Voices of the past revealed inside old dolls


Edison alongside an early phonograph in 1877.
Early voice recordings from the 1880s have finally been played thanks to a new technique using computers.

The dolls were part of a line manufactured by Thomas Edison’s phonograph company at the end of the 19th century and each contained a special wax cylinder that could be played using a phonograph needle by turning a crank on its back.

Two of these rare dolls had been in the care of collectors Robin and Joan Rolfs for many years, but because using the needle to play them would have almost certainly damaged or even destroyed the cylinder it hadn’t been possible to listen to what was on them.

Now however researchers at a government laboratory have developed a new technique that involves building up a map of the grooves on the cylinder and using software to simulate playback.

“The fear all along is that we don’t want to damage these records,” said Thomas Edison Historical Park curator Jerry Fabris. “Now we have the technology to play them safely.”

The recordings, which were made over 120 years ago, turned out to be children’s nursery rhymes.

“We are now hearing sounds from history that I did not expect to hear in my lifetime,” said Fabris.