The Phonograph and Its Future


Probability: Clocks


Clocks. -- "The Phonographic Clock will tell you the hour of the day; call you to lunch; send your lover home at ten, etc.".


Although, talking clocks continued to be described as a possibility in the following decades after Edison identified them in 1878 as highly probable, few clocks actually talked. One exception was Frank Lambert who in 1878 invented a machine that used a voice recorded on a lead cylinder to call out the hours. Lambert used lead in place of Edison's soft tinfoil. According to Wikipedia the next talking clock was until 1910 with Hiller's Speaking Clock (see below).

A Phonograph Clock was the star of this 1897 cartoon illustrating that the phonograph as a talking clock was still part of popular culture's view of possibilities.

Yellow Kid's Talking Clock by R. F.Outcault, New York Journal, Feburary 14, 1897 (Wikimedia Commons)


The Phonogram (May 1900) included an alphabet related to the Phonograph with "C is for CLOCK"




The Phonogram (July 1901) announced a talking alarm clock was being developed in Switzerland that would be very "useful".





Hiller Speaking Clock (Sprechende Uhr ca 1910-1913 (inside shows recorded film used for announcing time) Courtesy of Phalos Southpaw's Bastelstube where discussion of restoration and demonstration of soundtrack is available)




Alarm Clock Gramophone "Peter Pan," c. 1930 Swiss made soundbox. This alarm could be set for a time and then record would play at that time.



BBC Speaking Clock with human voice of time recorded. Courtesy of BBC

A speaking clock or talking clock is a live or recorded human voice service, usually accessed by telephone, that gives the correct time. The first telephone speaking clock service was introduced in France, in association with the Paris Observatory, on 14 February 1933. - Wikipedia



Operator-assisted time information, postcard c.1945



Several toy clocks in the 1950's and 1960's 'talked" by using a miniature phonograph and record inside the toy, however, the 1968 Mattel-a-Time Talking Clock was the first toy that was a talking clock and a working clock.

Mattel-a-Time, 1968


In the 1970's and 1980's a variety of children's alarm clocks were marketed that kept time and spoke messages using a "record". These talking alarm clocks featured pop culture characters like Howdy Doody, Big Bird, Batman, Charlie Brown, Mickey Mouse -- each, with its respective voice, telling the child that it was time to get up.

In 1979 Sharp released the world's first quartz-based talking clock2 and in the 1990's computer chips replaced records in talking clocks.


The following are a few popular culture examples displaying the fulfilled probabilities for the 'Future' of Edison's Phonograph.


Clocks. -- "The Phonographic Clock will tell you the hour of the day;

"It is Now Seven A.M.!" - Archie Comics May 1983



Computer chips have replaced phonograph records in clocks and other devices.

(Courtesy Dilbert, October 21, 2001 - This cartoon is available for Purchase)




Clocks. -- "The Phonographic Clock will send your lover home at ten, etc.".

From The Talking Machine World as reprinted in The Edison Phonograph Monthly, 1905





Edison's Speaking Clock - "...when the hour of one arrives, it calls out, "One o'clock--time for lunch!"

The Pictorial Cabinet of Marvels by Harrison Weir, Published by James Sangster and Co., London, 1879 (under the heading The Phonograph p. 268)




An exhibit of talking clocks with record players inside of them from the Golden Age of Children's Talking Clocks were displayed in 2017 at the Westminster Public Library, Westminster, CO. See Talking Clocks and the Phonograph for more examples and details.