In 1877 during a midnight dinner with his assistants where they were discussing their current project of the use of paper strips to make a record of telegraph messages. Thomas Edison had an idea.
Why not adapt those to record the vibrations of the diaphragm in a telephone mouthpiece?
This sparked something in his assistants and they worked all night developing the idea, later Edison and his team changed the paper for tin foil and they had success naming it the ‘Talking machine’ later to become the phonograph.
Edison did not regard the product as commercially viable. However, once news had spread of the invention the outside world saw the massive potential, someone’s voice could be immortalised forever. Investors enlisted him in a new venture, the Edison Speaking Phonograph Co. But he soon lost interest in making the phonograph a salable product.
It would take 10 years for Edison to rekindle his interest (and only when someone created a potentially better product!) The product he produced in 1889 was not a useful dictation device, however it played music perfectly! Despite this Edison could not be encouraged to market it for entertainment purposes.
Edison’s competitors leaped ahead developing new recording mediums, forcing Edison to get involved in the new and developing music Industry, he was however, not suited to it and struggled to accept new music styles calling them ‘miserable dance and ragtime sessions’ and jazz was something for ‘the nuts’.
A real competitor emerged the Victor Talking Machine Co. and its Victrola. They began to build a stable of notable musical artists while Edison continued to pay royalty rights.
The 1920s brought with it commercial radio, another challenge to the phonograph, Edison was once again too late to become involved and his company was soon a flop in the stock-market crash of 1929.
Despite his short falls the music industry he had set in motion lived on, evolving into stereo, iPods and streaming music. He had made it all possible, without ever quite grasping how to make the most of it for himself.