edison phonographs

Dr. Tesla Discussing The Ether Space Wave Theory

“It was evident to me that wireless transmission of energy, if it could ever be accomplished, is not an invention; it is an art. Bell’s telephone, Edison’s phonograph, or my induction motor were inventions, but the wireless transmission of energy is an art that requires a great many inventions in combination.

“We are living on a planet that is rushing through space; this planet is partly conducting and partly insulating. If it were all conducting, or if it were all insulating, we could not transmit energy without wire. It is only because it is partly conducting and partly insulating that a glorious future for man is reserved through the application of this art.”

–Nikola Tesla

(From a pre-hearing interview with Nikola Tesla and his legal counsel in 1916 to protect his radio patents from the Guglielmo Marconi and the Marconi Company.)

[Fig. 1]:
“We are living on a planet of well-nigh inconceivable dimensions, surrounded by a layer of insulating air above which is a rarefied and conducting atmosphere. This is providential, for if all the air were conducting the transmission of electrical energy thru the natural media would be impossible.” –NT

[Fig. 2]:
“My early experiments have shown that currents of high frequency and great tension readily pass thru an atmosphere but moderately rarefied, so that the insulating stratum is reduced to a small thickness as will be evident by inspection of [Fig. 2], in which a part of the earth and its gaseous envelope is shown to scale. If the radius of the sphere is 12½”, then the non-conducting layer is only 1/64″ thick and it will be obvious that the Hertzian rays cannot traverse so thin a crack between two conducting surfaces for any considerable distance, without being absorbed.” –NT

“Famous Scientific Illusions.” Electrical Experimenter, February, 1919.

Letter to J.E. Sutterlin from Thomas A. Edison. Letter reads: “Dear Sir, It is essential that the phonograph diaphragm should respond to all sounds and give none of its own. Like the drum of the ear. Yours truly, Thomas A. Edison.” Stamped on front: “From the laboratory of T.A. Edison, Menlo Park, N.J., U.S.A.”

  • Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library
There Are 4 Types Of Creativity

Have you heard someone say, “Oh, John – he’s so creative! I wish I was creative like that.” It makes it sound as if creativity is a natural  skill or talent, like the ability to sing or paint. Other times people  say “I’m going to a seminar to learn how to be more creative.” That   makes it sound as if creativity is a skill that anyone can learn. So,   which is it? Well, kind of both and kind of neither.

Four Types of Creativity – Arne Dietrich (2004)   identifies 4 different types of creativity with corresponding different brain activities. Think of it like a matrix:

Creativity can be either emotionally or cognitively based, and it can  also be spontaneous or deliberate. That gives you the four quadrants.

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Is this a record?  Kind of.  These are Edison Diamond Discs, a format used between 1912 and 1929 by–you guessed it–Edison Records.  I came upon three of them today while checking on some of our uncatalogued materials.

Unlike most records of their day (or any day, really), diamond discs are about 1/4″ thick with very thin grooves.  As their name suggests, they’re meant to be played with a diamond-tipped stylus, rather than a more typical steel needle; in fact they flat-out won’t play on the Victrola machine most people envision when thinking about playing older records.  Instead, they’re built to be played on Edison’s own Edison Disc Phonograph–something our library is sadly lacking.

Their fine grooves allowed for a longer playback than contemporary 10″ records, but the medium never quite caught on with the public.  Whether it was because of the musical selection (Edison favored more traditional music over the jazz that was becoming increasingly popular during the era), the cost, or the fact that they were incompatible with most other types of contemporary records and machines, the technology ultimately vanished from the marketplace when Edison Records closed in 1929.


Back in 1890, Thomas Edison gave us the world’s first talking dolls. They’ve always looked like the stuff of nightmares, and now thanks to new technology we can hear their creepy voices too.

Listen to the unsettling doll voices here.

Top photo: Collection of Robin and Joan Rolfs/Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park

Bottom photo (the tiny phonograph housed within the doll): John Reed/National Park Service

Today in History, December 15th

37AD: Roman Emperor Nero is born.

533: Byzantine General Belisarius defeats the Vandals at the Battle of Tricamarum.  The battle was part of a campaign by Emperor Justinian to re-unite the Roman Empire.

1256: Hulagu Khan captures and destroys the Hashshashin stronghold at Alamut, bringing an end the infamous “Order of Assassins”.

1612: German Astronomer Simon Marius becomes the first to observe the Andromeda Galaxy through a telescope.

1791: The US Bill of Rights is ratified.

1864: American Civl War — Battle of Nashville, Union forces capture Nashville, bringing an effective end to the Army of Tennessee.

1877: Thomas Edison patents the phonograph.

1891: James Naismith invents basketball

1916: WWI—French forces begin their final offensive at the Battle of Verdun, securing victory 2 days later.

1952: First sex change operation, WWII veteran George William Jorgensen, Jr becomes Christine Jorgensen.

1961:  Former Nazi official Adolf Eichmann is sentenced to death for crimes against humanity.

1965: Gemini 6 and 7 accomplishes the first space docking.

1973: The American Psychiatric Association declares homosexuality is not a mental disorder.


Scientists Recover the Sounds of 19th-Century Music and Laughter From the Oldest Playable American Recording 


Computer analysis of a piece of foil reveals audio captured by a Thomas Edison-invented phonograph in St. Louis in 1878.

Last night at the GE Theatre in Schenectady, New York, an audience of about 200 people sat and heard the sounds of a someone playing the cornet, a man laughing, and a recitation of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Old Mother Hubbard.” It is believed that this event was the first time that any public audience had heard those sounds since they were captured by a Thomas Edison-invented phonograph in St. Louis in 1878.

For years the audio was trapped on the piece of foil you see above. There was no device that could play it and even if there had been, doing so would have likely ruined it. This summer, at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, physicist Carl Haber and his team were able to create a 3D picture of the foil whose topography could then be translated into sound using techniques of mathematical analysis and physical modeling to calculate how a needle would have played the recording. They were able to do so “without physically having to touch them,” he explained to me. “And that’s kind of the key issue, because these things are so old and fragile and torn-up, broken, and delicate that in many cases it just would not be possible to play them back in any of the more standard ways.”

read more and listen to the audio