Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 011

"The Phonograph Exhibited.  Prof. Arnold's Description of the Machine in Chickering Hall--Various Experiments, With Remarkable Results," New York Times, March 24, 1878, p. 2.

An intelligent audience about half filled Chickering Hall last evening [March 23, 1878] to listen to Prof. J. W. S. Arnold's description of Edison's speaking phonograph.  On the stage was a formidable array of apparatus.  There were no less than six tables, all covered with mysterious instruments.  On one was a guitar rampant with a complication of wires and tubes attached to it.  This afterward proved to be a singing and a vocal telephone.  On another was a curious glass bottle, which turned out to be an instrument for measuring the vibrations of sound, called a syren.  There were half-a-dozen magic lanterns, with all sorts of trestlework and mirrors and magnifying glasses about them, several gas-retorts, four or five tuning-forks, of various sizes, a toy harmonicon, a blackboard with a bar of music painted on it, an immense muslin screen, a huge papier maché human ear, and a little machine that at first sight appeared to be an ordinary crimping machine.  The Professor's assistant, Dr. Miller, had great trouble in arranging and rearranging the various instruments.  He finished, at length, and disappeared, and there was a long pause.  The audience stood it until 20 minutes past the hour, and then began stamping vigorously.  Finally the gas was turned on, and simultaneously the Professor entered.  For an hour and a half he kept his hearers interested by a lucid explanation of the physical construction of the human organs of speech and hearing and of the philosophy of sound, the lecture being illustrated at intervals with curious experiments, in which not only the apparatus before described, but also the organ of the hall, was made to play a part.  One rather novel experiment was the throwing upon the screen, by means of a strong electric light and an arrangement of mirrors, of a shape representing the "fundamental tone" of a vibrating tuning-fork.  Dr. Miller spoke into an apparatus devised to imitate the tympanum of the human ear, and the luminous shape was splashed about on the screen in the most eccentric manner.  By bringing other tuning-forks of various capacities into play, many diverse and beautiful figures were obtained.  The two telephones were incidentally introduced, with a result apparently not down on the bills.  Dr. Miller went into the cellar, and Prof. Arnold asked him through the speaking telephone whether he was ready.  On receiving what was presumably an affirmative response, he called out to go ahead.  The Doctor, it was understood, was to sing a song.  In a few moments "Auld Lang Syne," loud and clear, resounded from the guitar, in close imitation of the Vox Humana pipes of an organ, as the Professor afterward showed by a practical illustration.  After the first stanza there was a pause, and the Professor went on with his lecture.  He was instantly interrupted, however, by the notes of the second stanza.  He waited patiently to the end, and then there being another pause, took a fresh start, when along came the third stanza.  The Professor took summary measures this time by detaching the wires.

Finally, holding up the little crimping machine, he said that it was the phonograph that everybody had been waiting for.  On closer examination it was seen to consist of a little fly-wheel with a polished outer surface grooved with a delicate spiral thread.   Its axle was also grooved spirally so as to run sideways, and was attached to a crank handle.  On one side was an adjustable iron arm with a hole at the top, on the under side of which was a piece of ferreotype plate clamped on both sides around the edges by pieces of india rubber so as to leave free a surface only a fraction of an inch in diameter in the middle.  Attached beneath this was a steel point which touched the face of the wheel.  The Professor placed a narrow strip of tin foil covered with little pricks in spiral circles on the face of the wheel, fastening the edges with gum.   Then he held a paper funnel over the hole in the adjustable arm and turned the crank.  The first result was a succession of wheezy sounds which nobody understood.   The Professor ran the wheel back to its original position and tried again, slowly this time.  Then was heard quite distinctly the story of Mary's little lamb in the voice of a decrepid [sic] old man with his mouth full of water.  A third trial, the crank being turned very fast, elicited a repetition of the story in the shrill voice of an angry old woman, heard at a distance, but perfectly audible.  Another slip was placed upon the wheel--a virgin one this time--and the Professor talked, shouted, and sang at it, all of which was correctly repeated by the instrument afterward.  This closed the lecture, but, on invitation, a majority of the audience subsequently ascended the stage, and Dr. Miller kindly gave them a nearer introduction to the little machine.  Among other things he took one of the already indented strips of tin foil, and while turning it shouted absurd orders at it at intervals.  These came out in their proper place at a subsequent turning, in this style: "Mary had a little--oh shut up--lamb.  Its fleece was white--give us a rest--as snow.  And everywhere--go to bed--that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go--How's that."  Dr. Miller said that the machine in use last night offered a fair criterion of the degree of loudness yet attained, but it was expected that this would be improved upon hereafter.  The Doctor tore up the strips of tin foil that had been used, and distributed them among the audience.  There was a wild scramble for these keepsakes.