By Mary Boyle O’Reilly
Orange, NJ — August 30, 1913
I have just come from a visit with Thomas A Edison — a visit to the greatest worker in all America that I might ask HIM what HE thinks of LABOR DAY.
The most famous man alive did not answer my question. He looked at me a moment and then laid a hand on my shoulder.
“Tell me,” he said, “how did you, as ‘Mamie Riley,’ spend the three cents an hour you earned last fall while investigating the New York canneries?”
“When ‘Mamie Riley’ made thirty six cents a day,” I answered, “food cost fifteen cents, bed fifteen cents, a penny went for the daily paper and the last nickel was spent at the movies.”
“That nickel was not wasted. Pleasure is as necessary as food. Never more so than now. Today the average man does not depend on health — he works on his nerves.
“Our Labor Day problem now is not a problem of increasing the efficiency of, or even exclusively considering with satisfaction, the work of the world. Instead it is a problem of increasing the efficiency and the quality of play in the world.”
An alert secretary, laden with papers, stood at attention. But Mr Edison, absorbed in the matter in hand, neither saw nor heard.
“Now recreation is RE-CREATION!
“I have come to think a good deal about that. From the day a man or woman gets his or her first job, life is often one long worry. Take the question of lodging high rents and overcrowding in ramshackle tenements the living conditions that undermine health and lower earning capacity. Those are all parts of one problem a problem that must be solved. Some day it will be.”
“By cheaper construction. But I cannot discuss that now.
“Today we must protect the underdog — think first for the poor — only afterwards for the rich. Assess property at its real value — shove on the taxes — raise money — spend it honestly for the general good on recreation!
“When I was a boy it was sacrilegious to play ball on Sunday or to walk abroad to see the birds. Before age overtakes me, I hope to have some share in providing new pleasures Sunday and otherwise for the people. Observe how I say ‘NEW’ pleasures. Since we moved into cities, we have no space, no energy for the old sports. Men and women who are overworked and badly-fed need rest in their leisure. That is one good in the movies — that andthe fact that they make the whole world as familiar as the village next door. Just think how they banish prejudices, wipe out differences. Our emigrants learn to know this country, their children acquire our customs all from the moving pictures. And all the while they are not only resting for tomorrow’s grind but having fun.
“This is an electric age. The pressure was never heavier nor the grind harder. Now a workman’s pleasure to be pleasureful must be cheap. He cannot afford more than five or ten cents. Each year we are getting more five-cent articles — the trolley, cheaper light, the nickel show. Before another year, I hope to add good music cheap, so cheap that almost every one may have it in their homes.
“We have got the ‘flicker’ out of the biograph and the scrape out of the phonograph. You see those shelves of records? How many? Several thousand. Probably I have canned every well-known voice in America and Europe and studied the record by way of preparation. Patience? Well, perhaps. But then you know science is only CONCENTRATION and LONG PATIENCE.
“Every day we are getting the new music better — more beautiful. We are trying to get it cheaper. But there we are handicapped. The people who sing, like lawyers, over-value their services. Still we will keep it up till we succeed. The people who work must play. Labor Day must now be devoted to thoughts of enlarging the efficiency of play, not of work. Else the people perish.”