The Phonograph and Its Future

Probability: Perfect the Telephone and revolutionize present systems of telegraphy.


Perfect the telephone and revolutionize present systems of telegraphy. - Connecting up with the telephone as a permanent record of what was said....the speaker will be able to simultaneously transmit and record his message.


The original phonograph had a close relationship with the telegraph and the telephone as Edison was working on both when he realized how sound might be captured and replayed. (See An American Experience video Edison: From the Telephone and Telegraph Comes the Phonograph for an excellent overview of how one invention led to another when Thomas Edison and his Menlo Park laboratory team refined Alexander Graham Bellís telephone and, along the way, invented the phonograph).

Edison: From the Telephone and Telegraph Comes the Phonograph - An American Experience video


Therefore, Edison identifying "the connecting up of the phonograph with the telephone" as one of the future probabilities for the phonograph shouldn't be surprising.

Connecting the telephone to a recording device, however, would not commercially be done by Edison, but by Valemar Poulsen who in 1898 invented the Telegraphone which was an electromagnetic phonograph that recorded sound by the alternating magnetization of a wire.

Poulsen had trouble getting support for his device in Europe but did receive financial backing in the United States in 1903 and promoted its ability for 'automatically recording every message which comes or goes through your 'phone, to be reproduced whenever and as often as you may choose, in the very tones and inflections of each speaker" as seen in this 1906 ad in The Talking Machine World.


The Talking Machine World, December 16, 1906



1911 Poulsen Model C Telegraphone, Courtesy of Pavek Museum, St. Louis Park, MN



Poulsen's Telegraphone as a "telephone answering machine" has its place in history but it wasn't 'automatic' and it wasn't a commercial success. According to Wikipedia's article on the "Answering machine, the invention of the answering machine was in the 1930's with the date and its inventor in dispute. Many say "the answering machine was invented by William Muller in 1935, but it may already have been created in 1931 by William Schergens whose device used phonographic cylinders. Ludwig Blattner promoted a telephone answering machine in 1929 based on his Blattnerphone magnetic recording technology. In 1935 inventor Benjamin Thornton developed a machine to record voice messages from the caller. The device reportedly also was able to keep track of the time the recordings were made. Although many sources maintain that he invented it in 1935, Thornton had actually filed a patent in 1930 (Number 1831331) for this machine, which utilized a phonographic record as the recording medium."


See Wikipedia's "History" section of "Answering Machine" for more details about this part of the answering machine's history.

As far as Edison's prediction list goes, a telephone 'answering machine' was a reality in the 1930's and its place in popular culture would grow until 'voice mail' replaced the need for a separate 'device' connected to your phone to record and playback messages.





Telephone Answering Machines in Popular Culture


Henry Martin, Punch magazine, September 1984



Answering Machine Messages December 13, 2003 Dave Blazek



Coffee mug from London Times cartoon by Rick London and Rich Diesslin, 2001






Calvin and Hobbes, Courtesy Bill Watterson, 1992






Courtesy Scott Adams, October 29, 2001





Courtesy Tom Wilson, 2008





Girls with Slingshots, Courtesy Danielle Corsetto






Brian Crane, March 7, 2012






Calvin and Hobbes, Courtesy Bill Watterson, 1993






The Phonograph and two early recorded messages for calls that could not be completed at this time


The following improvement for the telephone system used the phonograph prior to the introduction of "answering machines."

In 1893 The Examiner reported how San Francisco telephone operators were going to save time and their voices by using the phonograph to provide standard messages to the caller when a telephone subscriber was not available. A new switching system was being tested and the article reported it to be so successful that it was expected to soon be widely used in other telephone markets.

Here's how the Manager explained the problem and the phonograph's role in providing a solution.




Testing the solution used two phonographs with each given a stock reply which an operator would otherwise have to say to the caller:



To read the entire article which include a number of humorous interactions with telephone subscribers on the other end of one of the phonograph messages, read "GIRLS MUST TALK LESS" The Examiner, San Francisco, November 12, 1893.

The Examiner, San Francisco, November 12, 1893.