Thomas Edison held over a thousand patents for gadgets that changed the world. Many he invented, and the ones that he appropriated from other people still found success by being associated with Edison. You might not know that Edison started working on a science fiction novel he called Progress in 1890. But Edison had little formal education, and struggled with putting his ideas on paper. The author George Parsons Lathrop approached the inventor about writing his biography, Edison didn't like that, but proposed a collaboration on the novel.
Edison, probably the most celebrated American scientist of the day, and Lathrop, considered an author of the first rank by contemporary critics, must have seemed like an unbeatable combination; press from around the world published news reports of their project.
By late 1892, though, the project seemed to be in trouble. “The electric novel which Mr. Edison was said to be writing is ‘off,’” The Australian Star, a Sydney newspaper, announced.
“Edison was all enthusiasm at first, and Lathrop had five or six interviews with him, in which Edison poured out suggestions faster than Lathrop could assimilate them.” the account went on to explain. “Then Edison’s enthusiasm cooled. He tired of the whole thing and would have nothing more to do with it, leaving Lathrop in the lurch with a novel about half done.”
The story was eventually published, but Lathrop, while acknowledging Edison's contribution took credit for the story. Who was really responsible for the story? And what was it about? Learn about Edison's science fiction story and how its publication played out at Smithsonian.