Monthly Archives: February 2013

Revolutionizing the Recording Industry

“The Manufacture of Edison’s Talking Doll” in Scientific American 1890.

Well before the iPod and mp3’s became a staple of daily life, portable music was only available by the phonograph and tin sound recordings.  In 1877, Thomas Edison created the phonograph and by 1888 was on the hunt for a novel way to use his invention.  Seeing an untapped market in children’s toys, Edison thought to place tin recordings in dolls.  By 1890, these talking dolls were on sale to the public.  While they failed as a significant financial venture for Edison, they represent several firsts in the recording world.  The women hired by Edison to record voices for the dolls are some of the first recording artists, and the tins themselves represent the first recordings intended for mass sale—the birth of the recording industry!

“Talking Doll” manufactured at Edison plant, NY, 1890; men made body, women dressed it.

For more information on Edison’s talking doll, check out this National Park Service article.  The National Park service also includes links to an original sound recording, as well as additional primary sources including Edison’s Laboratory notebook and  two articles “Dolls that Really Talk” from New York Evening Sun and “Talks with Wise Dolls” from New York Press.

Thanks to Edison, we experience toys and music alike in a whole new way!

Valentine's Day Recipe

Valentines day

For more information on the above ads visit the following links:

(starting from top left)

1. Ad: Middishade Blue Suit, ‘Correct at every tick of the clock’ 1928

2. Ad: L’ECHO of Paris, ‘New Dance Frocks’ 1928

3. Ad: Holeproof Hosiery Co., 1924

4. Ad: Spur Ties, ‘All tied for you. Husband, friend, or brother’ 1929

5. Ad: Jewelers’ Association, ‘Love Token for the Ages’ 1927

6. Ad: Packard, ‘Packard was born into the world of taste and refinement’ 1928

7. Ad: Johnston’s Chocolates, ‘Rudy Vallee autographs his photograph for the sweethearts of America’ 1931

Connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific by rail: "un fait accompli"

This summer, with the help of the National Endowment for the Humanities, we will be looking into just what a big deal the first transcontinental railroad was. And we invite you to join us. Read on.


On the morning of May 10, 1869, railroad workers laid two rails opposite one another: one for the Union Pacific Railroad and one for the Central Pacific Railroad. When the hammer struck the final spike to hold the rails in place, a single route connected the East Coast with the West Coast by rail. Telegraph wires attached to the spike informed both coasts that the crowd gathered in Promontory, Utah witnessed the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.

As he commemorated the moment in poetry, Bret Harte wondered:

What was it the Engines said,
Pilots touching,–head to head,
Facing on the single track,
Half a world behind each back?

In that morning’s New York Times, the Wells Fargo company had already issued an advertisement for tickets or cargo on the railroad, boasting faster travel times than anyone had ever heard of, “Overland to California. Seven Days from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean.”


Indeed, completion of the railroad reduced transcontinental travel time for the average person from three to six months down to one week. It was a world-changing innovation. According to William Deverell,

the invention also brought about profound changes in the understanding of time and the relationship between time and space. To nineteenth-century observers, at first unable to adjust to the changes wrought by the machine, the railroad simply “annihilated time and space.”


Quaker Oats railroad cars crossing the Rockies, from ad booklet distributed at the Columbian Exposition, Chicago, IL, 1893

If you are a teacher and you would like to join us this summer as we learn more about the Transcontinental Railroad, consider applying for a seat on The Transcontinental Railroad: Transforming California and the Nation, an NEH funded Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop.

Other railroad images in The Marchand Archive

More about this NEH Landmark Workshop