Why December 6?

December 6th and the Birthday of the Phonograph

Why December 6th?


Friends of the Phonograph celebrate the Phonograph's birthday on December 6 to mark the December 6, 1877 completion of Edison's Phonograph and the decision by Edison that his invention was ready to be heard by the public.

FACTOLA: On December 4, 1877, Charles Batchelor, one of Edison's aids, recorded in his diary "Kruesi made the phonograph today." Edison Cylinder Records 1889 - 1912 With an Illustrated History of the Phonograph, Allen Koenigsberg, APM Press ©1987. p. xii.

FACTOLA: On December 6, 1877, Charles Batchelor "recorded in his diary "Kruesi finished the phonograph." Ibid.

FACTOLA: On December 7, 1877 Edison's infant invention was taken to the office of Scientific American where the Phonograph introduced itself. (See Note: 2 for more details about this date). This public debut of the machine which Edison would later call his "favorite invention" and his "baby"(2A), was subsequently described in the December 22, 1877 issue of Scientific American. The Papers of Thomas A. Edison, Vol. 3, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, ©1994, p. 659.

FACTOLA: On December 7, 1877 The Kruesi patent model (wood) was completed. The work sheet for it survives and is illustrated in "Edison Cylinder Records 1889 - 1912," Allen Koenigsberg, 2nd edition 1987. The original patent model is in the Collections of The Henry Ford at Dearborn, Michigan. See Kruesi patent model Endnote for details.

Patent Model for Edison's 1877 Tinfoil Phonograph (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of the Edison Pioneers.)


The Phonograph's Birthday Timeline

Edison's phonograph timeline includes other dates besides December 6 which have been cited in various calendars and books as the birthday of the Phonograph. The following are dates related to the capture and study of sound waves, conception of recording and reproducing sound, telephone related experiments, the Edison phonograph's construction, testing and word(s) 'first' spoken and repeated back, patent filing, demonstrations to the public,100th anniversary stamps and first day postal covers.

For an overview of the history of recorded sound see "The Birth of the Recording Industry" by Allen Koenigsberg ©1990.


March 25, 1857 - Édouard-Léon Scott patented his Phonautograph. The phonautograph is the earliest known device for recording sound. At the time it was not the intention of Scott to reproduce sound but rather to study what sound waves looked like.


April 9, 1860 - The first line of "Au clair de la lune" was recorded by Édouard-Léon Scott on his Phonautograph. These recorded words were at one point called "the earliest clearly recognizable record of the human voice yet recovered" (although these words were not actually heard until 2008 with the help of computer technology). Since then, "even older recordings" have been "identified and played back." See FirstSounds.org for the most current information and access to "humanity's earliest sound recordings."


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)


July 30, 1877 - Edison filed a patent application in great Britain, No. 2,909, and "disclosed not only a cylinder phonograph, but also an apparatus embodying his original conception of an embossed strip." Thomas Alva Edison - Sixty Years of an Inventor's Life by Francis Arthur Jones, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1907, p 244.


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)


First sketch of the Phonograph - November 29, 1877 (Edison Cylinder Records, 1889 - 1912 With an Illustrated History of the Phonograph, Allen Koenigsberg,1987, p. xiv).


December 3, 1877 - Experimenting with different thickness of tin foil. Batchelor writes in the Technical Note (signed by Chas. Batchelor, T. A. Edison and James Adams) titled Phonograph Dec 3, 1877 "Have tried lot of experiments with different thickness of tin foil. Its the best material yet for recording." That conclusion by Batchelor indicates that sound is being recorded and played back.

Provided by The Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University [NV17021]

Editor's Notes for December 3 also included the "Organ grinder phonograph; illustration for 11/23 proposal for uses of phono."


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

Testing is being done using the phonograph that Kruesi has made on December 4 and it could be argued that the phrase "How do you get that" was recorded and repeated back before Edison's December 6th "Mary had a Little Lamb." The following Technical Note includes Batchelor commenting that sound is being reproduced very well by the reproducing diaphragm and includes a figure of the phonograph. Batchelor writes: "G is the reproducing diaphragm which receives its vibrations from spring H. This works well and the phrase "How do you get that" comes very plainly. Chas. Batchelor."

Provided by The Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University [NV17021]


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

Kruesi finishing the phonograph meant it was ready to be officially tested.

