Tag Archives: phonograph

How a man losing his hearing was the first to capture sound

Before the light bulb, Thomas Alva Edison was famous for inventing the phonograph, a simple device that was able to record sounds and then play them back. The phonograph had come to existence while Edison worked to develop a commercially viable telephone.

Edison noticed that when a paper tape was ran through a telegraph transmitter at high speeds, it would produce sounds that resemble spoken words. Instead of using paper, Edison would use a tinfoil cylinder that would be hand-cranked. This cylinder could be written onto or read by a metallic stylus.  Finally in 1877 Edison completed this idea and recorded himself reciting the nursery rhyme, “Mary had a little lamb”.

Edison with his second Phonograph
Edison with his second Phonograph in 1878

Though Edison became famous for his work on sound, Edison was almost deaf. He had lost his hearing at age 15 when he was working as a train boy to raise money for his chemistry experiments. Rather then dwelling on the loss, Edison saw how the loss of hearing would in the end give him a wealth of advantages.

In telegraphy being hearing impaired meant that he could only hear the machine in front of him unlike his fellow telegraphers who would have to focus to tune out the noises of the machines around them. Edison’s love for telegraphy would translate into a career of invention as his first patents were ways of improving the telegraph. His handicap also forced him to focus on reading and became more contemplative. Since Edison couldn’t hear the outside world, he spent more time thinking about how different ideas could be combined into a new product. In the case of the phonograph, Edison had invented a telegraph machine that could record telegraph messages years earlier, would it be possible to create a machine to record phone calls? Ultimately his deafness allowed him to invent.

Edison's Improvement on the stock ticker included a device that would allow for quick printing of stock prices
Edison’s Improvement on the stock ticker included a device that would allow for quick printing of stock prices. This machine would take telegraph messages of stock prices and then print the name and price of a stock on a long tape of paper. This device was invented by Edison in 1867.

Though handicapped Edison didn’t see deafness as a disadvantage. He instead focused on what he knew and what he could do with his ideas. Thus through great focus and ingenuity Edison would spearhead the creation of the Electric industry, founding what is today General Electric. He would create film industry and gave great strides to the music industry with his invention of the phonograph.

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