In April of 1890, an editor from Scientific American traveled to Thomas Edison's West Orange factory to see a man about a doll. More than ten years after the invention of the phonograph, Edison had been developing a smaller version of the machine, something that might be used in a clock to tell the time.
But what Scientific American saw was an entire building dedicated to the manufacture of dolls -- hundreds of dolls a day, hundreds of thousands a year. Edison had developed a tiny phonograph that would fit into the body of a doll, which would be hidden once it was dressed. Meant for children, the doll would recite "Mary Had a Little Lamb," or "Little Jack Horner," but it was also expected to sell over the holiday, as you can hear in a recording of one if its tinny death rattles: "Merry Christmas!"
Stationed throughout the factory, young women would shout nursery rhymes into a recorder, while huge machines stamped out the tin sections of the resonating torso. The doll was meant to be hand-cranked, just like a phonograph, and had a large handle sticking out of its side. It cost $10 in 1890 -- more than $200 in today's money -- an adult sum for a child's toy. The toy weighed four pounds, too heavy for a small child, because its torso was metal -- the head was porcelain, the arms and legs wood, but the chest looked a jet engine and there was a speaker where the heart should be. Edison's doll was about as cuddly as a carburetor.