It took a physicist and a computer engineer to unlock a recording that Thomas Edison made 123 years ago. The ring-shaped phonograph record made of solid metal was recorded to accompany an early prototype of a talking doll. Frances Micklow/The Star-Ledger
N.J. (AP) — Scientists using advanced imaging technology have recovered
a 123-year-old recording made by Thomas Edison that is believed to be
the world’s first attempt at a talking doll and may mark the dawn of the
American recording industry.
the sound recording, a woman can be heard reciting a verse of “Twinkle,
Twinkle, Little Star.” Historians believe Edison hired the woman to
make the recording less than two years before he unsuccessfully put the
first talking doll on the market.
on the date of fall 1888, it is the oldest American-made recording of a
woman’s voice that we can listen to today,” said Patrick Feaster, a
historian at Indiana University in Bloomington.
pored over historical documents and 19th-century newspaper reports to
piece together the story behind the recording. Edison hoped to
mass-produce the toys, but the era’s rudimentary technology meant that
to make 100 dolls, Edison would have to get artists to recite the
lullaby 100 times.
“They must have been hired and paid to do this,” Feaster said. “These were presumably the first professional recording artists.”
small piece of ring-shaped tin bearing the woman’s voice never made it
into a doll because wax records replaced metal ones by 1890, when Edison
started selling his first talking dolls. Those fragile and easily
broken toys were a market flop.
almost 80 years after the mystery woman lent her voice to Edison, the
recording showed up in 1967 in the archives of the Thomas Edison
National Historical Park in West Orange, having been recovered from a
secretary’s desk drawer in Edison’s laboratory.
was clear from looking under the microscope that it had a sound
recording on it. Phonograph grooves have a familiar shape,” said Jerry
Fabris, a museum curator with the National Park Service.
But the metal ring — about 2.5 inches around and half an inch wide — was so bent and damaged that scientists couldn’t play it.
than four decades later, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., used image analysis in May to create a
digital model of the record’s surface. That model was then used to
reproduce the recording as a digital file, not unlike the modern
technology behind the voice that emerges from today’s talking dolls.
SOURCE: The Associated Press