On this Day

December 6, 1877

December 6 is the "anniversary" of the completion of Edison's Phonograph


The Phonograph's Birthday, December 6, 1877

At his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, on November 29, 1877, Thomas Alva Edison gave a sketch for his tin-foil 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, 1877, therefore, is celebrated as the birthday of the phonograph by Friends of the Phonograph.

It's a day that honors the completion of the phonograph and the successful recording and playing back, word for word, of what Edison says were his first words spoken to the Phonograph, "a little piece of practical poetry":


Mary had a little lamb,

Its fleece was white as snow,

And everywhere that Mary went,

The lamb was sure to go.


Photograph of Edison with his second tin-foil phonograph, commonly known as the "Brady Phonograph" since it was taken in the Washington D.C. photography studio of Mathew Brady in April 1878.


When Edison's words repeated back from a sheet of tin-foil wrapped around a cylinder were first heard 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 tin-foil playing machine was taken to the offices of Scientific American for a triumphant demonstration where the Phonograph "introduced 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."

But for Friends of the Phonograph there is no mystery about its future or its legacy.

December 6th is an anniversary to be celebrated - the birthday of an invention that Edison called his "favorite invention" and his "baby."

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)


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


Prof. Edison and His Phonograph - Engraved for the Eclectic by J. J. Cade, New York, 1878

Courtesy The Collections of the Henry Ford



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 an excellent summary of the invention of the Edison's Tinfoil Phonograph see "Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences Thomas A. Edison Papers: Edison and Innovation Series - "The Year of Innovation - The Tinfoil Phonograph"


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



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 playing Phonograph in the Edison laboratory at Greenfield village. Photos are courtesy of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village.





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.



Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park - U.S. Department of Interior



See On this Day December 6 - The Phonograph's Anniversary Birthday Parties for details about this red-letter day celebration and birthday party photo album.








Friends of the Phonograph