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85/237 Lithograph, poster, Edison Phonograph, paper, J Ottman Lith Co, United States of America, c. 1906. Click to enlarge.

Lithograph poster showing the evolution of Edison phonographs

This poster was made in the USA by J Ottman for the National Phonograph Company. The poster depicts the development of the phonograph from its invention by Thomas Edison in 1877, through to the beautiful (and expensive) phonographs designed for home entertainment that were available by 1906, when this poster was made.

The phonograph was an early machine for recording and replaying sound, which employed a rotating cylinder and needle system. While other inventors of the time has created machines capable of recording sounds, Edison's phonograph was the first to be able to play back the recoding. The phonograph was a predecessor to the gramophone, and later vinyl records, which used a flat rotating disk on a turntable, rather than a cylinder.

The poster was made using the process of lithography, an early printing technique that uses a stone a printing surface, and relies on the fact that water and oil repel one another.

Sarah Reeves
April 2017

https://www.loc.gov/collections/edison-company-motion-pictures-and-sound-recordings/articles-and-essays/history-of-edison-sound-recordings/history-of-the-cylinder-phonograph/ Accessed 12/04/2017
http://www.americaslibrary.gov/aa/edison/aa_edison_phonograph_1.html Accessed 12/04/2017
http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/recon/jb_recon_phongrph_1.html Accessed 12/04/2017
http://www.intertique.com/EdisonSpringMotorID.html Accessed 12/04/2017
http://www.intertique.com/MoreEdisonTriumph.html Accessed 12/04/2017
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/l/lithography Accessed 12/04/2017
https://www.britannica.com/topic/lithography Accessed 12/04/2017
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHw5_1Hopsc Accessed 12/04/2017
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUXDltQfqSA Accessed 12/04/2017


Object No.


Object Statement

Lithograph, poster, Edison Phonograph, paper, J Ottman Lith Co, United States of America, c. 1906

Physical Description

A coloured lithograph poster made in the USA in 1906 by J. Ottman for the National Phonograph Company. It shows three images three phonographs of different eras: Edison's first phonograph from 1877, a second, more complex phonograph from 1887 and a third 'Edison Triumph Phonograph' from 1906. In the bell of the third photograph is a portrait of Thomas Edison.



610 mm


435 mm



This poster was made in 1906 in the USA by J Ottman for the National Phonograph Company. It describes the development of the phonograph from 1877 to 1906. The poster was made using the process of lithography, a printing technique that uses stone as a printing surface and which relies on the fact that water and grease repel one another. The following gives a brief description of the main steps usually involved in lithographic printing, although small differences may arise from one work to another, and we do not know the exact details of how this poster was created.
In lithography, a stone – which is usually limestone – is used as a printing surface. The desired image or text is first drawn onto the stone using a special greasy ink (called tusche) or greasy lithography crayons, pencils or chalk etc. Excess grease may be removed by dusting and brushing with talc, and a layer of rosin applied to protect the stone from the acid to be applied in the next step.

The image is then 'etched' onto the surface of the stone by applying a mixture of gum arabic and nitric acid. This fixes the greasy image areas into the stone while preventing the non-image areas from receiving ink during the printing process. To prepare the stone for printing, the tusche is then removed used an oil-based solvent, leaving behind a 'ghost' of the image on the surface of the stone. This ghost is where the stone has been converted to oleomanganate of lime (a soap).
A layer of asphaltum is applied to help the ink stick to the greasy image areas the stone. The surface of the stone is then covered with a thin layer of water (for example, by wetting the stone down with a damp sponge). An oil-based ink then is applied to the stone – the greasy image areas attract the ink, while the water-covered non-image areas repel the ink. A sheet of paper is then placed on the stone and pressed with a special printing press to transfer the ink from the stone to the paper to create the final product.

Because of the way the ink is transferred from the stone to the paper, the image on the page is a mirror image of that on the stone. The related process of 'offset' lithography involves printing the image onto an intermediate surface before the final sheet. In this way the image is reversed twice during the printing process, and so the final image is identical (not flipped) compared to the original.

Lithography does not involve any carving of the stone – the entire process occurs on the surface of the stone and the stone can therefore be treated and reused. The process can also be repeated with inks of different colours in order to produce a coloured print, as in this poster.



This poster documents the development of the phonograph from 1877 to 1906. The phonograph was an early machine for recording and replaying sounds, using a rotating cylinder and needle. To record the sound, sound waves were directed into the diaphragm of the machine, making it vibrate. The vibrations were then transferred to the cylinder via a needle; the cylinder was turned using a hand crank, and the needle carved a groove into the surface of the cylinder as it rotated. The sound could then be replayed using a needle and amplifier, by placing the needle in the groove that had been previously carved.

The phonograph was invented by Thomas Edison in 1877, as a method for recording and playing back the human voice. The idea came to Edison while experimenting with paper strips to record telegraph messages, and he realised that this could be adapted to record the vibrations of the diaphragm in a telephone mouthpiece. Edison's first phonograph (the first image on this poster) was made from a cylinder covered in tin foil, which allowed the sound vibrations to be recorded.
The Edison Phonograph Company was formed in 1887 to market Edison's machine. In 1888 he introduced the Improved Phonograph and, shortly after the Perfected Phonograph. During the early 1880s Bell Laboratories (founded by telephone inventor Alexander Graeme Bell) made improvements by replacing the tin foil cylinder with a wax cylinder. It was during this time that Edison was inventing the light bulb and as a result was doing little or no work himself on the continued development of the phonograph.

From about 1890 other inventors such as Edward Amet in the United States and Joseph Greenhill in England began trying to develop a spring motor as a way of providing a smooth and reliable power supply for the phonograph. In 1895 Frank Capps, an Edison employee, patented a spring motor and Edison released his first (appropriately named) Spring Motor Phonograph. The first Edison Triumph phonograph (later known as the Triumph Model A) was released in 1900, and an updated version (Model B, seen in the third image on the poster) in 1906. The Triumph was one of the most powerful systems available at the time, boasting unprecedented playing time. These machines were aimed at use for home entertainment, although they were something only the wealthiest would have been able to afford.

In 1887 the gramophone, which works on the same principle, but employed a rotating flat disk rather than a cylinder, was invented by Emile Berliner. Gramophones eventually came to dominate phonographs in the market, and later led to the development of vinyl records which are still used by some musicians and DJs today.


Credit Line

Source unknown

Acquisition Date

25 February 1985

Cite this Object


Lithograph poster showing the evolution of Edison phonographs 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 28 February 2021, <https://ma.as/39389>


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