the edison record


On this day in music history: February 19, 1878 - Inventor Thomas Edison is awarded U.S. Patent No. 200,521 for his invention the phonograph by the U.S. Patent Office. Edison develops the phonograph with mechanic John Kreusi as an off shoot of his ongoing research in telegraphy and telephony. Having previously created a method of recording Morse code by indenting the communications on a roll of paper, the phonograph uses a similar method, using an embossing point (a stylus) and speaking into the diaphragm while revolving a metal cylinder covered with a sheet of tin foil (paraffin paper is used in the initial experiment to capture the sound. The first demonstration of Edison’s phonograph takes place in December of 1877. Edison recites the nursery rhyme “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, while hand cranking the cylinder, and recording his voice on to the tin foil sheet. Though his rival Alexander Graham Bell, chemist Chichester Bell (Bell’s cousin), and fellow inventor Charles Tainter makes marked improvements on the phonograph by creating the cardboard wax cylinder and a more advanced cutting method to record sound, Edison is widely acknowledged as the primary inventor. The phonograph establishes Edison’s reputation as an innovator, leading the public and the press to label him “The Innovator Of The Age” and “The Wizard Of Menlo Park”.  Thomas Edison’s original phonograph is on permanent display at the National Museum Of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.


hello–the most common use is used as a telephone greeting (hello?), but used for expressing surprise or interest (hello!) before the telephone.  Remember the telephone?

1827 is the date the Oxford English Dictionary cites as the the first published use of “hello” as an expression of surprise.  At the same time (early 1800′s) a similar expression, “halloo” was used as in fox hunting.  “View Halloo” is the stage of the hunt when the hunters sight the fox in the open.  

1876 Alexander Graham Bell is generally credited with inventing the telephone.  Bell used a primitive microphone made up of a needle poked into a fluid.  

1877 April, Thomas Edison filed his patent on the carbon microphone.  He is also credited with using “hello” as a telephone greeting.  Edison’s carbon microphone made the telephone commercially practical .  

1877, July, Edison was experimenting with recorded sound and shouted the fox hunting “Halloo!” into the mouthpiece of the strip phonograph.

1877, August, A letter of this date has been found suggesting that “hello” had become his choice of greetings.  

1888, January, The first public telephone exchange opened and it has been “Hello” ever since.

The use of the telephone in the 1800′s violated the Victorian ettiquite rule that one didn’t address a person unless you had been introduced.  “Hello” was used because you didn’t know who was at the other end of the line.  So in a way the telephone contributed to the leveling of class distinctions at the turn of the century. 


The Great ‘Hello’ Mystery Is Solved

Invention of the telephone


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.


Thomas Edison’s Recordings of Leo Tolstoy. You can hear him read from his last book, Wise Thoughts For Every Day in English, German, French and Russian.

Isn’t it a bit surreal that we can hear his voice?