[LB033306], Letter from Thomas Alva Edison to Werner von Siemens, October 26th, 1889


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[LB033306], Letter from Thomas Alva Edison to Werner von Siemens, October 26th, 1889

Editor's Notes

[would love to see a TAE draft of this letter. Lc ] I take pleasure in complying with your request for information concerning the gramophone. ### This instrument is a modification of the phonograph. Apart from details of design, the only claim to originality and the only claim covering a broad principle embodied in the patents on the machine, is that of cutting a record upon a revolving surface such as wax by means of a knife or cutting tool. It is claimed by the promoters of the graphophone that the methods of recording sound vibrations described and illustrated in the various patents both domestic and foreign on the phonograph, anticipate only the process of indenting, or in other words, a recording surface broken only by the effect of sound waves upon a diaphragm carrying a stylus, as contra-distinguished from a method by which a revolving recording surface is continuously cut or ploughed by a knife or cutting tool attached to the centre of a diaphragm, and the sound waves recorded at the bottom of the furrow thus produced. As I have stated, the graphophone people claim originality in the latter method, and patents upon the same have been issued to them here in a few foreign countries. ### In the specifications of my British patent of 1678 on the phonograph, and in the Laboratory records of the early experiments which I conducted upon this machine, various methods of recording are described and illustrated in a way which clearly show that the idea of cutting a revolving surface before and when recording was not only anticipated but actually practiced by myself, and reference is had to my experiments with waxes, paraffine and resin, and combinations of these, which, owing to the form and general construction of the machine at that time used, were displaced and preference given to a metallic surface, such as tinfoil. ### In the issue of 'LA NATURE,' published by Tissandier, of Paris, under date May 3rd 1879, is an article relative to a phonograph made by M. Lambright, in which he describes a method of replacing the point of the Edison phonograph by a blade of steel in the form of a knife and cutting a record in stearine wax—clearly an anticipation of the method which the graphophone people claim as original in their instrument. This is the fundamental patent on their machine, and it is worthless. The authorities of the United States Patent Office were unaware of the existence of the Lambrigot article and machine when they granted the claim, and fail also to review my British specifications. The remaining graphophone patents cover the details of their imperfectly constructed machine. ### The patents which I have myself taken out upon the phonograph throughout the world during the past three years are fundamental in character, for the reason that they control absolutely all methods by which perfect articulation and a faithful reproduction of the more delicate sounds can be attained. Since my return from Europe I have made further improvement upon the phonograph by which all of the adjustments and one-half of the 'spectacle' are done away with, and the instrument rendered automatic throughout, while maintaining all of its former capabilities with which you became partially familiar during my very pleasant visit with you in Berlin. ### With respect to the commercial status of the graphophone, the rights to the instrument in the United States and Canada are vested in the American Graphophone Company. This Company some time ago effected an arrangement whereby Mr. Jesse H. Lippincott became its sol licensee. Mr. Lippincott, subsequent to the arrangement mentioned purchased from myself and my associates the whole of the capital stock of the Edison Phonograph Company (which controls the phonograph in Canada and the United States), I retaining the manufacturing rights, and thereby became possessed of the right to merchandize both instruments, the graphophone and the phonograph, in the territory named above, the various agreements providing amongst other things that there should be no discrimination in the matter of sale—this is, that both machines should be offered to the public without favor to either, so that the public should become the sole arbiter of the respective merits of the two instruments. This course has been pursued for nearly a year by the thirty odd sub-companies which have been formed in the various States. A few hundred graphophones were placed in the hands of the public and served but to demonstrate the utter impracticability of the machine as a commercial instrument. In its operation the hissing sounds represented by the letter "S" and the explodents are entirely lost, the result being an imperfect and incomplete reproduction of articulation, and the consequent mutilation of any record entrusted to this machine. The annoyance and inconvenience this caused was so great that customers of the different Companies have everywhere returned their graphophones and replaced them with phonographs. This is an accurate statement of facts which goes further than anything else to prove the uselessness of the graphophone for other than purely speculative purposes. Some few months since a New York Syndicated arranged for the control of the graphophone in Foreign countries. This movement was suggested and stimulated by the reports which came from abroad of the great public interested which had been excited in the phonograph, a circumstance which favored speculation. Representatives of this graphophone syndicate were sent abroad and by threats and misrepresentation attempted to force an alliance with the phonograph. This I would not permit, first because the graphophone itself represents no value as a commercial article, and secondly, because I have no desire to assist a purely speculative enterprise by lending whatever aid my name and connection might bring. Failing thus to secure my co-operation, this syndicate will without doubt attempt to draw money from the public abroad. I know that they are continuing their systematic misrepresentation with respect to their patents and the commercial value of their instrument as developed in this country, which however deplorable is perhaps not surprising, as a statement of facts approaching accuracy would mean the failure of their speculation, which will succeed to the same extent as they are successful in deceiving the public. Yours very truly, [signed] TAE




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Thomas A. Edison Papers, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University
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