History of Edison Sound Recordings

"I was never so taken aback in my life--I was always afraid of things that worked the first time."

--Thomas A. Edison on hearing his voice play back to him from his first tin foil phonograph.

Of all his inventions, Thomas A. Edison was most fond of the phonograph. As a result of his work on two other inventions, the telegraph and the telephone, Edison happened upon a way to record sound on tinfoil-coated cylinders in 1877. Edison set aside this invention in 1878 to work on the incandescent light bulb, and others moved forward to improve on his invention, including Chichester A. Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter, who developed a wax cylinder for the phonograph. In 1887, Edison resumed work on his phonograph, using wax cylinders. Although initially used as a dictating machine for offices, the phonograph proved to be a popular form of entertainment, and Edison eventually offered a variety of recording selections to the public through his National Phonograph Company. Edison introduced improved phonograph models and cylinders over the years, ending with the Blue Amberol Record, an unbreakable cylinder with superior sound. In 1910, the company was reorganized into Thomas A. Edison, Inc. The Edison Disc Phonograph was developed in 1912 with the aim of competing in the popular disc market. The Edison Diamond Discs offered excellent sound, but were not compatible with other disc players. The advent of radio caused business to sour in the 1920's. Edison gave in to the popular trend and offered lateral-cut records and accompanying portable players in the summer of 1929, before recording production at Edison ceased forever in October 1929.

Histories of the Edison cylinder and disc phonographs are offered on the following pages along with selected representative recordings from the company, showing the variety produced during its existence. These selections include instrumental, vocal, spoken word, spoken comedy, foreign language and ethnic, religious, opera and concert recordings.