AMET ECHOPHONE (1896)

The "Echophone" is a singularly unusual and historic machine from the earliest years of the phonograph as a home entertainment device. At a time when the cheapest Columbia Graphophone (the "N") cost $40, and the least expensive Edison Phonograph (the "Spring Motor") was $75, Amet's Echophone was priced at a mere $5 - $10. (It would be another two years before Columbia brought such inexpensively-priced machines (the "B" and "Q") to the mass market.

Amet was an Illinois inventor who patented a spring motor for phonographs in 1891, and assembled spring-driven phonographs in 1894 by combining his motors with the topworks from Edison and Columbia electric machines. Given that he was a pioneer of spring-driven motors, it seems odd indeed that Amet went to a clockmaker, the Waterbury Clock Co., for the motor used in his own phonograph! First marketed in 1896, the earliest Echophones had string-driven mandrels made of wood, with a deeply cut-out center in an attempt to evade Edison's tapering mandrel patent. (Very soon thereafter the mandrels were made of black gutta percha, with a smaller indentation.) The tonearm is a fragile glass tube with a stylus formed at the tip, mounted to a bellows-type reproducer made of wood and rubber, and fixed to a wooden post. (Despite its singularly odd construction, this reproducer works surprisingly well.) It could be fitted with either a small horn, as seen here, or eartubes.

Amet's primitive phonograph very quickly inspired the wrath of the Columbia Graphophone interests, who sued Amet for patent violations and won a permanent injunction in late 1896. Amet's enterprise was driven out of existence, while Columbia took possession of the remaining stocks of Echophones (with gutta percha mandrels). Most of these were given away as premiums to solicit new subscribers to magazines such as "Leslies Illustrated News," while some were sold by a Chicago mail-order dealer (see advertisement below). The Echophone had only a very brief existence before fading into rapid oblivion, and few of these very fragile little machines have survived.

This 1897 advertisement shows the Echophone with gutta percha mandrel. The angle of the horn is an artist's interpretation -- while most phonographs had horns that angled upward, the Echophone horn pointed straight. (Although $5 sounds like quite a bargain, in the 1890s that was a substantial sum, equal to over $100 in today's money.)

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