NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1888 __ The Edison Phonograph
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)
Comment : “The phonograph, which has nothing to do either with the telephone or the telegraph means of instantaneous communication, is a wonderful instrument for preserving, and for repeating in any place, from a permanent acoustic record, the tones, accents, and articulate syllables uttered by the human voice, perfect discourse in its original pronunciation, as well as every kind of musical and other sounds, after conveyance of the inscribed record, by ordinary carriage, to within hearing of a future auditor. [...] Professor Thomas A. Edison has, during the past twelvemonth, brought the phonograph to a degree of comparative perfection, which was practically tested here, on June 25, by experiments at the house of Colonel G.E. Gouraud, the agent in London for Mr. Edison’s inventions, residing at Little Menlo, Beulah-hill, Upper Norwood; and on June 29, in the Press Gallery at the Handel Festival, in the Crystal Palace. (Our illustrations represent the scenes on these two occasions;) In the first instance, a private family party at Norwood listening to the tones and words of Mr. Edison’s voice, ten days after he had spoken in America, at a distance of nearly three thousand miles- the “phonogram” having been sent from New York on June 16, with the regular United States mail, by the German Lloyd’s steam-ship Eider, to Southampton; in the other case, during the grand performance of Handel’s music, the phonograph reporting with perfect accuracy the sublime strains, vocal and instrumental of the “Israel in Egypt”, received by a large horn projecting over the balustrade in the vast concert-room in the north transept of the Crystal Palace. The machine was worked by Mr. De Courcey Hamilton, one of Mr. Edison’s assistants, who had brought it from America. The “phonograms” being sent to Mr. Edison, all the Handel choruses, as sung here by four thousand voices, with the orchestra and organ accompaniments, will be heard in New York and in other American cities. They can be repeated to a hundred different audiences for years to come. [...] Another new device perfects the method of duplicating phonograms containing matter which may be worth selling, such as books, music, sermons, speeches, or plays. When a phonogram of special interest or value is obtained, which it is desired to multiply, it is coated electrically with nickel until a thick plate is obtained. This plate, when detached from the wax, and presses against a fresh sheet of warm wax, gives an exact reproduction of the original phonogram; and such duplicates may be made so easily and rapidly as to cost scarcely anything. To obtain the first phonogram of the book of a piece of music may require care and special skill. Once obtained, a million can be made from this one nickel mould. So far as countless experiments in the laboratory show, there is no perceptible or audible wear in the wax phonogram, no matter how frequently it is made to repeat a message. [...] If Colonel Gouraud wants to phonograph a dispatch to New York he talks into the mouthpiece, the cylinder is turned round by the electric current, the repeating disc vibrates in harmony with the voice, and the minute point traces on the wax surface of the cylinder its invisible curves, and that is all. The message is done; you can now take it off and post it- at the ordinary letter rate- to America. In those four inches he has a thousand words, which would be a very long letter. Probably he does not wish to send more than 250 words. If so, a corresponding length can be cut off and dispatched by post. The phonogram produced would in New York be placed on a corresponding machine, and exactly reproduced. We have a copy of the first phonogram, which was a private letter from Mr. Edison to Colonel Gouraud, consisting of about two hundred words, treating of business and family affairs. Mr. Edison’s voice was recognized by every hearer in Colonel Gouraud’s house, including a child seven years old. Several pieces of music, vocal solos and duets, and performances on the pianoforte, cornet, and other instruments, sung or played in America, have been repeated in England by the phonograph. A poetical ode, of four verses, dictated by the Rev. Horatio Nelson Powers, D.D., of Piermont, on the Hudson, has also been spoken, in the author’s own voice, through this marvellous machine.”. (The Illustrated London News, n° 2569, vol. XCIII, Saturday 14 July 1888)Edison’s perfected phonograph.The improved apparatus devised by Professor Edison, of Orange, New Jersey in the United States, to perfect his wonderful acoustic machine, by which spoken words or music, inscribing their precise tones, syllables, and accents, on cylindrical rollers of wax, can be afterwards repeated at any distance of place or time, continues to excite public curiosity. We gave last week an illustration of the hearing of the first letter from America, a letter dictated to the machine by Mr. Edison, in his laboratory, at three o’clock in the morning, on June 16, which was repeated, without the loss of a word, on July 25 (sic), by a corresponding machine, at the house of his agent in England, Colonel Gouraud, Little Menlo, Beulah Spa, Upper Norwood; the waxen record or “phonogram” having been sent to England by mail steam-ship. The illustration given in the present number, from a photograph, is that of Mr. Edison speaking this message to the machine; and, in order to render the parts of the instrument more clear, the following explanation will be interesting. To the left is the electric motive power, in this case a bichromate bottle battery. To the right of this is the motor box; above it is the regulator. Under Edison’s recording or speaking tube is the wax cylinder, placed over an iron core. The projecting rod in front of the cylinder is an index to the contents of the phonogram. In front of the box are three wax cylinders or phonograms. In front of these is a branched tube, the “earphone”, for more certainly excluding outside noises; this is to be fitted over the receiving tube – that on the frame to the left of the recording tube. By a swift and exact arrangement, either of these tubes can be shifted, when required, to its place over the wax cylinder. We are informed that extensive preparations have been made, in America, for the manufacture of these machines; the works at present under construction having a capacity of making two hundred machines a day. There will be a variety of forms of phonographs adapted to different purposes, and of various prices. The form to be first made available to the public will be similar to the one sent to Colonel Gouraud by Mr. Edison, and is expected to be sold for about 20 Pounds. It will be found both useful and amusing. (The Illustrated London News, 21 July 1888)
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