10 Inventions by Thomas Edison (That You've Never Heard Of)

Phonograph for Dolls or Other Toys
As far as we know, Edison did not dabble in phonographs for dogs. Dolls, yes. Dogs, no. pojoslaw/iStock/Thinkstock

Once Edison had patented his phonograph, he began to devise ways to use it. One idea, first mentioned in a laboratory note in 1877, but not patented until 1890, was to miniaturize the phonograph and insert it into a doll or other toy, giving the formerly inarticulate plaything a voice of its own. The phonograph was enclosed in a tin casing that composed the doll's chest, then pre-made arms and legs were attached, along with a bisque head made in Germany. The talking dollies sold for about $10. Little girls sat in factory stalls and recorded the songs and nursery rhymes that were inscribed on the wax cylinders for the phonographs to play.

Unfortunately, the idea of a talking toy was far ahead of the technology needed to execute it. Sound recording was in its infancy, and the cracklings and hissing on early records were more disturbing when they were supposed to be the voices of sweet-faced dolls.

"The voices of the little monsters are exceeding unpleasant to hear," one customer complained. Most dolls did not play at all, or the voice was too faint to be heard. The doll's fragile form did not protect the delicate mechanism from shaking and jolts, and its purpose as a child's toy almost guaranteed the phonograph for dolls would not get the delicate care it required.