31 October 2012

Speech synthesizer, 1845

When Joseph Faber invented his “amazing talking machine” he had envisioned somehow connecting it to a telegraph to, converting the dots and dashes into a real human voice...

In December 1845, Joseph Faber exhibited his “Wonderful Talking Machine” at the Musical Fund Hall in Philadelphia... Just prior to this public exhibition, Joseph Henry visited Faber’s workshop to witness a private demonstration... Instead of a hoax, which he had suspected, Henry found a “wonderful invention” with a variety of potential applications...

Henry observed that sixteen levers or keys “like those of a piano” projected sixteen elementary sounds by which “every word in all European languages can be distinctly produced.” A seventeenth key opened and closed the equivalent of the glottis, an aperture between the vocal cords. “The plan of the machine is the same as that of the human organs of speech, the several parts being worked by strings and levers instead of tendons and muscles.”..

A devout Presbyterian, Henry immediately seized upon the possibility of having a sermon delivered over the wires to several churches simultaneously.
By a curious twist of fate, one person who happened to see the Euphonia in London in 1846 and come away deeply impressed was Melville Bell, the father of Alexander Graham Bell
Text and second image from Impact Lab.  Top image from Foxes in Breeches, via Sutured Infection.


  1. Would like to hear one in operation

  2. I'm wondering how much this invention relies on its predecessors, Hungarian inventor Kempelen Farkas' talking machine from some 70 years earlier, and the talking machine of Charles Wheatstone based on Kempelen's design?
    (TLDR: In 1837, Sir Charles Wheatstone resurrected the work of Wolfgang von Kempelen, creating an improved replica of his Speaking Machine. Using new technology developed over the previous 50 years, Wheatstone was able to further analyze and synthesize components of acoustic speech, giving rise to the second wave of scientific interest in phonetics. After viewing Wheatstone’s improved replica of the Speaking Machine at an exposition, a young Alexander Graham Bell set out to construct his own speaking machine with the help and encouragement of his father.)


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