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Happy Birthday to the Record Player!

Thomas Edison
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

On Feb. 19, 1878 — a staggering 137 years ago — Thomas Edison patented a piece of technology that recorded and played back sound. He called it a “phonograph,” and for it he received U.S. Patent No. 200,521.

As details, the phonograph “came about as spin-off from [Edison’s] ongoing work in telephony and telegraphy.” During that ongoing work, the inventor figured out how to “capture a passage of Morse code,” and later “devised a system that transferred the vibrations of … sound … to an embossing point and then mechanically onto an impressionable medium.”

That “impressionable medium” was, at first, wax paper. Edison soon swapped it out for a “spinning, tin-foil wrapped cylinder.” The patent he was awarded on Feb. 19, 1878 was specifically for his invention of collecting sound on that cylinder.

Later on, his competitor, Alexander Graham Bell, devised a phonograph using a wax cylinder — which, as describes, was a “significant improvement that led directly to the successful commercialization of recorded music in the 1890s.”

Today we raise a glass to Edison (and Bell) for introducing the world to the phonograph. It’s changed significantly over the last 137 years, but we’re still spinning vinyl thanks to U.S. Patent No. 200,521!

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