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Early Talking Machines After Edison
Early Talking Machines After Edison
article on tinfoil phonograph,
from Scientific American, Dec. 22, 1877
article on Edison phonograph,
from English Mechanic, Jan. 6, 1878
In Britain, the electrical engineer William H. Preece demonstrated a phonograph at the Royal Institution in February 1878. Henry Edmunds in his Section G paper wrote " I believe I had the honour of being one of the first Englishmen to see this instrument, as in 1877 I was in the United States, observing the scientific progress of the period, visiting, different institutions, and meeting various professors and inventors amongst others, I saw Mr. Edison in November of that year. I was much interested in it, and, returning to England in December, 1877 sent in a full report to the London Times, which appeared in their issue of the 17th February [sic], 1878. Shortly afterwards, the first Phonograph made in this country by Mr. Stroh, under my instructions was exhibited by Mr. W. H. Preece, the President of this Section, at his interesting lecture at the Royal Institution. This, was the first public exhibition of the 'Edison Phonograph,' or sound-recording machine in this country." The phonograph was described in the English Mechanic Jan. 6, 1878, and in the London Times Jan. 17 and in the Manchester Guardian Jan. 18, 1878. Augustus Stroh built four talking machines in early 1878 designed to reproduce the structure of human speech as theorized by Hermann Helmholtz in 1862. Stroh's first machine was similar to the phonautograph of Leon Scott, tracing voice sound waves on paper. His second machine put the sound waves for one human harmonic sound, or "partial" of a vowel sound, on the edge of a brass disc. The third machine played combinations of these discs to produce a vowel sound. The fourth machine, called the "automatic phonograph" played discs with complete words.
It was this fourth machine that Preece demonstrated at the February 27, 1879, meeting of the Society of Telegraph Engineers, for the paper delivered by Preece and Stroh titled "Studies in Acoustics: On the Synthetic Examination of Vowel Sounds." Of the experimental brass discs produced by Stroh, 98 survive today, some from 1879 with complete words such as "mama" and "papa" but most with sounds used to construct vowels.
Other experimenters worked on talking machines. Max Kohl in 1878 built the largest exhibition tin-foil cylinder machine that exists today, a giant device four feet wide with a cylinder 6 inches in diameter and a mandrel 10 inches in daimeter, all weighing 75 pounds. Professor D. Vital in Paris made one of the smallest tin-foil machines in 1879, constructed almost entirely of wood and sitting on a 6 inch base. These Kohl and Vital machines can be seen in the Rondeau Collection Gallery. However, these early machines were not practical for commercial production. Edison turned his attention to the electric light, and he would not market an improved phongraph until 1888. By this time, Tainter and Bell developed the graphophone and Berliner developed the gramophone. The 1888 recordings by George Gouraud in London are the oldest surviving recorded music.
- "An 1878 Recording" from Tinfoil.com.
- Cramer, Aaron with Allen Koenigsberg. "The World's Oldest Recording: Frank Lambert's Amazing Time Machine." Antique Phonograph Monthly, Vol. 10, No.3, 1992, online from Collector Cafe.
- "Dialogue on 'The Oldest Playable Recording'," ARSC Journal, Spring 2002, pp. 77-84. Stephan Puille and Patrick Feaster in "Dialogue on 'The Oldest Playable Recording' (continued)", ARSC Journal, Autumn 2002, pp. 237-242, argue, that the phonograph ascribed to Lambert was manufactured much later and has nothing to do with the Ansonia talking clock experiments of 1878.
- Dyer, Frank Lewis and Thomas C. Martin. Edison, His Life and Inventions. NY: Harper, 1910. Text online.
- Fabrizio, Timothy C. and George F. Paul. "Augustus Stroh: Forgotten Scientist of Sound." ARSC Journal, Spring, 2001, pp. 1-10.
- Winter, David. Frank Lambert's Talking Clock An 1878 experimental talking machine, 2003, includes sound wave analysis and photos of the Lambert machine.
- History of Vinyl from BBC has woodcut picture of Preece demonstration of the tin foil machine in London 1879.
- Jenkins, Reese V., et. al., eds. The Papers of Thomas A. Edison. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989-1998. Vol. 3. Menlo Park: the Early Years, April 1876-December 1877; Vol. 4. The Wizard of Menlo Park, 1878. The Thomas A. Edison Papers project at Rutgers includes a Chronology of Thomas Edison's Life.
- Preece, William Henry and Augustus Stroh. "Studies in Acoustics. I. On the Synthetic Examination of Vowel Sounds." Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Vol. 28. Feb. 27, 1879. 358-36
- Rondeau, Rene. Tinfoil Phonographs. Corte Madera CA: Rene Rondeau, 2001.
- 1999-2004 by Steven E. Schoenherr. All rights reserved.
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