This example of an Edison talking doll has a ceramic head, a metal body, and articulated limbs made from painted wood. Inside the torso is mounted a tiny phonograph bearing a brown wax record that recites the children’s rhyme “Jack and Jill,” as recorded by a young woman. This nursery rhyme was one of twelve recitations available. Turning a crank inserted into the back of the doll’s torso rotates the record for play, and shifting an adjacent lever returns the stylus of the phonograph to the start position. Whether this doll was ever finished with a wig and clothing is unknown.
Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, and when he imagined the uses for his new machine, he speculated that, beyond serving as a means of preserving dictation, it might animate toys. His idea took form in a talking doll, manufactured briefly in 1890.
In 1887 Edison had licensed W. W. Jacques and Lowell C. Briggs of Boston to make and sell talking dolls as the Edison Toy Phonograph Company. The Edison Phonograph Works, in West Orange, N.J., manufactured the phonographs, inserted them into dolls, and packaged them for sale. The talking dolls work imperfectly, sold poorly, and proved a costly mistake for Edison. By 1896, all remaining unsold phonographs for dolls were reportedly destroyed.
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