The Phonograph and Its Future

Probability: Toys.


Toys.. -- A doll which may speak, sing, cry, or laugh, may be safely promised our children for the Christmas holidays ensuing. Every species of animal or mechanical toy--such as locomotives, etc.--may be supplied with their natural and characteristic sounds.


When the idea of recording sound first seemed possible to Edison in mid-July 1877, Edison's initial thoughts were that it would be used for dictation. According to Patrick Feaster [1], specialist in the history, culture, and preservation of sound media, it was a little more than four months later, in a note dated November 23, when Edison had begun pondering other scenarios," and the very first idea on his brainstorming list was this one: "I propose to apply the phonograph principle to make Dolls speak sing cry & make various sounds also apply it to all kinds of Toys such as Dogs' animals, fowls reptiles human figures: to cause them to make various sounds to steam Toy Engine imitation of exhaust & whistele [sic]."[2]

Feaster provides a comprehensive history of Edison's talking doll record in his essay "A Cultural History of the Edison Talking Doll Record" which you can read here.

For the purposes of this gallery Edison's talking doll of 1890 is an example of Edison's probability of a "talking doll" becoming a reality, i.e., a doll which could "speak, sing, cry, or laugh." The doll's cylinder records were primarily nursery rhymes, a prayer ("Now I lay me down to sleep") and a song ("Twinkle, twinkle little star"). As recordings these can also be called some of the first entertainment records ever made.

Since Edison's 1878 probability also specifically promised a talking doll for "our children for the Christmas holidays ensuing" an illustration is shown below from the December 1891 issue of Puck, with an Edison Talking Doll under the Christmas tree. Although Edison's doll was a commercial failure it did make its mark in popular culture.


Puck, December 1891 (Source: Phonographia's Collection of Art and Ephemera)


For Baby. Edison Talking Doll From Uncle


Edison's Talking Doll (above) 1890 with Schwarz ad from 1890 and Scientific American's April 26, 1890 article and illustrations about the manufacturing of Edison's Talking Doll. (right)



LISTEN to hear a record made for an 1890 Edison Doll of "Twinkle, twinkle little star" (courtesy of the National Park Service)


Edison demonstrating the mechanism of his talking doll, Frank Leslies Illustrated Newspaper, October 1890


Other talking dolls were also made at the end of the 19th century and into the twentieth century such as "Bebe Phonographe" by Emile Jumeau; Madame Hendren by the Universal Talking Toys Co. ca. 1922; Mae Starr made by Effanbee ca. 1925), etc.


French Bisque "Bebe Phonographe" by Emile Jumeau with Lioret Mechanism ca. 1895


Mae Starr talking doll with cylinder recorders made by Effanbee, 1928


Mae Starr talking doll mechanism for cylinder record



Dolly-Rekord (or Madame Hendren), Universal Talking Toys Co., 1922



Dolly-Rekord "Madame Hendren"Christmas gift for Grace Louise Birck, 1924

Dolly-Rekord (or Madame Hendren), Universal Talking Toys Co.


Effanbee 20" Lovums Composition Talking Phonograph Doll 1928


Better Than Toys. The Edison Phonograph



Edison proposed to apply the phonograph "to make various sounds to steam Toy Engine imitation of exhaust & whistele [sic]."[2] Lionel Trains advertisement on back of 1954 comic book which included special offer for Lionel record of real railroad sound effects.


The Golden Age of Talking Toys - Mattel 1960 to 1985

Mattel's Chatty Cathy, introduced in 1960 as a doll that talked when its Chatty-Ring was pulled, could be called the beginning of the Golden Age of Talking Toys. It was an era that saw the popularity of many dolls, character figures, games, clocks and other toys that all had a 'phonograph' inside of them which played a disc record.

As Edison said in his 1878 predictions regarding the phonograph and 'toys,' "Every species of animal or mechanical toy--such as locomotives, etc.--may be supplied with their natural and characteristic sounds."

During this golden age one of the classic toys for hearing sounds of animals was Mattel's 1965 See 'n Say® The Farmer Says. This toy allowed children to choose the animal they wanted to hear: Point the arrow (in this case the Farmer's arm) towards the animal, pull the string, and listen. It's one of the toys selected for Phonographia's Talking Toy Hall of Fame.


1965 Mattel See 'N Say The Farmer Says


Mattel's 1965 "The Farmer Says" toy had an 1880 precedent that was news worthy in the JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT section of the September 1880 issue of St. Nicholas magazine. A pull-string toy that "Quacks" like a duck and cries "Ba-a-a!" like a sheep had been invented in Germany. The clever inventor called it a "talking book" and Jack described it as follows:


In 1983 Mattel made their last addition to the Chatty line with its Chatty Patty. Of course this wasn't the end of talking dolls, nor did it even end talking toys with a phonograph and disc inside. Another record playing phonograph would continue to be inserted in some dolls using "Ozen" devices. The Official Gazette of the United States Patent and Trademark for September 15, 1987 includes the Japanese Ozen Corporation's patent for their "Ozen" device which was a "record disc replacing means for a selective playing type sound reproducing device."

