Early Music Recording & Edison Wax Cylinders

The first cylinder sound recording machine was developed by Thomas Edison in 1877. This invention etched the sound wave patterns from a mouthpiece onto tinfoil wrapped around a 4 inch cylinder. However this medium, while able to successfully record low quality sound, was extremely fragile and it failed to find a substantial commercial market.

It was not until 1885 that a talking machine called the ‘graphophone‘ was able to successfully play and record onto cylinders which were robust enough to be commercially viable. This machine utilised a wax coated cylinder rather than tin foil and accounts for the reason recorded cylinders from this point on were commonly referred to as ‘wax cylinders’, although many are not made from wax at all.

These tubular cylinders were slotted over a rotating drum before a needle was lowered onto its surface to play back the recorded sound. Surrounded as we are by television, radio, mobile phones and pod casts it is hard for us to conceive how novel it was to listen to a recorded voice. The new medium conveyed for the first time not only the sense of the words of the sender but also the expression which has much to do with the interpretation of the true meaning contained in the words of the sermon as much as a song.

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by Geoff Barker, 2006


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