Education Through Entertainment

The Voices From 120 Years Ago – Thomas Edison And The Birth Of Sound

Posted on Wed, Oct 2, 2013

Thomas Edison School showFor years Mobile Ed has had a relationship with Thomas Edison. Raised in Michigan, as was Mobile Ed, Mr. Edison was responsible for hundreds and thousands of patented inventions, many of which have changed civilization. And for years, one of our assembly programs has crisscrossed the country bringing the great inventor to life for children and sharing with them some of his greatest works.

For many of those many years, we were blessed with the talents of the late Joseph French, a well known actor and director from Michigan, who positively lived and breathed Thomas Edison. Joe continued doing what he loved, performing this show for kids, well into his seventies. Alas, Joe is now gone, off somewhere performing on some ethereal stage before a celestial audience, no doubt! Here at Mobile Ed, though, he is badly missed as a fine actor, and a wonderful person and friend.

But we are equally blessed by two younger men who have taken up the challenge and now carry our Thomas Edison show into new schools all over many states Joe never got to see. Ironically both share the same first name as the great inventor himself.

Thomas Edison School ShowIn the East and Midwest, the role is now portrayed by Mr. Thomas Johnson, a spectacular actor with an uncanny resemblance to the real Mr. Edison when he himself was younger in age. Tom may also be familiar to many as the man of genius behind creating and often performing our wonderful Young Authors Day. In addition to his fabulous skills as an actor, Tom is a student of famed French Mime Marcelle Marceau, and is himself an awesome mime.

In the center of the country, visiting such states as Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Minnesota, we employ an equally fine actor named Tom Swenson who also breathes uncanny life into the great inventor. Tom has performed other shows for us as well, including a wonderful Abraham Lincoln and a very funny Mark Twain.

Both are super performers, and both go a long way toward bringing the voice of Mr. Edison to life for kids today all over this country.


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But now it is possible to once again hear not only the real voice of the real Mr. Edison, but of many other recordings from the past previously thought to be unreachable.

Thomas Edison School Show10 1 resized 600In these days of digital sound, when many young people do not know what a cassette tape is and are rapidly forgetting even CD's, many people (even adults) have trouble remembering the days of vinyl records, let alone the older wax recordings of years gone by. The concept of listening to actual analog sounds made by a needle carefully threading it's way between carefully inscribed grooves and then amplified, either electronically or through simple horns, is becoming more archaically alien by the day.

So the earlier forms used to record sound are becoming something almost unknown outside of museums. Some may know that commercial music was once available on tubes with the grooves inscribed around the outside. But even earlier still, when sound recording was truly in it's infancy, sounds were etched into all manner of shapes and in all types of experimental forms. And today, many of those are so old and deteriorating so badly, that they are impossible to play any longer in the originally designed manner.

Well, along comes technology to rescue the past.

9793076 large resized 600New digital techniques now allow a three dimensional “picture” to be taken of the surface of any old sound recording, and then transcribed by computer program into a digital form that may be rendered in sound once again. Amazing. So it is that we can now listen to a short audio recording made by a woman 120 years ago for use in a planned talking doll. We may listen once again to the voices of people long dead, and from a past no living person was alive to witness. Awesome. The power of technology.


Here is a link to an interview on NPR that deals with this exact breakthrough.

We are constantly amazed by the geometrical expansion of knowledge and the quantum leaps made every day in science. Progress!

Thomas Edison School ShowTo aid in bringing children to an awareness of these fields, and hopefully persuade some to investigate careers in these fields, Mobile Ed produces a variety of science based school shows and assembly programs. Some, such as our Thomas Edison show, revisit the past and bring it once more to life for the children of today. “This”, we say to them, “is how it all began!”

But then we also want them to understand the future. And so we also offer programs such as Sky Dome Planetarium and The STEM Museum, which show then the world of tomorrow today.



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We fervently hope to continually help to replenish the supply of bright and creative minds tackling the quest for the breakthroughs of next week and next year and beyond.

So that one day, perhaps a thousand years ago, in a better and brighter world, people will have the opportunity to know exactly what the lives we lead today were once like. We think Mr. Edison might just like that.



Geoff Beauchamp is the Regional Manager of Mobile Ed Productions where "Education Through Entertainment" has been the guiding principal since 1979. Mobile Ed Productions produces and markets quality educational school assembly programs in the fieldsof sciencehistorywritingastronomynatural sciencemathematicscharacter issues and a variety of other curriculum based areas. In addition, Mr. Beauchamp is a professional actor with 30 years of experience in film, television and on stage. He created and still performs occasionally in Mobile Ed's THE LIVING LINCOLN. He also spent ten years coordinating assembly programs for the elementary school where his own children went to school.

Topics: STEM School Programs, thomas edison, STEM Assemblies, Technology In Education, school assembly, Thomas Edison school assemblies, Lincoln School Assemblies