ASME-Landmark:Edison Experimental Recording Phonograph


In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph—the first device able to record and reproduce the recorded sound. His phonograph originally recorded sound onto a tinfoil sheet wrapped around a rotating cylinder. A stylus responding to sound vibrations produced an up-and-down groove in the foil. On December 6, 1877, Thomas Edison famously recorded a verse of Mary Had a Little Lamb "almost perfectly."

Edison's invention was prompted by his experiments on an automatic method of recording telegraph messages and his knowledge of sound transmission from his experiments on the telephone.

Although Edison's early patents show that he was aware that sound could be recorded as a spiral on a disc, Edison concentrated his efforts on cylinders, believing it more "scientifically correct" to maintain a constant velocity to the stylus in the groove, as the outside of a rotating cylinder provides. Edison's patent specified that the audio recording be embossed, and in 1886, vertically modulated engraved recordings using wax coated cylinders was patented by Chichester Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter (as the "Graphphone").

Edison's simple invention allowed, for the first time, the permanent recording and reproduction of sound, especially the human voice. The earliest phonograph fascinated much of the public, and entrepreneurs traveled around the country giving "phonograph concerts" and demonstrating the device for a fee at fairs. "Talking dolls" and "Talking clocks" were manufactured as expensive novelties using the early phonograph.

A reproduction of Edison's experimental phonograph is on display at the Edison national Historic Site in West Orange, New Jersey. See ASME website for more information