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140 years Phonograph

Edison's "Speaking Machine", or How sound got canned

He applied for more than 1000 patents: Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) is rightly regarded as the old master of inventors. It is no exaggeration to say that Edison electrified the world. Many important inventions in electrical engineering and communications technology originate from him. Today we associate his name mainly with the light bulb. But the invention that made him famous over night and founded his unique career as an inventor and entrepreneur was the phonograph.

Detail from patent document DE 12631

Detail from patent document DE 12631

140 years ago Edison received the patent for his "speaking machine" with which sound could be recorded and reproduced: on pdf-Datei February 19, 1878 in the USA, and already on July 12 of the same year also from the Patent Office in Germany (" pdf-Datei „Neuerungen an Phonographen“ (1,08 MB)"). This shows that Edison was not only a brilliant inventor, but also a clever businessman who knew exactly how important intellectual property rights are for the successful international marketing of innovations.

A cylinder covered with tin foil or wax was combined with (initially) two sound boxes for recording and reproduction. At the bottom of a sound funnel, the membrane of the sound box wrote the sound vibrations into the depth profile of the foil using a diamond tip. The process also worked the other way around: The first device for recording and reproducing sound was created.

... but then there was the Grammophone

Edison continued to improve the device, but at first the cylinders could not be copied and therefore did not yet have the potential to become a mass medium. It was not until this problem was solved that commercial success began. The phonograph indirectly led to the founding of record companies, some of which still exist today.

But just a few years later, on November 8, 1887, Emil Berliner received the patent for his gramophone, which, in conjunction with the easy to reproduce record, was much better suited for the mass market and was soon to largely replace the phonograph.

Last updated: 22/01/19 

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