The Thomas A. Edison Papers Project (11) describes the events of December 6 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."

In a December 6, 2022 correspondence with Doug Boilesen on the subject of the finished phonograph of December 6th and his Friends of the Phonograph calling it the Phonograph's birthday Allen Koenigsberg agreed but added some "twists." In Allen's words "Certainly Dec 6th is better than the various others that have floated during the last century. There are always slight twists to these things, as didn't Batchelor give Dec 4, for "How do you get that" as the first recorded words? (before "Mary"). On the other hand, there is (also) the 'Halloo Phonograph' (pre-cylinder) of late July 1877, which looked like a flat slide-rule, and held a small strip of paraffined paper (enough for one word anyway). TAE refers to it in early Feb 1878."

The "How do you get that" of December 4,1877 and other words that were spoken, recorded and repeated back during the conception, experimenting, building and testing the Kruesi tin-foil phonograph (and prior to Edison's December 6 "Mary had a Little Lamb") are certainly part of the phonograph's development.

For Friends of the Phonograph, however, words that were heard prior to December 6, 1877 are interpreted as having taken place while the Stork was still in route for delivery of Edison's "baby."(2) There are many steps that are part of the history of recorded sound but Friends of the Phonograph wanted a date to celebrate on a specific day and December 6 was selected.

In short, the rationale for December 6 is that the delivery and birth took place 1) when Kruesi finished the Phonograph; 2) when Edison spoke and then heard what he later said were his "first words into the original phonograph, a little piece of practical poetry: Mary had a Little Lamb;" and 3) when the decision was made by Edison that his Phonograph was ready to be talk to the world (which he would do the next day by taking the phonograph to the office of Scientific American).

Those three conditions for calling the Phonograph "finished" were met on December 6, 1877.


December 7, 1877 - Phonograph taken to offices of Scientific American by Thomas A. Edison, Charles Batchelor, and Edward Johnson for its first public demonstration.

On December 7 and with the Phonograph 1 day old, the Phonograph visited the office of Scientific American in New York City where it would introduce itself and make remarks that "were not only perfectly audible to ourselves, but to a dozen or more persons gathered around."

The phonograph's demonstration resulted in Scientific American's article "The Talking Phonograph" which reported that Edison's "little machine" was able to record the vibrations of the human voice and when played back repeat what was "nothing else than the human voice." Believing that the Phonograph had an "astonishing" future they were also recognizing that the human perception of ephemeral sound would never be the same by saying it "is impossible to listen to the mechanical speech without his experiencing the idea that his senses are deceiving him."


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 - U.S. Patent No. 200,521 granted for Edison's Phonograph.


April 18, 1878 - Edison in Washington D.C. to demonstrate his Phonograph to the National Academy of Sciences.


Thomas Edison seated with his "Brady" tin-foil Phonograph, April 18, 1878 in the studio of Mathew Brady. Standing left to right are Uriah Painter and Charles Batchelor. Courtesy of Edison National Historic Site.



First Day Commemorative Dates for Centennial of Sound Recording from around the world


February 16, 1977 - First Day of Issue for Centennial of Sound Recording - Germany - Unknown why this date was selected.


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). March 23, 1977 was chosen as the official date for the stamp's issue "to coincide with with an award dinner in Washington, D.C. by the Recording Industries Association of America." Nothing historic about the phonograph happened in March 1877 and many other anomalies are also part of this stamp's issuance and design. See The Antique Phonograph Monthly, January 1977 (Vol. V No.1) for a detailed review of this anniversary stamp.


July 20, 1977 - First Day of Issue for 100 Years of Phonograph - India Postal Service (see below for postal service technical data sheet related to this stamp).


December 29, 1977 - 100 Years of Sound Recording - Uraquay.


September 5, 1981 - Wallis et Futuna issued stamp with Edison and his tinfoil phonograph - first day cover honoring Thomas Edison postmarked September 5, 1981 (perhaps for 50 years after his death on October 18, 1931 but also noting that Edison's First Phonograph was in 1878).





















2016 Sierra Leone stamp noting Phonograph birthday as 1877.


First Day Cover celebrating a Romanian Phonograph Collection, February 25, 2020 (said to be certified in 2016 by the Guinness World Records as the greatest in the world by the Guinness World Records in 2016).