Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 064

"The Phonograph.  An Exhibition of Edison's Wonderful Talking Machine.  Many of the Experiments a Positive Success--Others the Reverse.   The Instrument Must Be Regarded as Only in Its Infancy," Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1878.

One of Edison's phonographs made an appearance before a large audience yesterday afternoon in the First Methodist Episcopal Church, and talked and sang itself hoarse,--or rather talked and sang until its little diaphragm became cracked.  The exhibition was intended to be for the benefit of the press and various gentlemen of the city interested in scientific appliances, but there was a great demand for invitations, and at the hour appointed for the performance the auditorium of the church was filled nearly to the extent of its capacity, many ladies being present.  Mr. George H. Bliss, a well-known electrician, assisted by Mr. George R. McDonnell, manipulated the instrument, which was placed on a table upon the platform.

It was not a very formidable-looking machine, being easily lifted, and not occupying more than two square feet of space.  There was an iron cylinder about five inches in diameter and six in length, having a thread cut into it screw-shaped.  An axle extending through the cylinder projected at each end, and also having a screw-thread corresponding to that on the cylinder.  At one end was an ordinary crank, by which the cylinder could be rapidly and easily revolved.  At the end of an arm extending from the front side was a contrivance called the diaphragm, because it was as close an imitation to the diaphragm of the human throat as could be devised.  This diaphragm could be swung around until it almost touched the face of the cylinder.  It consisted of a small plate or disk of thin steel, having a concave surface intended to catch the sound, and attached to which on the under side was a minute needle, which, when the diaphragm was in place, would prick or slightly touch the cylinder.  In order to work the instrument, it was only necessary to wind a sheet of tin-foil about the cylinder and talk or sing into the mouthpiece.  The vibration of the air would cause the needle to indent the tin-foil, the cylinder, of course, being revolved during the operation.   After the speaking was finished it was necessary to swing back the mouth-piece and turn the cylinder back to the starting point.  Then a cone-shaped funnel was attached to the diaphragm, which was again placed in position, and the phonograph was ready to report the sounds which had been previously voiced into it.


of the workings of the instrument, Mr. Bliss proceeded to give the audience a practical illustration of its powers.  Leaning over the mouthpiece, he exclaimed in a voice that must have been audible across the street:

"Halloa!  Halloa!  Mr. Phonograph, are you there?"

This salutation, which might have been addressed with great propriety to the ghosts at a spiritual seance, was faithfully echoed backby the phonograph a few moments later, after the cylinder had been turned back.  The voice of the instrument was weak, but it was evidently there.

"All right!  all right!" shouted the operator, and "All right! all right!" came the faint and seemingly far-off response.

Mr. Bliss explained that he was not an experienced hand at this kind of speech-making, and he might not do entire justice to the instrument.  However, he would try again:

"The phonograph presents its compliments to the press of Chicago and its friends assembled today to witness its performances."

This sufficiently long sentence came out of the funnel, not without several breaks, yet intelligible to the careful listener.  The lecturer then turned to the audience and said that the phonograph was yet in its infancy, but had already learned the alphabet.   He therefore addressed the precocious infant as follows:

"I say, Mr. Phonograph, can you say your letters?  Let us see what you can do: A, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z."

Evidently the phonograph was strong on the alphabet, for each letter came out plainly, to the great delight of the audience, who applauded loudly.

"We will now examine the instrument in spelling," said the lecturer, and turning to the willing machine spoke into it as follows:

"Spell b-o-y, boy, g-i-r-l, girl, h-a-t, hat."

The operation was performed as indicated, although the word girl was enunciated plainer than any of the rest, as if the phonograph had a special fondness for that section of the human race.

"Try Massachusetts," continued Mr. Bliss; and after him the machine repeated, M-a-s-s-a-c-h-u-s-e-t-t-s.  The numbers from one up to twenty were also given.

"Now we will drop into poetry," said Mr. Bliss, doubtless having in mind the illustrious Mr. Wegg; and accordingly he repeated the stanza:

Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.

The instrument rambled and slurred a little on the first part of this piece, but came out strong and triumphantly on the last line.


of a stammering person, which did not work very successfully, the lecturer informed the audience that Mr. Edison, the inventor, had lately struck a new lead in the discovery of the carbon telephone, by which people would be able to distinguish sounds at a distance of ten feet from the instrument.  Already people had conversed together between New York and Washington.  He then repeated into the phonograph the nursery rhymes:

Hickory, dickory, dock!
The mouse ran up the clock;
The clock struck one, and down he run,
Hickory, dickory, dock!

The first and last lines of this charming piece were returned with especial clearness.   The lecturer then rattled off a string of slang phrases, something as follows:

"Oh, I say, you dry up!  Pull down your vest!  Dry up!  Go West, young man!  Wipe off your chin! etc."

The next performance was the singing of Yankee Doodle by Mr. C. M. Smith.  The first attempt was hardly successful, only a mere jumble of unrecognizable sounds coming out of the funnel.  A second trial was happier in its results.  The tune and most of the words were comparatively plain.  The singer then gave a stanza of the song

There was an old nigger,
And his name was Uncle Ned.

"Now," said Mr. Bliss, "I will repeat the names of some of the prominent citizens"; and he rehearsed rapidly the names of J. D. Caton, Marshall Field, George L. Dunlap, John V. Farwell, Anson Stager, etc. 

The entertainment closed with cornet-playing by Mr. Carrey, which was perhaps the most successful of the whole.  The tune was returned with wonderful fidelity.