The Turn Of The Century Electrotherapy
X-Ray Pioneer Edwin Lee Edwards
Less than a few months ago I stumbled on an Edwards X-Ray ad that had me intrigued. A fascinating coil that
made both Frank and I wonder where we could find one! Now, out of blue, we hear from his great grandson...and
what a treasure he has shared with us!
I probably should have just mailed you a photo cd, but I already compressed the photos, so I'll send them in a couple of emails. If you want a photo cd, I'd be happy to do that as well.
It's peculiar that most of the inventors you mention below are known by three names. Whenever my dad talked about Edwin, it was always Edwin Lee Edwards. Edwin was born in Bloomington, IL in 1871. His father was farmer. He was the third child of 6 plus 2 older half siblings.
He had a set of twin sisters who were pyschic. They would communicate with each other from across the country. My grandmother told me that one of them moved to California while her son was a detective in Chicago. He would call her with unsolved cases. She was able to help on many, but after a particularly disturbing case, she told him she could no longer do this.
Edwin and his brother Elmer are pictured in uniform with the 4th Infantry Company G troop photo. I have been trying for months to find a record that would tell me if he was in a state volunteer regiment or the regular army and when. He looks about 18 in the photo, so I'm guessing it was taken around 1889. I have a request in with the IL state archives, I'm really hoping for some results there.
I don't know if or when he went to college, but I am assuming he did. I assume this because seems to have been somewhat common in my family. On both sides of my tree, my great grandparents and even some of my great-great grandparents, though most were poor farm kids, managed to get themselves through college. Edwin was arguably the most intelligent and I just have a feeling that he did.
He married Mary Elizabeth Allen in 1896. They had one daughter Nelva Celia Edwards in 1898. She too was psychic. She was also an artist. She attended Herron School of Art, now part of Indiana University in Indianapolis. According to the obituary, Edwin lived in Indy for 35 years, so he must have moved from Bloomington, IL around 1907.
The story of the nail polish as it was told to me was that Edwin saw his wife buffing her nails. He thought there must be an easier way to polish, so on the kitchen stove, he created an enamel. He sold the the polish in boxes that either his wife hand painted or painted the original design and then it was printed. The story goes that he did not patent the polish and it was stolen by Revlon. I don't know if it's true, but I remember hearing (though I could have created this in my mind) that Revlon even stole the box design. I would love to find one of these old boxes. As I was writing this paragraph, I looked up the history of Revlon. It was created in 1932. Nail polishes were more like paint than enamels in the 19th and early 20th century, though enamels started to show up around this time. So I don't know how much of it's true, but I don't think it far-fetched to think that Edwin did indeed create some kind of polish on his stove.
I don't know what the story of the parking meter or the improvement to the pogo stick are. They were just in a list of inventions I remember my dad telling me. Even as a young kid, Edwin fascinated me. So I held the list of inventions in my head. It seems as though he had his staples, the x-ray and electro-tech devices, but also innovated a variety of products as the ideas struck him. One of the patents is of a coin operated lock. That was news to me.
Edwin was probably a bit of a difficult eccentric. He and his wife divorced in 1922, afterwhich he is rumored to have married his secretary, though I have not found an official record of this - I want her name!! If he did marry his secretary, they were divorced soon after because he remarried Mary Elizabeth in 1929. As it says in the obituary, he died in 1942 in the home of his daughter at the age of 71.
Edwin was a mason. This fascinated me as a child too. Probably because his ceremonial Masonic sword hung in my bedroom at my Dad's house. What young boy wouldn't be fascinated by the story surrounding a secret society and a sword! His name is engraved on the scabbard. All sorts of scenes are detailed in raised metal. The sword itself is also decorated with scenes. I don't remember what the scenes are - probably commemorating masonic ceremonies and legends. The obituary says he was a member of the Masonic Blue Lodge in Bloomington IL and was a York Rite Member and Shriner. I remember hearing that he was a Scottish Rite member. The Scottish Rite Cathedral in Indy is my favorite building downtown.
I too would think there is a catalog existing somewhere. I don't think either of the buildings he worked in still stand. The last residence that I know of is on a street that is no longer labeled as it was back then, so I can't be sure of whether or not the house still stands.
In a book at my dad's house, there is a typed copy of an add for one of the companies. Next time I visit, I'll get a copy. Other than that, I don't know of any writings. There is one more story about a ring that I know exists in the family lore regarding Edwin. I'll have to do some digging to find out what that is.
