[EDISON, THOMAS. 1847-1931.]
Strip of Recorded Foil from an Edison Phonograph, approximately 132 x 70 mm, , folded once. Formerly housed in a period envelope from the office of Joseph L. Fairchild, annotated in manuscript: "The first Phonograph Tin Foil from Phonograph." Foil not removed from plastic sleeve.
WITH: Printed Patent, "Improvement in Phonograph of Speaking Machines," February 19, 1878. 2 pp, plus full-page diagram.
RECORDED FOIL FROM THE FIRST PHONOGRAPH. Other inventors had produced devices that could record sound, but Edison's tinfoil sheet was the first that could both take a recording and reproduce it. By the 1880s, the tinfoil strips were replaced by wax-covered cylinders so this medium was particularly short-lived. The recording on a tinfoil strip in the Schenectady Museum of Innovation and Science was recently (October 2012) restored using optical techniques at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and became the earliest sound recording to which we can listen.
Edison wrote of the moment of discovery: "I designed a little machine using a cylinder provided with grooves around the surface. Over this was to be placed tinfoil, which easily received and recorded the movements of the diaphragm ... Kruesi (the machinist), when he had nearly finished it, asked what it was for. I told him I was going to record talking, and then have the machine talk back. He thought it absurd. However, it was finished, the foil was put on; I then shouted 'Mary had a little lamb', etc. I adjusted the reproducer, and the machine reproduced it perfectly. I was never so taken aback in my life. Everybody was astonished. I was always afraid of things that worked the first time..." (Dyer & Martin, Edison: His Life and Inventions, p 189).