Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 059

"The Future of the Phonograph," Chicago Tribune, May 1, 1878.

Of all the inventions of the present century, not one has created such an interest or attracted such widespread attention as the Phonograph.  Magazines have teemed with articles upon the inventor and his invention, and the newspaper press has speculated upon its possibilities clear to the verge of the wildest imaginings.  The most interesting article, however, that has yet appeared is in the current number of the North American Review, and it derives its interest largely from the fact that it is written by Mr. EDISON, the inventor himself, and is therefore an official statement of what he has accomplished, and of future probabilities as they appear to him from the basis of his experiments.  The article is such as might be expected from the pen of such a man,--brief, concise, and clear,--without unnecessary flourish, and not transgressing limits of probability, and confined to a statement, first, of actual results; and, second, of probable future realizations.

The actual results that he has accomplished are stated by Mr. EDISON in substantially the following form: He has discovered that a vibrating disk is capable of receiving a complex motion that will represent the peculiar property of all the multifarious sound waves; that a record of them can be made upon plastic material by indentation, and that they can be restored, producing upon the ear the same sensation as if coming direct from the original source,--indeed, Mr. EDISON claims that the articulation of some individuals has been greatly improved in the passage through the Phonograph; that this record can be removed and replaced upon a second apparatus without mutilation or loss of effective power to vibrate the second plate; that it requires but ten seconds to remove the recording sheet, and that it can be sent by mail at a slight cost for postage; that these indentations possess wonderful enduring power, and that the record can be multiplied indefinitely by electrotyping; and that an audible reproduction may be had "by speaking at the instrument from a distance of from two to three feet in a loud tone" by the use "of a flaring tube or funnel to collect the sound-waves and the construction of an especially delicate diaphragm and embossing point."

The most interesting part of the article is devoted to the applications of these properties of the Phonograph.  The first of these contemplates a revolution in letter-writing.  The record sheet being placed in the Phonograph, the matter is dictated and recorded.  The sheet is then removed and sent by mail to the correspondent, who places it upon his Phonograph and listens to the voice of the one who has sent it.  As Mr. EDISON says: "Inasmuch as it gives the tone of voice of his correspondent, it is identified.   As it may be filed away as other letters, and at any subsequent time reproduced, it is a perfect record.  As two sheets of tin foil have been indented with the same facility as a single sheet, the "writer" may thus keep a duplicate of his communication.  As the principal of a business house or his partners now dictate the important business communications to clerks, to be written out, they are required to do no more by the phonographic method, and do thereby dispense with the clerk, and maintain perfect privacy in their communications."  All kinds of dictation can be readily effected by the Phonograph.  It can talk to the compositor and record the sayings of witnesses, counsel, and Judge.  It can be used as an elocutionary teacher, or as a primary teacher for children.  It will reproduce music with marvelous accuracy and power.  As the original record can be indefinitely multiplied, and as he estimates that 40,000 words can be placed upon a single metal plate ten inches square, phonographic, self-reading books for the work room, or sick room, sold at very small cost as compared with printed books, are among the strong probabilities for the future.   He promises the children for the ensuing Christmas holidays dolls that will speak, sing, cry, or laugh, and every species of animal or mechanical toy,--such as locomotives, etc., supplied with their characteristic sounds.  "The phonographic clock will tell you the hour of the day, call you to lunch, and send your lover home at 10, etc."  There will be a conflict of opinion as to its value for the latter purpose.  The stern "parent" will be a prompt patron, and the prospective mother-in-law will rejoice at a scientific contrivance that can do her work for her in her own suggestive tone of voice.  The fond lover will object to a sudden interruption of his passionate love by a loud-mouthed clock, shrieking at him in a tone of voice loud enough to be heard all over the house, "It's 10 o'clock; go home, Mr. BROWN."   The young lady who has objections to her lover's early retiring will distract the inner consciousness of the phonographic clock by setting it back.  Even as shrewd an inventor as Mr. EDISON may find this probability too difficult for him to accomplish.   The last, and in Mr. EDISON's opinion the most important, probability of the future is a revolution in the present system of telegraphy by the combination of the Phonograph and Telephone principles.  He claims that by a very simple device one vibrating-disk may be made to do duty for both the Telephone and Phonograph, thus simultaneously transmitting and recording the message, and enabling the correspondent to hear it while it is being recorded.  He claims even now that his "Carbon Telephone" will already well-nigh effect the record on the Phonograph.  In closing his article, Mr. EDISON thus alludes to the telegraph of the future:

The telegraph company of the future--and that no distant one--will be simply an organization having a huge system of wires, central and sub-central stations, managed by skilled attendants, whose sole duty it will be to keep wires in proper repair, and give, by switch or shunt arrangement, prompt attention to subscriber No. 923 in New York, when he signals his desire to have private communication with subscriber No. 1001 in Boston, for three minutes.  The minor and totally inconsequent details which seem to arise as obstacles in the eyes of the groove-traveling telegraph-man wedded to existing methods will wholly disappear before that remorseless Juggernaut--"the needs of man."

That Mr. EDISON may live to see all the probabilities he has outlined become realities will be the very general wish of the whole community, whose needs he is so rapidly anticipating with his wonderful discoveries.