Thursday July 31, 2014
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05-037 Thomas Edison's Phonograph

Thursday Jul 31, 2014

Lead: In 1877, while working on another idea, Thomas Alva Edison stumbled upon his most original invention; he discovered a path to the audio phonograph.

Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: "I am the Edison Phonograph, created by the Great Wizard of the New World to delight those who would have melody or be amused. I can sing you tender songs of love."

Most of Thomas Edison's inventions were either improvements on other ideas or adaptations of existing technology. His incandescent lamp was vastly more efficient than any before, making home lighting economically viable. His kinetoscope laid the foundation for the modern motion picture. It was with the phonograph, however, that Edison made his most creative contribution to modern life--and its discovery was by accident.

During the summer of 1877, Edison was trying to find a way of sending audio signals along telegraph wires. He found that, when using a stylus attached to a carbon transmitter, each sound would reproduce itself on paper covered with paraffin. He was surprised to discover that dragging the paper back under the stylus could reproduce the sound. At that point the basic principle of the phonograph had been determined. The medium of preservation might be a tinfoil or wax cylinder, vinyl record, magnetic tape or the laser-interpreted compact disc--but the principle was the same. Sound produces an imprint that can be reproduced, just as in this promotional advertising recording made on an Edison phonograph in 1906: "No matter what may be your mood, I am always ready to entertain you. When your day's work is done, I can bring the theater or the opera to your home."

The producer of A Moment In Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.


Baldwin, Neil. Edison, Inventing the Century. New York: Hyperion, 1995.

Josephson, Matthew. Edison, A Biography. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1961.

Millard, A.J. Edison and the Business of Innovation. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University, 1990.

Spencer, Len. "The First Recorded Promotional Message on the Edison Phonograph, Edison Studios, West Orange, New Jersey, 1906." Great Speeches of the Twentieth Century, Volume Two: The Changing World. Santa Monica, California: Rhino Records, Inc., 1991.

Copyright 2014 by Dan Roberts Enterprises, Inc.


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