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Antique Dictating Machines

Antique Dictating Machines


1890

Thomas A. Edison invented the Phonograph, a machine that could record and reproduce the human voice using a tinfoil 1878_Edison_and_Phonograph_Mathew_Brady_OM.JPG (43250 bytes)covered cylinder, in 1877.  (See photograph to left.)  The 1878 photograph to the right Edison_Tinfoil_Phonograph.jpg (22135 bytes) shows  Edison with a phonograph.  In 1878, Edison listed ten uses for the phonograph.  At the top of the list was "Letter writing and all kinds of dictation without the aid of a stenographer."  At the same time, he began to sell phonographs intended for use in offices.  However, the machines did not work well, sales were limited, and the machines did not have a significant effect on office work. It was reported that "Several hundred of the machines were put upon the market, and quite a number were sold, but the Phonograph failed to make a success, for the reason that the machine was not only a clumsy piece of mechanism, frequently getting out of adjustment, but more especially because of the fact that the surface upon which the record was made was pliable, and likely to be obliterated by a mere accidental pressure upon it." (Harper's Weekly, July 1, 1886. For illustrations of the phonograph see Harper's Weekly, Mar. 30, 1878.)  A later account stated that the defects of Edison's first phonograph "consisted chiefly in a want of distinctness in the articulation of the reproduced sounds.  This defect was so great that it was almost impossible to understand the reproduction unless the original sounds had been heard by the listener.  Some consonants, too, were much less perfectly recorded than others.  These imperfections were due to the intractable nature of the tin-foil used for receiving the indentations, and to the fact that the same diaphragm was employed both for receiving and reproducing the sounds.  Moreover, the great delicacy of adjustment needed made its results very unsatisfactory, except in the hands of an expert manipulator." (The American Catholic Quarterly Review, Jan. 1889)  By 1879, Edison turned his attention to the electric light bulb. Later Edison stated, "I finished the first phonograph more than ten years ago.  It remained more or less of a toy.  The germ of something wonderful was perfectly distinct, but I tried the impossible with it, and when the electric light business assumed commercial importance, I threw everything overboard for that." (Scientific American, Oct. 27, 1887)

Alexander Graham Bell, his cousin Chichester A. Bell, and Charles Sumner Tainter developed the first practical machine for recording and reproducing speech. Their Graphophone used wax cylinders. Their first Graphophone was made in 1885 and 1888_Electrical_World_6_OM.JPG (39987 bytes)patented and illustrated in Harper's Weekly in 1886. In 1886, Tainter designed a dictating machine, which was mounted on a sewing machine table with a foot treadle to supply power. The commercial Graphophone, which is illustrated to the right, went into production in the fall of 1887. In 1888, Tainter wrote that "Graphophones are used in Washington in both houses of Congress for work in connection with reporting the proceedings, and also by members for the dictation of their correspondence, etc. Many of the leading stenographers and lawyers of Washington are also using the machines." (Electrical World, July 14, 1888) At the Du Pont black powder manufacturing company, Francis G. du Pont bought a Graphophone dictating machine in 1890. (JoAnne Yates, Control through Communication, 1989, p. 211)

After seeing a Graphophone dictating machine, Edison developed a similar machine, which was introduced to the market in 1888. (For illustrations, see Harper's Weekly, June 9, 1888.) Notwithstanding the glowing statement by Tainter that is quoted above, neither Graphophones nor Edison Phonographs sold well for office use in the late 1880s or early 1890s. A cylinder held only a few minutes of recording, and the machines were expensive. In 1894-95, the Edison Class M was $225 and the Graphophone Type K was $150. However, in 1895, the Graphophone Type N was introduced at $40.  In 1897, the Columbia Phonograph Co. advertised the Universal Graphophone for office use. This machine was used both to record dictation and to play it back for transcription. It was $50 with a wind-up motor that ran for an hour on one winding or a D.C. motor that ran off a battery, and $60 with a 110-volt A.C. motor. A machine for shaving cylinders so they could be reused was $25.

1898_Graphophone_ad_1.jpg (86484 bytes)   1898_Graphophone_ad_2.jpg (77018 bytes) 
Graphophones, 1898 ad

Edison introduced a new Business Phonograph in 1904.  The Edison Business Phonograph was advertised during 1904-12.  Commercial Graphophone dictating machines were advertised in business magazines during 1904-07.  A 1906 ad claimed that the Westinghouse Co., the Larkin Co., and Sears, Roebuck each used "more than several hundred machines."  Another 1906 ad claimed that Westinghouse used about 250 Commercial Graphophone machines in its Pittsburgh offices.  Around 1907 (in any case by 1908), Graphophone dictating machines began to use the Dictaphone trademark. 