My dad was a geneaologist. He compiled a most thorough tree. He died at the age of 52 in 2003. I have taken over and have concentrated mostly on collecting the military history and gathering all of the old pictures. He would have known some stories about Edwin. The only person alive that I know of who knew him would be my grandma. She lives in Cincinatti and her memory is slipping. I will ask her for information on Edwin, but I'll have to do it next time I visit. She's not good on the phone. Because Edwin only had one child, I would assume everything went to her, Nelva. My grandmother was Nelva's only child, and so, she inherited everything from Nelva. My dad, aunt and uncle would inherit these. I will ask the aunt and uncle for information as well.
The ad you gave me lists his company as Edwards Instrument Co (as opposed to Edwards X-Ray Corp). I searched some newspapers for this company and turned up a few items, though they really only establish dates of existence and not much else. I have also attached another clipping concerning the electorcution. The building is the Newton Claypool Bldg where his Instrument Co show room was located.
I wiill attach pictures in the next emails.
Lots of rambling here, finally have some time to respond!
I would be interested in putting as many photos that you have of him on the site. The simple reason is that photos of X-Ray pioneers simply do not exist, especially candid photos in family life. Many died of X-Ray complications, radiation exposure, etc...many were too eccentric to be married (ha ha, Frank and I got lucky, we both have supportive wives despite our own eccentric hobbies in the X-Ray field), and most of the family of those that did survive are a little complicated in some way or another.
Family stories, we would love to hear them. You would be amazed, that sole relatives of inventors (some in their 80s, sole relatives) are hesitant to share such things, even if they are the last people to know the information. They feel it is unimportant, or maybe "old wives tales", and the truth is some of what sounds like pure fiction in some of these men's lives was really true! The fact that you seem eager and fascinated by him is quite refreshing.
We've heard (almost exclusively during the last three years) from families of pioneers Thomas Burton Kinraide, William Benham Snow, Earle Lewis Ovington, Thomas Stanley Curtis, Herman G. Fischer, Monico Sanchez, and Frank S. Betz. I am sure that one or more of these men know of Edwards or even knew him - it was a small world, and Marion Indiana is not far from everything high frequency and X-Ray by the teens and 20s - Chicago was the hot spot for dozens of companies. The field was a "small world" of sorts, everyone knew everyone, just how and to what degree is the hard part today in deciphering.
Maybe in your family photos we will recognize someone or something.
Lots of questions off the top of my head, maybe you have some too that we can ponder over...
Does his house still exist where he lived?
Does the building of the company still exist?
Is any paperwork or writings still existing?
Somewhere there must be a company catalogue!
The high frequency coil in the ad has me going crazy. The ad mentions some phrases that are linked closely with early machines - 8" spark, not 4.5 or 5.5" - in many ways, his machine looks like a good competitor of Campbell Electric or Scheidel Western. Interesting too is the term "Thermo-Faradic". This term was invented by Kinraide, and used by Campbell (and now I see Edwards too) to describe a modality of electricity that had many other names at that time to choose from...meaning that maybe, just maybe, Edwards had seen, operated, or devised his machine based on those earlier ones in particular he may have had experience with. (Oh, to find one!)
Death by X-Ray accident- must have been in the Coolidge Years when low frequency transformers were used in place of high frequency. Sure is dangerous - 150,000V or more, and a lot of current. That clipping is interesting, no doubt many people died this way but you never see it in print. Very interesting. In fact, I think most X-Ray physicians were sued for X-Ray burns, and the topic of electrocution by the machines is one I will look up just as an interesting side note to the site.
(Isn't it strange, that I hadn't done that before...casual playing with 100s of thousands of volts tends to make one a bit...forgetful of the obvious?)
Interesting in his other inventions, I have to study them more closely.
X-Ray inventors were curious! Kinraide dabbled with chemistry after X-Rays, trying to make perfume, and developing theories on 4th dimension space; photographed electrical phenomena. Ovington imported and yoghurt with active cultures for stomach disorders, became the first airmail pilot, became an amateur photographer. Some X-Ray pioneers seemed to lead somewhat normal lives afterwards, others were eccentric dabblers and experimenters until the day they died. Others were involved with the first World War effort in developing communications equip, "wireless" telegraphy and radio, etc...
Free masonry, drinking clubs, "theosophy" and other spiritual-based religions, all were par-for-the-course in the 20s...a different time, bold and exciting.
I am now most fascinated by Edwards... your photos are very intriguing. So many X-Ray pioneers are names w/o faces...last year we found photos of three pioneers and were floored just to see the faces behind the writings and books we knew so well...I have to wonder who Edwards knew and met over the years, was it his hands building the devices and making the experiments in their early years of construction, hmm...and which devices, that high frequency coil looks fabulous, and the patents showed some definite ingenious designs.
Jeff Behary, c/o The Turn Of The Century Electrotherapy Museum
Click here to see the photo gallery!