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Every year, usually the first Saturday in June, the town of West Orange holds a street fair in conjunction with Edison National Historic Park to celebrate Edison Day. This is usually a fee-free day, with lots of demonstrations and talks given by volunteers and rangers.
I went up to the 3rd floor of the laboratory complex for a scheduled ranger talk. In the recording studio at the end of the hall the ranger talked about Edison’s invention of the phonograph.
Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in his Menlo Park laboratory in 1877. The prototype used a tinfoil covered cylinder with needles etching the vibrations into the foil.
Edison recited ‘Mary had a little lamb’ into his prototype. When he played back his words all present were astounded. The invention worked!
Under pressure from investors to get back to inventing the light bulb, Edison had to put his work on the phonograph aside. When it seemed that someone else was close to developing a marketable phonograph, Edison started working on it again.
He improved the cylinder from tinfoil to wax and then to an animal based material that was the precursor to plastic. Once on the market, Edison had to produce recorded cylinders for people to purchase. Artists came to the recording studio to produce cylinders.
However, Edison’s competitors moved from the cylinder to the record. Records could be more easily mass-produced and were less expensive. Eventually, Edison was forced out of the phonograph business.
After passing around some photos the ranger played a cylinder on Edison’s phonograph as a demonstration. Scroll down to the bottom to see the video.
Edison NHP Posts:
Location: 211 Main St, West Orange, NJ 07052
Designation: National Historical Park
Date designation declared: 3/30/2009
Date of my visit: 8/18/2018