Rare talking doll created by Thomas Edison in 1890. New Jersey’s Thomas Edison’s National Historical Park was excited that modern technology could finally uncover the recordings inside of rare, 19th century dolls created by Thomas Edison. (via Joan & Robin Rolfs)

Creepy, for Halloween. The Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey was over the moon this month when a government laboratory was able to uncover voice recordings from over 120 years ago. Thomas Edison is obviously one of the most well known inventors, but he didn’t get that title by creating a ton of home runs. Nope. He did the way all of the greats create awesomeness: by creating an equal measure of failures. I like to call it the Woody Allen method of creativity: keep creating a movie every year and at least one of them will be good. Stephen King is also exceptional at using this method. Let’s face it, he isn’t knocking every book out of the ball park either.


Well, Thomas Edison thought he’d try his hand at talking dolls in 1890 when he released his first series of dolls that could talk due to a wax cylinder contained within its body. The body of the doll is like a little phonograph that can play the cylinder as you turn the crank on the back of the doll. One of these rare dolls is shown above. Yes, it’s creepy, but what doll isn’t?

These dolls were not exactly Thomas Edison’s equivalent to Midnight in Paris. They were a major flop and caused Edison to discontinue them after only six weeks because the voices were terrifying children. 


Two of these exceptionally rare dolls were a part of Robin and Joan Rolfs collection for many years but they were unable to crank the phonograph to hear the recordings for fear of irreparably damaging the wax cylinders. Hence, they need the use of modern technology to uncover the voices from the past.


Researchers from a government laboratory were able to map the groves on the wax cylinder and create an emulator to virtually playback the contents of the wax recordings. What they uncovered sounds quite distorted and a bit creepy. They are essentially a large number of nursery rhymes that sound like they are being read by a 127 year old woman who could turn into dust at any moment. Then, that dust would haunt your dreams, eternally recounting nursery rhymes from 1890.


Actually, I didn’t find the recording particularly creepy. They were more so almost incomprehensible at points and have moments of high pitched screeching. The nursery rhymes in the recording include classics like “Hickory Dickory Dock,” and “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.” Actually, if you really listen to the words of many nursery rhymes, you may find that they are exceptionally creepy. Hence, I think the combination of the quality of the recordings and the nursery rhymes themselves is what may be spooky.


Nonetheless, the recordings are a dream realized for the Thomas Edison Historical Park and they have released the recordings on Youtube for you to listen to (at your own risk). The dolls are quite culturally important as well, I think. Socially, it’s interesting that I have all of these nursery rhymes memorized from childhood, and so has every generation for over a century. You can listen to these early recordings below...



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