On this Day

December 6, 1877

The Birthday of the Phonograph



December 6 is the birthday of Edison's Phonograph

Suggested celebration: Birthday cake and a hearty rendition of Happy Birthday to the Phonograph



The Phonograph's Birthday, December 6, 1877

At his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, on November 29, 1877, Thomas Alva Edison gave a sketch for his tin-foil phonograph to John Kruesi and instructed him to build it.


First sketch of Edison's Phonograph



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, 1877, therefore, is celebrated as the birthday of the phonograph by Friends of the Phonograph.

It's a day that honors the completion of the phonograph and the successful recording and playing back, word for word, what Edison says were his first words spoken to the Phonograph, "a little piece of practical poetry":


Mary had a little lamb,

Its fleece was white as snow,

And everywhere that Mary went,

The lamb was sure to go.



When Edison's words repeated back from a sheet of tin-foil wrapped around a cylinder were first heard it reportedly amazed everyone in the room. Even Edison said he was astonished. "I was never so taken aback in my life," Edison later recalled.

On December 7, the day after the Phonograph was completed, the tin-foil playing machine was taken to the offices of Scientific American for a triumphant demonstration where the Phonograph "introduced itself." An account of this meeting and a description of the talking machine was published in the December 22, 1877 issue of Scientific American.




Reporters and newspapers loved writing about this new invention. Edison became known as "The Wizard of Menlo Park" and he was asked many questions about the Phonograph's future.

But for Friends of the Phonograph there is no mystery about the wonder of the Phonograph and its legacy. It's a birthday to be celebrated - the birthday of an invention that Edison called the his "favorite invention" and his "baby."

Happy Birthday to the Phonograph!

It's a Revolution still turning!



Harper's Weekly's description of the invention of the Phonograph, March 30, 1878. (courtesy of tinfoil.com)




Edison with his Phonograph in Menlo Park Laboratory, New York Graphic, April 10, 1878 Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park (3)




Modern colorized photograph of Edison's portrait taken Matthew Brady Studio April 18, 1878






Prof. Edison and His Phonograph - Engraved for the Eclectic by J. J. Cade, New York, 1878

Courtesy The Collections of the Henry Ford





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 Thomas A. Edison Papers

Edison and Innovation Series - The Year of Innovation - The Tinfoil Phonograph






Edison billboard outside Menlo Park, New Jersey, circa 1908



Birthplace 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."




Edison's Menlo Park, New Jersey Laboratory - Birthplace of the Phonograph - Google Virtual Tour

Reconstructed at Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, Michigan





Above is an exact replica of Edison's original tinfoil playing Phonograph in the Edison laboratory at Greenfield village. Photos are courtesy of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village.



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.





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





Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park - U.S. Department of Interior








Phonograph Birthday Parties

Since 1980 friends and family have celebrated the Phonograph's birthday on (or near) December 6th (See Why December 6th? for a summary of Phonograph Timeline events and later first day covers honoring the invention of the Phonograph.

In the 1980's an Oakland-Emeryville-Berkeley group of friends(1) celebrated its birthday with food and artistry inspired by the phonograph. Creations such as cakes and cookies shaped like phonograph records, phonograph inspired pottery and glass records, a tapestry and needlepoint sampler, and other unique presentations have highlighted birthday parties.

Over the years phonograph birthday venues and menus have varied. But consistently friends have enjoyed the event and it has always included a singing of "Happy Birthday to the Phonograph."


Doug and James, circa 1979



Sampler for 1981 Birthday Party

Besides the traditional alphabet, Kathy Aiken's sampler features the first four lines of the nursery rhymn "Mary Had a Little Lamb", said to be the first words spoken by Edison's tin-foil Phonograph on December 6, 1877.



The Sign for 1988 Birthday Party

This wooden sign was created by two charter members of the original Friends of Phonography. Despite a revision to the name this sign continues to be annually hung at Friends of the Phonograph birthday parties. Thanks Debbie and Joellen for your artistic work!



Victor record for 1990 Phonograph Birthday

Axel and Betty Boilesen presented a framed Victor record of James Whitcomb Riley reciting his poem "Out to Old Aunt Mary's" for the 1990 Birthday party. You can listen to Harry E. Humphrey performing Riley's poem on an Edison Blue Amberol record 2539 released in March 1915. Humphrey's voice is much clearer than the Victor record made by Riley who was declining and would pass in 1916.



2006 Phonograph Birthday Cake



Every Birthday - A Celebration

With morning-glory horn in hand the message "Remember the Phonograph!" was trumpeted on the Black Rock Desert in 1990. Hopefully Friends of the Phonograph annually are proclaiming that same message. It's a revolution still turning.




The Edison Phonograph Birthday Party Photo Album


Birthday Party 1986


Birthday Party 1987


Birthday Party 1988


Birthday Party 1989


Birthday Party 1990


Birthday Party 1991


Birthday Party 1992


Birthday Party 2004


Birthday Party 2005


Birthday Party 2006


Birthday Party 2007


Birthday Party 2008


Birthday Party 2009


Birthday Party 2010


Birthday Party 2012


Birthday Party 2019


The original "Friends" sign is still hung outside our house each December 6th. Inside, the Phonograph Holiday Tree is annually displayed.




Phonograph Jingles (1907)

When the day is cold and dreary,

When the day is warm and cheery,

When you want a hearty laugh,

Remember the Edison Phonograph.

The "Wizard" has invented many things;

But my favorite invention is the one that sings.

It can also talk and whistle and laugh --

This wonderful Edison Phonograph.

Washington Evening Star jingle competition entry as reported by the Edison Phonograph Monthly, December 1907




Friends of the Phonograph

Celebrate the Phonograph!