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1878 __ Megaphone & Aerophone
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)
Comment : French professors poked fun at a new ear trumpet (or megaphone) by which Edison hoped to improve the hearing of the deaf. The project was dear to his heart and from his first crude awkward instruments, he hoped to make a small complex one which "when connected with a thin wire to the ear, would enable any one to hear every whisper on the stage of the largest theater". Reports of the wide range of the instrument grew with each repetition. Persons several miles apart were said to have chatted with perfect ease ; the sound of cattle munching half a mile away was said to have been "distinctly audible to the denizens of Menlo Park". When word of all that reached the French scientists, they exploded. "There, you see", shouted one, "Mr. Edison has not invented anything at all ; his megaphone is nothing but an imitation of all instruments designed to increase sounds produced at a distance. It is merely a case where we have repeated the proverb of the mountain and the mouse". Even more scorned was his aerophone, which "projected ordinary tones of speech an indefinite distance and magnified them two hundred times". The voice was imitated by opening and shutting delicate valves within a steam whistle. Edison's theory was that the diaphram's vibrations would be communicated to the valves and cause them to open and close synchronously with the inflections of the voice. The ridiculous claims for his instrument would have caused almost any one to scoff. Captains of ships at sea miles away from each other would converse without trouble ! With a metal diaphragm in the whistle of a locomotive, the engineer could rorar out the name of each station in a voice loud enough to be heard by every passenger (and every other man within the range of two miles). Placed in a steam fire engine, it would enable the chief to talk to his department heads at a fire. In the mouth of the Goddess of Liberty (which statue was being put up on Bedloe's Island by the French), she could be made to talk so loud she could be heard by every soul on Manhattan Island ! Even the American public began to grow uneasy. Would this machine permit indiscreet remarks to be roared out to all the adjoining neighborhood ? About that time the grand Exposition Universelle opened at Paris. Edison's exhibit, consisting of eight telephones, an aerophone and phonograph, had been shipped across early in March. [...] The jury of the class of instruments of precision declared it was not an instrument of precision, merely a toy, and sent it to the jury on telegraphy. The telegraphers replied that it was of no use whatever in their profession so far as they could see, and refused to examine it. When Monsieur Puskas, a Hungarian admirer of Edison, demonstrated it before the members of the Academie des Sciences, Dr. Bouilland and Saint Claire Deville both rose and exclaimed that it was a swindle, and that some skilled American ventriloquist was at the back of it!. (William Adams Simonds, "Edison - His Life, His Work, His Genius", Chap. 12, “Farewell to Privacy - April-August 1878”, pp. 127-128)
French comment : "Le Phonographe et l'Aérophone - Une Visite à M. Edison dans le New-Jersey (États-Unis).Nous nous transportâmes à Menlo Park, dans le New Jersey ;nous étions deux pour voir Edison et ses merveilleuses inventions. Menlo Park n'est ni un parc ni une cité ; cette résidence est située sur la voie ferrée de Pensylvanie (juste à côté du railway) ; elle n'est même pas une gare d'arrêt ; il faut que l'agent de la station hisse un pavillon pour les voyageurs qui attendent. Menlo Park se compose en tout du laboratoire d'Edison et d'une demi-douzaine de maisons qu'habitent ses employés. Bref, Menlo Park est Edisonia ni plus ni moins. [...] Edison nous fit voir ensuite [après le phonographe] un nouvel et admirable instrument, l'aérophone démonté. Une partie de l'appareil, dit-il, est en route pour l'Europe et je ne puis vous le faire entendre ; vous voyez ici la même membrane que dans le téléphone et le phonographe, mais les vibrations, au lieu de gaufrer une feuille d'étain, ouvrent et ferment la valve d'un tube de vapeur et communiquent ainsi au sifflement de la vapeur échappée les articulations de la voix humaine. Cet appareil est beaucoup plus simple que le phonographe ; il amplifie la voix humaine et peut être entendu distinctement dans son langage articulé jusqu'à une distance de six kilomètres et même au-delà. Je gage qu'il lira la déclaration d'indépendance si bien que chaque mot sera distinctement perçu par tout citoyen de l'île de Manhattan. Mon aérophone va annoncer toutes les stations de la voie ferrée, et la locomtive traversera tous les pays en criant elle-même tout ce que l'ingénieur trouvera nécessaire de dire. Les steamers en mer pourront entamer conversation entre eux. Les phares pourront parler aux navires pendant l'ouragan. Les quartiers d'une ville recevront la nouvelle d'un sinistre, de la propagation ou de l'extension d'un incendie. J'aurai à l'Exposition de Paris, dit Edison, huit téléphones, sans parler de mon phonographe et mon aérophone. (In "La Nature", No. 260, 25 mai 1878, pp. 401-404; traduction française de l'article paru dans "The Daily Graphic" de New York.)
Source : Simonds, William Adams (1934), "Edison - His Life, His Work, His Genius", First Edition, Brooklyn New York : Braunworth and Co. Inc.
Source : Villiers de l'Isle Adam (1886), "L’Eve Future", in Oeuvres complètes, Paris : Gallimard, Bibliothèque la Pleïade.
Urls : http://www.archive.org/stream/edisonhislifehis002309mbp/edisonhislifehis002309mbp_djvu.txt (last visited ) http://cnum.cnam.fr/CGI/fpage.cgi?4KY28.10/405/100/432/0/0 (last visited )

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