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

passage from sci. american article

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.