Talking Doll FAQ - Industrial Production

Who manufactured the Edison Talking Doll Phonograph?

The Edison Phonograph Works.

Where was the phonograph manufactured?
West Orange, New Jersey—the site of the Edison Laboratory and the Edison Phonograph Works.

Who made the dolls?
Two porcelain manufacturers are known to have supplied at least the bisque heads for Edison Talking Dolls: Baehr & Proeschild and Simon & Halbig.
Rolfs, Joan & Robin. Phonograph Dolls & Toys. Hortonville, WI: Audio Antique LLC, 2005, p 1-7.

Where were the dolls made?

Germany.

On February 21, 1889, W. W. Jacques (then President of EPTMCo) wrote to Edison, "We have one hundred thousand (100,000) dolls bodies ordered from Germany."

  • The Baehr & Proeschild factory was located in Ohrdruf, Thüringen, Germany.
  • Simon & Halbig was headquartered in Gräfenhain, Thüringen, Germany.
Verzeichnis der Betriebs- (Fabrik-) Krankenkassen des Deutschen Reiches. Berlin: Verlag der Arbeiter-Versorgung, 1898, p 137.

Adressbuch der keramischen Industrie. Coburg, Germany: Verlag von Müller & Schmidt, 1906, pp 6, 238, 769.

During the first quarter of 1889, EPTMCo had negotiated with another (unnamed) firm in Sonneberg, Thüringen, Germany to supply doll parts.

The company in Sonneberg expected to make sets of bisque heads, custom-molded bodies, and jointed limbs for EPTMCo, at a price of 20 Marks per dozen sets.

Victor Escher (who "has a large factory at Sonnenberg [Sonneberg], Ger. where he turns out dolls by the thousands") was introduced to Thomas Edison in October 1889. Yet, it is not clear whether Escher's company ever delivered parts for Edison Talking Dolls.

Who assembled the dolls and phonographs together?

Employees of the Edison Phonograph Works, doing hand labor in the Assembling Room.

Who packaged and shipped the dolls?

Employees of the Edison Phonograph Works, using "boxes, string, paper, Excelsior, labels, etc.," furnished by EPTMCo.

How long was the Edison Talking Doll in production?

Approximately three months.

Production began in February 1890.
MBJ004;TAEM 90:457 - Image 59

Production ceased in early May 1890.

Why did production end so soon?

Mounting complaints about breakage during shipment, performance defects, and returned dolls forced the decision to halt production.

How many Edison Talking Dolls were completed?

An account in Charles Batchelor's Journal (Cat. 1337), tabulating Edison Phonograph Works orders, production quantities, and costs, lists just 50 "Toy Dolls" for the month of February. The total for March is 654.
MBJ004;TAEM 90:457 - Image 59

In a seemingly contradictory entry, apparently dated February 28, 1890, Batchelor noted: "At this date we have shipped about 425 dolls to N.Y. & have about 700 more ready."
MBJ004;TAEM 90:457 - Image 64

On March 7, 1890, Batchelor tallied "Dolls tested and passed to date," giving a total of 6,391.
MBJ004;TAEM 90:457 - Image 65

Though thousands of dolls had been assembled, tested, and passed by March 1890, they did not leave West Orange right away. On April 30, 1890, A. O. Tate (Edison's Private Secretary) conceded that Edison was "unable to commence the delivery of dolls until about the first of April."

On May 7, 1891, Tate recounted:
During the course of manufacture the Toy Company accepted delivery from the Edison Phonograph Works of 10,060 dolls complete with mechanisms. Of those there are about 7500 stored in a portion of the doll building which was used by the Doll Company for a packing room and for which we are charging them rental. In another building there are stored about 253 cases of heads, legs and arms which were imported from Germany by the Toy Company. This is the property that is covered by the attachment above referred to. The title to the above property rests with the Edison Phonograph Toy Manufacturing Company. There is other property at the Works, consisting of completed mechanisms and parts in various stages of manufacture, of which delivery has never been made ...

Thus, it seems that no more than 2,560 Edison Talking Dolls could have been sold (10,060 - 7,500 = 2,560).

Last updated: April 25, 2015

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