Phonographia

December 6th - The Phonograph's Birthday

     

 

Why December 6th?

Friends of the Phonograph celebrate the Phonograph's birthday on December 6 to mark the December 6, 1877 event at Edison's Menlo Park, New Jersey Laboratory when Thomas Alva Edison's Phonograph was said to be "finished" (1) and ready to be heard by the world. On the next day the infant invention was taken to the offices of Scientific American where the Phonograph introduced itself. This wonderous debut for the machine Edison would later call his "favorite invention" and his "baby"(2), was subsequently described in the December 22, 1877 issue of Scientific American.

The creation of Edison's Phonograph has other dates worth noting, but for Friends of the Phonograph December 6 is the day to sing "Happy Birthday to the Phonograph."

 

 

Edison billboard outside Menlo Park, New Jersey, circa 1908

 

The Phonograph's Birthday Timeline

Edison's phonograph timeline includes other important dates besides December 6, some of which have also been cited in various calendars and books as the birthday of the Phonograph.

The following historic markers are dates related to the Phonograph's conception, telephonic repeater experiments, tin foil phonograph construction, testing, demonstrations and patents. Two contemporary references to dates assigned by postal services (first day of issue stamps) honoring the 100 year anniversary of Edison's recording efforts in 1877 are also identified.

 

April 30, 1877 - Charles Cros submits a sealed envelope containing a letter to the Academy of Sciences in Paris explaining his proposed method for recording and reproducing sound. Although this envelope was not opened until December 3, 1877, Cros should be credited "with anticipating, though barely, what Edison was to accomplish" (12) and describing an invention which he named the Paleophone (voix du passé).

July 17, 1877 - The Speaking Telegraph - Edison Lab Notes (3) reads: "Glorious = Telephone perfected this morning 5 am = articulation perfect -- got 1/4 column newspaper every word. -- had ricketty transmitter at that -- we are making it solid." (Note: The Philadelphia Inquirer for Tuesday, 17 July ,1877, ran an article describing the rehearsal at the Permanent Exhibition).

Phonograph historian Patrick Feaster notes that on this date "Edison and his associates sketched out the principle of phonographic sound" (4).

July 18, 1877 - Edison "announces" his intention to invent the phonograph (5)

The Thomas A. Edison Papers Project describes the July conception of the future Phonograph as follows (6):

In July 1877, while developing his telephone transmitter, Edison conceived the idea of recording and playing back telephone messages. After experimenting with a telephone "diaphragm having an embossing point & held against paraffin paper moving rapidly," he found that the sound "vibrations are indented nicely" and concluded "there's no doubt that I shall be able to store up & reproduce automatically at any future time the human voice perfectly." Edison periodically returned to this idea, and by the end of November, he had developed a basic design.

End of July 1877 - Edison "constructed a paraffin paper device called a telephonic repeater" which in the "course of many experiments thought he could hear the sound of human voices or music when the strip of paper moved quickly beneath the spring-driven point. Inspired, he quickly yelled "Halloo" into the crude mouthpiece, and was completely taken aback when the machine faintly imitated him moments later. (7)

August 12, 1877 - The Library of Congress' website America's Story assigns this as the "date popularly given for Thomas Edison's completion of the model for the first phonograph. (8). See reference 7 (above).

November 29, 1877 - Basic sketch of the Phonograph completed that apparently was the "sketch that his workman, John Kruesi, used to construct the first tin-foil model." (9)

December 4, 1877 - "Kruesi made phonograph today." (10)

December 6, 1877 - "Kruesi finished the phonograph." (1)

December 7, 1877 - Phonograph taken to offices of Scientific American for first public demonstration

The Thomas A. Edison Papers Project (11) describes the events of December 6 and 7 as follows:

"When Kruesi finished making the phonograph Edison put on the tin foil and then recorded the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb"; Edison's daughter Marion was at the time nearly five years old and his eldest son was almost two. Edison then "adjusted the reproducer and the machine reproduced it perfectly. I never was so taken back in my life. Everybody was astonished. I was always afraid of things that worked the first time." Similar astonishment occurred the following day when Edison exhibited the new invention at the offices on Scientific American."

December 15, 1877 - Edison's application for Phonograph patent executed

December 22, 1877 - Scientific American publishes story about Edison's Phonograph

December 24, 1877 - Edison patent for Phonograph filed

February 19, 1878 - Patent no. 200,521 granted for Edison's Phonograph

March 23, 1977 - First Day of Issue for Centennial of Sound Recording - US Postal Service (see below for one of the first day covers that includes identification of December 6, 1877 as the date Edison's first words were recorded on his Phonograph).

July 20, 1977 - First Day of Issue for 100 Years of Phonograph - India Postal Service

 

 

 

 

Above - Thomas Edison seated with his "Brady" tin-foil Phonograph, April 18, 1878. Standing left to right are Uriah Painter and Charles Batchelor.

Right - First sketch of the Phonograph - November 29, 1877 (courtesy A. Koenigsberg, Edison Cylinder Records, 1889 - 1912)

 

 

 

Sources:

(1) Edison Cylinder Records 1889-1912, Allen Koenigsberg p. xii ""Kruesi finished the phonograph.", as recorded in the diary of Charles Batchelor, one of Edison's aides.

(2) NPS.gov (National Park Service) - "He liked the phonograph so much he called it his "baby." He also worked on the phonograph longer than any other invention--52 years--and made many improvements."

(3) Technical Notes 968, Speaking Telegraph, July 17, 1877 The Papers of Thomas A. Edison, p 438

(4) Patrick Feaster, "Speech Acoustics and the Keyboard Telephone: Rethinking Edison's Discovery of the Phonograph Principle," ARSC Journal 38:1 (Spring 2007), 10-43

(5) Edison Cylinder Records 1889-1912, Allen Koenigsberg p. xi - "But Edison, as early as July 18, 1877, had already discovered the basic principle of the phonograph, and mentioned it almost in passing on a laboratory work sheet. Edison was concerned at the time with developing a cheap and efficient method of transferring telegraph signals from station to station. He conceived an automatic electro-mechanical device and built both cyulinder and disc models. As he later recalled it was his hearing difficult which caused him to attach a sharp point to a telephone diaphragm and the vibrations actually caused the point to prick his finger. He then reasoned that the mechanical force of the diaphragm would be equivalent to the electrical embossing point of the telegraph apparatus. By the end of July he had constructed a paraffin paper deviced called a telephonic repeater, and immediately filed for a patent in Greta Britain."

(6) Rutgers - http://edison.rutgers.edu/tinfoil.htm - "In July 1877, while developing his telephone transmitter..."

(7) Edison Cylinder Records 1889-1912, Allen Koenigsberg p. xii

(8) America's Story - see source 7 for details

(9) Edison Cylinder Records 1889-1912, Allen Koenigsberg p. xii ""apprently this sketch that his workman, John Kruesi, used to construct the first tin-foil model."

(10) Edison Cylinder Records 1889-1912, Allen Koenigsberg p. xii ""Kruesi made phonograph today.", as recorded in the diary of Charles Batchelor, one of Edison's aides.

(11) Rutgers - http://edison.rutgers.edu/tinfoil.htm - The Thomas A. Edison Papers Project is co-sponsored by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, the National Park Service, the New Jersey Historical Commission, and the Smithsonian Institution.

(12) Charles Cros, for his due credit as described in “The Talking Machine”, p. 9, by Timothy C. Fabrizio and George F. Paul

 

 

 

 

 

       
 

 

 

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