Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 070

"The Orthophone.  An Invention that Eclipses All of Edison's.  The Truth-Telling Machine a New Madrid Man Invented.  Some of the Little Eccentricities of the Contrivance.  How It Gives Utterance to Mental Reservations and Gives the Thinker Away."  St. Louis Evening Post, June 1, 1878.

The rugged men of the Northern ice regions in their rude mythological way believe that the blue sky they see above them is formed from Ymer's skull.  It is, indeed, a pretty place of conceit on the part of the Icelander to fondly confide in any such bit of nonsense, and it is difficult to imagine how a man with a head as large as Ymer may be inferred to have had could have [sic] got along comfortably even in space.   The expression, however, if taken as a figurative one, would beautifully apply to some of the giant intellects of the day--men who, like the man of Menlo Park, have revolutionized theories and set the world agape by the startling discoveries they have made.  The minds of these are not apron-stringed to the ordinary routine of cerebral duties, but soar in an aeronautic way into the empyrean of invention, and after wheeling, eagle-like, for some time about the object upon which they have fixed their gaze, swoop down upon it at the right moment, and the prey is secured--the world has a new idea--a new machine--a new genius.

When Edison invented the phonograph it was thought the ultima Thule of invention had been reached.  It was pronounced a wonder; in fact, a miracle.   The telephone itself had been heralded as a giant among the products of thought--a sun in the firmament of invention.  But the phonograph eclipsed it, and although some of the Jaspers of recent science may try to prove that the telephonic sun "do suah move," nothing of its movements is heard around here.  The talk is all phonograph-phonograph-phonograph, till you can't rest, just as if the phonograph was not a talking-machine itself.  An EVENING POST reporter, however, has something of an occurrence to record that knocks the Balbriggans off of


He was seated quietly at his desk about 8:30 this morning when a tall, lop-shouldered genius shuffled in and asked for the editor.  He had an unobtrusive but remarkable cast of countenance.  You could see at once that he was an inventor.   You can always tell an inventor on sight.  There is an atmosphere of intelligence playing about their features, thougt sits enthroned above their wrinkled brows, the eyes are calm and keen, and there is a workshop crook to their necks that is unmistakable, while, although their clothes may have been hanging on their bent shoulders long enough to make them rusty and threadbare in spots, there is a bonanza air about them that dissipates any thoughts of shabby gentility that present themselves.  The man who approached the reporter's desk this morning was of the ordinary type, and to clinch the inference as to his profession he carried a small box under his left arm which looked very much like a model of something or other.  He wanted to know if the editor was in, which he was not just then.  Well, were any of the reporters around? he drawled out.  Yes, one of the humble members of the fraternity was there and then at his disposal.

"Wal," he said, drawing up his chair, and sitting down opposite the newspaper man, at the same time depositing a dilapidated stiff hat on the desk, "I've got a little mash-een hyere w'ich I'd a like to show you."

Judging from the man's accent and the slick way he had his hair combed back from a freckled but excellent forehead, he had just made a visit to town from the country.

He took the machine from under his arm, and, holding it between his hands, pushed it towards the reporter, and said:

"P'raps you don't know, young man, that I'm Tom Edison?"

The reporter was about to acknowledge the great pleasure it gave him to meet a man so distinguished as Mr. Edison, when a voice that seemed as if it were struggling to get out of somewhere or other was heard to remark,

"But I lie like thunder when I say so."

The EVENING POST man looked around in amazement, and, to make matters worse, there was the tall, gaunt and


laughing at him.  Perhaps he was some vagrant ventriloquist who wanted to perpetrate something funny; or he might have a phonograph concealed about his person.  Anyhow, there was nothing to see but the laughing countryman and the metal box he held in his hands.  There was nothing extraordinary about this box.  It was of parallelopipedon shape, about ten inches in length, with a depth of about six inches, with a wedge-shaped funnel in the top, just such as is seen in money boxes or children's banks.  Only this and nothing more.

The quaint visitor explained that he was no ventriloquist.  The voice that had been heard came from the box and was in fact produced there.  The box itself was a talking machine--not like the telephone or the phonograph, but a machine in which thought was converted into language as it is by the organs of speech.  The quaint visitor was Mr. John Husson, of New Madrid, Mo., and he was the inventor of the "mash-een."

"No," he said in answer to an inquiry; "never knew nothing 'bout ee-lectricity in my life, and never thought of this mash-een until I had heerd Edison's inventions.  But I've always, somehow or other, had ideas about this sort of thing.  It fust struck me when I went to a blind asylum and saw the poor creatures read with their finger-ends, and then I sed there wuz sumthing more'n mere feeling in it--there was brain or sumthing or other there; and then I come to hear folks talk of ee-lectricity and then I found out that we had a lot of it in us, and then I said that's


I kept on thinking, and thinking over the matter, and I kem to the conclusion that thought was just as much at our finger-ends as in our head and the ee-lectricity in our bodies was the medium through which it was carried to every part of the body.  But, Lord no!  I never dreamed of any talking mash-een--never thought of it in the world till I read one day in the papers that Edison had invented his telephone that you could talk through.  I thought it very funny at first, but as soon as I got hold on a description of it and head done reading that, and about the vibrating plat, I said I'd bet I could make one, and then the thought struck me that I could make one that'd talk 'thout being talked into, just by simply using them vibrating plates; and hyere," he said, holding out the little box; "I've done it."

