Edison Patents Phonograph

February 19, 1878

Thomas Alva Edison was awarded U.S. Patent No. 200,521 for the phonograph, the first device to both record sound and play it back.

The phonograph was a result of his work on two other devices, the telephone and the telegraph. Edison and his lab devised a system that transferred sound vibrations to an embossing point and then mechanically onto an impressionable medium—paraffin paper at first, and then a spinning, tin-foil wrapped cylinder. The December 22, 1877, issue of Scientific American reported that “Mr. Thomas A. Edison recently came into this office, placed a little machine on our desk, turned a crank, and the machine inquired as to our health, asked how we liked the phonograph, informed us that it was very well, and bid us a cordial good night.”

In the North American Review in June 1878, Edison offers the following possible uses:

1. Letter writing and all kind of dictation without the aid of a stenographer.
2. Phonographic books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part.
3. The teaching of elocution.
4. Reproduction of music.
5. The “Family Record” — a registry of sayings, reminiscences, etc., by members of a family in their own voices, and of the last words of dying persons.
6. Music boxes and toys.
7. Clocks that should announce in articulate speech the time for going home, going to meals, etc.
8. The preservation of languages by exact reproduction of the manner of pronouncing.
9. Educational purposes; such as preserving the explanation made by a teacher so that a pupil can refer to them at any moment, and spelling or other lessons placed upont he phonograph for convenience in committing to memory.
10. Connection with the telephone, so as to make that instrument an auxiliary in the transmission of permanent and invaluable records, instead of being the recipient of momentary and fleeting communication. (source)

Alexander Graham Bell significantly improves the phonograph with the development of the engraved wax cylinder and patents this technology calling it the graphophone. In 1888 Edison unveils the Improved Phonograph which closely follows Bell’s invention.

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