Phonograph, Edison Tinfoil, spring driven model, metal / wood, probably made by the London Stereoscopic Company, London, United Kingdom, 1885-1891
This is a rare example of one of the first sound recording and play back machines. The first was designed by Thomas Edison in 1877 but soon after a small number of commercial machines were produced and this is probably one of those. In January 1878, the 'English Mechanic' published news of Edison's sound recording invention, the phonograph. Soon after this, Mr. W. H. Preece, Engineer-in-Chief and Electrician of the General Post Office, arranged for a tinfoil machine to be made by Augustus Stroh a colleague of his. This was done under the guidance of Henry Edmunds, a British engineer who had seen Edison's original and had written an article on it for The Times, on 17 January 1878.
The instrument made by Stroh was not the same as Edison's model. Its most distinguishing innovation being its gravity feed chain and weights and air controlled governing system. Another feature was Stroh's experimentation with a brass cylinder, as opposed to the lead one utilised in Frank Lambert's model.
Stroh's machine was demonstrated at the Royal Institution on 1 February 1878 and in 1885 the London Stereoscopic Company obtained a license to produce Edison's machines to their own design. By 1886 they were offering weight driven and spring driven models utilising the air controlled governor and this particular example appears to be their spring driven model.
Edison's tin foil machine never achieved great commercial success as they were expensive and the delicate nature of the foil surface made them fragile. Instead it was another sound recording machine designed by Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter, called the 'graphophone', which established a popular standard for the sound recording industry. As a result tin foil machines like the ones designed and made by the London Stereoscopic Company remain rare and of great significance as icons of the earliest years of sound recording.
Geoff Barker, Assistant Curator, December 2009
'The Phonograph', Scientific American, July 25 1896, 66
V. K. Chew, Science Museum Talking Machines, Her Majesty's Stationary Office, London, 1981
"The original phonograph consists of three principal parts - the mouth piece, into which speech is uttered; the spirally grooved cylinder, carrying a sheet of tinfoil which receives the record of the movements of the diaphragm in the mouthpiece; and a second mouth-piece, by which the speech recorded on the cylinder is reproduced. In this instrument the shaft of the cylinder is provided with a thread of the same pitch as the spiral on the surface of the cylinder, so that the needle of the receiving mouthpiece is enabled to traverse the surface of the tin foil opposite the groove of the cylinder. By careful adjustment this instrument was made to reproduce familiar words and sentences, so that they would, be recognised and understood by the listener; but, in general, in the early phonographs, it was necessary that the listener should hear the sounds uttered into the receiving mouthpiece of the phonograph to positively understand the words uttered by the instrument. These instruments had each one mouthpiece and one diaphragm, which answered the double purpose of receiving the sound and of giving it out again.
After remaining dormant for a number of years the Edison released an improved commercial version in 1888 and went on to establish 11 large factories provided with special tools for its manufacture. By 1896 these turned out phonographs in great numbers and improvements reduced the instrument to about the size of an ordinary sewing machine. In its construction it is something like a very small engine lathe; the main spindle is threaded between its bearings and is prolonged at one end and provided with a drum for receiving the wax cylinder, upon which the sound record is made. Behind the spindle and the drum is a rod upon which is arranged a slide, having at one end an arm adapted to engage the screw of the spindle, and at the opposite end an am carrying a head provided with two glass diaphragms which may be interchanged when desirable."
Direct quotation from, 'The Phonograph', Scientific American, July 25 1896, 66
This machine was purchased by the museum in 1915 and for some time it was thought to have been a part of the Lawrence Hargrave collection but this is not correct. When placed on display in the Communications exhibition held here at the Powerhouse museum in 1988 it was described as a model of the original Edison photograph but this is not the case. It is in fact a working photograph commercially made by the London Stereoscopic Company and of a different design to Edison's first machine.