The Phonograph and Its Future

Probability: Dictation


Dictation.-- All kinds and manner of dictation which will permit of the application of the mouth of the speaker to the mouth-piece of the phonograph may be as readily effected by the phonograph as in the case of letters. If the matter is for the printer, he would much prefer, in setting it up in type, to use his ears in lieu of his eyes. He has other use for them. It would be even worth while to compel witnesses in court to speak directly into the phonograph, in order to thus obtain an unimpeachable record of their testimony. The increased delicacy of the phonograph, which is in the near future, will enlarge this field rapidly. It may then include all the sayings of not only the witness, but the judge and the counsel. It will then also comprehend the utterances of public speakers.


The Phonogram, November 1892




.."EDISON PERFECTED PHONOGRAPH", Harper's Weekly June 1888.






Edison Business Machine, 1912 (Courtesy of Radio-Antiks)



The Stenographer’s Friend (1910)


Film Notes: The Stenographer’s Friend; or, What Was Accomplished by an Edison Business Phonograph (1910) Sponsor/Production Co.: Edison Mfg. Co. Cast: John Cumpson. Transfer Note: Copied at 18 frames per second from a 35mm print preserved by the Library of Congress (Edison Collection). Running Time: 8 minutes.

The Stenographer’s Friend; or, What Was Accomplished by an Edison Business Phonograph successfully incorporates product demonstration into a light comic fable about how productivity and office politics improve with the introduction of the Edison company’s wax-cylinder dictating machine.

When he invented the phonograph in the 1870s, Edison and others assumed that the machine’s ultimate value would be for business. By the 1890s, it was praised as “a stenographer which will take with unfailing accuracy from the most rapid dictation, which never goes out to ‘see a man,’ which is ready for work at any hour of the day,…which is never dissatisfied, sick or ‘looking for a raise.’” One problem the machine faced (beyond complaints of its complexity and proclivity to breaking down) was the flip side to this praise.

The opening topic for discussion at the first National Phonograph Association Convention in 1890 was how to overcome opposition to the phonograph from stenographers who feared unemployment, the same sort of opposition that had greeted the introduction of the typewriter. By the time of The Stenographer’s Friend in 1910, Edison’s business phonograph had at long last become a successful product, and the film answers such fears through a little before-and-after drama. Our female stenographer breaks into tears at her long hours until the arrival of her “friend” the phonograph and the miraculous time-saving improvements brought by the ease of transcribing dictation through it. Now with “everybody happy,” the entire office staff bows down to Edison’s jaunty, straw-hatted salesman.—Scott Simmon (Courtesy of the Library of Congress and The National Film Preservation Society



This photograph is one half of the Stereoview card from a series showing Sears, Roebuck & Co., various departments, this one being the Stenographic Department circa 1906. On the back of the card it states that "In this room between 150 and 200 young women transcribe letters dictated from a graphophone."





Edison advertising postcard, Form 2187






Edison Form 3205 c.1920 (Collection of






Ediphone 1926




Another Adventure of Elsie and the Bunny, Cadbury Ltd, c.1920's (The Bournville Bunny - visiting the Cadbury Chocolate factory)




The Dictaphone, The Saturday Evening Post December 18, 1920






Dictaphone, 1933




Dictaphone, 1943


Dictaphone, 1953



April 9, 1955 Saturday Evening Post, Illustrated by James Lee Caraway, Jr.




June 4, 1955 Saturday Evening Post, Illustrated by James Lee Caraway, Jr.




July 23, 1955 Saturday Evening Post, Illustrated by James Lee Caraway, Jr.





Edison Voicewriter advertising postcard, 1958




Dictaphone, 1959







Henry Martin, Punch magazine, December 1981




Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) uses a Sony ICD-SX1000 16GB Voice Recorder in the movie SPECTRE (2015). Swann is talking into the recorder when James Bond (Daniel Craig) enters her office at the Hoffler Klinik.




Sony Digital Voice Recorder UX560 2019





Visit the Early Office Museum™ for more information and examples about dictation machines and their use in earlier offices. The Early Office Museum "engages in research on the history and evolution of offices, antique office machines and equipment, and business technology based on original documents, artifacts, and vintage photographs."

Of special interest for Friends of the Phonograph is their Antique Dictating Machines webpage.