Who Invented the Phonograph?

The history of the phonograph shows that Thomas Edison filed for the patent in December 1877. But he actually started developing it a few months earlier.

The Origin of the Phonograph

Edison was actually working on his telegraph. His objective was to make the telegraph send messages again and again. He used papers with some indentations. His design had a diaphragm with a point and set it against paraffin paper. He would later replace the paper with a cylinder enfolded in tin foil.

He handed the design to John Kruesi (his mechanic) who created the machine. Edison spoke through it, and his words were recorded. The first words that were used in the history of the phonograph were the nursery rhyme Mary had a Little Lamb.

Improvements on the Phonograph

A year after getting the patent, the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company was established. The machine became popular although only a few people were able to use it as it was complicated. However Edison didn’t work on the phonograph for a while as he focused on his other inventions. However other inventors would make improvements to his invention.

In 1880 Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Tainter replaced the tin foil Edison used with wax. The needle was also replaced with a stylus. In response Edison came out with some improvements on his own model. The history of the phonograph reveal that Edison also used wax but also included stearic wax and ceresin.


Edison followed this up in 1890 by releasing talking dolls using the phonograph’s wax cylinders. They came out with some musical cylinders. Nine years later a phonograph parlor was opened. The parlor was located in San Francisco. People would pay a nickel and their selection from the list would be played.

The phonograph parlor would be a hit; other cities would set up other parlors. Soon various types of phonographs would appear using one of Edison’s many versions of the phonograph.

Spread of the Phonograph

The popularity of these parlors would lead to mass production. The history of the phonograph indicates early efforts to mass produce it were difficult. However, technology improved. It didn’t take long before it was possible to make over 100 copies of each phonograph record. Eventually the phonograph became popular and widespread.

While it was a huge hit, the popularity of the radio affected its sales. The sales were especially affected in the 1920s. The economic depression in the 1930s forced a lot of the companies into bankruptcy. However it was able to bounce back in the 1940s. The reason for its success was the introduction of vinyl records.

Further improvements on the phonograph made it the number one choice for recording sound up to the 1980s. It was when compact discs became popular that widespread usage of phonographs became limited. But even today they are still manufactured and used by some disc jockeys (today it’s called a turntable).

The invention and history of the phonograph is one of the highlights of Edison’s career as an inventor. Its contribution to the entertainment and recording industry cannot be overestimated.