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1878 __ Phonomotor
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)
Comment : "I am considering the idea of fixing a wire connected with a battery to the front gate, so that it will knock over any one who touches it." One of his callers asked, "Why don't you invent a machine that will drill a hole through a board of wood when you talk into it?" Edison hesitated briefly and replied : "I will." In a few weeks he had a vocal engine, a simple device in which the vibrations of the voice as they acted on a diaphragm were translated into motion through driving a wheel. "We consider the machine of very little utility," remarked the Scientific American dryly, "as we are familiar with voices that can accomplish that feat without the mechanical contrivance". Edison named it a "phonomotor". Then there was the harmonic engine! With two small electro magnets and three or four small battery cells, it was said to generate enough power to drive a sewing machine or pump water. It consisted of a two-inch steel bar, or tuning fork, curved round like a horseshoe magnet. Attached to both arms were weights. The arms were vibrated by the electromagnets and at each vibration one of them moved the tiny piston of a miniature pump and raised a small quantity of water! According to expectations, it would utilize ninety per cent, of the battery power ; it was to become one of Edison's most popular inventions . . . something for the home . . . too simple to get out of order ! The promoters were overly optimistic. The London "Engineer" remarked coldly that this was "probably the worst magneto electric machine ever made". (William Adams Simonds, "Edison - His Life, His Work, His Genius", Chap. 12, “Farewell to Privacy - April-August 1878”, pp. 130-131)The phonomotor (or voice-engine), a curious "philosophical toy" : A person talked against a diaphragm ; the diaphragm moved a pawl ; the pawl turned a ratchet-wheel that revolved a pulley. From the pulley a cord ran to a cardboard figure that would execute a mechanical movement, such as wood-sawing. The phonomotor had its place in Edison's study of diaphragms, by which he was aided in reasoning out the phonograph. It opens up rather startling possibilities as to the power that might be deirved from miscellaneous speech now cast so wastefully upon the air. (George Bryan, "Edison : the Man and his Work", 1926, p. 260)“[...] Teeth seem to be involved in the transition from the touched sound of a pre-recording era and the untouched sound of a post-recording era. This is because teeth represent an alternative route into the ear, or even a way of short-circuiting the ear. It is said that the deaf Beethoven gripped between his teeth to convey the sounds of the piano to him. Similarly, Thomas Edison would champ on the wood of a gramophone in order to hear faint overtones that, as he claimed in a 1913 interview, were normally lost before they reached the inner ear: « The sound-waves thus came almost directly to my brain. They pass through only my inner ear. I have a wonderfully sensitive inner ear... [that] has been protected from the millions of noises that dim the hearing of ears that hear everything... No one who has a normal ear can hear as well as I can. » (In "Edison’s Dream of a New Music." The Cosmopolitan, 54, May 1913, pp. 797-800). Edison’s other method of monitoring sound was to inspect the grooves incised by the actively listening tooth of the stylus: he was particularly alert to the visual distortions of line produced by the tremolo effects he so disliked (Israel, Paul (1998). “Edison: A Life of Invention”. Chichester: Wiley, p. 437). The use of teeth represent a markedly active way of taking in sound: a listening that is also a kind of aggressive consuming. One of the most remarkable of the sensory conversion-machines produced in the wake of the telephone and the phonograph was Edison’s "phonomotor," which would turn sound impulses into rotary motion; Edison hoped to be able to make his machine powerful enough to bore through wood (Israel 1998, p.152). These applications of teeth may be seen both as a primal resort to the medium of touch, the earliest, because the most proximate medium of sensory contact, in which hearing is only possible at the cost of speech, and also as a rewiring of the body’s hearing-speaking circuitry which anticipates or mimics some of the mechanisms of modern sound production. Beethoven’s stick is a stylus; Edison’s teeth are in part an aerial. Beethoven’s stick, along with hearing trumpets and other devices for channelling and amplifying sound, are reversible speaking ears: they gather and concentrate sound in order to broadcast it inwards into the body. Nowadays hearing aids - Edison called his versions "autophones" - work with electronic versions of this acoustic structure. The very minerality of the teeth, that which makes them seem inorganic and archaic, strangers in the most intimate parts of ourselves, also renders them sensitive to the most rarefied auditory signals, receiving and amplifying vibrations. [...]”. (Steven Connor, "Edison’s Teeth: Touching Hearing", paper written for the conference 'Hearing Culture', a conference organised by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and scheduled to take place in Morelia, Mexico, October 4-12th 2001. The conference was postponed)
Source : Simonds, William Adams (1934), "Edison - His Life, His Work, His Genius", First Edition, Brooklyn New York : Braunworth and Co. Inc.
Source : Bryan, George (1926), "Edison : the Man and his Work", Garden City Publishing Company, Inc.
Urls : http://www.archive.org/stream/edisonhislifehis002309mbp/edisonhislifehis002309mbp_djvu.txt (last visited ) http://www.archive.org/details/edisonthemanandh002659mbp (last visited ) http://scienceray.com/technology/patent-applied-for-some-inventions-that-were-never-heard-of-again/ (last visited ) http://www.bbk.ac.uk/english/skc/edsteeth/ (last visited )

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