Thomas Edison’s repellent high-tech dolls

I came across an article in the HuffPost about talking dolls marketed by the inventor Thomas Edison in the 1890s (there is an abridged French version of it in the Huffington Post). His idea was to insert a miniature phonograph cylinder inside their body. This represented a technological breakthrough, which was commented in journals like Scientific American. But this was their only quality. I reproduce from the HuffPost the photograph of one such doll, she is really ugly:

Edison Talking Doll - from HuffPost Weird News

Edison Talking Doll – from HuffPost Weird News

Her huge forehead evokes hydrocephalus, or Doctor Frankenstein’s monster impersonated by Boris Karloff. Her eyes look dumb. Her hands open out like claws.

The phonograph cylinders do not function anymore now, but their sound has been recovered thanks to another feat of technology. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory made a 3D scan of the cylinders, from which their recordings could be extracted. One can listen to them here. A hoarse voice croaks (rather than “sings”) a song amid a hissing background noise.

The HuffPost adds that the doll costed US$10 undressed, and between $12 and $20 fully clothed, which was quite expensive, the equivalent of between US$267 and $534 today. Production lasted only one month, with only 2500 sales.

Clearly Edison’s mind was dominated by the search for technological novelty, and he had forgotten a simple thing: dolls are made to be loved, they should have a beautiful smiling face, gentle hands and a sweet voice.

See my lovely dolls on Pigtails in Paint. They do not sing, but they have bright eyes and a beautiful smile.


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