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Dead medium: Phonographic Dolls
Source(s): AUTOMATA AND MECHANICAL TOYS, an illustrated history by Mary Hillier. Bloomsbury Books, London 1976, 1988. ISBN 1 870630 27 0.

(((Many forms of media began as toys, magic, or parlor amusements. Some incubate in the toy market and then move to wider mass influence. Some stay toys indefinitely. Some toys die. The talking head, talking doll, talking automaton or artificial talking intelligence is an ancient ideal which seems to have a powerful attraction for the inventive mind.)))

(((Mary Hillier's Foreword well describes this highly entertaining, lavishly illustrated book, which abounds in curiosa for the enthusiast of dead mechanical tech.)))

"This book seeks to trace the history of automata and travels through the curious realms where they were exhibited and among some of the amazing characters involved in their invention. The special emphasis in from the eighteenth century onwards when the awakening of technological interest produced both the frivolous and luxury toys to amuse people and the clever robot machines wich eventually were to transform industry."

pages 93-94

"Inventions have often been produced by researchers who little dreamt of the far-reaching consequences. Those who first experimented with electricity had no inkling of how the new-found force would one day illumine and power the world and adapt itself for use in the manufacture of toys. Thomas Edison, assembling his first crude phonograph in 1877 was actually experimenting with a machine that could reproduce the message given by a voice on the telephone."

((( I find Hillier's assertion that the phonograph was born as a telephone recording/answering machine to be particularly intriguing. Was the phonograph originally a network peripheral?)))

"Only afterward, when others recognised the significance of significance of recording the human voice and realised the terrific potential of such an instrument for entertainment did he develop it further along these very lines. It was the realization of the 'talking head' man had dreamt of through the ages. Others researching along similar lines exploited the talking machine. The motorised phonograph with wax cylinders was presented to the public and for the first time actual facsimiles of the human voice were obtained and the 'industry of human happiness,' as it had been called, had begun. (((Can anyone identify the source of this astonishing quote?))) The search for a talking doll was over: no automaton could compete with true reproduction - however imperfect in the earliest attempts.

"Edison first took up a patent for a phonograph doll in 1878. (((Note how quickly Edison sought a killer app in the children's market.))) His first idea was to build up a doll around a phonograph, but it was obviously more practical to use factory made doll parts and place a miniature phonograph within. It does not seem that such a veritable talking doll was mass-produced by his company until 1889.

"When wound up, this precocious creature recited nursery rhymes by virtue of a little needle tracing grooves on a wax covered disk. The unknown girls who recorded the words in his factory acheived a curious immortality. The doll was made up with a steel torso which contained the works but had a head of German bisque and jointed wooden limbs. The Edison factory is said to have turned out 500 such dolls a day but other manufacturers soon entered into competition producing similar novelties.

"In France the famous Jumeau doll-making firm produced *Be'be' Phonographe* in 1893; her mechanism was covered by a small plate in her chest and she was wound from the rear. The doll herself had all the charm of the Jumeau type with bisque head, beautiful eyes, jointed arms and legs and the additional sophistication of speaking in French, English or Spanish (according to changed cylinders). She measured 25 inches as against Edison's 22 inch baby.

"At the Paris Exhibition 1900, a special room was devoted to the Phonograph doll with girls actually recording at benches. 'Each one sits before a large apparatus, singing, reading, crying, reciting, talking with all the appearance of a lunatic! She dictates to a cylinder of wax the lesson that the little doll must obediently repeat to the day of her death with guaranteed fidelity.'

"Edison's phonographic doll set the fashion for dolls with a bigger repertoire in their performance (and cheaper imitations). The progress of talking machines outran the patents and there was, one suspects, a good deal of poaching of ideas on both sides of the Atlantic with all the variations produced both before and after the 1914- 1918 war. The Jenny Lind Doll Company of Chicago produced a doll in 1916 which could sing, talk and recite.

"Some of the dolls must have been unwieldy indeed. The 'Primadonna' produced by the Giebeler Folk Corporation of New York was not only made of aluminium but when the real hair wig on the crown of her hinged head was lifted up it contained a turntable for playing 3 1/2 inch records! The doll was made in sizes 25 or 30 inches and the mechanism in the body was wound from the back.

"In 1923 the Averill Manufacturing Company also designed a phonograph doll, called Dolly Rekord, in their famous Madame Hendren line.

"Talking dolls, one suspects, became far less of a novelty when the radio and gramophone proper became more generally in use, just as cinematograph toys were displaced by television. Each phase of development introduced its new toys. and some interesting and ingenious working models were allied to the gramophone and its revolving turntable. Some were actually distributed by the company involved in producing the machines (figures 84-86)."

[FIGURE 84. Page from *Scientific American,* 1890, showing Edison's Talking Doll and manufacturing processes.]

[FIGURE 85. Rare phonograph doll, Siam Soo, 1909; she shimmies and twists her head when mounted on a record shaft, as the record revolves. "SIAM SOO She puts the O- O in Grafonola. Strikingly new and novel. Works on any phonograph with a Columbia Record. Patented."]

[FIGURE 86. Uncle Sam appears to chase the Mexican bandit, Pancho Villa, as the record revolves.]