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TINFOIL PHONOGRAPHS - 1878-1881

The history of sound recording began with a sheet of tinfoil and a brief nursery rhyme ("Mary had a little lamb..."). Edison invented the first phonograph in December, 1877, creating an instant sensation -- but a brief one. Once the initial public curiosity was satisfied the technology languished for almost a decade. The machines below are artifacts of the earliest days of the phonograph.


ORIGINAL TINFOIL PHONOGRAPHS:

Edison Demonstration Phonograph (Hardy) - 1878
American Craftsman-Made Phonograph - ca. 1878
Edison Parlor Speaking Phonograph (Brehmer Bros.) - 1879
Fondain Phonograph - 1879
French Parlor Phonograph - ca. 1880


REPLICA TINFOIL PHONOGRAPHS:

Kruesi Prototype Replicas
Edison "Brady" Replica
Edison Brass Bergmann Replica
St. Clair Replica
Edison Topmount Parlor Model Replica


PAPER "EPHEMERA" OF THE TINFOIL ERA:

Page 1: Spring/Summer 1878
Page 2: Summer 1878 to 1879
Page 3: 1878 to 1879 (cont.)


(Original tinfoil phonographs came in a variety of sizes.)


Tinfoil Phonograph Demonstration:

This demonstration was presented at Stanford University on March 28, 2008 as part of the official unveiling of the world's oldest recovered sound (see FirstSounds.org for the full story).

In 1878 the phonograph was a brand-new novelty which was displayed to the paying public at various performances around the country. I attempted to recreate an exhibition as it would have been done back in 1878, with a variety of audio recordings including spoken and musical performances, as well as special effects. The "heckling" lecture seen here is based verbatim on a contemporary news report of a similar demonstration. Although the sound quality of such over-recording is not as good as a direct recording, this sort of wizardry enchanted audiences then -- and now.

Over 200 people witnessed this demonstration, with the sound clearly heard even in the back of the auditorium. It was perhaps the only large-scale public exhibition of a tinfoil phonograph in over a century.


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