Invention of the phonograph

Invention of the phonograph, reported in the Manchester Guardian, September 15 1888

The Edison "Phonograph" and the Tainter "Graphophone" are rival machines by which the sounds of human voice can be recorded and reproduced. There can be no question as to the great scientific interest of the invention, whether the priority of success be accorded to Mr Tainter or to Mr Edison.

That an instrument should be devised capable of reproducing the exact words and tones used by a speaker even after many days, or it may be when the human voice that originated them is silent in death, is sufficiently marvellous for a fairy tale. If the telephone may be said to aim at the destruction of distance, the graphophone in like manner may be said to neutralise the destructive effect of time. There is nothing more evanescent than the spoken word, but the graphophone imprisons the fleeting sound, and reproduces it at will with all the fidelity of a constant echo.

There is nothing marvellous in the methods by which this seeming miracle is accomplished, and it shares the quality of simplicity with many other great inventions. After paying our tribute to the scientific merit of the graphophone, there remains the further question as to its practical uses. The account we print elsewhere of the trial of the instrument yesterday at the Manchester Telephonic Exchange will show the limitations of the graphophone. It can reproduce only that which is directly addressed to it. It is a faithful dictatee, and will take a note of a speech or song when breathed into its receptive mechanism. Beyond this it does not go. It would be of no use in reporting a public address by Mr Gladstone or a solo given on the stage by Mr Sims Reeves.

The inventor, however, claims for it considerable usefulness in office work. The business man who employs it speaks into the tube the message he has to send his correspondent, and as rapidly as he can utter his words they are impressed on the waxen tablet of the recording cylinder. The tablet can then be sent bodily by post, and when placed in the recipient's graphophone will deliver the message with which it has been charged. More commonly, however, the message is transcribed for post by a typewriter. In this case the graphophone is alternately dictatee and dictater. To what extent this is an improvement upon dictation to a typewriter or stenographer experience alone can decide.

At present it would seem that the uses of the graphophone in business life were but limited, but the inventor states that it is used not only in the Congress of the United States for reporting and correspondence, but also that it is employed largely by American stenographers and lawyers. As we had occasion to remark of the phonograph, doubtless in time many practical uses will be found for the graphophone; but at present it is clear that it will not disestablish either the stenographer or the typewriter, or even the ordinary long-hand correspondent.

· This article is drawn from the archive at the Newsroom

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Audio: Mar 29

Sue Arnold on An Introduction to Greek Philosophy | Aristotle: An Introduction | A Guide to British Garden Birds and Their Songs | Bird Mimicry

Sue Arnold

29, Mar, 2008 @12:28 AM

Mary Barton by Mrs Gaskell

1849: If [Mrs Gaskell's Mary Barton] had met with the fate of 19 out of 20 of the novels published now-a-days, I might have been well content to let it sink into oblivion, with its false statements unchallenged, and its doubtful logic unquestioned...

23, May, 2003 @11:58 PM

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence reviewed in the Guardian, July 2 1913

22, Jun, 2002 @1:51 PM

From the archives: Theft of the Stone of Scone

From the archives: Scotland Yard had no further news tonight of the Coronation Stone, the Stone of Scone or the Stone of Destiny, as it is variously called

29, Dec, 2007 @11:32 PM

A Passage to India by EM Forster

1924: The first duty of any reviewer is to welcome Mr EM Forster's reappearance as a novelist; the second is to congratulate him upon the tone and temper of his new novel.

03, May, 2003 @10:40 PM

The isles are full of voices

1887: Woman's share in poetical literature has been variously estimated... Mrs William Sharp has made an acceptable contribution to the controversy by compiling... an anthology of the most "characteristic poems by English, Scotch and Irish" women.

07, Dec, 2002 @12:16 AM

The death of Degas

1917: Degas was not only a thorough Frenchman but, what is not the same thing, a typical Parisian.

27, Nov, 2004 @12:36 AM

From the archives: The Great British holiday hunt

1980: Each day a picture of Chalkie's eyes appears in the Daily Mirror and each day holidaymakers memorise them, together with the line they must say to claim the £50 prize.

Alan Rusbridger

22, Jul, 2005 @11:21 PM

James Bond: Goldfinger

1964: Glossy violence, muted sadism, demonstrations of virility rather than sex, and, again, Fleming's cynicism heavily larded with humour

16, Nov, 2002 @1:13 AM

Howard's End by EM Forster

Howard's End by EM Forster reviewed in the Guardian, February 26 1910

15, Jun, 2002 @4:18 PM