Thomas Edison Wanted to Create Phone for the Dead

May 10, 2015

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. sundry /ˈsʌn dri/ (adj.) – various; composed of different things
Example: His book contains essays about sundry topics.

2. hoax /hoʊks/ (n.) – false claim intended to trick people
Example: The Bigfoot monster was proven to be a hoax.

3. amplify /ˈæm pləˌfaɪ/ (v.) – to make something louder or bigger in coverage
Example: Sound engineers amplified the volume by adjusting the controls.

4. curious /ˈkyʊər i əs/ (adj.) – strange or odd
Example: The townspeople flocked to see the curious show.

5. prolific / prəˈlɪf ɪk/ (adj.) – being very productive; producing a lot
Example: The prolific author wrote 85 books in his lifetime.


Read the text below.
Thomas Edison, known as the inventor of the light bulb, had thought of inventing a telephone for the dead.

This news came out after a book in France revealed a missing chapter in Edison’s memoir [MEM-wahr, -wawr], Diary and Sundry Observations.

Edison, who believed in ghosts, talked about this idea in detail in a chapter from his memoir published in 1948. However, in the succeeding versions of this memoir, this chapter was removed. There was no proof that Edison worked on the said project, so many people believed that this idea was a hoax or a joke by the inventor.

But in France, a copy of the 1949 edition of Edison's memoir is completely preserved. In the missing chapter, Edison proposed that voices of the dead can be heard by amplifying the phonograph, an invention of his that would become the model for the modern recorder. Once amplified, the device could capture noises in the background.

With the lengthy discussion about this curious invention, Edison seemed to be serious about creating a phone for the dead. He even made an agreement with William Walter Dinwiddie [din-WID-ee], the engineer he was working with, that whoever would die first should send a message through the invention.

This is not the first time the American inventor was subjected to controversy. In recent years, historians have raised doubts whether Edison was the real inventor of the light bulb. Some experts believe that he stole the idea from Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla. Nonetheless, Edison remains to be one of the most prolific inventors of his time, with 2,332 patents under his name.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         What is your opinion of Edison after learning this information?
·         Do you think making a telephone for the dead is really possible? Why or why not?

Discussion B

·         Do you agree with the saying “necessity is the mother of invention?” Please explain your answer.
·         What do you think about controversial inventions, such as cloning?

May 10, 2015