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Wednesday 31 October 2012

Wired for Typing: Talking Machines and Typewriters

Speak to Us, O Great Typewriter Upon the Desk!
Share With Us Your Infinite Wisdom ...
Agnes Aitkin is actually using a Dictaphone, a rival apparatus to the Ediphone, in this demonstration of a "new control system" for dictation at the National Business Show at the Hotel Stevens in Chicago on November 13, 1930. Schoolgirls listen in as Miss Aitkin shows how she uses her feet to take dictation on her typewriter. By means of the pedals she starts, stops and backspaces the Dictaphone. The caption says Miss Aitkin can also control the voice of the "dictator" using the same principle as radio tuning. If it is harsh or gruff she can soften "her master's voice". "She also can cut off his dictation when she has enough."
Thomas Edison with a Sholes & Glidden typewriter, March 19, 1921 
Once Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) had developed the "talking machine" in 1887, the race was on to make use of it as a means of dictation - particularly by secretaries and stenographers. Edison had made it clear from the beginning, 10 years earlier, that he saw the No 1 use of his phonograph as being in relation to dictation:
Excerpt from background information in a patent application
Alexander Graham Bell was one early competitor, and Columbia Records (North American Phonograph Company) and the Victor Talking Machine Company also emerged to avail of the technology.  Bell's Volta Graphophone Company merged with the American Graphophone Company and evolved into Columbia Records. The Dictaphone was trademarked by the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1907. 
Edison's Ediphone reached the market at about the same time.
Another patent application background excerpt
Edison developed a "listening tube" at about the same time as his "talking machine" in the late 1880s, and he and, independently, Nathaniel Baldwin, of Heber, Utah, worked on "talking telephones" and headphones in the early part of the 20th century.
All of which brings us to the proliferation of dictation machines and headphones being used in connection with typewriters in typing pools and offices throughout the world in the 1920s and 30s. These images tell the story:
The "perfected version" of Edison's phonograph in use, circa 1888.
A young Edison and his phonograph
The Ediphone
The Dictaphone
"Did I really say that?"
Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan
Surgeon: "I must save the typewriter!"
Pope: "Let me talk to God about it ..."


Richard P said...

This is a very interesting set of photos.

I myself find it easier to express myself in writing than orally, at least when it comes to composing a formal letter. The bosses of old seemed to be able to rattle off business correspondence verbally, though.

Scott K said...

Great finds with the photos.

I have a collection of wax cylinders, and I have to say - have found these photos fascinating. I don't think we've kept enough of our heritage when it comes to things like these, and I often wonder who has some of these cylinders now, of voices that are long gone - and what they had to say.

L Casey said...

I always love seeing the Ediphone or Dictaphone when out and about at flea markets and antique stores. These are some great photos, and the captions you added cracked me up.

"Let me talk to god about it..."


Stefan said...

I am in the late stages of editing a collection of essays on American literature and media, and urgently require an image of a woman typing from a dictaphone/graphophone, that is not under copyright restriction. I'm having difficulty locating one thus far, but I suspect that some of the images on your site will be in the public domain. Could you please let me know the sources for the following images, or, if not, could you please direct me to a similar image that is not restricted for commercial reproduction? I would greatly appreciate it!

In any case, I was also wondering when you'd next be exhibiting some of your collection, and where? Apologies for the long comment!

Robert Messenger said...

You will need to contact me by email.
The typewriters are being exhibited now, in Canberra.

Don Lampert said...

I finally, in the last few weeks, have acquired both a Dictaphone Model 10X transcribing machine, and a 1925 era Ediphone, and Edison Shaver machine. Now I can record, playback, and erase the wax cylinders, as I type away..... what fun!
Thanks for the great post, and pictures.