WAY before CDs, iPods, and digital music there was the phonograph.
On this day in 1878, Thomas Edison patented the phonograph.
Edison created many inventions, but his favorite was the phonograph. While working on improvements to the telegraph and the telephone, Edison figured out a way to record sound on tinfoil-coated cylinders. In 1877, he created a machine with two needles: one for recording and one for playback.
Recalling his astonishment when his tin-foil phonograph first played back his voice recording of Mary Had A Little Lamb, Edison said: “I was always afraid of things that worked the first time. Long experience proved that there were great drawbacks found generally before they could be got commercial; but here was something there was no doubt of..
“Which do I consider my greatest invention? … I like the phonograph best … because I love music. And then it has brought so much joy into millions of homes all over this country, and, indeed, all over the world. ”
The ability of a machine to capture the human voice was an astonishing thing to people of the time. The real significance of the early phonograph was that it transformed the way people listened to music. Where once music was a unique, live performance, experienced in a public place with a group, now it was heard privately in the home and it was possible to hear the same “performance” over and over.
On the 50th anniversary of his invention, Edison recorded again the nursery rhyme on his original phonograph. Hear it here