1905_Dictating_to_the_Commercial_Graphophone.jpg (200500 bytes) 1905_Transcribing_from_the_Commercial_Graphophone.jpg (172240 bytes)
Commercial Graphophones, 1905

Stenographer with typewriter and transcribing machine.jpg (29738 bytes)
Stenographer transcribing using wood-cased dictating machine and upstrike typewriter

Photographs of early office interiors and business school classrooms suggest that office use of Graphophones and Phonographs was very limited until around 1906 but then increased rapidly.  The earliest 1906_Columbia_Business_Graphophone_Columbia_Phonograph_Co_NYC_built_into_desk_2.JPG (87596 bytes) photographs we have seen of dictating equipment in use in offices were taken at Frank Lloyd Wright's Larkin Building,  which was completed in 1904 for the Larkin mail-order company in Buffalo, NY. The photographs, which are in Jack Quinan, Frank Lloyd Wright's Larkin (1987), show numerous Graphophone machines. The fact that the machines were built into custom-designed desks suggests that the machines were installed in 1904, and clothing and hair styles suggest that the photographs were taken soon after the building opened.  A similar built-in Columbia Business Graphophone system from the Columbia Phonograph Co. is pictured in the 1906 ad to the right.

The next earliest photograph that we have seen of dictating equipment in use in an office is the 1906 image to the left, which shows a large number of  transcribing machines in the Stenographic Department at Sears, Roebuck, Man_with_Dictating_Machine_OM.jpg (28347 bytes)another mail-order company. 

For additional photographs taken during 1906-09 that show office interiors with dictating machines, click on the photo to the right and here



No business college catalog that we have seen from the 1890s refers to or illustrates dictating Transcription_Class_vvv.JPG (120345 bytes)equipment.  The c. 1906 photograph to the right shows students at Pawtucket Business College, Pawtucket, RI,  learning to transcribe dictation being reproduced by a transcribing machine. (For our exhibit with additional photographs of early business college classrooms with dictating equipment, click here.)



1894_Phonograph_with_multiple_earphones.jpg (55689 bytes)The preceding classroom photograph shows that a number of stenography students, each with a set of earphones, could listen simultaneously to a single transcribing machine.  The 1894 photo to the right provides a closer view of a phonograph (not a dictating machine) with multiple earphones.  

Still, Frank C. Spalding, Stenographer's Business Practice, 1907, which "furnishes advanced office practice for stenographers," does not even mention dictating equipment. 

Yates reports that "By 1911 a government study found that many large companies, such as the Pennsylvania Railroad, were using dictating machines in conjunction with typewriters to eliminate or reduce the more expensive use of stenographers. In fact, the study reported, in the Pennsylvania Railroad's correspondence department, 'the installation of these machines enabled the typewriters [i.e., typists] to produce from 60 to 80 letters per day, whereas under the old system the average output of each typewriter was only 30 to 40 letters daily.'" (JoAnne Yates, Control through Communication, 1989, p. 45)  The 1911 catalog of Wilson's Modern Business College in Seattle, WA, says that students are trained to use the Edison Business Phonograph, and the 1913 catalog of the American Business College in Minneapolis, MN, includes a photograph of an Edison dictating machine and indicates that students receive "Dictaphone Practice."

1911_Office_with_Edison_Business_Phonograph.jpg (46882 bytes)Until 1911, the cases of Graphophone (aside from those that were built into desktops) and Edison machines were brown wooden boxes similar to those used on domestic phonographs. (Photograph to right shows a 1911 Edison Business Phonograph.)  These boxes held motors. Beginning in 1912, advertisements for the Edison Dictating Machine and Dictaphone show that the wooden boxes had been replaced by black metal ones.

In 1913, the Parlograph, which was made by Carl Linström AG in Berlin, Germany, was advertised in France, and the Roneo Co. introduced the Roneophone dictating machine in the UK and France.  In 1916, the American Parlograph Corp. advertised a Parlograph dictating machine. The Parlograph recorded on cylinders while the Roneophone recorded on disks.

