• Geoffrey Dean

"Soak 'em": Thomas Edison's Advice To A Cellist

The following anecdote in an item from the Lewisburg (PA) Chronicle (Oct. 15, 1891, p. 3) concerns an Edison engineer who was also a fine cellist. It also mentions railroad executive Henry Villard, who was also an amateur cellist. My question to string players using unwound gut strings: Does Edison’s remedy work?


Edison and the “Fiddlers”


We were sitting on the piazza of Thomas A. Edison's boarding house at Ogden, New Jersey, a few evenings since. Dinner was just over, and the great inventor, surrounded by a dozen or more employess, was enjoying a cigar.

“Bring out your fiddle, Theodore,” said the wizard, settling into a rocking chair and addressing Mr. Leman, a young civil engineer, who, by the way, is a protege of Henry Villard.

The fiddle proved to be a splendid violoncello, and “Theodore” proved to be the master of it. Schubert, Beethoven, Servais and a dozen other authors were exploited, but the air was damp and the catgut stretched. Leman looked vexed, tightened and retightened the strings, but the discord came again and again.

“What’s the matter?” suddenly inquired Edison.

“These strings stretch in the damp air,” was the reply.

The big gray head dropped down into its favorite position on the uplifted right hand and rested there a minute.

“Soak ‘em in petroleum. That will keep the wet out and prevent them from stretching,” said the inventor; and it may be that fiddlers will bless him forever if they try this simple remedy.


Image: Detail from New York Times spread on Edison (Oct. 2, 1910)


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