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The Partnership of Business and Science—Industry's Debt to the Latter

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



BUSINESS AND SCIENCE have been partners in industry since that prehistoric day when science was first recognized as a distinct manifestation of the human intellect. The Chaldean nomads who, watching the places and seasons of the stars, made the beginnings of astronomy, applied their science to time and guide the migrations of their flocks from winter pasture to summer pasture and back again. The science of geometry grew out of the need for marking anew after each inundation the boundaries of the grain fields that are still fertilized annually by the Nile flood. Research not for profit —the pursuit of knowledge just to know—the study of the mysteries of the universe without thought of early and gainful result from the study, is seldom praised in the ancient records, and is not over-much acclaimed in modern days.

Gifts for Science

Nevertheless, many industries of our day, with our own industry as their leader, have chosen to give liberally of encouragement, of opportunity, and of money, toward science which is in truth re-search into uncharted fields of human speculation. These gifts are made without any estimate of commensurate return and without assurance of any useful reflex on business. I do not mean the gifts to scientific or educational institutions by men who have become rich in our industry, or in other industries. These gifts are another story. My reference is to the deliberate and continued contributions by the industry, as part of its business policy, towards the systematic solution of problems, and the orderly reduction of speculation to observation, in fields not now cultivated by our industry but into which it is reasonably possible that we may some day extend.

A Wide Vision

It is axiomatic that scientific inquiries which in no way help an industry are not part thereof, and should be excluded from its costs. But the wise man takes a wide view of life. He may at the moment have to concentrate his perceptions on the road which lies straight before him, and along which he must travel rapidly to an immediate journey's end; but he takes the next opportunity or makes the opportunity some day, to study each side of the road and he maintains an observant interest in every phase of surrounding life with which his own life makes contacts. He is not only diligent in the day's work, but he has his visions of the things that may perchance become the day's work in future years. The wise industry provides that some one within its gates shall have time for such visions, and for making them come true, if it be possible.

Inventor Once in Foreground

When our own industry was in its first youth the inventor was in the foreground of the picture. The scientist who had demonstrated in the class room the possibility of the electric light or the electric motor, was crowded to the rear. The man who invented and produced and marketed a practicable generator, or arc lamp, or in-candescent lamp, was the man of the hour. The poor scientist had only shown that this, or that, or the other pretty thing was a possibility. He had seldom recognized the usefulness of the pretty thing. In some cases he had even made the pronouncement that his discovery never could be useful. There were, always, the few leaders who in themselves were experimenters and demonstrators, inventors of practical devices, and diligent seekers of improvement of these devices or extensions of their use. These men were the exceptions and they have their reward. The story of the first ten years of the life of the National Electric Light Association is the story of a dozen, or a score, or a hundred inventing men, each with mechanical aptness and some electrical sense, each seeking empirically for a serviceable solution of each separate technical problem. Most of them played hunches. The born inventor always does play hunches. Some hunches were good but we had passed along into the second decade of the life of our Association before we had theoretical demonstration of why they were good, and had begun to reduce the empirical method of the inventor to the measured rule of the de-signer. At that time the research engineer was puzzling out the cause why certain mechanical and electrical combinations produced an observed result, and determining not only the cause but its dimensions. Our industry needed these men and they helped us greatly. We did not properly appreciate them ourselves, and the world out-side of our industry, which had already learned to depend upon us for a service then becoming essential—that world was fascinated by the legend of the inventor and the romance of the playing of the hunch. It made no account of those others who year by year, by establishing principles and determining formulae were compelling the invention to its full usefulness.

The inventor is not now in the front of the picture. He has his place in an ordered setting which includes the calculator and de-signer, the experimenter and investigator, and (last but by no means least) the factory engineer and the field engineer. The age-old art and mystery practiced by these two, in the right handling of tools and materials and the wise management of human effort, has made them essential to us. An industry national in its quantities and extent has demanded and secured to itself the most efficient factory managers, and the most brilliant executors of those engineering projects which are immense even among the gigantic undertakings of the most enterprising nation of the earth.

The new figure now at the front of the stage is the scientist en-gaged in electrical research. He is the man who once in a while announces that he has numbered the electrons in the atom and has cataloged each atom according to its planetary system, or that he has persuaded light to follow willingly along the crooked axis of a transparent rod, or that by patient identification of fractional impurities in a little known metal, and even more patient application of scientific laws to the exclusion of these impurities, he has forged and drawn and spun a gossamer filament of pure metal which will forthwith revolutionize artificial illumination.

Our industry, away in advance of any other, is asking through its research laboratories for the answers to a thousand questions in natural science. The propounding of these questions, with the chance that they may be answered, catches the imagination of the careless reader of the daily newspaper, and equally intrigues the trained mind of the scholar. All the people look toward the research engineer of today, hoping and expecting that he will find out some new thing and forthwith tell it to them. If I read history rightly there was never in any past era so universal an expectation of new findings, nor at any time an industry or art like ours which found and opened to mankind so many new windows into the universe. The wonder of such research is surpassing. The merit of it is that it enlightens and serves all humanity.



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