In 1890, the phonograph company helmed by Thomas Edison began producing talking dolls for children. The product was initially a flop because kids “found them difficult to operate and more scary than cuddly,” according to the New York Times. Look at and listen to the dolls and you’ll see exactly why they were so unwieldy and frightening.

Until recently, the wax cylinder records hidden inside these tiny humanoid metal monsters were considered too fragile to play, especially with their built-in steel phonograph needle. Last year, however, a government laboratory publicly released a technology that allows one to play an old recording without making physical contact with the record itself.

The New York Times reports:

The technique relies on a microscope to create images of the grooves in exquisite detail. A computer approximates — with great accuracy — the sounds that would have been created by a needle moving through those grooves.

In 2014, the technology was made available for the first time outside the laboratory.

“The fear all along is that we don’t want to damage these records. We don’t want to put a stylus on them,” said Jerry Fabris, the curator of the Thomas Edison Historical Park in West Orange, N.J. “Now we have the technology to play them safely.”

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This April, the National Historic Park debuted the recordings that hitherto had remained locked inside Edison’s talking dolls for over 120 years. You can listen to them on the New York Timeswebsite, though—afterward—you might wish that you hadn’t.

“...Sound historians say the cylinders were the first entertainment records ever made, and the young girls hired to recite the rhymes were the world’s first recording artists,” the Times’ Ron Cowen writes. Honestly, though, I’m not convinced that the recordings aren’t just Thomas Edison speaking in a high and incredibly frightening voice.

Image via Getty.


Contact the author at madeleine@jezebel.com.

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