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History of Automation: February 19 1878 – Thomas Edison Patents the Phonograph and Leads Innovation in Recorded Data

On this day in 1878, Thomas Edison patented the Phonograph, a device that designed to record and reproduce audio recordings. The phonograph utilized audio recorded by recreating audio vibrations in corresponding physical deviations of a spiral groove engraved, etched, incised, or impressed into the surface of a rotating cylinder or disc. The earliest versions of the phonograph used embossed tin or wax cylinders, but later development led to etched discs that became the vinyl “records” still in use today.

There were a few earlier versions of devices that could record data, but Edison’s was the first to successfully reproduce sound. His earliest version, which was rotated by hand, was able to reproduce a recitation of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”


The Phonograph proved an interesting turning point in how data could be stored and recorded. By replicating soundwaves in physical format, Edison proved that it was possible to create and store more than visual information for later reproduction. His work opened up the field of data storage in a way that has very real implications today.

Industrial control systems must record far more than small pieces of audio, but with the storage capabilities of cloud computing, Big Data is possible in a way that it might not have been without innovations in data storage and recovery. So on this day in history, we give our thanks to Thomas Edison and his revolutionary phonograph.

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