In 1890, Thomas Edison unleashed his infamous talking dolls – the first of their kind, each containing a phonograph with a pre-recorded cylinder. When played, they were intended to mimic the sounds of a young girl reciting nursery rhymes and prayers. But what consumers actually received – all 500 or so of them – was something along the lines of the sounds from Hell.
Now, thanks to the audio preservation system IRENE and the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, those of us alive today can listen to these chilling recordings ourselves.
Not too many of these dolls still exist. Truth be told, they weren’t exactly popular in their own time, either; they were expensive, and even Edison admitted “the voices of the little monsters were exceedingly unpleasant to hear.” Their production ran for all of six weeks.
Sidenote: I first learned about these dolls quite a few years ago in a book called Edison’s Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life. It’s about the evolution of automata, and our history with attempting to recreate ourselves. It gets a bit unfocused (if I remember right, it ends with an interview with one of the original Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz), but I thought it was pretty good.