The History of the Edison Cylinder Phonograph
The phonograph was developed as a result of Thomas Edison's work on two other inventions, the telegraph and the telephone. In 1877, Edison was working on a machine that would transcribe telegraphic messages through indentations on paper tape, which could later be sent over the telegraph repeatedly. This development led Edison to speculate that a telephone message could also be recorded in a similar fashion. He experimented with a diaphragm which had an embossing point and was held against rapidly-moving paraffin paper. The speaking vibrations made indentations in the paper. Edison later changed the paper to a metal cylinder with tin foil wrapped around it. The machine had two diaphragm-and-needle units, one for recording, and one for playback. When one would speak into a mouthpiece, the sound vibrations would be indented onto the cylinder by the recording needle in a vertical (or hill and dale) groove pattern.

A variety of the potential materials for the registration of sound


The Edison Speaking Phonograph Company was established on January 24, 1878, to exploit the new machine by exhibiting it. Edison received $10,000 for the manufacturing and sales rights and 20% of the profits. As a novelty, the machine was an instant success, but was difficult to operate except by experts, and the tin foil would last for only a few playbacks.
Ever practical and visionary, Edison offered, among others, the following possible future use for the phonograph in North American Review in June 1878:

- Connection with the telephone, so as to make that instrument an auxiliary in the transmission of permanent and invaluable records, instead of being the recipient of momentary and fleeting communication.


two minute cylinders from the turn of the century, released by and featuring: the Thomas Edison band


Eventually, the novelty of the invention wore off for the public, and Edison did no further work on the phonograph for a while, concentrating instead on inventing the incandescent light bulb.  In the void left by Edison, others moved forward to improve the phonograph. Alexander Graham Bell made some improvements on Edison's invention, chiefly by using wax in the place of tin foil and a floating stylus instead of a rigid needle which would incise, rather than indent, the cylinder.

(Extract from the ‘History of Recorded Sound, Inventing Entertainment’
-The Library of Congress)

    Prior to the use of wax as a recording material, was the tin-foil reproducer

Blank Cylinder
A blank cylinder of hardened wax designed for recording. This material had evolved from methods using thick paper (carbon?) as well the more successful tin foil. In around 1903 chocolate phonographs had become popular, which could be played several times then eaten. 
The inscription seen at the top of the cylinder is the phrase, ‘blah blah blah blah, all your fucking children, blaaaaaaaaah. Details of an inscription can be as accurate as a thousandth of an Inch, which makes it quite impossible to inscribe interesting sound by hand. Since the 20’s ideas where entertained of the phonograph being a machine for drawing sound although this never became plausible. Lazlo Moloy Nagy had entertained many ideas in the direction of a ‘written” sound, inspired by the process of inscription, although never managed or released and interesting piece.


One standard wax cylinder can hold around two minutes of inscription.

Thomas Edison band
In a wholesome entrepreneurial spirit, Edison had returned to phonograph production after several years of the machine being little more than a curious invention for sideshows. The extent of his marketing can be seen in these early edition cylinders, which feature recordings of the Thomas Edison band. It had been his slogan that he wanted to see a phonograph in every American home. 
The obvious next step in longer playing time would be the record, which was originally pressed with inscription on just one side of the disc. (Some one) had tried to file a patent for the use of both sides of the disc when the potential usage had occurred to him. The attempt was dismissed as absurd as double sided records were inevitable and hence impossible to claim any right thereof.




Insatallation view