(see also TRAGEDY)
Thomas Edison invented the microphone, the phonograph, the incandescent light, the
storage battery, talking movies, and more than 1000 other things. December 1914 he had
worked for 10 years on a storage battery. This had greatly strained his finances. This
particular evening spontaneous combustion had broken out in the film room. Within minutes
all the packing compounds, celluloid for records and film, and other flammable goods were
in flames. Fire companies from eight surrounding towns arrived, but the heat was so
intense and the water pressure so low that the attempt to douse the flames was futile.
Everything was destroyed. Edison was 67. With all his assets going up in a whoosh
(although the damage exceeded two million dollars, the buildings were only insured for
$238,000 because they were made of concrete and thought to be fireproof), would his spirit
The inventor's 24-year old son, Charles, searched frantically for his father.
He finally found him, calmly watching the fire, his face glowing in the reflection, his
white hair blowing in the wind. "My heart ached for him," said Charles. "He
was 67--no longer a young man--and everything was going up in flames. When he saw me, he
shouted, 'Charles, where's your mother?' When I told him I didn't know, he said, 'Find
her. Bring her here. She will never see anything like this as long as she lives.'"
The next morning, Edison looked at the ruins and said, "There is great value in
disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew." Three weeks
after the fire, Edison managed to deliver the first phonograph.
Swindoll, Hand Me Another Brick, Thomas Nelson, 1978, pp. 82-3, and
Bits & Pieces, November, 1989, p. 12.
As a young man, film director Robert Flaherty spent many months in the far north
looking for iron ore and cod. He found neither, but he did shoot 70,000 feet of film in
his travels. Someone encouraged him to edit the film and make a documentary, which
Flaherty spent weeks doing. But just as he finished, a match from his cigarette dropped
among the celluloid, consuming the entire film and burning Flaherty badly. His response to
the disaster was a determination to return to the far north and make a film of Eskimo life
"that people will never forget." He did just that, and the result was the
classic 1922 documentary, Nanook of the North.
Today in the Word, July 19,
Thomas Edison's manufacturing facilities in West Orange, N.J., were heavily damaged by
fire one night in December, 1914. Edison lost almost $1 million worth of equipment and the
record of much of his work. The next morning, walking about the charred embers of his
hopes and dreams, the 67-year-old inventor said: "There is value in disaster. All our
mistakes are burned up. Now we can start anew."
Alan Loy McGinnis, The
Power of Optimism.
This month, residents of Boston will commemorate the 61st anniversary of the bizarre
disaster which occurred Jan. 15, 1919, following the failure of a 90 foot molasses storage
tank owned by the Purity Distilling Company. The tank toppled shortly after noon that day,
releasing a tidal wave of 2.3 million gallons of goo weighing 27 million pounds which
swallowed and sweetened everything in its path.
Campus Life, January, 1980, p. 22.
A farmer sent his nephew a crate of chickens, but the box burst open just as the boy
started to take them out. The next day he wrote his uncle: "I chased them through my
neighbor's yard but I only got back eleven." Answered the uncle, "You did all
right. I only sent six."
C. McDonald in The Christian Word.