They Begged for a Chance to Help Edison Create the Future

(p. 289) He, and anyone working for him, were perceived as standing at the very outer edge of the present, where it abuts the future. When a young John Lawson sought a position at Edison’s lab and wrote in 1879 that he was “willing to do anything, dirty work–become anything, almost a slave, only give me a chance,” he spoke with a fervency familiar to applicants knocking today on the door of the hot tech company du jour. In the age of the computer, different companies at different times–for example, Apple in the early 1980s, Microsoft in the early 1990s, Google in the first decade of the twenty-first century–inherited the temporary aura that once hovered over Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory, attracting young talents who applied in impossibly large numbers, all seeking a role in the creation of the zeitgeist (and, like John Ott, at the same time open to a chance to become wealthy). The lucky ones got inside (Lawson got a position and worked on electric light).

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

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