Paris, for the reason that they were inartistic in appearance. It was understood, of course, that the double-deck 'buses were more proftable; but Paris would not permit the corporation to earn its greater dividends at the expense of the general artistic appearance of the streets, although the city, I understand, is a partner in the enterprise. Q. Naturally the lighting of European cities interested you, Mr. Edison. What did you observe? Ans. Speaking of the conditions in the cities, I noted that the lighting of the leading European cities does not compare with that of New York. Berlin and Paris are about equally weI! lighted; but Berlin is continually putting in more light, and before long she will greatly surpass Paris in this regard. Night life in Berlin is increasing very rapidly. It was observable that throughout Europe the night life is on the increase in those cities which have cheap water power, and there seems to be a correlation between the night life and the industrial activity of the people. In towns where the people have cheap and plentiful light, they keep later hours, and this seems to have the efect of mitigating the phlegmatic character of their temperament. In Switzerland, for instance, I have seen two towns which were of the same size and generally alike in their conditions, with the exception that one, possessing suitable water power, was well lighted at night, and the people of this town instead of going to bed at eight o'clock, were on the streets up to ten, or even later. This town had decidedly a smarter appearance. More buildings were going up, and there was a general air of enterprise. Many people sleep too long, and over-sleeping, contrary to commonly accepted ideas, so far from being refreshing, renders one sluggish and slothful. Hard work, work in which you are thoroughly interested, is more stimulating and refreshing than sleep for sleep's sake. For thirty years I slept only four hours a day, and I have had lots of assistants at various times that did the same thing. We all felt fne.
This article was originally published with the title "Edison's Impressions of European Industries" in Scientific American 105, 21, 445 (November 1911)