The Phonograph and Its Future

Probability: Phonographic Books


Phonographic Books. -- A book of 40,000 words upon a single metal plate ten inches square thus becomes a strong probability. The advantages of such books over those printed are too readily seen to need mention. Such books would be listened to where now none are read. They would preserve more than the mental emanations of the brain of the author; and, as a bequest to future generations, they would be unequaled. For the preservation of languages they would be invaluable.



Appearing just before Edison's article "The Phonograph and Its Future," the Daily Graphic published this illustration with caption: "The phonograph at home reading out a novel." From Daily Graphic (New York), April 2, 1878. WikiMedia Commons


In the May 26, 1888 issue of Scientific American, the author summarized the profound impact the phonograph would have for future generations because of its wonder in preserving the human voice. "This century will be memorable above others because it is that which first preserved articulate speech for after time. All poetry, of every age, is full of the yearning, one of the deepest in human nature, for the voice whose gentle greeting could be heard no more, and yet this tender sentiment will be gratified, and each elusive tone and accent now has conferred on it a perpetuity that is not an attribute of even the graven stone or brass."

Scientific American, May 26, 1888 Volume 58 Number 21




Mother Goose Talking Book, The Talking Book Corporation, 1919

See Discogs for examples of Talking Books made by the Talking Book Corporation, circa 1918 - 1919




Reading/Hearing Little Red Riding Hood on the Phonograph

Edison Bell Picturegram 1924




Watch how the 1924 Picturegram works: Sing a Song of Sixpence







Back cover to The Magic Talking Book - The Musical Toy Parade, John C. Winston Co., 1955




78 RPM



45 RPM



1969 General Electric Show 'N Tell



Child Guidance 1981 Show 'N Tell








JUDITH ANDERSON A Child's Garden Of Verses 1957 Caedmon LP




Bozo and his ABC Zoo Talking Book, 1961




Living Shakespeare 1962 - 26 LPs





Nicholas Nickleby and the "Perfected Phonograph"

In 1888, after Edison completed his "Perfected Phonograph" he wrote essentially an updated article for The North American Review, this time titled "The Perfected Phonograph." Edison confirmed that all of the uses he previously had described are now ready to be carried out and that it will soon be possible to record "on four cylinders eight inches long, with a diameter of five... the whole of “Nicholas Nickleby” in phonogram form."

Every one of these uses the perfected phonograph is now ready to carry out. I may add that, through the facility with which it stores up and reproduces music of all sorts, or whistling and recitations, it can be employed to furnish constant amusement to invalids, or to social assemblies, at receptions, dinners, etc. Any one sitting in his room alone may order an assorted supply of wax cylinders inscribed with songs, poems, piano or violin music, short stories, anecdotes, or dialect pieces, and, by putting them on his phonograph, he can listen to them as originally sung or recited by authors, vocalists and actors, or elocutionists. The variety of entertainment he thus commands, at trifling expense and without moving from his chair, is practically unlimited. Music by a band, in fact whole operas, can be stored up on the cylinders, and the voice of Patti singing in England can thus be heard again on this side of the ocean, or preserved for future generations. On four cylinders eight inches long, with a diameter of five, I can put the whole of “Nicholas Nickleby” in phonogram form.

Thomas A. Edison, The North American Review Vol. 146, No. 379 (Jun., 1888), pp. 641-650 (10 pages)




I do not believe any phonograph record set has ever been released for "the whole of Nicholas Nickleby." Caedmon issued an excerpts LP in 1982. It was digital technology that finally made Edison's Nickleby recording a reality with CDs, like Blackstone Audiobook unabridged edition (1 December 2000) which contains 29 CDs with a running time of 38 hours and 9 minutes, for an unabridged Dickens story to be read aloud and recorded.


Nicholas Nickleby LP, Excerpts - Caedmon 1982



CD 2000



Blackstone Audiobooks; Unabridged edition (1 December 2000)

29 CDs Running Time: 38h 09m




Nicholas Nickleby - DVD 2002