NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1877 __ « Mary had a little lamb »
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)
Comment : By the Spring of 1876, Edison moved his operations to Menlo Park. Edison's Menlo Park laboratory was the world's first such research and development facility. While Edison was working on perfecting the telephone, he started experimenting with the idea of being able to record the sound of the human voice. In November 1877, one of Edison's first major inventions at Menlo Park was the phonograph, which was a basic machine that allowed a person to speak into a diaphragm that was attached to a pin that made indentations on a paper wrapped around wood. The first words Edison successfully recorded on the phonograph were "Mary had a Little Lamb". By 1878, this invention was known all around the world and Edison soon earned the title of "The Wizard of Menlo Park.". (from Westfield Architects & Preservation Consultants' 2007 Preservation Master Plan, Edison Memorial Tower, Museum, & Site)Thomas Alva Edison records 'Mary had a little lamb' onto a cylinder wrapped with tin foil on his newly completed prototype hand-cranked phonograph at Menlo Park, NJ (December 6, 1876).the earliest recording of a human voice. "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is a nursery rhyme of 19th-century American origin. Later on 1927, Edison re-enacted his historic first sound recording and invention of the tinfoil phonograph for the Golden Jubilee of the Phonograph ceremony 50 years after the original words were spoken on tinfoil. The first great invention developed by Edison in Menlo Park was the tin foil phonograph. While working to improve the efficiency of a telegraph transmitter, he noted that the tape of the machine gave off a noise resembling spoken words when played at a high speed. This caused him to wonder if he could record a telephone message. He began experimenting with the diaphragm of a telephone receiver by attaching a needle to it. He reasoned that the needle could prick paper tape to record a message. His experiments led him to try a stylus on a tinfoil cylinder, which, to his great surprise, played back the short message he recorded, "Mary had a little lamb.".« I was experimenting on an automatic mehtod of recording telegraph messages on a disk of paper laid on a revolving plater, exactly the same as the disk talking-machine of today. The platen had a spiral groove on its surface, like the disc. Over this was placed a circular disk of paper ; an electromagnet with the embossing point connected to an arm travelled over the disk ; and any signals given through the magnets were embossed on the disk of paper. If this disk was removed from the machine and put on a similar machine provided with a contact point, the embossed record would cause the signals to be repeated into another wire. The ordinary speed of telegraphic signals is thirty-five to forty words a minute ; but with this machine several hundred words were possible. From my experiments on the telephone I knew of the power of a diaphragm to take up sound vibrations, as I had made a little toy which, when you recited loudly in the funnel, would work a pawl connected to the diaphragm ; and this engaging a ratchet - wheel served to give continuous rotation to a pulley. This pulley was connected by a cord to a little paper toy representing a man sawing wood. Hence, if one shouted : 'Mary had a little lamb', etc., the paper man would start sawing wood. I reached the conclusion that if I could record the movements of the diaphragm properly, I could cause such record to reproduce the original movements imparted to the diaphragm by the voice, and thus succeed in recording and reproducing the human voice. Instead of using a disk I designed a little machine using a cylinder provided with grooves around the surface. Over this was to be placed tinfoil, which easily received and recorded the movements of the diaphragm. A sketch was made, and the piece-work price, $18, was marked on the sketch. I was in the habit of making the price I would pay on each sketch. If the workman lost, I would pay his regular wages ; if he made more than the wages, he kept it. The workman who got the sketch was John Kruesi. I didn't have much faith that it would work, expecting that I might possible hear a word or so that would give hope of a future for the idea. Kruesi, when he had nearly finished it, asked what it was for. I told him I was going to record talking, and then have the machine talk back. He thought it absurb. However, it was finished, the foil was put on ; I then shouted 'Mary had a litlle lamb', etc. I adjusted the reproducer, and the machine reproduced it perfectly. I was never so taken aback in my life. Everybody was astonished. I was always afraid of things that worked the first time. Long experience proved that there were great drawbacks found generally before they could be got commercial ; bu here was something there was no doubt of. ». (T.A. Edison In Frank Lewis Dyer & Thomas Commerford Martin 1910, "Edison His Life And Inventions", Kessinger Publishing, 2004, pp. 82-83)
French comment : Edison fait en novembre 1877 un croquis sur la base duquel un de ses ouvriers aurait fabriqué un premier appareil : la phrase-test est le début d’une comptine enfantine américaine, « Mary had a little lamb » (Marie avait un petit agneau). Les premiers brevets datent de décembre 1877 et les premières applications de janvier 1878; la première démonstration publique a lieu le 17 janvier 1878. En fait, si Charles Cros a énoncé de façon très claire les principes du phonographe, seul Edison a été capable d'en fabriquer un, entre le 4 et le 6 décembre 1877, un appareil très simple actionné par manivelle, où le son est enregistré sur un cylindre en étain. Il y enregistre une petite comptine pour enfant : "Mary had a little lamb", premier enregistrement jamais réalisé (et perdu, mais re-enregistré pour les besoins de la postérité -et de la publicité- dans les années 20 par Edison). Quoique très rudimentaire, cet appareil a connu un certain succès et 500 appareils sont fabriqués en 1878 par The Edison Speaking Phonograph Company. Mais Edison, ne sachant trop que faire de cette invention, la délaisse et va inventer l'ampoule électrique. (Compiled from various sources)
Source : Watson,Thomas A. (1926), “Exploring Life: The Autobiography of Thomas A. Watson”, New York: Appleton, 1926.
Urls : http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/recording/mary.html (last visited ) http://menloparkmuseum.org/thomas-edison-and-menlo-park (last visited ) http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/820 (last visited ) http://blog.bnf.fr/voix/index.php/2009/05/05/les-inventeurs-thomas-alva-edison/ (last visited ) http://www.stokowski.org/Victor_Eldridge_Johnson_Develope_Enregistrement_Acoustique_1.htm (last visited )

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