Voice From the Past

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Two-foot creepy talking doll from 1890. Source: NPR

Two-foot creepy talking doll from 1890. Source: NPR

If you’ve ever listened to historic recordings found at the National Jukebox (the Library of Congress’ recording archive), you know the recorded tunes or speech can be rough, or hard to hear.

Or, as in this example, as featured yesterday on NPR’s All Things Considered, creepy.

Thomas Edison created a set of talking dolls in 1890 — an incredible technological feat for the time. The voices, though, are scary, especially coming from a doll!

According to the article, Edison didn’t really like the two-foot talking dolls either. He said they were ‘unpleasant’. They didn’t sell well, either; the price tag was about $200 in today’s money (the average income was approximately $500 a year in 1890.)


Emmett's family had a graphophone that looked something like this model. Source: Phonojack

Emmett’s family had a graphophone that looked something like this model. Source: Phonojack

The closest thing Emmett and his family got to having one of those talking dolls was a graphophone that the Wilson family had in their house on 6th Street in Chipley, Florida.

I know that Emmett’s family occasionally held ‘graphophone parties” where they’d sit around the parlor and listen (and dance) to music, speeches, or even comedians giving their schpiel, all recorded on a little wax cylinder.

Emmett wasn’t important enough in the political world to have had his speeches recorded. Still, I wonder what his voice sounded like? Hopefully it was not creepy.

He probably had a strong Southern accent, though.

If you are interested in hearing speeches from 100 years ago, visit the National Jukebox, or, the Library of Congress here in D.C.

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