Sound started in the seventies.
A twelve-year-old Meyerland boy sent a letter to the Thomas Alva Edison National Historic Site in West Orange, New Jersey, asking that the original cylinder phonograph be sent to him. He knew no one else would want it.
Meyerland is a subdivision of Houston.
In eighteen seventy-eight, Edison wrote: "The general principles of construction are, a flat plate or disk, with spiral groove on the face, operated by clock-work underneath the plate; the grooves are cut very closely together, so as to give a great total length to each inch of surface. . . . A sheet of foil is placed in the phonograph, the clock-work set in motion, and the matter dictated into the mouth-piece."
The boy was sent a polite response and an olive-green fold-out brochure. Later he hid way down inside himself at the top of the stairs to listen to people outside him and write down what they said. One transcription was found on the back of a manila envelope with a postal meter cancellation date of June 8, 1975, and the return address of Beth Yeshurun Schools, 4525 Beechnut, Houston, Texas:
Some of the transcripts include concise annotations:
Many of the originals include arrows and arcing lines to connect fragments in ways now indecipherable. The identity of speakers is often indicated by initials, and, in some cases, not indicated at all. Some entries show date, time, place, with the tidiness of something cleanly captured. Sometimes there is an odd turn-of-phrase:
After the matter is dictated, the sheet of foil is removed from the phonograph. It is then "placed in a suitable form of envelope and sent through the ordinary channels to the correspondent for whom designed. He, placing it upon his phonograph, starts his clock-work and listens to what his correspondent has to say. Inasmuch as it gives the tone of voice of his correspondent, it is identified. As it may be filed away as other letters, and at any subsequent time reproduced, it is a perfect record."
Some notes become increasingly spotty, as if the transcriber was losing patience, interest, or will. Some provide little or no actual content. One reads in full:
Some of the transcriptions lack punctuation, presumably for speed of reproduction.
Illegibility and ellipses suggest that some of the transcriptions were created in so-called real time. Some fill sheets of college-ruled loose-leaf so densely we assume they are re-creations from just after the fact.
The olive-green fold-out brochure from West Orange says: "Out of West Orange came the motion picture camera, vastly improved phonographs, and both silent and sound movies. Other Edison patents covered electric motors and generators, incandescent and fluorescent lamps, continuous nickel and copper plating, a method of depositing metals in a vacuum, magnetic separation and briquetting of iron ore, processes for making carbolic acid from coal tar, and a nickel-iron alkaline electric storage battery which alone required 50,000 experiments" (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968─346-117/175). Edison wrote that his phonograph had realized "the captivity of all manner of sound-waves heretofore designated as fugitive."
Some transcriptions were started and abandoned but kept with the others: