Adam Kennedy, email@example.com
the late 1870’s, as Thomas Edison was in his heyday of creating
and improving on communications devices, he was struck with the dilemma
of making the telephone the main medium of communication. The problem
was however, the telegraph’s message could quickly be recorded and
sent out to a recipient in a telegram. With a phone call, the message
had to be listened to by a person then written down and sent out. Edison
theorized that having a device record the voice on the telephone, and
then used to playback later would be the ultimate answer. Enter the Edison
While working with the telephone and telegraph, Edison was using an electrical
diaphragm to make a voice into an electrical signal and a stylus connected
to a telegraph to make dots and dashes on paper to independently record
telegraph signals. After working with the two for some period of time
in 1877, Edison had the idea to converge the two together and attempt
to make a machine that records voice. He took the stylus from the telegraph
and attached it to a diaphragm connected to a telephone. Edison spoke
into his new contraption and the stylus clearly made an indentation on
the paper when he spoke. When he played it back however, there was just
some static noise. This was headway though, Edison proved that his voice
could be recorded, it just needed modifications and more research, the
invention at this time was rough and spur of the moment after all. Edison
and his associates went back to the drawing board for several more months
to perfect the phonograph.
On December 3 1877, Edison had done it, he had come up with plans for
the machine and had it assembled in his workshop. This time, important
modifications were made. Instead of using paper as a medium of recording,
he used tin foil to record the sound waves. Also, the tin foil was made
into a cylinder; the cylinder would rotate around in a circle with a stylus
touching it. When sound waves vibrated, the stylus was touching the tin
cylinder, it would indent the tin making a perfect copy of the sound.
the phonograph works
The first audio recorded and played back was Edison saying the nursery
rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
Edison soon got bored with the invention and did not do much with it for
the next several years. Other inventers soon discovered the great invention
and began to work with it themselves. In 1886, one of these men was a
man by the name of Charles Sumner Tainter of the Alexander Graham Bell
Company. He took the idea of the tin cylinder and changed it into wax
and used a less rigid stylus, the result was an improved phonograph with
better quality of playback. They called it the graphophone.
Once Edison was done making his new invention, the light bulb, his competitive
personality brought him back to the phonograph. He wanted to make his
phonograph better than the Bell Company’s graphophone. When he was
done with his improvements, a businessman, Jesse H. Lippincott, bought
all of the phonograph companies including Edison’s, and attempted
to make a monopoly out of the phonograph industry. Lippincott would only
rent the machines out to businesses and not sell them. This was greatly
opposed and his idea to not go over to well, he became sick in 1890 and
Edison took control of the company. Once Edison had control, he ended
the rental policy and began to sell the phonographs.
In 1894, Edison made a brilliant business move, he declared bankruptcy
of the North American Phonograph company of which he did not own, and
then bought the company back. With the company now under his control,
he made a step in the direction that we are all thankful for today, home
entertainment. Edison began to market the phonograph to standard people
for entertainment. The price of the device fell dramatically and was more
available to the consumer. Edison cylinders typically played music, but
it was not uncommon for the cylinders to be comic shorts.
There were two main problems with Edison cylinders, first of all, they
only played for about two minutes and there was no means of mass reproduction
for the cylinders. That means that if a singer is performing a song for
example, they can only record a few cylinders at a time. Therefore, the
singer had to sing the song numerous times just to make enough cylinders
The problem was solved in 1901 when Edison came up was a method to mass-produce
the wax cylinders. A master cylinder would be made from gold, and then
the gold master would be used as a mold to make the duplicate wax cylinders.
The benefits of mass production were quite evident in that the price of
wax cylinders fell to about 35 cents apiece.
As time went on, competitors began to use circular discs instead of cylinders,
they provided more playback time, however the sound quality was not as
good, it was a give take situation. Edison opposed the idea of the disc,
however almost everyone else switched to the disc because of the longer
playtime, which was seen as to be more important. Eventually in 1913 Edison
gave in and started to produce what we now know as records.
From here on, the phonograph turns into what we see it as today, early
models were crank operated and had a large horn as a speaker, they were
knows as victrolas. The now “record player,” would shape the
century providing musical entertainment to anyone who wanted it. The phonograph
played a role in toys, time announcing clocks, books for the blind, and
family records. Additionally, the phonograph made talking movies possible,
Edison was the frontrunner of the cinema and it could not have been possible
if he had not made the phonograph years earlier.
Edison’s phonograph played an integral role in World War I. He made
a special machine the soldiers could take with them to the battlefront
to help raise moral and remind them of home.
The world would be a different place today if it were not for the invention
of the phonograph, music is an essential part of people’s lives
around the globe; it is a way of expression and a reflection of oneself.
The ability to playback music shaped all the generations of the twentieth
century, every teenager’s life revolves around music. The phonograph
played a gigantic role on the transmission of ideas from one place to
another. Especially with the usage of the cinema, news could be broadcast,
and with the help of the phonograph, educate cultures about one another.
Without the phonograph, the culture of the world, without a doubt, would
be completely different.