The Ozen device was battery powered record player and was put inside an assortment of dolls and toys with its various phrases heard when a button was pressed.

But the replacement of records in toys and dolls was quickly change as the golden age talking toys waned.[3]

In 1985 Teddy Ruxpin was first introduced as a talking and animated toy using a cassette tape system. Digital recordings on chips would soon be used in toys becoming the 'voice' of talking toys.

Below are two examples of the Golden Age: the 1960 Chatty Cathy and the 1983 Chatty Patty, 'the final year Mattel added anything to the Chatty line."


Chatty Cathy, Mattel 1960


Chatty Cathy Commercial, circa 1960's


Chatty Patty, Mattel 1983


Talking Clocks

Talking Clocks, i.e., clocks that had a small record and player inside them, were another popular toy during this golden age of talking toys. Like the children's phonograph's of its time these clocks featured popular culture characters that children recognized from television, cartoons, movies, pop culture, etc.

Visit Phonographia's Exhibit "Talking Clocks and the Phonograph" to see an assortment of children's talking clocks from this era.


Howdy Doody Talking Alarm Clock, Janex 1974


A Talking Game - Voice of the Mummy 1971

1971 Milton Bradley Game "Voice of the Mummy" (with phonograph and record inside telling next game move)



Watch 1972 TV Commercial for Milton Bradley's Electric Sound Game "The Voice of the Mummy"



Toy Phonographs for Children

During the 1920's there were a number of toy phonographs with colorful graphics on their tin bodies made specifically for the children's market. Visit Phonolithos for more examples of those phonographs.


Kiddyphone - Mfg by Bing - German Toy Phonograph Manufacturer c. 1925





From the 1950's and into the 1990's phonographs marketed for children used popular culture characters that were also part of TV's popular culture, for example Howdy-Doody, Bozo the Clown, Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Winky Dink, etc. Visit Phonographia's Exhibit "The Phonograph and Its Future" to see an assortment of children's phonographs from every era.


Howdy Doody Phono Doodle, 78 RPM Shura-tone, 1955





Non-Phonograph Record Talking Toys

Tape recorders would be used by a few toys to make recordings in real-time, similar to the earliest demonstrations of Edison's tin-foil phonograph. The 1960 toy Pete the Parrot could record and play back "everything you say - Talks, Sings Whistles:"

1960 Pete the Parrot


The promotion of Pete the Parrot echoed the promotion of the 1878 Edison Tinfoil Phonograph: "It Talks! It Sings! It Laughs!

Poster for demonstration of Edison's phonograph, 1878

Courtesy of National Museum of American History - Smithsonian Institution


The introduction of the cassette tape in 1963 made it possible to more easily record on tape. However, as a children's 'toy' a device like My First Sony Cassette Tape Recorder was probably the first time children recorded audio for themselves since previous reel to reel or consumer/home entertainment cassette player/recorders were not toys or something for the "younger generation."

Sony "turns its attention to the Younger Generation"

My First Sony Cassette Recorder TCM-4000S-L2, 1987


Sony, 1987


Toys designed to record children's voices using electronic chips came next. In 1997 the Yes! company made Yakkins™ and a toy called "Joani & Bunny" that could record your voice, play it back and even "warp" your voice for a fast of slow voice."


Yakkins by Yes! 1997


During audio's history from 1877 to the present, few toys were ever made that allowed children to record their own voices on records other than using their parents' phonographs (if their phonograph had that functionality). Two toys that I do know of that recorded on records, however, are the Tomy Voice-Corder, released in 1972 to allow the creation of 33 RPM audio postcards, and the 2020 the Record Maker Toy made by Gakken.

"Tomy Voice-Corder. Released in 1972, this complicated and pricey toy allowed kids to record one-off dub plates on colorful plastic-covered cards which could be sent to friends and family as 33 RPM audio postcards." (Courtesy of


Tomy Voice-Corder. Released in 1972 (


Watch this Databits 2020 Review and Test of the Japanese Gakken Toy Record Maker


Gakken Toy Record Maker Kit review by Juno Daily, December 11, 2020


Not a Toy or a Phonograph, but where the Future was headed in 1977

"Before Blu-Rays, SACDs, DVD-HDs, CDs, DATs, and even Laser Discs, there was a digital recording technology called PCM, which stands for Pulse Code Modulation." The first commercially-available PCM recorder, the Sony F-1 sold for $1900 in 1979 and it introduced the latest era of audio recordings (reviewed in Stereophile April 18, 1979).

Digital audio files like WAV, MP3 and other formats were the next step in the 'new' future for audio recording. As Steven Stone wrote in Audiophile Review, December 31, 2012, "if Sony had not developed, released, and had commercial success with the PCM F-1 recorder, they would have never been in a position to develop the compact disc (the compact disc format was a co-development technology between Sony and Philips which prevailed over all competing disc proposals). To call the Sony PCM-F1 the most significant audio product of the last half of the 20th century would not, in my humble opinion, be a stretch."


1981 Sony PCM-F1 (Courtesy