100 Years Ago Today

A History Of Events And Happenings From Exactly One Hundred Years Ago

Edison Has Concrete Ideas About Listening To Music

In the late 1880’s Thomas Alva Edison, the man who had invented the incandescent light bulb, had turned to perfecting a new process for refining iron ore using magnets and massive crushing rollers. By the 1900’s the enterprise was a failure but instead of selling the equipment for scrap Edison decided to use the huge rollers to manufacture high-grade cement. No one wanted his cement so Edison decided he would create his own demand.

In 1906 Edison announced his latest brainchild to the world – prefabricated homes made entirely of concrete. They would be fireproof, insect-proof and easy to clean. The walls could be pre-tinted in attractive colors and would never need to be repainted. Everything from shingles to bathtubs to picture frames would be cast as a single monolith of concrete in a process that took just a few hours. Extra stories could be added with a simple adjustment of the molding forms. Best of all, the $1,200-dollar houses would be cheap enough for even the poorest slum-dwellers to afford. “The time will most certainly come when whole houses will be turned out in one piece.” Edison’s early prototypes proved disastrous. Instead of simple molds, the houses required nickel-plated iron forms containing more than two thousand parts and weighing nearly half a million pounds. A builder had to buy at least $175,000 in equipment before pouring a single house. Furthermore, nobody wanted to live in a residence that had been dubbed “the salvation of the slum dweller.”

concrete house by Edison

A concrete house by Thomas Edison

Edison thought of another use for his concrete : home furnishings! Using special lightweight “foam concrete” Edison proposes the manufacture of concrete phonograph cabinets and concrete pianos. Concrete bedroom sets would cost a mere five or six dollars. Edison even plans to market concrete tombstones. Edison has shipped a pair of concrete phonograph consoles round trip to New Orleans and Chicago. The crates have been marked “Please drop and abuse this package.”

Thomas Edison - concrete phonographs

Thomas Edison and his concrete phonographs – 1912

On August 2, 1912 Edison introduced this ornate all-cement phonograph console. The clockwork portion of the phonograph is concealed in the base beneath the statue; the amplifying horn is the shell in behind the human figure. It is questioned whether concrete furnishings will be any more popular than concrete houses.

An Edison concrete phonograph case
August 2, 1912

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