Showing posts with label inventions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label inventions. Show all posts

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bell speaks from the grave!

1st image) Alexander Graham Bell on the telephone calling Chicago from New York in 1892, 2nd image) Bell’s graphophone from the 1880s, 3rd image) The lid to a tin box deposited at the Smithsonian Institution on Oct. 19, 1881, by Volta Associates.

Something told me to check the weird news before blogging today and there it was: the voice of Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), the inventor of the telephone (which he patented in 1876), has been recovered from disks that had lain dormant at the Smithsonian Institution for 130 years. "Let's hear it," I said to myself, always curious about bringing history to life.* What I thought was a link to an audio file wasn't, so I checked the Washington Post (and found a silent slideshow) and the TV station I used to watch before I left Alexandria (nothing). I should have gone directly to the source - the Library of Congress, where a transcript and the sound files below are available:
H.G. Rogers
It’s the eleventh day of March, eighteen hundred and eighty five
Mary had a little lamb…
Trrrr…Mary had a little lamb…
How is this for high? Trrrr
These and other phrases were recorded on green wax discs, copper negative discs, and cylinders in a series of experiments in the early 1880s by Volta Laboratory Associates, which consisted of Bell, his cousin Chichester Bell, and instrument-maker Charles Sumner Tainter. The earliest recordings of Bell's competitor Thomas Edison (1847-1931), who invented the phonograph in 1876, are thought to be lost. But more than 200 of Bell's were given to the Smithsonian for safekeeping, and are now being recovered thanks to a new technology that reads the sound from tiny grooves with light and a 3D camera. The process, developed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, creates a high-resolution digital map of the disc or cylinder which is then processed to remove scratches and skips and reproduced to create a standard digital sound file. At the press conference on Tuesday, the curator of the National Museum of American History Carlene Stephens said, "This stuff makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It's the past speaking directly to us in a way we haven't heard before. These materials have been in a cupboard and virtually unknown for decades. The collection has been silent." Until now.

*See St. Paul stares back, Leonardo's lion, House sat empty, House 100 years later, Supper clubs and speakeasies, and Rediscovered Kitchen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The world's first talking doll

It was a total flop. Prolific American inventor Thomas Edison (1847-1931) had the idea to put a small version of his phonograph inside the body of a doll (1st and 2nd images), giving it a voice and making it a most unique toy. He took out a patent in 1891, produced 2,500 of the 4lb, 22" dolls in the Edison Phonograph Toy Manufacturing Co. (4th image), and advertised them (3rd image) for $10-25 each (depending on their dress). But they were withdrawn from the market after less than 500 were shipped. As an article in GE Reports explains, "Unfortunately, production delays, poor recording technology, high production costs, and damages during distribution all combined to create toys that were a complete disaster, terrifying children and costing their parents nearly a month’s pay." The dolls each recited one of 12 nursery rhymes, including "Mary had a little lamb," "Jack and Jill," and "Little Bo-peep," (listen to the recording of "Little Jack Horner" here), but the miniature phonographs were removed and the remaining dolls - which Edison ended up referring to as his "little monsters" - were sold off mute.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Velcro, the name brand hook-and-loop fastener, was invented way back in 1941 when Swiss engineer George de Mestral (1907-1990) became curious about the burrs that stuck to his dog's fur and looked at them under a microscope. It took him 10 years to perfect the "zipperless zipper," a reversible binding that is usually made of nylon or polyester. The word "velcro" has become generic, even though it is still a registered trademark. In addition to being used on clothing, it has been used in artificial heart surgery, nuclear power plants, and the space shuttle. A square 2" x 2" can hold 175 lbs. More recently, a sliding engaging fastener was designed that is 8 times stronger and makes no noise when it is disengaged. But even that has recently been improved. A square meter of a new steel version called Metaklett can hold 35 tons! The original Velcro, though, is cited as the only commercial success until recently in the field of biomimetics - the application of methods and systems found in nature to engineering and technology. For other examples of technology inspired by animals, click here.

HALLOWEEN-Click for captions