Why December 6?

The Birthday of the Phonograph is December 6, 1877

Why December 6th?


Friends of the Phonograph celebrate the Phonograph's birthday on December 6 to mark the 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 dates leading up to its 'birth'.

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, and phonograph demonstrations.

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 and potentially transcribe.


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, at minimum, 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, July 17,1877, 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). See cover below postmarked Edison, NJ August 12, 1977 (but not First Day of Issue postmark).


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's documented that the phrase "How do you get that" was recorded and repeated back before Edison's December 6th reciting of "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 built and ready to be tested by Edison.

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."

The "How do you get that" of December 4,1877 and other words that were spoken, recorded and repeated back during the experimenting, building and testing of the Kruesi tinfoil phonograph (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 before December 6, 1877 are interpreted as having taken place before Kruesi turned over his "finished" work to Edison and while the Stork was still in route for the delivery of Edison's "baby."(2)

Addressing December 6th as the phonograph's birthday, Allen Koenigsberg, long-time phonograph collector and publisher of The Antique Phonograph Monthly (1973-1993) liked the December 6 birthday date 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." (1A)

In short, all three conditions are met for the Phonograph's Birthday being on December 6 with its delivery and birth completed on December 6: 1) Kruesi finished the Phonograph on December 6; 2) 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" on December 6; and 3) Edison made the decision on December 6 that his Phonograph was finished and ready to talk to the world which he would do the next day by taking the phonograph to the office of Scientific American where the precocious phonograph would introduce itself.


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, repeated what was "nothing else than the human voice." Believing that the Phonograph could have an "astonishing" future they were also recognizing that the human perception of ephemeral sound would never be the same when they wrote 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" tinfoil Phonograph, April 19, 1878 in the studio of Mathew Brady. Standing left to right are Uriah Painter and Charles Batchelor. Courtesy of the Edison National Historic Site.





For examples of postage stamps issued for the Centennial of Sound Recording and respective First Day of Issue Covers (FDC), see Phonographia's Phonograph First Day Covers and Stamps.




Special thanks to Allen Koenigsberg, The Thomas Edison National Historical Park, Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences "Thomas A. Edison Papers," and the Henry Ford "Museum of American Innovation."


The 1898 Revisionist History by the Columbia Phonograph Company for the Birth and Life of the Talking Machine.

For the Revisionist History of the invention of the first talking machine presented by Mr. J. J. Fisher in 1898 see the following article from The Phonoscope, December 1898.

J. J. Fisher recorded songs for the Columbia Phonograph in 1898 and it was Fisher's recorded message which was used as the opening address at the Waldorf-Astoria "to present the case that the Columbia Phonograph Company's patented "discovery that sounds could be recorded by a process of engraving on a wax-like material" was what provided "the life of the talking-machine art, which has no existence before it was made and could not exist without it. In 1888, Mr. Edison borrowed the discovery of Bell and Taintor and used it in an instrument to which he gave the name borne by his absortive (sic ~ abortive?) attempt of 1877....The credit for the original discovery belongs to Bell and Taintor."

To emphasize the claim that Edison's original "old tin-foil Phonograph was a mere toy of no practical value and was very soon dropped by himself" (Edison) and that "the life of the talking-machine art" belonged to the lineage of the Columbia Phonograph Company, a Columbia Graphophone Grand was used to provide the following recorded "address" by Mr. J. J. Fisher. It was reported that "every word of Fisher's recorded message was "clear, distinct and natural in tone."

Note: This article begins by describing the context as "an exhibition of the Graphophone Grand" so it was clearly a Columbia Phonograph Company sponsored event. At the end of Fisher's recorded address it is further confirmed by Fisher simply adding "that anyone desiring further information on this fascinating subject can obtain it at either of the offices of the Columbia Phonograph Company, whose numbers are on the pragram (sic)."

It's also noteworthy when reading this address to remember the on-going litigation that was part of the phonograph's post-1888 history, particularly involving Edison, Columbia and the Victor (Berliner) Companies.


The Phonoscope, December 1898.


"The Graphophone Grand - The Greatest Improvement in Talking Machines in the 20 Years," The Phonoscope, December 1898.



Note: J. J. Fisher recorded for the Columbia Phonograph Company and made the following record for Columbia circa 1898.

LISTEN: Savior pilot me. [Jesus, savior, pilot me] - by. J. J. Fisher, Brown wax cylinder. Columbia Phonograph Co.: 9123. Released between 1898 and 1900. (Source: UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive, John Levin Collection.) Released between 1898 and 1900.

Fisher also recorded for Berliner, Edison, Zonophone, Victor, Climax, Oxford, et al.


T. W. Searing

Another claim regarding the First Engraving of Recorded Sound headlined "Claims to be the First Inventor of the Talking Machine" was published in a letter to The Phonoscope, published December 1898 from T. W. Searing. As was the case in J. J. Fisher's "address" made on behalf of the Columbia Phonograph Company, neither Bell & Tainter or Searing are able to state that they invented the first device which could record and playback those recorded sounds. The engraving vs. indentation method of recording would be heavily litigated and cross-patents would be implemented. But it misses the point and should not be given parental rights for the birth of the phonograph.

Additionally, if it was simply the issue of recording sound waves of the human voice on a medium that could later reproduce that voice then the role of Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville also needs to be included.

For Friends of the Phonograph, however, it is a FACTOLA that all three conditions were met by Edison on December 6, 1877 to establish the patrimony, delivery and birth of the first talking machine.

1) Kruesi finished the Phonograph on December 6;

2) 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" on December 6;

3) Edison made the decision on December 6 that his Phonograph was finished and ready to talk to the world which he would do the next day by taking the phonograph to the office of Scientific American where the precocious phonograph would introduce itself.

Happy Birthday to Edison's Phonograph - December 6, 1877.


The Phonoscope, December 1898.



Last Updated: December 6, 2023