10 New Uses for Old Inventions

In a way, we have Alexander Graham Bell to thank for the birth of the phonograph.
In a way, we have Alexander Graham Bell to thank for the birth of the phonograph.
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Beyonce and Lady Gaga probably don't worry about it much, but their careers almost never existed because records, record players and the music industry almost didn't exist. Here's the story: After Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876, he marketed his invention to businesses. Savvy executives saw the potential of the device as a way to make correspondence more efficient, and phones began appearing in offices and warehouses across the country. There was just one catch -- they didn't have a way to record their conversations.

Enter Thomas Edison, who devised a way to make recordings by allowing sound waves to vibrate a stylus, which in turn etched a groove into tinfoil wrapped around a rotating cylinder. To play back the recording, he passed a needle over the grooves and transmitted the waves through a speaker. Edison quickly packaged his invention into a product -- a telephone message recorder -- that could be sold to commercial operations. Unfortunately, the sound quality was poor, the machines were finicky and businesses lost interest.

The device might have died a slow death if it weren't for other inventors who stepped up to make improvements to Edison's technology. One of these innovators was Emil Berliner, who, in 1887, developed a process to trace sound grooves in a circular pattern on a flat disc rather than on a cylinder. When a negative was made from the flat master disc, it could serve as a mold for making many copies of the original master disc. These "records" could be played on a machine Berliner named a Gramophone, the progenitor of the entire modern music industry.

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