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The little train robbery / Thomas A. Edison, Inc. 1905.

[Detail] The little train robbery / Thomas A. Edison, Inc. 1905

The Phonograph and Motion Picture Industries

During the February 1917 interview, "Edison Views the World at Seventy," the inventor said that his favorite creation was the phonograph: "[T]he development . . . was most interesting, but it took a long time-thirty years," (page 2). The Special Presentation, "The Life of Thomas Edison" explains that the phonograph was an outgrowth of the inventor's work on the telephone and telegraph. He successfully recorded sound "with a tinfoil-coated cylinder and a diaphragm and needle" in 1877. A year later, he formed the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company.

This collection's histories of the "Edison Cylinder Phonograph" and "Edison Disc Phonograph" chronicle the machine's evolution from a business dictation system to a home entertainment luxury item. The transition in marketing the phonograph is reflected in two of the collection's films. The Stenographer's Friend (1910) presents the Edison Business Phonograph as a means to increase productivity in a modern office. The Voice of the Violin (1915) uses Edison's record shop and music laboratory as settings and explains that the new phonograph records are the result of "four years of research work in acoustics and chemistry and over two million dollars in experiments alone."

Edison guaranteed the quality of his machines. In "Edison Views the World at Seventy," he declared: "[T]here is not much more to be done with the [improvement of the] phonograph," (page 2). The motion picture industry, however, was a different story.

Edison invented the Kinetograph, a single camera recording a series of images, in 1891. The Special Presentation, "History of Edison Motion Pictures," chronicles the evolution of the technology over subsequent decades as studios developed motion picture projectors and produced a variety of films for a growing audience. The filmography, "Chronological Title List of Edison Motion Pictures," supplements this history with examples from the first three decades of the motion picture industry.

  • How did competition between various phonograph and motion picture companies influence the development of these technologies?
  • What types of improvements were made in both industries during the first decades of the twentieth century?
  • How were these technologies marketed to consumers?