Edison to Vinyl: A History of Recorded Sound, Part II: 1878 – 1883

In the initial entry of this journey we looked at the original phonograph. In this entry we will take a look at a few patents aimed at improving certain aspects of the device, not only by Thomas Edison but by others as well.

Just five weeks after receiving a patent on his phonograph, Edison had already received a patent on an improvement. Patent 201,760, Improvement in speaking-machines, looked to improve the sound volume put out by the device by creating a better diaphragm system.

Rudolf Eickemeyer

Rudolf Eickemeyer Sr.

By the end of 1878, Rudolf Eickemeyer Sr. had patented an improved diaphragm as well (210,929 Improvement in diaphragms for telephones and phonographs). He used a diaphragm of variable thickness and width to better capture sound vibrations, it also used a magnet or magnets to help regulate the vibrations. What is of interest here is that Eickemeyer was actually a manufacturer of hat making machinery and electrical generators. I was not able to find out why he invented this diaphragm improvement or if it was used in any phonographs. He eventually sold his business to what would become General Electric.


On September 23rd, 1879 A. Wilford Hall patented another improvement on the original phonograph (219,939 Improvement in phonographs). This was again to the diaphragm system. His invention would cause the sound vibrations to be split and recorded on two cylinders. He reasoned that it would only require half the indentation strength, thereby making recording easier.


A patent for a new type of sound collector was granted to William H. Oakley on September 30th, 1879 (220,169 Improvement in sound-collectors). His device would cause the sound entering the collector to hit a curved surface at the bottom of the device and reflect back to a smaller curved surface and then out of the base, concentrating the sound waves and amplifying the volume.


Thomas Edison was granted another patent (227,679 phonograph) on improvements to the original phonograph patent on May 18th, 1880. There were many improvements made, including a large flywheel to govern the cylinders rotational speed, a redesign of the diaphragm dampening system, a vertically mounted recording mechanism with a flexible tube connected to a mouth piece and several others.

From late 1880 to late 1883 there does not seem to be any development or improvement made to the phonograph. On October 23rd 1883 Christopher C. Reynolds was granted a patent (287,166 phonograph) for more improvements to the phonograph. It seems to have called for a thicker metal sheet that would be cut in stead of embossed, the redesigning of the cylinder rotating system, changes to the diaphragm and cutting apparatuses. One important thing I read in this patent was the ability to “copy and amplify” recordings from the original due to the durability of the cylinder.


Copying and amplification device

There is another dry area for phonograph development until 1886 when things really start to take off. There are 6 patents in that year and 4 the following. They will be the subject of the next entry in this series.

I don’t know if anyone is enjoying these or not. Yes, they are very dry, but I am learning a lot and perhaps at least one other person out there is as well.

2 thoughts on “Edison to Vinyl: A History of Recorded Sound, Part II: 1878 – 1883

    • As far as I am aware the only use for the phonograph at this time was for transcription and I am not sure any machines had been sold to anyone. Each had to be made by hand and were really just one-offs plus the recording medium was horrible and extremely prone to damage. At the beginning Edison hyped his machine pretty well but the public soon lost interest and Edison stopped improving it. It was not until the introduction of the wax cylinder and the Graphophone in 1886 that really made Edison to go back and improve his machine. I will go over all that in the coming entries of course.


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