Section One

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Edison’s Phonograph
Thomas Alva Edison
Alfred S. Seer, c. 1878 (after Mathew Brady)

“It Talks! It Sings! It Laughs!” The startling assertions of this poster undoubtedly attracted the curious to demonstrations of Thomas Edison’s newly invented phonograph. In 1878, after filing his patent, Edison went to Washington, where he had his portrait made at Mathew Brady’s photography studio and showed off his “talking machine” at the Capitol, the White House, and the American Academy of Sciences. The same year, five hundred demonstration models of his phonograph toured around the country on the lyceum circuit.

This large wood-engraved poster, with a blank space over the Brady image for inserting the specific time and place for the demonstrations, is similar to the color posters that promoted circuses. It tells us more about the man than the machine, which was eventually redesigned. Far from being a lone genius, Edison was a famous personality, and his ability to stay in the public eye was an important factor in his career.