The phonograph was the most common device for playing recorded sound from the late 1870s until the late 1980s. Phonograph in American English was a blanket term for any device that sound reproducing machine. It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century when it became the archetype for record players and the universal term for disc record machines.

Thomas Edison created many inventions, but his favorite of them all was the phonograph. It is said that Edison accidentally came across the phonograph while making improvements to the telegraph and telephone when he figured out a way to record sound on tinfoil-coated cylinders. In 1877 the machine he created had two needles, one was for recording and one was for playback. Edison found that when he spoke into the mouthpiece, the vibrations in the sounds of his voice were indented onto the cylinder by the recording needle. The first words Edison recorded on the phonograph were “Mary had a little lamb” and he was amazed when he could hear his voice playback through the machine. [1] The invention of the first phonograph was announced by Edison on November 21, 1877 and it was demonstrated to the public a few days later. Edison’s phonograph was given a US Patent on February 19, 1878 as US Patent 200,521. [2] The early phonographs used a tinfoil sheet phonograph cylinder for recording sound. Before Edison used the lead cylinders he used wax cylinders made of ceresin, beeswax and stearic wax. The tinfoil sheet was wrapped around a grooved cylinder in a spiral motion.

According the audio analysts and historians, Frank Lambert created the oldest known surviving playable recording. Lambert was using a lead cylinder as an experiment while trying to create a talking clock. The phonograph cylinder recordings of Handel’s choral music made on June 29, 1888 at The Crystal Palace in London were thought of to be the oldest known surviving musical recordings until American historians discovered a waveform of “Au Clair de la Lune”, recorded on a phonoautograph on April 9, 1860. [3] This phonoautograph had not been ever been played because it was only an attempt by it’s creator to transcribe audio waves onto record.

Edison founded the Edison Phonograph Company on October 8, 1887 to be able to market his invention. Edison’s Improved Phonograph was introduced in May of 1888 and quickly replaced by his Perfected Phonograph shortly after. A businessman by the name of Jesse H. Lippincott began to control a monopoly of phonograph companies when he purchased the Edison Phonograph Company and the American Graphophone companies as well as all of the smaller competitors. With all of these companies he created one company known as the North American Phonograph Company on July 14, 1888. The Edison factory began producing talking dolls in 1890 and they contained wax cylinders and are very rare today. It was in the fall of 1890 when Lippincott fell deathly ill and he lost the control of the North American Phonograph Company to Edison. In 1894, the North American Phonograph Company declared bankruptcy and that allowed Edison to buy back the rights to his invention. In January 1896, Edison created the National Phonograph Company which sold phonographs for home entertainment use. The price of the phonograph was $150 in 1891, which dropped to $20 for the standard model and $7.50 for the gem model in 1899. Each model was better and cheaper than the previous. [4]