Patrick Feaster, a sound historian at Indiana University, recreated an ~1889 Emile Berliner gramophone recording using a photograph of the album. Feaster found the photo of the album by chance, in a German magazine from 1890 stored at Bloomington’s Herman B Wells Library: “I was looking for a picture of the oldest known recording studio, to illustrate a discussion I was giving on my work with Thomas Edison’s recordings. I pulled it off the shelf and, while I had it open, I looked at the index and saw there was an article on the gramophone. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a bonus’. So I flipped through and, lo and behold, there’s a paper print of the actual recording.”
Historians have found that the microscopic grooves on a bent metal ring, which was found in Thomas Edison’s laboratory, make up the tune of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ and mark the world’s first attempt at a talking doll and the dawn of America’s recording industry. Using advanced imaging technology they have recovered a 12 second sound recording of woman reciting a verse of the children’s song. They believe the tin ring was intended to be the key component of one of Thomas Edison’s talking dolls.
Historians think Edison hired the woman to make the recording less than two years before he unsuccessfully put the first talking doll on the market. ‘Based on the date of fall 1888, it is the oldest American-made recording of a woman’s voice that we can listen to today,’ said Patrick Feaster, a historian at Indiana University in Bloomington. Mr Feaster pored over historical documents and 19th-century newspaper reports to piece together the story behind the recording.
Edison hoped to mass-produce the toys, but the era’s rudimentary technology meant that to make 100 dolls, Edison would have to get artists to recite the lullaby 100 times. ‘They must have been hired and paid to do this,’ Mr Feaster said. ‘These were presumably the first professional recording artists.’ The small piece of ring-shaped tin bearing the woman’s voice never made it into a doll because wax records replaced metal ones by 1890, when Edison started selling his first talking dolls. Those fragile and easily broken toys were a market flop.