this Day December
Birthday of the Edison Phonograph
By Doug Boilesen,
At his laboratory in
Menlo Park, New Jersey, on November 29, 1877, Thomas Alva Edison gave
a sketch for his tinfoil phonograph to John Kruesi and instructed
him to build it.
First sketch of
Edison's Phonograph, November 29, 1877 (Courtesy Allen Koenigsberg)
On December 4, 1877,
Charles Batchelor, Edison's associate and right-hand man, wrote in
his diary "Kruesi made phonograph today." (1)
On December 6 Batchelor's
diary reads: "Kruesi finished the phonograph." (2)
December 6 is also the
day when the successful recording and playback of Edison's voice took
place with what Edison said were his first words spoken to the Phonograph,
a "little piece of practical poetry." That recitation
would be recreated years later by Edison - LISTEN:
had a little lamb,
fleece was white as snow,
everywhere that Mary went,
lamb was sure to go.
completion of the phonograph on December 6, 1877
is celebrated as the birthday of the phonograph by Friends of the
Edison's original "Kruesi"
tinfoil Phonograph. Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical
Park - U.S. Department of Interior.
When Edison's words
repeated back from a sheet of tinfoil wrapped around the phonograph's
cylinder mandrel it reportedly amazed everyone in the room. Even Edison
said he was astonished. "I was never so taken aback in my life," Edison
On December 7, the day
after the Phonograph was completed, the tinfoil playing machine was
taken to the offices of Scientific American for a triumphant
demonstration where the Phonograph began by introducing itself. An
account of this meeting and a description of the talking machine was
published in the December
22, 1877 issue of Scientific
Reporters and newspapers
wrote about this new invention
and came up with many of their own predictions. Edison, who became
known as "The
Wizard of Menlo Park," would write in The North American
Review (May-June 1878) that "the possibilities are so illimitable
and the probabilities so numerous that he...is himself in a somewhat
chaotic condition of mind as to where to draw the dividing line."
For Friends of the
Phonograph the 1878 speculations about the phonograph's possibilities
have been answered. Historical records literally provide evidence
of the phonograph's revolution and the evolution of descendent sound
recording technologies. However, recorded sound connections with human
beings and popular culture continue -- innumerable and amazing.
How amazing? The Voyager
1 and Voyager 2 are travelling in interstellar space each carrying
a phonograph record that is Earth's "message in the bottle" and "greetings
December 6th is an anniversary
to be remembered.
The birthday of an invention
that Edison called his "favorite invention" and his "baby"
should be celebrated.
to the Phonograph!
Revolution still turning!
Weekly's description of the invention
of the Phonograph, March 30, 1878. (PM-1824)
Edison with his Phonograph in Menlo
Park Laboratory, New York Graphic, April 10, 1878 Courtesy
of Thomas Edison National Historical Park (3)
Prof. Edison and His Phonograph - Engraved
for the Eclectic by J. J. Cade, New York, 1878. Pictured is
Edison with his second tin-foil phonograph, commonly known as the
"Brady Phonograph" since the photograph was taken in the
Washington D.C. studio of Mathew Brady on April 18, 1878. (Courtesy
of The Collections of the Henry Ford).
Modern colorized photograph
of the Edison portrait taken at the Mathew Brady Studio April 18,
"Acoustics: an Edison phonograph
with a carbon microphone. Water coloured wood engraving after J.T.
Balcomb." (Credit: Wellcome
Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).
For an excellent summary of the invention
of the Edison's Tinfoil Phonograph see "Rutgers School of Arts
and Sciences Thomas A. Edison Papers: Tinfoil
Phonograph - Inventing Sound Recording.
billboard outside Menlo Park, New Jersey (The Edison Phonograph Monthly,
of the Phonograph
Edison's Menlo Park
laboratory has been reconstructed at Henry Ford's Greenfield Village.
On the second floor of that laboratory the Phonograph first repeated
back Edison's recorded words "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
Park, New Jersey Laboratory - Birthplace of the Phonograph
at Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, Michigan
Above is an exact replica
of Edison's original tinfoil Phonograph in the Edison laboratory at
Greenfield village. Photos are courtesy of Henry Ford Museum of American
Innovation and Greenfield Village.
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Edison: Invention Laboratory at Menlo Park
Discover how Thomas Edisonís invention
laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, and the team he hired to work
with him, all fit into his vision of how he would become a great inventor
in this video adapted from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.
Winter scene at the Edison Laboratory,
Menlo Park, New Jersey, 1880. Sketch by Richard Felton Outcault. View
of Menlo Park lab as it looked in 1880, at the height of its productivity.
Image courtesy of the Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Museum.
Another angle of the Edison
"Kruesi" Phonograph (Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical
Park - U.S. Department of Interior).
For more details about December 6, 1877
as the Birthday of the Phonograph, see Phonographia's Why
thanks to Allen Koenigsberg, The Thomas Edison National Historical
Park, Rutgers School of Arts and
Sciences "Thomas A. Edison Papers,"
the Henry Ford "Museum of American Innovation" and PBS "American