First It Said "Mary"

At this season of the year in 1877 a group of inventors and mechanics in a laboratory in New Jersey were in the midst of one of the most astonishing experiences in the history of man. They had before them a little machine, handmade for something less than $18, that could talk. It did not say much, its first word having been, as the world knows, Mary, followed by had a little lamb. Moreover it could do little else but talk, which makes it by modern standards a poor thing. But at that time and to those men, who had been listening to the machine since August and in November were still overwhelmed with awe, it was something in which the hand of God was clearly discernible. Thomas Edison, who had thought of it, called it a speaking phonograph. Just now his invention is old enough to have a diamond anniversary. Unlike almost all other great inventions, the phonograph had no antecedents. The idea simply evolved from scratch in Edison's great brain over a period of time. When Edison's thinking about his idea crystallized, he made a pen-and-ink sketch of it, scribbled make this in the corner and handed it to an assistant named John Kreusi, a skilled toolmaker who turned out the first models of many of his inventions. Kreusi dutifully made the thing, having only a dim idea of what it was intended to do and no confidence that it would do it. He finished his model on Aug. 15 and brought it to Edison in a spirit of great doubt, which did not diminish when that great man, who lacked the gift of phrase of Telegraph-Inventor Samuel F. B. (What hath God wrought?) Morse, began to bellow nursery rhymes into the recorder.

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