Tinfoil Phonograph

Inventing the Wizard of Menlo Park

These first public demonstrations produced a trickle of articles that soon turned into a steady stream and by the end of March had become a veritable flood.  Initially, the news reports contained little more than descriptions of the phonograph and how it worked or accounts of demonstrations of the new invention.  News editors soon became interested in the instrument's inventor as well, and began to publish more personal accounts.  They sent their reporters to the Menlo Park laboratory to interview Edison, printed anecdotes about him and the phonograph, and provided biographical sketches, including some by those who had known him during his days as a telegrapher.  Most of the interviews were conducted by New York reporters, although occasionally newspapers in other large cities sent reporters to visit him at the laboratory.  Papers in small cities and towns had to be content to reprint accounts from the large city papers, especially those in New York.

The intimate portrait of the inventor that these interviews provided was supplemented by drawings of Edison and his inventions that began to appear in illustrated papers and journals like the New York Daily Graphic, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, and  Harper's Weekly.  In March and April the Graphic provided readers with many drawings of the inventor, his phonograph, and his laboratory, including an impressive set of full-page illustrations, one of them a portrait of Edison, that appeared on April 10 in an article that dubbed him "The Wizard of Menlo Park," which became his most famous nickname. 

By mid-April, articles about Edison and his phonograph were appearing so frequently that Edison’s friend George Bliss wrote him from Chicago:

"The Mania has broken out this way--  School girls write compositions on Edison.  The funny papers publish squibs on Edison.  The religious papers write editorials on Edison.  The daily papers write up his life. The Rev. Woodbury is writing a magazine article on Edison &c &c.  When shall we get a rest."

He concluded by asking "Why dont the Graphic fill up exclusively with Edison and [be] done with [it]?" Edison himself noted that he had begun to receive an enormous number of letters requesting advice on inventions, charity, autographs and photographs, or an agency for Edison's inventions.  On 16 April he told Uriah Painter, one of the organizers of the new Edison Speaking Phonograph Company, "This is the last of 52 letters I’ve written tonight besides having sent 23 to E. H. J[ohnson] to answer this morning 103 letters was the biggest mail in one day." Two days later Edison was in Washington to exhibit his phonograph to the National Academy of Sciences at the Smithsonian Institution.  The next morning he demonstrated the phonograph to Congress and late that night he brought it to the White House.