Edison recording from 1888 may be 1st talking doll

There’s another invention being linked to the long dead innovator Thomas Edison. Scientists are now saying that he may have invented the first talking doll.

What modern innovation didn’t the “The Wizard of Menlo Park” have a hand in?


According to the Associated Press, researchers utilizing advanced imaging technology have salvaged a 123-year-old recording made by Thomas Edison. It is thought to be the world’s first effort at a talking doll; it may also mark the beginning of the American recording industry.


In the recording, a woman can be heard delivering a verse of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Historians think that Edison paid the woman to make the recording about two years before he unsuccessfully tried to bring the first talking doll to the market.


“Based on the date of fall 1888, it is the oldest American-made recording of a woman’s voice that we can listen to today,” said Patrick Feaster, a historian at Indiana University in Bloomington.


Feaster searched historical documents and 19th-century newspapers to gather information related to the recording. Edison had hoped to churn out the toys, but the technology of the era was lacking. To make 100 dolls Edison would have to get artists to sing the lullaby 100 times!


“They must have been hired and paid to do this,” Feaster said. “These were presumably the first professional recording artists.”


The small piece of tin with the woman’s voice never made it into a doll seeing as how wax records replaced metal ones around 1890. The fragile toys broke too easily and were a market failure.


And then 80 years after the woman recorded the song for Edison, the recording was found in 1967 in the Thomas Edison National Historical Park’s archives. It was found in a secretary’s desk drawer in Edison’s lab.


“It was clear from looking under the microscope that it had a sound recording on it. Phonograph grooves have a familiar shape,” said Jerry Fabris, a museum curator with the National Park Service.


Unfortunately, the 2.5 inches around and half an inch wide metal ring was too damaged for scientists to play.


Four decades later, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., used image analysis to create a digital model of the record’s surface. The digital model was used to reproduce the recording as a digital file, in the same manner today’s talking dolls are made.

Edison have been a notorious jerk, but it’s pretty impressive that he died in 1931 and people are still discovering things that he invented.