This is a very historically significant phonograph -- the first ever offered
for sale to the general public. Immediately after the invention of the phonograph
in December 1877 (the first Kruesi prototype) Thomas Edison was bombarded with inquiries
from around the world. People were eager to see and hear this incredible machine,
however public exhibitions would not start until late spring. To help satisfy the
overwhelming curiosity, on January 8, 1878 Edison sketched a design for a small "demonstration"
phonograph. Several prototypes were built in Edison's laboratory, one of which was
shipped to Edison's European agent with instructions to have such phonographs made
for sale at the International Exposition in Paris, starting in May. Edison subsequently
contracted with machinist Edme Hardy to manufacture these phonographs under Edison's
name. A few months later Sigmund Bergmann was hired to make similar machines in the
US. The Hardy-made Edison phonograph is a small but heavy machine, measuring only
about 8" by 10" but weighing 21 pounds. The mandrel is nearly 6" in
diameter but only 2" wide, capable of recording only 50-60 words. The diameter
and weight of the mandrel helped smooth the rotation, making it unnecessary to add
a separate flywheel (and reducing production cost).
Edison's agent described the Hardy phonograph in a letter written July 17, 1878, saying that "there is at present but one model of phonograph for sale.... Although this instrument is perfectly large enough to demonstrate the principle of the invention to satisfaction, yet it is hardly fit for public exhibition. A special instrument has been constructed for this purpose."At $40, equivalent to nearly a month's salary for an average worker, the "demonstration" phonograph was a very expensive and impractical novelty. Consequently few were sold and only seventeen survive today, nearly half in museums. The Bergmann-built version was even less successful, and Edison soon dropped the idea of marketing phonographs to private individuals. Throughout the rest of 1878 the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company concentrated on public exhibitions. It was not until early 1879, after interest in exhibitions began to wane, that Edison again began marketing phonographs to the public in the form of the Edison Parlor Phonograph.
Original engraving of a Hardy tinfoil phonograph from an era catalog by Ch. Magne of Paris, a dealer in electrical and scientific items.
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