  1913_Parlograph.jpg (85894 bytes)  Parlograph_wood_case_sold_in_France_OM.JPG (38601 bytes)  Parlograph_sold_in_Germany_OM.jpg (16218 bytes)  1912_Parlograph_II_Carl_Lindstrom_Berlin_3.jpg (110131 bytes)  1913_Roneophone.jpg (46890 bytes)   
The Parlograph image to the far left appeared in Le Bureau Moderne in 1913.
The Parlograph left of center was sold in France.
The Parlographs in the center and  right of center were sold in Germany.
The Roneophone to the far right appeared in Le Bureau Moderne in 1913.

Orbaphon_dictating_machine_Germany_OM.JPG (102567 bytes)   Stenophon_Rysick__Co_Dresden_Germany.jpg (90962 bytes)
Left:  Orbaphon, George Kromm, Stuttgart, Germany
Right:  Stenophon, Rysick & Co., Dresden, Germany

Edison machines began to use the Ediphone trademark at the end of 1917. 

Late nineteenth century and (at least in the case of Edison products) early 20th century dictating machines consisted of a single unit that was used both to record and to reproduce speech. By 1920, however, the following description applied: "The complete dictating machine equipment involves four units: first, the dictating machine which receives the message from the dictator and inscribes it on a cylinder; second, the wax cylinders on which the messages are recorded; third, the transcribing machine which reproduces into the ear of the typist the words inscribed on the cylinders by the dictating machine; and finally, the shaving machine which shaves or scrapes the record of former dictation from the wax cylinders and gives them a smooth surface so that they can be used again." (W. J. Graham, Cost Accounting and Office Equipment, American Technical Society, 1929, p. 209) In the 1920s, each cylinder held approximately 1,000-1,200 words and could be reused up to 100-130 times.

In 1924, the Dictaphone Model 7 dictating machine was $190. The Model 7 transcribing machine was $175. The addition of a stand to either machine increased the price by $5. The shaving machine was $85. Wax cylinders were $.60 each. Ediphone units had approximately the same prices. (The American Digest of Business Machines, 1924)

Dictating Machines

The dictating machine's "principal parts are as follows: an electrically operated revolving mandrel to hold the wax cylinder; the recording device, which is a needle in a diaphragm; the tube and the glass mouthpiece; the control devices by which the dictator can start or stop the rotation of the cylinder, or place the needle in a recording position; the motor and the mechanism which serves to operate the cylinder." (Graham, 1929)

Click on Image to Enlarge
Edison Dictating Machines
Edison Class E Electric Phonograph
1888

Edison National Historic Site 29110027
1888_Edison_Phonograph_Class_E_Electric_EHS_29110027.jpg (41804 bytes)
Edison Perfected Phonograph
1889

Edison National Historic Site 29110040

1889_Edison_Perfected_Phonograph_EHS29110040.jpg (38018 bytes)
Edison Class M Electric Phonograph
1890

Edison National Historic Site 29110029
1890_Edison_Phonograph_Class_M_Electric_EHS29110029.jpg (37745 bytes)
Edison Phonograph
1905

Photograph shows a demonstration of an Edison Phonograph being used 
with an Oliver Typewriter. Edison National Historic Site 29320047

1905_Demonstration_of_Edison_Phonograph_EHS29320047.jpg (45989 bytes)
Edison Business Phonograph
Patented 1900-1907
Edison Business Phonograph Co.
Orange, NJ
The machine was equipped both to record and to play back. The photograph to
the right shows separate fittings, labeled "Speak Here" and "Listen Here," for the recording and listening attachments.
1900_1907_Edison_Business_Phonograph_OM.JPG (40747 bytes)
Edison Business Phonograph
Edison Business Phonograph Co.
Orange, NJ
Source: Edison National Historic Site 14645001
Edison_Holding_Record_with_Edison_Business_Phonograph_EHS_14645001.jpg (41975 bytes)
Edison Business Phonograph
1907
Edison Business Phonograph Co.
Orange, NJ
Source: Edison National Historic Site
Edison Business Phonograph
1908
Edison Business Phonograph Co.
Orange, NJ
Source: Edison National Historic Site 29310004 (Photo c. 1940)
1908_Edison_Business_Phonograph_photo_c_1940_EHS_29310004.jpg (59491 bytes)
Le Dictograph Edison
Advertised 1912
Edison Business Phonograph
Paris, France
1912_Edison_Business_Phonograph_adx2.JPG (105480 bytes)
Edison with Steel Cabinet Dictating Machine Edison_and_Dictating_Machine.jpg (141052 bytes)
Edison Dictating Machine
Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Orange, NJ
Source: Edison National Historic Site 29320479
Ediphone_Publicity_Shot_EHS_29320479.jpg (52984 bytes)
Edison Dictating Machine, Model E
Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Orange, NJ
1910_Edison_Dictating_Machine_Model_E_01.jpg (37735 bytes)
1910 patent
Correspondence Department with Edison Dictating Machines
Men left and front center are dictating.  
Woman with typewriter at right has a headset and is transcribing.
Correspondence_Dept_with_Edison_Dictating_Machines.jpg (259845 bytes)
Edison Dictating Machine with Auto Dictation Index
Advertised 1912
Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Orange, NJ
This image shows a machine with an Edison Auto Dictation Index.  Its purpose is described immediately below.

