“I readily absorb ideas from every source, frequently starting where, the last person left off."
Thomas Edison, inventor
By the age of 40, inventor Thomas Edison (1847-1931) already had around 400 patents under his belt. But he was never a man to rest on his laurels. His next project, which was in fact a return to a previous project, was to try to make a success of his dictation machine.
The device was an improved version of his earlier phonograph—a voice recording machine that turned speech vibrations into indents on a tin foil recording tape. In 1878, in an article in the North American Review, Edison had suggested that possible uses of his machine might include letter-writing, the teaching of spelling, and recording "the last words of dying persons." But he abandoned these ideas when the machine failed to take off.
After a rival group improved on his design with their "graphophone" in the 1880s, Edison saw potential in his phonograph once more. Picking up where his competitors had left off, he worked hard to create a more practical dictation machine. Chichester Bell and Charles Tainter had already developed a method for recording using a floating stylus and a wax cylinder, so Edison simply improved on their design, marketing his "Improved Phonograph" in 1888. Initially his machine was not a success and he faced great opposition from stenographers (shorthand typists). Sales of his later "Ediphone" grew after World War I, with the help of an advertising film called "The Stenographer's Friend."