Thomas Edison’s Creepy Dolls Make a Return

Thomas Edison

In 1890, Thomas Edison’s dolls were considered to be so creepy, and terrified children so much, that they had to be recalled. After all of this time, people are now able to listen to the voices of the dolls that Edison made back then. The Daily Mail said that the dolls have a system that makes the voices too delicate to play ordinarily. Modern-day scientists have found a means to replicate the technology using the Irene system, which is also known as Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise.

These infamous talking dolls failed miserably back in 1890 and were only in production for six weeks, but they continue to be historically significant. Although upon their release, the dolls became known for breaking easily, they were certainly unique and the first of their kind, according to the Washington Post. Edison’s creations are now collectors’ items and some of the recordings from them were recently extracted and placed online. There are now eight audio files available online for people to listen to if they wish.

The Post stated that back in 1984, a man entered a museum with one of Edison’s talking dolls. The museum curator, named Edward Pershey, said, according to The Post, that the doll was in excellent condition and it still talked. The doll was in its original box and had with it the original directions. The man offered to play the doll for Pershey so that he could hear it talk. Pershey then ran to his office to grab a cassette tape recorder. The recorder was set up in front of the doll. The man cranked the doll up and it uttered the first lines of Little Jack Horner, an old nursery rhyme. Thomas Edison

Robin and Joan Rolfs own two dolls that were created by Edison’s company. The two had long been collectors of Edison’s phonographs and were afraid to turn the back cranks for fear the dolls could be damaged. For many years, the dolls remained on display, seemingly never to be heard again.

The New York Times reported that these were the first records ever made for entertainment, and that the children who were used for the voices of the dolls were considered to be the first-ever recording artists. The Rolfses continuously asked experts to examine the dolls to see if there was a delicate way to play them, but unfortunately were unsuccessful. Finally, a laboratory developed a way to play these recordings without actually putting hands on them. The fear had always been that the fragile records could be damaged by touching them, and this new system offered an alternative to that.

This method involves a microscope that creates images of the grooves inside the doll very accurately. A computer determines the sounds which the needle created while making its way through those grooves. The year 2014 brought this technology outside of the laboratory and with it, the ability to safely play these recordings. Historical Park posted online just last month Edison doll recordings that no one has ever heard before. Two of these recordings came straight from the Rolfs’ collection. The New York Times added that hopefully there are more out there that can be digitized. This will allow Edison’s dolls, considered to be creepy by many, to make a return of some kind.

The Daily Mail stated that historians believe Edison may have hired people to make the recordings as many as two years before their official release. Edison had hoped that the dolls would be successful, but they ended up a huge failure. His goal had been to mass-produce them, but the technology of the time made this virtually impossible. The Daily Mail said that in order for Edison to make one hundred dolls, he would have had to get the different artists to record the nursery rhyme one hundred times or more.

The Rolfs’ dolls may be back in their cabinets at home, but their voices will go on, thanks to modern-day technology. They have made it possible for Edison’s dolls, thought to be creepy by many consumers of the day, to make a return in some capacity. With the recordings being made available to the public, the dolls will have a permanent voice.

By Heather Granruth

Sources:
The NY Times
The Washington Post
The Daily Mail

Photo By F Delventhal- Creativecommons Flickr License
Photo By Jason- Creativecommons Flickr License

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