Courtesy of the Museum of Business History and Technology (MBHT)
MBHT_1912_Edison_Dictating_Machine_p._2.JPG (85474 bytes)
Edison Dictating Machine with Auto Dictation Index
Advertised 1913
Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Orange, NJ
This image shows a machine with an Edison Auto Dictation Index.  A paper and pencil are used to identify where different pieces of dictation begin and end on the cylinder, and to provide instructions to the transcriber regarding what is to be done with each piece.

Courtesy of the Museum of Business History and Technology (MBHT)
MBHT_1913_Edison_Dictating_Machine.JPG (142851 bytes)
Ediphone Dictating Machine
Patented 1909-1921
Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Orange, NJ

Ediphone_Brochure_OM.JPG (67639 bytes)
1909_1921_Ediphone_TAEdison_Inc_Orange_NJ_OM_1.JPG (27478 bytes)
Electrip Ediphone Dictating Machine
1923
Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Orange, NJ

Source: Edison National Historic Site 14645015
Electrip_Ediphone_ad_EHS_14645015.jpg (37846 bytes)
Edison Voicewriter Dictating Machine
1926
Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Orange, NJ
1926_Ediphone_Voicewriter_TA_Edison_Inc_Orange_NJ_1_OM.JPG (64861 bytes)
1926_Ediphone_Voicewriter_TA_Edison_Inc_Orange_NJ_2_OM.JPG (53355 bytes)
Ediphone Dictating Machine
Patented 1920-27
Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Orange, NJ
1921_1927_Ediphone_OM.jpg (17909 bytes)
Dictaphone Corporation Dictating Machines
Commercial Graphophone Dictating Machine
1906 advertisement
Columbia Phonograph Co.
New York, NY
Courtesy of the Museum of Business History and Technology (MBHT)
MBHT_1906_Graphophone_adv.jpg (237341 bytes)
Dictaphone Dictating Machine
Patented 1890-1907
Columbia Phonograph Co. Gen'l
New York, NY
Speaker presumably was retrofitted so this could serve as a phonograph.
1890_1907_Dictaphone_a.jpg (56968 bytes)
Dictaphone Dictating Machine, Model 7 Type A
Columbia Phonograph Co.
New York, NY

Advertised 1914
Dictaphone Corp.
New York, NY
Dictaphone_Model_7_Type_A_COLUMBIA_GRAPHOPHONE_CO_NY_NY.jpg (64508 bytes)
Dictaphone_Type_A_Model_7_a.jpg (20947 bytes)
Dictaphone Dictating Machines (left and center) 
and Transcribing Machine, Model 6
1911
Dictaphone Corp.
New York, NY
Source: Edison National Historic Site 29001006
1911_Dictaphone_ad_EHS_29001006.jpg (44244 bytes)
Dictaphone Corp. Office with 16 Dictaphone Model 6 Transcription Machines
Brockton, MA
The transcription machines in this office are the same model as the machine that appears at the left in the photograph in the preceding row. 
On the second desk on the left sits an American Adder (a.k.a. American Adding Machine No. 5). This model was introduced in 1913.
Dictaphone_Corp_Office_Brockton_MA_OM.jpg (322021 bytes)
Dictaphone Dictating Machine with Sanitube Attachment
1913
Dictaphone Corp.
New York, NY
Source: Edison National Historic Site 29150010
1913_Dictaphone_EHS_29150010.jpg (34745 bytes)
Dictaphone Dictating Machine
Advertised 1918
Dictaphone Corp.
New York, NY
1918_Dictaphone_adx__OM.JPG (101426 bytes)
1918 ad
Dictaphone Dictating Machine

