The life and legacy of Thomas Edison is mired in success, failure and controversy. From his embattled competition with Nikola Tesla to his successful business acumen, everything Edison accomplished was highly scrutinized after his passing in 1931.

With all of his patents and inventions listed, it appears that there was one project that was meant to be off the shelves. The mind behind the phonograph and thief of the light bulb had an idea to create an instrument designed to hear voices of deceased individuals. The revelation came in the form of a chapter from the inventor’s memoirs that was practically lost. Said memoirs are being published once again this week, in France.

In short, Edison wanted to develop a “spirit phone,” an ethereal device that would summon to the living the voices of the dead and record them for posterity. The Ohio-born inventor attempted to detail his efforts and include them as the final chapter of his Diary and Sundry Observations book.

Despite his own thoughts behind the “spirit phone,” many inside the U.S. and abroad thought that Edison was only joking or that it was part of a hoax. With no design for an invention of such nature uncovered, the evidence would support the belief that he was only fooling the public. However, in 1949 in France, the French translation of Edison’s original diary was preserved intact, which included the missing final chapter.

Yesterday (March 5), readers in France were able to learn Edison’s thoughts about the afterlife in the book titled Le Royaume de l’Au-dela (translated to The Kingdom of the Afterlife). Philippe Baudouin, a French radio presenter and trained philosopher, told the Agence France-Presse, “This little-known episode in the history of talking machines was of special interest to me, as I’m a radio man.”

As the chapter goes into startling detail about Edison, he is painted as a searching entity in the late 1870s who attempted to create a foundation for his “spirit phone” invention by amplifying sound emanating from his phonographs. For those who didn’t pay attention in history class, that was the device that served as the direct precursor to record players and gramophones.

Edison, who believed that ghosts existed, also deemed the otherworld as a very talkative place. He brought in audio engineer William Walter Dinwiddie to make a deal with him that whomever died first “would try to send a message to the survivor from beyond,” said Baudouin. “He imagined being able to record the voice of another being, to be able to make audible that which isn’t -- the voice of the dead,” Badouin concluded.

Photo: Abraham Archibald Anderson | Flickr

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