On this day in 1877, Thomas Edison announced his latest invention, the tinfoil phonograph. Edison, who held over 1,000 patents, came up with the idea of the phonograph while working on his telephone transmitter.
Working with his machinist John Kruesi, he constructed a machine with a grooved cylinder which was mounted on a long shaft. Tin foil was wrapped around the cylinder. Using a hand crank to record on the tin foil, Edison’s first recording was a nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” After playing the recording back and realizing that it worked perfectly, Edison was amazed but cautious. He said, “I never was so taken back in my life. Everybody was astonished. I was always afraid of things that worked the first time.” Today we know Edison for the lightbulb, which came about in 1879; however, it was the phonograph that boosted Edison’s reputations as a great inventor. Edison continued working on improving his phonograph, and in 1887 he produced a more satisfactory commercial model using wax cylinders for recording (1).
Creating the name of a new invention can be almost as important as the invention itself. Based one of Edison’s notebooks from his Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory, we have evidence that Edison gave careful thought to naming his invention before its launch, making a list of possible names, most using roots from Greek or Latin. Before settling on the Greek phonograph (“phono” = sound + “graph” = writing or recording), Edison considered more than 50 possible names; the six listed below are some examples:
Brontophone = Thunder sounder
Phemegraph = speech writer
Orcheograph = vibration record
Bittako-phone = Parrot speaker
Hemerologophone = Speaking almanac (2)
Invention For Writers
Like Edison, Ancient rhetoricians were devoted to invention; to them, however, invention was the name of the first phase of generating ideas for speaking and writing. Two of the three books of Aristotle’s Rhetoric are devoted to invention, and the Roman orator Cicero made invention the first of his five canons of rhetoric: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory, and Delivery.
Sometimes called prewriting, invention is a deliberate process for discovering the best way to approach a writing task, and the best method is to ask yourself some key questions before putting together a first draft:
PURPOSE: What is the purpose of your writing; in other words, what is the goal you are trying to accomplish by writing?
ARGUMENT: What are the arguments on both sides of the issue you are addressing? Imagine and anticipate what your opponent will say so that you can construct the most cogent argument.
AUDIENCE: What do you know about your audience? What do you want from them, and what do they value and care about that is relevant to your case?
EVIDENCE: What kinds of evidence do you have to support your argument? Do you have enough, and does it forcefully support your argument?
APPEALS: How will you employ logos, pathos, and ethos to make your argument compelling?
What would you say is the most overrated and the most underrated inventions of all time? Your task is to convince an audience of your peers that one invention is either the most overrated or most underrated invention of all time. Begin by brainstorming two columns, listing both overrated and underrated inventions. Then, use the questions regarding purpose, argument, audience, evidence, and appeals to generate the best approach to putting together the text of a successful persuasive speech.
Quotation of the Day: Instead of just sitting down and writing a speech, I walk outside, scuffle my feet through the dead leaves, and figure out what everybody wants, starting with me. That’s the first part of invention: What do I want? Is my goal to change the audience’s mood, its mind, or its willingness to do something? -Jay Heinrichs, in Thank You for Arguing
2- Usher, Shaun. Lists of Note: An Eclectic Collection Deserving of a Wider Audience. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2015: 242.