An entirely different story!

American Radio Library has added a large set of ‘Phonoscope’, a rather elegant magazine about the phonograph and movies and similar amusements. The August 1898 issue includes an entirely different account of Edison’s invention.

The usual story is that Edison was trying to develop a visual telegraph recorder, and suddenly realized its potential. This version has Edison developing a telephone repeater, and places the Aha! in the mind of a Buffalo newspaper reporter, who may have misunderstood what Edison’s employee was describing.

In other words, a misheard repeating of a telephone repeater turned the telephone repeater into a phonograph!

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As is well known, at the time of its invention in 1877, Mr. Edison and the group of young men who had allied their fortunes and future with his were in the depths of ill luck, and their funds were very low. In order to secure a little money one of Edison’s young followers, Edward H. Johnson, undertook to make a tour of Northern and Central New York, lecturing on Edison’s inventions.

A short time before Mr Johnson’s departure Mr Edison was working in his laboratory testing the diaphragm of a telephone. While working over the diaphragm Mr Edison said suddenly: “If a needle were attached to this diaphragm it would prick my finger or would record on a sufficiently receptive material the number and character of the diaphragm vibrations.”

The two men discussed the likelihood of this, and Mr Edison, carrying his thought to its conclusion, said, “if the record of these variations were retraced over the needle it would re-vibrate the diaphragm, and that, in turn, would operate another telephonic circuit and thus act as a telephonic repeater.

Mr Johnson was much interested as Mr Edison described to him his ideas of the workings of such a machine, and said that he would incorporate the ideas into his lecture. Permission was given him and the affair passed from Mr. Edison’s mind.

The next lecture was at Buffalo, and there the description was repeated. A Buffalo paper of the following morning published in large headlines:

described last night in Buffalo
by Professor Edward H. Johnson

Mr Johnson, on reading this, realized for the first time what Edison had invented, and canceling the dates for his remaining lectures hurried back to Menlo Park.

“Well, what brought you back so soon?” said Mr Edison, looking at him in surprise. “This,” he said, pointing to the newspaper account. “What’s wrong with it?” asked Mr Edison. “Wrong with it? Nothing. It will make your fortune. See here!” handing to his amazed superior the newspaper. “Do you see what this thing is? It’s a talking machine, and we none of us realized it.”

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