Edison's Voice-Driven Sewing Machine

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Extraordinary Inventions

Bizarre ideas that never got off the ground by Tim Healey.

Edison's voice-driven sewing machine

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Thomas Alva Edison was the most prolific inventor of all time. Besides being responsible for the electric light, he also pioneered motion pictures, the gramophone and a host of other devices. The great inventor lodged almost 1,300 patent applications - so small wonder that occasionally a flash of inspiration fizzled out in failure.


One of his oddest inventions was a voice-driven sewing machine. A woman friend had complained that pedalling a conventional device by foot was a tiresome business. Responding to the challenge, he proposed a sewing

machine which worked by converting sound waves into power.
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Edison had already discovered that the human voice has considerable potential energy, and had devised what he called a phonomotor to harness it. A vibrating diaphragm was mounted in a mouthpiece connected via spring and shaft to a flywheel. When the user spoke, the flywheel rotated.

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Amazingly, the apparatus worked after a fashion. The trouble was that the user had to bellow long, loud and at an unwavering pitch into the mouthpiece. And this was very much more exhausting than merely pedalling. The extraordinary contraption disappeared into the footnotes of scientific history - along with a voice-driven power drill which Edison also envisaged.

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Edison's patent of December 10, 1878 for a Vocal Engine