On This Day: February 19th

Brennan Krahn, News Reporter

    On February 19, in 1878, Thomas Edison patented the phonograph. The phonograph is a device for the mechanical recording and reproduction of sound. While other inventors had produced devices that could record sounds, Edison’s phonograph was the first to be able to reproduce the recorded sound. Edison began his career as an inventor in Newark, New Jersey, with the automatic repeater and his other improved telegraphic devices, but the invention that first gained him wider notice was the phonograph in 1877. This accomplishment was so unexpected by the public at large that for many it appeared to be almost magical. Edison became known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” New Jersey. His first phonograph recorded on tinfoil around a grooved cylinder. Despite its limited sound quality and that the recordings could be played only a few times, the phonograph made Edison a celebrity. Joseph Henry, president of the National Academy of Sciences and one of the most renowned electrical scientists in the U.S., described Edison as, “the most ingenious inventor in this country… or in any other.”

    In April 1878, Edison traveled to Washington to demonstrate the phonograph before the National Academy of Sciences, Congressmen, Senators, and U.S. President Hayes. The Washington Post described Edison as a, “genius” and his presentation as, “a scene… that will live in history.” Although Edison obtained a patent for the phonograph in 1878, he did little to develop it until Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell, and Charles Tainter produced a phonograph-like device in the 1880s that used wax-coated cardboard cylinders.