Saturday, August 12, 2023

On This Day in Music (1877): Thomas Edison Invented the Phonograph

August 12, 1877

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph

August 12, 1877, is the date generally cited for the invention of the phonograph, AB a term which means “sound writer” WK and refers to a device for playing sound recordings. Thomas Edison is credited as “the first person to ever record and play back the human voice” VI although it may technically have been one of his assistants who recorded the first test. VI The work was done in his Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory. WK

The phonograph came about from work Edison was doing on the telegraph and telephone. He was working on a machine to transcribe telegraph messages on to paper tape and wondered if a telephone message could be recorded in similar fashion. ML Edison attached a large, hard-pointed needle known as a stylus AL from a telegraph repeater to the diaphragm from a telephone mouthpiece. The vibrations from the voice caused the needle to make indentions on wax-coated paper which was hand fed into the machine. This was later changed to tin foil mounted on a metal cylinder which was cranked by hand during recording and playback. VI The first message he recorded was a recital of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

In actuality, work was probably not finished until three or four months later. AB Charles Batchelor, one of Edison’s assistants, noted in his diary that the phonograph wasn’t constructed until December 4. Edison filed for the patent on December 24, 1877 AB and received it on February 19, 1878 (U.S. patent #200,521). WK

In 1878, Edison created the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company to sell his invention and toured the country with it. He suggested it could be used for “letter writing and dictation, phonographic books for blind people, a family record (recording family members in their own voices), music boxes and toys, clocks that announce the time, and a connection with the telephone so communications could be recorded.” AB He was invited to the White House in April to demonstrate it for President Rutherford B. Hayes. AB

For more important days in music history, check out the Dave’s Music Database history page.

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First posted 8/12/2011; updated 8/24/2023.

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