Behold, Joseph Faber’s Euphonia.
This curious amalgamation of various mechanical parts was exhibited in December 1845 at the Music Fund Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Using a keyboard and foot pedals, Faber demonstrated his strange invention to private audiences, and what they witnessed was something genuinely ahead of its time: a machine that could speak like a human being.
But this didn’t use digitized or pre-recorded speech like today’s voice-activated technology. Instead, with his Euphonia, Faber reconstructed the mechanical workings of the human speech organs. He recreated the human tongue and glottis, used levers and strings to simulate muscles, and a bellows to act as the lungs.
The result, with the final touch being a somewhat disturbing disembodied faux head, was a voice described as a “ghostly monotone.” It could speak normally or in a whisper, it could laugh, and it also sang a haunting rendition of “God Save the Queen.”
Unfortunately, no audio exists of the Euphonia’s voice, and we only have descriptions to rely on. In fact, the rest of the story is rather tragic.
Faber had initially destroyed his machine when it didn’t garner the public attention he felt it deserved (as Irrational Geographic points out, a theater manager would go on to say, “I have no doubt that [Faber] slept in the same room as his figure – his scientific Frankenstein monster – and I felt the secret influence of an idea that the two were destined to live and die together.”)
Faber would later build a new one, which he displayed in 1846 at London’s Egyptian Hall, alongside P.T. Barnum’s other oddities. But even after decades on display, the Euphonia was still viewed as just another exhibit. Joseph Faber would ultimately commit suicide, but not before once again destroying his creation.
Even so, Joseph Faber and his Euphonia would not be forgotten: one of the men inspired by it was none other than Melville Bell. His son, Alexander Graham Bell, would go on to create something that reproduces human speech rather well: the telephone.