A ring-shaped cylinder phonograph record, created for Thomas Edison's "talking doll" business, is finally being heard almost 123 years after it was produced. According to historians, the 12-second recording of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" could be the first-ever commercial recording.
Although discovered in 1967 in the desk of Edison's secretary, William H. Meadowcroft, the warped disc was no longer playable with a conventional stylus. It took another 40 years to develop the technology needed to extract the audio. From Cnet:
"After creating a digital model of the record's surface using a three-dimensional optical scanning technology, researchers then saved the audio stored on the record as a .WAV audio file. The sound of the recording is faint and the first syllable of the first word of the recording is missing, but after more than a century, the sound of a human voice comes through."
Considering the technology at the time, it's not surprising to hear that Edison's talking doll business eventually failed. According to Cnet, no viable commercial tech yet existed to duplicate the records, so each doll has its own unique recording. Worse, they cost $10 each ($20-$25 with full dress) — equivalent to roughly two weeks salary for the average person. And even Edison was quoted as finding them a bit creepy, saying that "the voices of the little monsters were exceedingly unpleasant to hear."
Of the 2,500 dolls produced, fewer than 500 sold.