Graphophone means “The pencil of sound.” “The word "Graphophone" is a simple transposition of the word "Phonograph," and is intended to convey the same meaning.” (Recording History 2) In other words, Switch the words “graph” and “phone” and you create the new word. Because the phonograph was invented by Edison, Chichester Bell and Charles S. Tainter jokingly coined the term after changing the recording direction from vertical to horizontal.

Thomas A. Edison invented many brilliant things. One of the “most” brilliant is his conception of the phonograph, which was the ability that a record could be made of sounds – and those sounds from that record could be reproduced. “This little machine consists of a cylinder about three inches in diameter, covered with a shallow spiral groove, upon which is placed tin-foil. The cylinder is so arranged that it will travel horizontally back or forth by means of a screw, and is operated by a crank. The sounds are communicated to the tin-foil by a steel point attached to a diaphragm that is agitated by the sounds coming through a tube, to which is attached a mouth-piece. The concussion of the sound waves striking upon the diaphragm forces the metal point forward, which is already in contact with the tin-foil, and makes indentations as the cylinder revolves with the movement of the crank.” (Recording History)

    Failure leading to success:
    Although the invention leads to great improvements of sound recording, the invention itself was too fragile to be a success. Thousands of copies of the invention were sold, but they often quickly broke by accidental pressures. The recording surface was pliable, accidents did occur. The clumsiness of the mechanics didn’t help either causing many adjustment problems and errors. The pliable surface led to the decision to use a cut-based surface instead of an indent surface, hardened wax – used by the graphophone.

The graphophone is in essence an improved phonograph. “Believing in the possibility of making a successful machine to record and reproduce sounds, Professor ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL, Dr. CHICHESTER A. BELL, and Mr. SUMNER TAINTER associated themselves together, under the name of the Volta Laboratory Association, and established a laboratory in the city of Washington, one of the principal objects of which was to experiment upon methods of recording and reproducing sound.” (Recording History) It reduced the size of the recorded grooves, switched from tinfoil to brown wax, changed the recording lines to zigzagging, and used a pitch of 120 and then 150 grooves per inch.

“The Graphophone is made in two forms, one to make the records upon a cylindrical surface, the other upon a disk or flat surface, the same principles, however, governing each machine. The machines are provided with two diaphragms, one used in making the record, and the other in reproducing the sound. The cylindrical machine stands about five or six inches high by eight wide, and weighs about ten pounds.” (Recording History) The graphophone doesn’t require the precision and skill the phonograph did. The rotation was automatic instead of hand cranked.

  • The phonograph led to the graphophone which led to Edison reforming the phonograph. Competition created more advancements. (See Cylinder Periods)
  • Replaced stenographers.
    • Amanuensis work usually done by the stenographer is easily replaced with more accuracy.
  • Recording of two different sounds is possible.
    • ”…Different tones of the voices vibrate with unlike speed and force, and thus make different impressions upon the diaphragm, and move the metallic point in a different way, so as to make a record of the various sounds. (Recording History)

Graph"o*phone (?), n. [Gr. &?; to write + -phone, as in telephone.]

A kind of photograph.


© Webster 1913

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