Ramblin' Rhodes: Celebrate Edison, who gave us gift of music recordings

A photo by Matthew Brady shows Thomas A. Edison with his second phonograph in 1878.

It was this week on Feb. 19, 1878, that Thomas Alva Edison was granted patent No. 200,521 for a phonograph.


His early invention 136 years ago used cylinders wrapped with tin foil with the cylinders having a recording capacity of about two to three minutes.

I have no idea whether Edison played a musical instrument or sang privately or publicly, but I do know his invention led to millions of recordings enjoyed by millions of people the world over.

Just two months after his patent was granted for his phonograph, The Chronicle let its readers know a little something about this amazing man.

On April 12, 1878, The Chronicle reported, “THOMAS EDISON is an Ohio man, thirty-one years old. He has patented 157 inventions, the most celebrated being the phonograph. He has now an income of $150,000 per annum but works eighteen hours a day.”

Eleven years later, The Chronicle on Aug. 16, 1889, told of his incredible success and popularity in Europe.

“THOMAS A. EDISON is the hero of the French exposition. No American has attracted so much attention abroad,” The Chronicle reported.

“Edison has been carried to the top of the Eiffel tower, wined with the French savants; [and] has been greeted by the queen of England, who graciously pronounced a few words of compliment into one of his phonographs.

“The wizard of Menlo Park [N.J.] has been recognized as the most expert and practical of modern scientists – a man with a brain and a mission. He is the one person from the United States who people really want to see and out of whom they are not simply trying to make money.”

And who would have guessed that apparently it was Edison’s daughter, Marion, who created the first GPS travel tracking device.

The Chronicle on Nov. 11, 1908, offered this brief tidbit of information: “The 21-year-old daughter of Thomas A. Edison has been granted a patent on a road map on which a movable pointer indicates the position of an automobile to which it is attached. The machine may be lighted by electricity at night.”

I don’t know what became of his daughter’s road map with its movable pointer, but I do know what became of Edison’s phonograph. It led to the 78, 33 and 45 rpm vinyl records and to 8-track and cassette tapes and to CDs and iPhones and iPads.

His device turned thousands and thousands of singers and instrumentalists into recording stars. But we remember and salute Thomas Alva Edison who became a recording star himself 136 years ago this week.


UNHAPPY CALLER: My most recent comments about rude patrons popping up more frequently at local concerts led to a reader leaving me this anonymous voice mail message:
“They act like they are in a bar and not in a theater. They have ruined many a good thing.”


COMING TO NEWBERRY: The Newberry (S.C.) Opera House has a bunch of country acts booked over the next couple of weeks including: Delbert McClinton, 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, $49; Annie Sellick & The Hot Club of Nashville performing guitar and fiddle tunes from the ’30s and ’40s, 3 p.m. Sunday, March 2, $30; Ozark Jubilee featuring Branson, Mo., comedian Doofus Doolittle, 3 and 7 p.m. Monday, March 3, $26; and The Oak Ridge Boys, 3 and 8 p.m., Saturday, March 8, $40. Call (803) 276-6264 or visit newberryoperahouse.com.


MAY SHAPING UP: The month of May is shaping up to be May Music Month with these great offerings: May 1-3, Little Roy & Lizzy Homecoming Bluegrass Music Festival, Elijah Clark State Park, Lincolnton, Ga.; May 4, A Day in the Country music festival, Augusta Riverfront Marina; May 8-10, Jeff & Sheri Easter Homecoming gospel music festival, Lewis Family Homestead, Lincolnton, Ga.; May 9-10, Aiken (S.C.) Bluegrass Festival; May 10, Blind Willie’s Blues Festival, Thomson, Ga.; May 16, Bill Anderson, Newberry (S.C.) Opera House; May 18, Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss & Union Station, James Brown Arena; May 29, Hunter Hayes, James Brown Arena.


Hear some of Thomas A. Edison’s early recordings including the inventor himself in 1888 on his cylinder phonograph online at www.nps.gov/edis/photosmultimedia/very-early-recorded-sound.htm.