Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 035

"The Talking Machine," New York Daily Tribune, March 25, 1878.

While it is not safe to limit the possibilities of science and ingenuity in the future, we may well doubt whether there will be more remarkable inventions in the remainder of this century than the telephone and the phonograph.  In the history of their invention, the two instruments are intimately connected, one having doubtless suggested the other.   We shall not undertake to say which is the more wonderful, but Professor Arnold, whose lecture of Saturday evening we print in full to-day, in other columns, gives the preference to the phonograph--the machine which stores away speech and reproduces it when wanted.  Perhaps the next step of inventive ingenuity will be to combine the two contrivances, so that a message uttered at a distance through a telephone will be recorded for use at leisure, by the phonograph, at the receiving station.  This would obviate some of the present inconveniences in using the telephone, and might help to make it of more general service.

The mechanical theory of the phonograph is so exceedingly simple, that the wonder is it was not invented long ago.  The fact that a thin plate or membrane vibrates to sound that strikes it, was recognized many years since as a possible means of transcribing sound.  Many attempts to decipher the record have been made.  The record itself has been obtained, just as it is in the phonograph, by means of a steel point attached to the vibrating membrane.  In Mr. Edison's invention, the vibrating point impresses its record upon a sheet of tin foil, which is wrapped on a grooved cylinder.  The cylinder moves lengthwise as it turns around, so that the record is a spiral upon it, like the thread of a screw.  So far, there is nothing surprising.  The extraordinary performance is that when the cylinder is set back at its starting-point and turned again, the elevations and depressions in the tin-foil move the vibrating point back and forth, and with it the membrane, setting up anew the vibrations of the air, and thus reproducing the sound itself; giving back words, speech, laughter or music, with startling fidelity.

It is too soon to say what may be the use of this strange instrument.  As yet its tone is metallic and its enunciation coarse and obscure; but already it is improving in these particulars, as the causes of its defects are discovered.  Methods will undoubtedly be devised for making its voice louder as well as more distinct.   Obviously this can be done by any means which enlarge its record, the impression on the tin-foil being now almost microscopic.  Perhaps this may be done directly, if the vibrations can themselves be enlarged by mechanical connections like those of a pentagraph.  Perhaps it may be done by means of electrotypes from the tin-foil, which will be increased in all their dimensions by some of the recent processes of photo-engraving.  Among the results hoped for, or suggested, is that the actual song of a prima donna may thus be transferred to the hand-organs; though whether street music will be thereby improved, is at least doubtful.  A more useful device, if it can be perfected, will be to attach a machine with abundant power of sound to each lighthouse, so that from the dangerous rocks their own name, loudly and continuously repeated, may warn the approaching navigator.  For such a siren's song, the whole world would be thankful.