Nightmare Fuel: Thomas Edison Invented (Terrifying) Talking Dolls

Nightmare Fuel: Thomas Edison Invented (Terrifying) Talking Dolls

Every little girl (and boy from a gender-nonconforming home) fondly remembers carrying around a little plastic baby that said stuff like "I love you!" and "I need a nap!" and "Feed me, Seymour!" It's a simple enough idea, which means it could only have come from Thomas Edison, and indeed, he designed a talking doll that marked the first time sound was recorded for commercial purposes in 1890. It was also the stuff of nightmares.

The dolls had metal bodies and wooden limbs that stood about two feet tall, just big enough to be threatening to their target market, with eyes that stared into the deepest and most shameful parts of your soul. Of course, it was all just a gimmick to sell Edison's real baby, the phonograph, because he apparently searched his brilliant mind for what kinds of sounds people might like to buy and settled on "Bible verses screeched frantically by my terrified factory staff." That's not a joke: The voices were provided by 18 women who worked at Edison's factory, and not to imply that he treated his workers poorly, but this is what they sounded like.

The dolls were a massive commercial failure, but not for the reason you think. Mostly, at a price point of hundreds of dollars in today's money, they were just too expensive, and the few that were sold were quickly returned not because their owners' furniture started rearranging itself but because they kept breaking. Edison's factory-made more than 7,500 of these dolls, less than 500 of whichever sold, and it's not known where most of them are today. Sleep tight!

Top image: Mabalu/Wikimedia Commons

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