Edison Model A Home Phonograph – 1898
Throwback Thursday takes us to the year 1898 when the famous inventor Thomas Edison, who patented over 1,096 inventions in his lifetime, released a new model of his phonograph with significant improvements.
In 1876, Edison bought 34 acres of land in Melo Park New Jersey and built a large development laboratory, the first of its kind. The following year, Edison invented the first phonograph, a devise to record and play back sound. Throughout the next two decades he focused his time mainly working on improving inventions like the telephone and incandescent light bulbs. During this time, another famous inventor of the day, Alexander Graham Bell, continued to work on voice recording and improved on Edison’s original phonograph.
The first model of Edison’s phonograph was inconvenient and used mainly for demonstrations. The early model involved a hand cranked which spun a cylinder, called a mandrill. The user would talk into a diaphragm, attached to a needle and the vibrations would be transferred with the needle onto a thin piece of foil attached to the mandrill. The diaphragm would push the sound through a tube and then it would be amplified with a horn. This was the first machine that allowed you to record sounds and play them back.
The new phonograph developed by Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Tainter used a wax cylinder instead of foil and a floating stylist instead of a rigid needle. The cylinders were referred to as records. The machine patented in 1886 was called a Graphophone. Bell and Tainter contacted Edison and wanted to collaborate on a phonograph together. Edison did not want to join them; he wanted to improve his own machine without help. In 1888, Edison refocused on producing a higher quality phonograph.
Edison patented the new version of his phonograph in December of 1888. This was intended to be a portable record player for everyday use. He went on to make many different models of phonograph over the next 20 years. He made improvements by making it belt driven and using a clock motor. He installed a spring and governor to control the speed and a backspace key. He used wax cylinders and then more durable cylinders made of Bakelite. These cylinders played for 2 or 4 minutes depending on the model.
In 1897, consumers could purchase recorded cylinders and listen to popular orators and musicians. These recorded cylinders were made at Edison’s studios. Edison’s competitors included Columbia Company, who also sold a gramophones and cylinders. Cylinder-style records reached their peak in 1905 when the Victrola came out and people switched to disc style players.
The Past Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has this 1898 Model A Edison Home Phonograph with a Model H Reproducer, shown above and to the right. This phonograph has an oak case with a dome lid and banner transfer. The Gateway Museum at Nature’s Art Village also features an entertainment technology exhibit with a 1904 Edison Model K Phonograph, shown on the left of this page, on display as well as many more recording artifacts from this era. Visit The PAST Antiques Marketplace and Gateway Museum at Nature’s Art Village on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.