On this day in 1877 Thomas Edison announced his invention that has since brought so joy to many peoples lives in large parts of the world, a quarterpounder with cheese burger!
Seriously, though, 138 years ago today, the Ohio born inventor informed the world that he had invented the phonograph; a machine that can record and play sound.
Edison’s passions as a youth were reading and experimenting. It meant he spent large segments of his time reading about experiments, as well as experimenting with what he read.
This inquisitiveness resulted in his dismissal from an early job when he undertook a failed experiment, while working nights as a telegrapher. During this experiment, sulphuric acid was spilt onto the floor, which leaked through the floorboards and onto his bosses desk.
Despite Edison’s protestations, he was fired when his boss got in the next day. Not even the offer of inventing his boss an acid proof desk could save his bacon. So not only did he lose his job that day, he had to forego his bacon sandwich breakfast!
However, Edison took a big learning point from this episode, which was if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! …………. And if you’re gonna mess around with sulphuric acid make sure your boss doesn’t sit immediately below you!
Undeterred, Edison went on to become a prolific inventor who when he died held 1,093 patents.
He started his inventing career in Newark, New Jersey and soon made a name for himself with his creation of the phonograph. He astonished his peers with the machine that could record and play back.
It consisted of a piece of tin-foil wrapped around the cylinder in the middle. You shouted a short message into the piece on one side of the cylinder while you turned the handle. Inside this piece was a needle. Your voice would make the needle shake, or vibrate. The sound vibrations would go through the needle and make a line, or groove, into the tin-foil. A needle on the other side could play back what you had just recorded.
I’m not sure what the first words were that Edison recorded. However, I’d like to think they were “I just hope this thing doesn’t get into the hands of Cliff Richard!”
The phonograph gave Edison celebrity status and a member of the National Academy of Sciences dubbed him “the most ingenious inventor in this country… or in any other…….. Well, apart from the guy who invented quarterpounder with cheese burger that is!”
A later version of Edison’s phonograph
However, it wasn’t all plaudits for the man whose ingenuity developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world. They include the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the long-lasting, practical electric light bulb.
An envious colleague once said of him “He thinks he’s so clever, but my dad knows loads more stuff than him!” Whilst another risible character commented “He maybe cleverer than me, but at least I’m not bald!”
Other people with the ‘glass half empty’ approach to life claimed that they envisaged a day when the machine would abused. An era when it was used by boy or girls bands who cant play instruments or write a decent song, but get on because they look nice. Thankfully, that day has not come to pass!
Eventually, the novelty of the invention wore off for the public, and Edison did no further work on the phonograph for a while, concentrating instead on inventing the incandescent light bulb.
In the void left by Edison, others moved forward to improve the phonograph. In 1880, Alexander Graham Bell won the Volta Prize of $10,000 from the French government for his invention of the telephone. Bell used his winnings to set up a laboratory to further electrical and acoustical research, working with his cousin Chichester A. Bell, a chemical engineer, and Charles Sumner Tainter, a scientist and instrument maker.
It took a while for Edison to perfect the incandescent light bulb. In the early days of development he just succeeded in making himself incandescent (with rage), but not the light bulb!
Someone incandescent with rage! (Not Edison!)
Eventually, Edison successfully produced the incandescent lamp and could now resume his work on the phonograph. His initial work closely followed the improvements made by Bell and Tainter to his original especially in its use of wax cylinders, and was called the New Phonograph.
I’m closing today’s blog now as I’ve got to get ready as I’m going to the Leeds Utd football match shortly. I just hope their defence isn’t a leaky as the floorboards were when Edison burnt his bosses desk!
“Ere, On me Ed..i..son!” On that note I best go!