In 1877, Thomas Edison created the phonograph. The phonograph is one of the most important inventions in American history because you could use it to preserve audio recordings for future generations to hear. The phonograph invention was a turning point in American history because it made life easier for people in the 19th century. It was one of the first ways people in America learned about events that happened long before they were born. The invention of the phonograph also changed popular music forever.
Edison listened to his voice while working on the phonograph. Other inventions made by other scientists inspired the idea of the phonograph.
Thomas Edison did not come up with the idea of using sound waves to create music or speech; he did take inspiration from other inventors to improve upon their designs. His inspiration came from the telephone, telegraph, and phonetic typewriter.
Creating a Talking Machine
In 1887, Edison began to focus his work on making a talking machine. Edison tried to make a machine that would enable someone to record sound through their mouth and re-record it for playback later. He also wanted to create a machine that would allow a person to record a person’s voice on a cylinder.
Edison’s Expansive Vision
The first problem Edison needed to solve was how he could make the machine more portable. In 1887 Edison built a large-scale version of his prototype, about forty-five feet long and weighed one hundred pounds. He used the phonograph to record sound waves from two cathedral bells in New Jersey.
One day, Edison stood in his laboratory and listened to the recording of his bells. He was astonished by the results. The sound had changed from noise to song, and he felt as if he were whistling a tune. Edison decided that he had to make his voice-recording machine more reliable.
Edison’s Amazing Invention in the Press
Edison’s discovery was not only astonishing; it was also revolutionary. He demonstrated at the National Museum in 1886. The invention baffled people who marveled at Edison’s mastery of sound waves. The device was so unbelievable that no one could believe it.
One reporter described the phonograph as such: “A small funnel or mouthpiece is used which resembles somewhat those now in use on telephone receivers. His invention opened limitless possibilities for recording sound waves and storing them for later use.
Competition and Decline
In 1889, Edison lost a patent case to George Eastman concerning the invention of the phonograph. In 1891, Edison’s company merged with other businesses to form the North American Phonograph Company. In 1892, the company established branches in New York and Chicago and sold over 40,000 phonographs by 1893. In 1896, the Gramophone Company merged with another company to form the Columbia Phonograph Company. The cylinder format fell out of favor when other forms of entertainment such as movies and radio made their way into American homes. The Edison phonograph ceased production in 1931 due to a lack of demand for machines.
Edison’s phonograph played a significant role in the development of blues music, an American genre that blended African American, European, and jazz influences to create a unique style of music. Edison’s invention also gave rise to other forms of entertainment. His phonograph inspired the development of other machines, including movie cameras and radio microphones.