It was Thomas Alva Edinson who invented it. This November 21 marks the 145th anniversary of the phonograph. It was the first device that could not only record sounds, but also reproduce them. What was the first piece played? It was a popular children’s song “Mary had a little lamb”.
It happened in 1877. Edison first demonstrated the device on November 29 of the same year. It was patented on February 19, 1878.
In the phonograph, sound vibration waveforms are recorded as physical deflections of a spiral groove. It is recorded on the surface of a rotating cylinder or disk, called a “record.” To recreate the sound, the surface is similarly rotated. A reproduction stylus traces the groove and is thus vibrated by it. Thus it faintly reproduces the recorded sound.
In future electric phonographs the movements of the stylus are converted into an analog electrical signal by a transducer. They are then converted back into sound by a loudspeaker.
Edison’s phonograph originally recorded sound on a sheet of aluminum foil. A stylus responding to sound vibrations produced a groove in the foil. Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory made several improvements in the 1880s. They included the use of wax-coated cardboard cylinders. The cutting punch moved from side to side in a zigzag groove around the disk.
In the 1890s, Emile Berliner began the transition from phonograph cylinders to flat discs with a spiral groove running from the periphery to near the center. Subsequent improvements over the years included modifications to the turntable. Also in the drive system, the stylus or needle.
The disc record was the dominant audio recording format for most of the 20th century. It was replaced by the cassette tape, compact disc, and other digital recording formats. Records are still a favorite format for some audiophiles and DJs. Musicians continue to release their recordings on vinyl records. The phonograph’s 145 years have not sent it into oblivion.