Phonograph: Invention And History Of The World's First Audio Recording Device

By Karen Harris
American inventor and businessman Thomas Edison with an Edison Standard Phonograph, at his lab in West Orange, New Jersey, 1906. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Capturing and recording sound was a daunting task for early inventors. It required a thorough understanding of sound waves, vibrations, and various other physical phenomena, and in the 19th century, that was a tall order. The first to succeed in this endeavor, unsurprisingly, was American inventor Thomas Edison. In 1877, he added the invention of the phonograph to his already lengthy list of technological achievements.

The Invention Of The Phonograph

By the time he invented the phonograph, Thomas Edison was well established in his Menlo Park laboratory in New Jersey and had several successful inventions and patents under his belt. In fact, the phonograph was based on two previous invention, although neither were invented by Edison. One was the telegraph, invented by Samuel Morse, and the other invention was Alexander Graham Bell's telephoneEdison spiffed up the telegraph to transmit as many as 1,000 words per minute, developed a more efficient microphone for the telephone, and voila, the phonograph was born. Edison’s phonograph worked by converting sound vibrations into the movement of a stylus that recorded the vibrations onto a wax-coated cylinder. When played back, the grooves in the wax replicate the sound that was recorded on it.