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thomas edison > early life : the phonograph, 1877-1878


The Fame the Phonograph Brought Edison

On April 18, 1878, Edison was requested to go to Washington D.C., because President Rutherford B. Hayes wanted to hear the much talked about talking machine, so Edison took this model phonograph and gave the President’s family, cabinet officers and friends entertainment.  On November 28, 1880, Sara Bernhardt, the famous French tragedienne, while on her American tour, visited Edison at Menlo Park, NJ.  She was so infatuated with the wonderful Menlo Park wizard that she spent nearly the whole day going through the laboratory and having explained to her by Edison, himself, the wonders of the place.  She was particularly interested in the phonograph.  She spoke into the phonograph French passages from Phedre and Hernani and Edison recited from John Brown’s Body and Yankee Doodle.

Edison Describes How the Phonograph Works

“I was experimenting on an automatic method of recording telegraph messages on a disk of paper laid on a revolving platen, exactly the same as the disk talking machine of today.  Over this was placed a cylinder disk of paper.  An electromagnet with the embossing pint connected to an arm traveled over the disk, and any signals given through the magnets were embossed on the disk of paper.  If this disk was removed from the machine and put on a similar machine provided with a contact point, the embossed record would cause the signals to be repeated into another wire.  From my experiments on the telephone I knew the power of a diaphragm to take up sound vibrations.  Instead of using a disk, I designed a little machine using a cylinder provided with grooves around the surface.  Over this was placed tin foil which easily received and recorded the movements of the diaphragm.”

Sources: Ernest J. Berggren, Schenectady Museum Archive Historical File 16-17.

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