The New Talking Machines

A noted architect and writer commends Thomas Edison for his progress in developing the phonograph and predicts great things for its future.

As compared with the field of the telephone, that of the phonograph is limitless. The telephone must always remain somewhat of an expensive luxury, owing to the cost of maintaining wires, connecting stations, etc. The whole expense of the phonograph will be the first cost. Even its motive power may be supplied by weights or other costless means. Imagine what the phonograph will do for the man on the borders of civilization! It will supply him with books in a far more welcome shape than print, for they will read themselves; the mail will bring him the latest play of London, or opera of Vienna. If he cares for political speeches, he can have the Congressional Record in the shape of phonograms. It is even possible to imagine that many books and stories may not see the light of print at all; they will go into the hands of their readers, or hearers rather, as phonograms.

As a saving in the time given up to writing, the phonograph promises to far outstrip the typewriter. The business man can dictate to the phonograph as fast as be can talk, and the wax cylinder, enclosed in a suitable box, can be sent off by mail to read out its message perhaps thousands of miles away. Or else, as is now done in Mr. Edison's laboratory in Orange, IN. J., the typewriter girl can print out upon paper what her employer has dictated to the phonograph. For the reporter, the editor, and the author who can dictate, a device has been adapted to the phonograph which causes it to stop its message at every tenth word, and to continue only when a spring is touched. Thus, the editor can dictate his article to the phonograph as he does now to his stenographer, and when the printer at the case gets the resulting phonogram the instrument will dictate to him in short sentences. If he cannot set up the sentence at one hearing, it will repeat its ten words. If he is satisfied, it reads out ten words more.

I really see no reason why the newspaper of the future should not come to the subscriber in the shape of a phonogram. It would have to begin, however, with a table of contents, in order that one might not have to listen to a two hours' speech upon the tariff question in order to get at ten lines of a musical notice. But think what a musical critic might be able to do for his public! He might give them whole arias from an opera or movements from a symphony, by way of proof or illustration. The very tones of an actor's or singer's voice might be reproduced in the morning notice of last night's important dramatic or musical event.

It has been remarked, by the way, that business letters and orders by phonograph would not be so binding as when put in black and white upon paper. A little wax cylinder covered with microscopic dots would not be considered as good evidence in court. But if the speaker's voice, inflection, accent, were so reproduced that witnesses could swear to the personality, would it not suffice? How could there be any dispute over a man's will, when the voice of the dead man was heard?

In music, as I have already said, the value of the phonograph even in its present condition is indisputable. Musicians are divided, and probably always will be, as to the manner in which certain famous symphonies ought to be conducted. The metronome marks used by Beethoven are but uncertain guides at best, while no written directions as to dynamic values, expression, etc., are worth much. The phonograph will at least make it possible for the musician of the future to know exactly bow our composers wished their music given, for it will repeat that music as played today, with every shade of expression, with all its infinite changes of time. Moreover, the phonograph will offer to the composer that long-sought instrument, an automatic recorder of improvisation upon the piano or other instrument. In the far-off future, when our descendants wish to compare our simple little Wagner operas with the complex productions of their own days, requiring, perhaps, a dozen orchestras, playing in half a dozen different keys at once, they will have an accurate phonographic record of our harmonic simplicity.

At present but few of the new phonographs have been finished, and those only for exhibition purposes. When they will be offered for sale seems to be doubtful; probably within a few months. Mr. Edison says that by the beginning of 1890 the phonograph will be far less of a curiosity than the telephone is now, and that he could begin selling the instruments at once if he were fully satisfied with them. There is always something which needs improving. Just at present there is needed a funnel for so magnifying the sound that if the instrument is placed in the centre of a table all the persons sitting around can hear its reading or its music. For the last year it has been the same story, — the phonographs would be ready for sale next month. It was so a year ago, and it may be so a year from now. But these many delays, which have made people rather skeptical as to the doings of the phonograph, do not make wonders already achieved less wonderful, or warrant any doubts as to the vast possibilities which the little device contains.

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In