Dictaphone Corp.
New York, NY
1920s_Dictaphone_OM.JPG (33914 bytes)
Dictaphone Dictating Machine, Model 10 Type A
Some Model 10-A machines have patent dates 1894-1910, others 1911-23
Dictaphone Corp.
New York, NY
Dictaphone_Model_10_Type_A_1.jpg (131266 bytes)
New Model Dictaphone Dictating Machine
1925 Advertisement
The Dictaphone Co. Ltd.
London, England
Courtesy of the Museum of Business History and Technology (MBHT)
MBHT_1925_Dictaphone_adv.jpg (165773 bytes)
Man Using Dictaphone Dictating Machine Man_using_Dictaphone_OM.jpg (20493 bytes)

Man in Office with Dictaphone Dictating Machine

Courtesy of Tom Cameron
Man_with_dictaphone_detail_courtesy_Tom_Cameron.JPG (102623 bytes)
Arthur E. Blackstone using Dictaphone Machines in His Office and Car
Office photos 1941
Car photo may be mid-late 1930s

Mr. Blackstone was Chicago District Manager, Dictaphone Corporation, Chicago, IL.

Photographs of Arthur E. Blackstone courtesy of his daughter, Ann Sanfedele (Barbara Ann Blackstone), who holds copyright. 
Ann is a published photographer whose own work can be viewed on her website.

aeblackstonedictaphone1941.jpg (110654 bytes)
aeblackstonedictapphone1.jpg (91320 bytes)
aeblackstonedictaphonecar.jpg (84021 bytes)

Transcribing Machines

A 1912 advertisement for Edison dictating machines stated that "Each machine is accompanied by all the accessories necessary to make it complete for either dictating or transcribing." In the 1920s, however, Edison offered separate transcribing machines.

Regarding later transcription machines:  "The revolving mandrel holds the cylinder, and the needle of the reproducing device traces the etchings on the cylinder to reproduce the message. A tube and receiver carry the message to the ear of the typist. By either a foot or hand control the typist is able to have all or any part of the message repeated. Also, the speed of rotation can be controlled by the operator." (Graham, 1929)

 .
Dictaphone Machine with Transcription Attachments
Patented 1890-1907
Columbia Phonograph Co. 
New York, NY
1890_1907_Dictaphone_transcription_OM.jpg (33126 bytes)
Dictaphone Transcribing Machine

Dictaphone Corp.
New York, NY
Dictaphone_transcription_machine.jpg (64665 bytes)
Ediphone Transcribing Machine
1930s
Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Orange, NJ
Ediphone_transcription_OM.jpg (31111 bytes)

Shaving Machines

"When the typist has finished transcribing a message, she removes the cylinder from the transcribing machine and places it in a rack to be delivered to the shaving department. There the cylinder is placed on the shaving machine, and all traces of the message are removed. In principle, the shaving machine is similar to the ordinary lathe. The wax cylinder is placed on the revolving mandrel and as it revolves a [sapphire disc] cutting knife is held against the cylinder and cuts or shaves a very thin layer from its outer surface. The layer removed is so thin that one cylinder may be used as many as one hundred times." (Graham, 1929)

 .
Edison Shaving Machine
Patented 1905

The wood case is modern.
1905_Edison_Shaving_Machine_box_must_be_repro_2.jpg (56193 bytes)
Edison Business Phonograph Wood Cabinet Hand Shaving Machine
Advertised 1911-12
Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Orange, NJ
Courtesy of the Museum of Business History and Technology (MBHT)
MBHT_1912_Edison_Hand_Shaving_Machine_p._3.JPG (170829 bytes)
Edison Steel Electric Shaving Machine (bottom)
Advertised 1912
Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Orange, NJ
The mechanisms in the hand and electric shaving machines were the same.
Courtesy of the Museum of Business History and Technology (MBHT)
MBHT_1912_Edison_Steel_Electric_Shaving_Machine_p._3.JPG (96758 bytes)
Dictaphone Shaving Machine, Model 7
c. 1922
Dictaphone Corp.
New York, NY
Dictaphone_cylinder_shaver_c._1920s_OM.JPG (15997 bytes)
Dictaphone Shaving Machine, Model 10 Type S
Dictaphone Corp.
New York, NY
Dictaphone_Model_10_S_shaving_machine.jpg (126658 bytes)
 

 

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