Electrographic Vote-recorder
Concrete house

The 112th U.S. Congress convenes on Capitol Hill. The Senate still uses voice and roll call votes, while the House of Representatives can conduct voting electronically.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Edison was a 22-year-old telegraph operator when he received his first patent for a machine he called the electrographic vote-recorder. He was one of several inventors at the time developing methods for legislative bodies, such as the U.S. Congress, to record their votes in a more timely fashion than the time-honored voice vote system.

In Edison's vote-recorder, a voting device was connected to the clerk's desk. At the desk, the names of the legislators were embedded in metal type in two columns -- "yes" and "no." Legislators would move a switch on the device to point to either "yes" or "no," sending an electric current to the device at the clerk's desk. After voting was completed, the clerk would place a chemically treated piece of paper on top of the metal type and run a metal roller over it. The current would cause the chemicals in the paper to dissolve on the side for which the vote should be recorded. "Yes" and "no" wheels kept track of the vote totals and tabulated the results.

A friend of Edison's, another telegraph operator named Dewitt Roberts, bought an interest in his machine for $100 and tried to sell it to Washington to no avail. Congress wanted no part of any device that would increase the speed of voting -- decreasing the time for filibusters and political wheeling and dealing -- so young Edison's vote-recorder was sent to the political graveyard.