Talking Doll FAQ - Marketing and Sales

How was the Edison Talking Doll marketed?

Via press reports

Early promotion began with general-interest newspaper articles, such as "Dolls That Really Talk" (New York Evening Sun, November 22, 1888).

The text of the Evening Sun article was picked up, adapted, and printed by other newspapers. For example, the Evening Gazette (Galesburg, Illinois) published "The 'Dollphones'" on January 3, 1889.

"The Manufacture of Edison's Talking Doll" was the featured article in the April 26, 1890 issue of Scientific American, which carried five related engravings on its cover.

Through public exhibitions

The Edison Talking Doll was reportedly first shown to the public in the "Doll's Theatorium" at the Lenox Lyceum (59th Street and Madison Avenue, New York), during the Woman's Exchange Exhibition of April 7 through May 15, 1890. "Mr. Edison has placed at the disposal of the executive committee, his entire Paris exposition exhibit." "... 232 cases have been shipped directly from Paris to the Lenox Lyceum, where their contents are now being placed in position."
  • The Electrical Engineer, April 2, 1890, p 180.
  • Western Electrician, April 19, 1890, cover article.
  • Souvenir of Thomas A. Edison and His Inventions
  • LB040422;TAEM 140:1161
Edison's Lenox Lyceum displays were later transported to Minnesota, for the Minneapolis Industrial Exhibition of August 1890. "The phonographic dolls, as shown in a spacious theatorium, give intense satisfaction to all who hear them, as they are the very latest type made, having a natural voice and a vocabulary of over one hundred words apiece."
In printed advertisements

Once the toy trade received a stock of Edison Talking Dolls, retailers placed display ads in publications such as The Youth's Companion. (The May 29, 1890 issue carried an ad for Schwarz' Toy Bazaar, on page 300.)

Was it marketed to children or to adults?
Fine-print newspaper accounts of the talking doll were likely read by adults—which was important, because very few children had the money to buy an expensive doll, in 1890. Most Edison Talking Doll purchases were probably made by adults, for gifts to children.

However, the Schwarz ad in The Youth's Companion (a popular American children's magazine, begun in 1827), suggests that part of the marketing effort was directed at kids.

Where or how did people buy the dolls?
In person, or by mail order, from toy stores such as Schwarz' Toy Bazaar, 42 East 14th St., Union Square, New York City. (After 1890, that firm became widely known as "F.A.O. Schwarz.")

In Boston, the Edison Talking Doll was handled by Horace Partridge & Co., a dealer in "Toys, Fancy Goods, Games, & c."

Were the dolls sold only in high-end stores?
No. In fact, in 1889, high-end retailers such as Tiffany & Co. and the Lord & Taylor department stores did not sell dolls at all—not even at Christmas.

The Edison Talking Doll was more likely to be sold by a mid-tier "fancy goods" store, such as Strobel & Wilken. In July 1889, staff of the Strobel & Wilken store at 443 & 445 Broadway, in New York City, expected a supply of "speaking dolls" very soon, "of Edison's manufacture."

When did sales begin?
April 7, 1890.
  • The Electrical Engineer, April 2, 1890, p 180.
  • Souvenir of Thomas A. Edison and His Inventions
When did sales end?
Sales probably tailed off quickly, after production ended in May 1890.

Why wasn't the Edison Talking Doll a big seller?

The relatively high price, compared to other popular dolls and toys, was a constraining factor.
In July 1889, a "buyer" in the New York City doll trade told James F. Kelly (of the Edison Machine Works) that "an enormous number" of talking dolls could be sold at $3 each; "comparatively few" at $5." Anything above a $3 doll will have a slow sale."


Last updated: April 25, 2015

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