Year of Invention: 1877
What Is It? A device to record, store, and play back (broadcast) a sound, espe-
cially a voice or music.
Who Invented It? Thomas Alva Edison (in Menlo Park, New Jersey)
The phonograph created the ability to freeze sound (record it) and to enjoy it any time. The idea seemed like magic when Edison first claimed that he could do it. Before the phonograph, the only way to hear a sound was to be there when it was made. It was as if time itself could now be conquered and controlled.
The phonograph launched the music industry and started the home entertainment industry. Voice recordings, records, answer machines, record players, radio stations, tape players, compact discs, and iPods® all trace their roots back to Edison’s phonograph.
In 1855, Frenchman Leon Scott de Martinville used a horn and membrane attached to a stylus (metal needle) to draw sound waves on a spinning cylinder. His goal, however, was to use this device to study the nature of sound. He visually recorded sound, but never developed a way to play it back. All he could do was look at the squiggly wave-like lines his device had drawn. However, de Martinville’s work was the first human attempt to record a sound.
From his invention of the ticker tape machine and telegraph improvements, Edison was rich by the age of 26 (1873) and built an “invention factory” in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Through early 1876, Edison raced against Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray to invent a working telephone. Bell won. Edison was forced to settle for making voice quality improvements on Bell’s design and for inventing an improved microphone and speaker.
In early 1877, at age 30, Edison began serious work on inventing a sound recording machine he called the “talking machine.” From his work on telephones Edison knew how to