All this time there was a queer humming noise coming from the box.   This Mr. Husson explained was caused by a portion of the machinery which he had set in motion.  The machinery consisted of an insulated cylinder of exceedingly hard wood and hollow, and with the exterior surface striated, after the manner of a file, which rubbed against the edge of a very sensitive sounding-board also insulated.  The cylinder was made to revolve very rapidly by means of intricate machinery, and was productive of the humming noise.  The only other object in the interior of the box was a vibrating plate near the mouth of the concern, and it was this which shaped the strange sound into words that were almost distinct and very intelligible. 

"How does the machine work?" asked the reporter.


said Husson, "records every thought that flits through the mind and that does not find utterance in speech.  In thinking the brain produces a certain amount of ee-lectriciy, and when this is once generated it has either to pass off in speech or be diffused through the body and pass off as best it can.  I've called this the Orthophone (from the Greek words meaning to speak the truth), as the mash-een has a peculiar character in as much as it corrects every untruth that is told, being awfully sensitive to what people call mental reservations.  You know when a man lies he does the greatest heap of thinking in the world, and a great amount of electricity is generated.  He tells the lie, but the truth is right there resting in his brain, and standing ready to leap from all portions of his body to the first conductor.  I remember one time when I wore heavy hob-nail shoes, I told a lie and the electricity took a streak toward those hob-nails, and I thought for about two seconds I was being crucified to the earth.  It was on account of the severe strain upon my entire nature that I generated such a terrible lot of ee-lectricity in me, and it had to pass off somewhere.   It was the first lie I ever told, and it was the last."

He was still tooling with the box, which here broke in: "This is the biggest whopper I ever told."

Husson himself was startled, and the tell-tale instrument fell from his hand to the ground.  He endeavored, however, to hide his irritation and said:

"You see, I've got to submit to this sort of thing once in a while to show off the thing.  You've offen heard of a lie


Well, there you kin see that the words were just anxious to find a vent hole somewhere."

"But how can these electric currents shape themselves into words?"

"These ee-lectric currents are the same as the telephone.  It's all in the vibrations, the currents, you know.  This box is metal, a perfect con-ductor.  It conveys the vibrations to the plate, and, as you see, the words come out distinctly and in a tone as loud as the humming you hear now.  Hold the instrument a moment, will you, till I show you a drawing of it?"

The reporter here took the instrument carefully between his hands, and Huson dove down into an inside vest pocket, but he couldn't find the drawings.  He proceeded to explain them, however, reiterating a great deal that is said above.   Suddenly a bright idea struck him.

"Say, young fellow," he said, "I don't want to talk you to death, let's go out and take something."

"No, thank you," answered the reporter.  "I never drink."

"And I never wanted a drink worse in my life," howled the machine mournfully.


The POST man handed the box hastily back to the owner, who indulged in a hearty laugh at the newspaper man's expense, after which the two adjourned to the nearest keg house.

"Do you know," said Husson as he replaced his empty glass on the counter, "I fooled Fox of the Dispatch just like I did you.  I let him hold the box, and told him I was going to advertise, but my terms were just the same as the city's--3,000 circulation or no go.  'Oh," says Fox, 'we've got over 3,000,' and just then the music box chimed in, 'And I know we hain't got more'n 300.'  Fox was awful mad.  He don't want any orthophone in his'n."

Mr. Husson then enumerated the many benefits which would result from the general use of his machine.  The Mayor could hold one in his hands while reading his annual message, and it would give every crooked sentence away.  He could stock the Potter investigation committee with them, and Sam. Tilden would be nowhere.   Congregations could supply their preachers with them, and then the ministry would have to


Young ladies could have them gotten up expressly for the parlor, and when a young man came fooling around saying sweet things it would be easy to tell whether they meant business or not.  The courts could have them and there would be no further chances for perjury.  Statesmen might be required to swear their allegiance to their constituents over one.  It would take just one of them to settle Hayes' title to the Presidency.  Liars would have to emigrate to climates where the Orthophone was unknown and beautiful truth would reign supreme throughout the land in domestic and public circles, in church and in state.  Everywhere that the orthophone was there equivocation could not be, and if the Government made it a law that each man, woman and child should have one, it would be an unmistakable evidence of angelic innocence, and would result as surely in the banishment of crime as St. Patrick's ipse dixit did in the freeing of the Emerald Isle from venomous reptiles.