Phonograph Doll

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Phonograph Doll, with a phonograph to its left and a cylindrical record to its right (Formanek-Brunell 46).

The phonograph doll was invented by Thomas Alva Edison in the late nineteenth century, following his invention of the phonograph. The doll, normally around twenty-two inches in length, was "bisque-headed...with jointed arms and legs, but her body was made of thin strong steel capable of carrying the mechanism" (Hillier, Dolls 191). This mechanism, of course, was a miniature phonograph that functioned by being continuously wound from the doll's back. This phonograph normally played nursery rhymes, providing an unconvincing illusion of a "talking doll."

Sound Sample: Brief description and audio of a phonograph doll: (Source: Chautauqua Institution at the Smithsonian)

The "Talking Head" Realized: Beginnings and Patents

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Phonograph Dolls being manufactured at the Edison plant (Formanek-Brunell 55).

How The Doll Functioned

An extremely detailed description of how the doll functioned was provided in an 1890 article from Scientific American:

"...its body is made of tin, and the interior thereof is filled with mechanism very much like that of the commercial phonograph, but of course much more simple and inexpensive. The cylinder of the phonograph...carries a ring of wax-like material, upon which is recorded the speech or song to be repeated by the doll. Upon the same shaft with the record cylinder there is a large pulley which carries a belt for driving the flywheel shaft at the lower part of the phonographic apparatus. The key is fitted to the main shaft, by which the phonographic cylinder is rotated, and the flywheel tends to maintain a uniform speed. Above the record cylinder is arranged a diaphragm, such as is used in the regular phonograph, carrying a reproducing stylus, which is mounted on the lower lever in the same manner as the regular phonograph. The funnel at the top of the phonographic apparatus opens underneath the breast of the doll, which is perforated to permit the sound to escape. By the simple operation of turning the crank any child can make the doll say, 'Mary had a little lamb,' 'Jack and Jill,' or whatever it was, so to speak, taught to say in the phonograph factory" (Scientific American).

NOTE language of last sentence..***

Pops, Hisses, and "Voices of...Little Monsters"

f-b book plus millard caption

Dolls That Were "Made Into Machines"

(aka the obvious)

Encoding/Formal Prohibitions

The "Click"

Digital vs. Analog


Works Cited

  • Edison, Thomas A. "Phonograph-Doll." United States Patent Office. Patent No. 456301. July 21, 1891.
  • "Edison's Phonographic Doll." Scientific American (1845-1908); Apr 26, 1890; Vol. LXII; APS Online pg. 263.
  • Formanek-Brunell, Miriam. Made to Play House: Dolls and the Commercialization of American Girlhood, 1830-1930. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.
  • Hillier, Mary. Automata & Mechanical Toys: An Illustrated History. London: Jupiter Books, 1976.
  • Hillier, Mary. Dolls and Doll-makers. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1968.
  • Millard, Andre. Edison and the Business of Innovation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.
  • Welch, Walter L. From Tinfoil to Stereo: The Acoustic Years of the Recording Industry, 1877-1929. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994.