On this Day December 6, 1877


The Birthday of the Edison Phonograph


By Doug Boilesen, 2007

At his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, on November 29, 1877, Thomas Alva Edison gave a sketch for his tinfoil phonograph to John Kruesi and instructed him to build it.


First sketch of Edison's Phonograph, November 29, 1877 (Courtesy Allen Koenigsberg).


On December 4, 1877, Charles Batchelor, Edison's associate and right-hand man, wrote in his diary "Kruesi made phonograph today." (1)

On December 6 Batchelor's diary reads: "Kruesi finished the phonograph." (2)

December 6 is also the day when the successful recording and playback of Edison's voice took place with what Edison said were his first words spoken to the Phonograph, a "little piece of practical poetry." That recitation would be recreated years later by Edison - LISTEN:


Mary had a little lamb,

Its fleece was white as snow,

And everywhere that Mary went,

The lamb was sure to go.


The completion of the phonograph on December 6, 1877 is celebrated as the birthday of the phonograph by Friends of the Phonograph.


Edison's original "Kruesi" tinfoil Phonograph. Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park - U.S. Department of Interior.


When Edison's words repeated back from a sheet of tinfoil wrapped around the phonograph's cylinder mandrel it reportedly amazed everyone in the room. Even Edison said he was astonished. "I was never so taken aback in my life," Edison later recalled.

On December 7, the day after the Phonograph was completed, the tinfoil playing machine was taken to the offices of Scientific American for a triumphant demonstration where the Phonograph began by introducing itself. An account of this meeting and a description of the talking machine was published in the December 22, 1877 issue of Scientific American.



Reporters and newspapers wrote about this new invention and came up with many of their own predictions. Edison, who became known as "The Wizard of Menlo Park," would write in The North American Review (May-June 1878) that "the possibilities are so illimitable and the probabilities so numerous that he...is himself in a somewhat chaotic condition of mind as to where to draw the dividing line."

For Friends of the Phonograph the 1878 speculations about the phonograph's possibilities have been answered. Historical records and popular culture provide evidence of the phonograph's revolution and the evolution of descendent sound recording technologies. New possibilities, however, still exist and recorded sound's connections with human beings and popular culture continue -- innumerable and amazing.

How amazing? The Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are travelling in interstellar space each carrying a phonograph record that is Earth's "message in the bottle" and "greetings from Earth."

December 6th is an anniversary to be remembered.

The birthday of the Phonograph, which on many occasions Edison called his "favorite invention" and his "baby," should be celebrated.

Happy Birthday to the Phonograph!

It's a Revolution still turning!


Harper's Weekly's description of the invention of the Phonograph, March 30, 1878. (PM-1824)


Edison with his Phonograph in Menlo Park Laboratory, New York Graphic, April 10, 1878 Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park (3)



Prof. Edison and His Phonograph - Engraved for the Eclectic by J. J. Cade, New York, 1878. Pictured is Edison with his second tin-foil phonograph, commonly known as the "Brady Phonograph" since the photograph was taken in the Washington D.C. studio of Mathew Brady on April 19, 1878. (Courtesy of The Collections of the Henry Ford).


Modern colorized photograph of the Edison portrait taken at the Mathew Brady Studio April 19, 1878.


"Acoustics: an Edison phonograph with a carbon microphone. Water coloured wood engraving after J.T. Balcomb." (Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).



For a short summary of the invention of the Edison's Tinfoil Phonograph see "Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences Thomas A. Edison Papers: Tinfoil Phonograph - Inventing Sound Recording.


Edison billboard outside Menlo Park, New Jersey (The Edison Phonograph Monthly, September 1909)


When Edison was asked which invention he though was most likely to receive the homage of posterity, "he said at once: The Phonograph, because of its sentimental side." The Talking Machine World, July 15, 1910.


Birthplace of the Phonograph

Edison's Menlo Park laboratory has been reconstructed at Henry Ford's Greenfield Village. On the second floor of that laboratory the Phonograph first repeated back Edison's recorded words "Mary Had a Little Lamb."



Edison's Menlo Park, New Jersey Laboratory - Birthplace of the Phonograph

Reconstructed at Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, Michigan



Above is an exact replica of Edison's original tinfoil Phonograph in the Edison laboratory at Greenfield village. Photos are courtesy of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village.


WATCH AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Edison: Invention Laboratory at Menlo Park

Discover how Thomas Edisonís invention laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, and the team he hired to work with him, all fit into his vision of how he would become a great inventor in this video adapted from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.



Winter scene at the Edison Laboratory, Menlo Park, New Jersey, 1880. Sketch by Richard Felton Outcault. View of Menlo Park lab as it looked in 1880, at the height of its productivity. Image courtesy of the Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Museum.


Another angle of the Edison "Kruesi" Phonograph (Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park - U.S. Department of Interior).

For more on Kreusi see "John Kruesi - The Man that Built the First Phonograph."




For more details about December 6, 1877 as the Birthday of the Phonograph, see Phonographia's Why December 6th?



Another True Story?

This slice of the phonograph's history, perhaps written from the perspective of Edward H. Johnson, was said to be the "real facts of the origin of the invention" and "presented for the first time" by The Phonoscope in August 1898.


The Phonoscope, August 1898, p. 14.



Special thanks to Allen Koenigsberg, The Thomas Edison National Historical Park, Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences "Thomas A. Edison Papers," the Henry Ford "Museum of American Innovation" and PBS "American Experience."




Created 02/11/1983

Last updated 1/15/2024