Why was the phonograph so late?
While waiting for the next paid project to start, I've been 'building' models of early pre-Morse telegraphs.
Animation of a Breguet dial system coming up tomorrow, then a Cooke-Wheatstone needle setup a few days later.
As I perused old patent drawings, trying to figure out how each system was really used, I began to sense that another invention was entirely out of place.
Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. Unlike most of his 'inventions' which were perfected commercial versions of existing ideas, this was an absolutely fresh concept.
The only halfway similar predecessor was in 1857, and it was a 'visualizer' or oscillograph for sound, not a recorder and player.
We tend to think of the phonograph as part of the Electric Age, perhaps because of the Edison connection. But it was completely mechanical,
and stayed that way until about 1920 when it inherited amplification from radio technology. In fact, mechanical phonos were still being made
in the 1950s.
What strikes me as surpassingly odd: Every aspect of the phonograph could have been built by the Romans in 200 BC. Clockwork, wax cylinder, delicate diaphragm, needle. A non-clockwork version could have been made thousands of years earlier by any culture with stringed instruments and drums.
Medieval clockmakers and music-box makers were just one hour away
from a phonograph. Take out the escapement so the cylinder moves fast, coat the cylinder with wax, glue a thorn to a drum, hold the drum so the thorn touches the wax, and talk into the drum.
Why didn't any of that happen? Why did it have to wait 300 years? It's a mystery.
Labels: 20th century Dark Age