Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 083

"Improvement of the Phonograph," Literary Digest 22:12 (No. 570), Mar. 23, 1901, p. 350.

THIS instrument, which since its invention has been used chiefly as a toy, may receive such important improvements in the next few years that it will realize the expectations that were raised when it was first described. At that time, we are reminded in an article in The Scientific American, it took a remarkably strong hold on the imagination. Public speeches, we were told, would soon be reproduced in any part of the country; letters would be spoken instead of written, and reuttered in the accents of the sender's own voice; and the voices of great singers and noted men would be preserved for future generations. How have these prophesies been realized? Says the writer of the article just referred to:

"Up to the present time, the instrument has been put to these uses to a very limited extent, to the last one scarcely at all. The wax records ordinarily used are not adapted to the purpose, because they are not sufficiently durable. They are frail and easily defaced, and gradually wear out after being used a few times. There are now, however, two or three satisfactory ways in which phonographic records can be preserved indefinitely, the most interesting of which, perhaps, is described in a recent patent of Mr. Edison's. From an ordinary wax record he produces a very perfect duplicate made of silver with a thin plating of gold. There seems to be no reason why such records will not last for centuries, and a collection of them, preserved perhaps by our museums and learned institutions, should be of the highest value to the future student of history, language and music, more especially as it is possible, by processes already well known, to obtain from them at any time an almost indefinite number of excellent copies.

"The reproduction of the voice given by the phonograph is still somewhat disappointing, and leaves much to be desired as a means of studying language; but there can be no doubt that if we had a collection of records made, say, in the age of Elizabeth, and as perfect as those now produced, we would learn much about the speech of the sixteenth century.

"Mr. Edison's process is simple but interesting. He takes a copper electroplate of a wax record. The copper relief obtained is then electroplated with silver, the surface of which, next the copper, of course has precisely the form of the original wax surface. The copper matrix is then dissolved away with acid.

"In the electroplating process the wax record is revolved under a bell-jar, in a Crookes vacuum, through which an electric discharge is passing between electrodes of gold. This causes a discharge of a vapor or infinitesimal particles of gold, which attach themselves to whatever they strike, forming a continuous coating of excessive thinness, and following the outline of the surface with absolute fidelity. Upon this coating the copper matrix is plated, to form the inside surface upon which the silver is deposited when the wax is removed.

"The gold, like the silver, being unaffected by the acid used, remains as a plating on the silver record when the copper matrix is dissolved away. The amount of gold used is scarcely appreciable, and the silver may, of course, be a thin shell, backed up by other material, so that the records are not as expensive as might be supposed from the materials employed."

Readers of these columns will remember that other promising modifications of the phonograph have recently been patented, so that there is no doubt that the intelligence of inventors is once more being directed toward the realization of our dreams of a quarter-century ago.