Thomas Edison's Spirit Telephone

24th December 2020. Famous Paranormal Cases, General. 372 page views. 0 comments.

There have been rumours for decades that Edison developed a spirit telephone that allowed him to communicate with the other side.  The question is ‘Did he pull it off?’

Not all influential figures in the paranormal were dedicated psychical researchers.  Some just had a bit of an interest in the area. One such person is Thomas Edison.  There have been rumours for decades that Edison developed a spirit telephone that allowed him to communicate with the other side.  The question is ‘Did he pull it off?

Before we delve into the spirit telephone, let’s look at the man.  Thomas Alva Edison was born on the 11th of February 1847 and passed away on October 18th 1931. He is affectionately known as America’s greatest inventor. Some of his inventions include a motion picture camera, phonograph and is most well-known for inventing the long-lasting electric light bulb. He had his hands in electrics, sound recording, video recording, and power utilities. With extensive knowledge in all of these areas, it is no wonder that a lot of his items are adapted for use within the paranormal field today. Because of his involvement with recording devices, some people even mistakenly report that Edison invented EVP (which is not the case - he did not invent EVP). A quote from Edison even appears at the beginning of the movie White Noise (2005) which is about EVP and ITC communication. While the quote is perhaps taken out of historical context, it was a great movie!

Nobody knows whether our personalities pass on to another existence or sphere, but if we can evolve an instrument so delicate to be manipulated by our personality as it survives in the next life such an instrument ought to record something...
Thomas Edison 1928

In an era where spiritualism was at its most popular, Edison didn’t necessarily believe in the afterlife, but would if he had scientific proof. So that is apparently what he set out to do. In 1920, an interview with Scientific American Magazine with Edison was published. He claimed to be building some sort of ghost machine that could open the lines of communication between the real world and the spirit world. It was thought that this machine could record the voices of the dead. It was widely speculated that he had some sort of spirit phone or what you would quite literally call a telephone to the dead. Others claim that it was a large microphone that could detect spirit voices - much like how EVP works. No one really knows for sure if any of this existed, it really is just guesswork.
In the article, he was quoted as saying 

If our personality survives, then it is strictly logical and scientific to assume that it retains memory, intellect, and other faculties and knowledge that we acquire on earth...
...I am inclined to believe that our personality hereafter will be able to affect matter. If this reasoning be correct, then, if we can evolve an instrument so delicate as to be affected, moved, or manipulated...by our personality as it survives in the next life, such an instrument, when made available, ought to record something.
Scientific Americian Magazine October 16th (1920)
 

Scientific American Magazine October 16th (1920) Public Domain

I have been at work for some time building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this earth to communicate with us …. If this is ever accomplished it will be accomplished not by any occult, mystifying, mysterious or weird means, such as are employed by so-called mediums, but by scientific methods.
Scientific Americian Magazine October 16th (1920)

After a large amount of interest from the press and claims that Edison was looking at the spiritual and not the science, he claimed it was a hoax.

I really had nothing to tell him, but I hated to disappoint him so I thought up this story about communicating with spirits, but it was all a joke.
New York Times (1926)

No patent was ever filed against the device, and it wasn’t spoken about by Edison again.  No plans have been revealed or a prototype device.  It had mostly been forgotten and written off as a bit of a joke until an article was published in Modern Mechanix and Inventions in 1933 (2 years after his death) claiming that in the late 1920s before his death, Edison invited several colleagues to his laboratory to record voices he had captured from the other side.  Edison by this point was not around to respond to the claims and given that it was published in the month of October – it could have been a ‘spooky’ story for Halloween.

One black, howling wintry night in 1920- just such a night when superstitious people would bar their doors and windows, against marauding ghosts – Thomas Edison, the famous inventive wizard, gathered a small group of scientists in his laboratory to witness his secret attempts to lure spirits from beyond the grave and trap them with instruments of incredible sensitivity.
Modern Mechanix and Inventions October (1933)
 

Modern Mechanix and Inventions October (1933)

“Tense hours were spent watching the delicate instruments for the slightest indication of a spirit form, but none came. The wind howled around the corners of the laboratory building, the spiritualists exorcised, but the ghosts, if any, remained in their abode in eternity. Narrowed scientific eyes saw the meter’s needle remain steady as a rock.

It was because of these negative results that the news of the amazing experiments was never given out to the world. Edison would not reveal his belief-shattering discoveries to a believing world.”
Modern Mechanix and Inventions October (1933)

In 1941, a group of Spiritualists held a séance where they were advised by the spirit of Edison that 3 of his assistants had plans to build the elusive spirit phone.  They obtained the plans and built the device but claimed it did not work.  Throughout time, many have claimed to have been in contact with Edison’s ghost who has given them the plans.  Most recently in June 2017, controversial paranormal figure Steve Huff famous for his alleged celebrity communications via portal devices claimed Edison gave him the plans for his new design at the time – The Wonder Box.  These devices use a library of sound banks along with a guitar amp, reverb pedal, and noise reduction pedal.  An app scans through the sound banks which are played through the speaker with the aid of the pedals.  Some believe that spirits are able to manipulate the sound banks to communicate.  The portal devices are often referred to as ‘telephones to the dead’.

We will never truly know if Edison did in fact build a spirit telephone, however, his diary entries indicate that he did at least believe in a form of the afterlife and that logically we should be able to communicate with it.

I am working on the theory that our personality exists after what we call life leaves our present material bodies.  If our personality dies, what’s the use of a hereafter? What would it amount to? It wouldn’t mean anything to us as individuals.  If there is a hereafter which is to do us any good, we want our personality to survive, don’t we?
If our personality survives, then it is strictly logical and scientific to assume that it retains memory, intellect, and other faculties and knowledge that we acquire on this earth.  Therefore, if personality exists, after what we call death, it is reasonable to conclude that those who leave this earth would like to communicate with those they have left here.  Accordingly, the thing to do is to furnish the best conceivable means to make it easy for them to open up communication with us, and then see what happens.”
The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison edited by Dagobert D Runes (1948) Chapter VIII

While Edison believed our personalities could in some ways live on, the notion of a spirit he found to be ‘absurd’.

I cannot conceive of such as thing as a spirit.  Imagine something that has no weight, no material form, no mass; in a word, imagine nothing.  I cannot be a party to the belief that spirits exist and can be seen under certain circumstances, and can be made to tilt tables and rap chairs and do other things of a similar and unimportant nature.  The whole thing is so absurd.”  
The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison edited by Dagobert D Runes (1948) Chapter VIII

So how can you combine the science of particles and potential personality living on without a physical body with the spiritual side?  This is something paranormal researchers have often wondered with some claiming that spiritual belief and science cannot go together.  Edison believed differently.

Now what I propose to do is to furnish psychic investigators with an apparatus which will give a scientific aspect to their work.  This apparatus, let me explain, is in the nature of a valve, so to speak.  That is to say the slightest conceivable effort is made to exert many times its initial power for indicative purposes.  It is similar to a modern power house, where man, with his relatively puny one-eighth-horse-power, turns a valve which starts a 50-000horse-power steam turbine.  My apparatus is along those lines, in that the slightest effort which it intercepts will be magnified many times as to give us whatever form of record we desire for the purpose of investigation.
The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison edited by Dagobert D Runes (1948) Chapter VIII

It is worth noting that in 1948 when Edison’s diary was published, his family was embarrassed by Chapter VIII which outlines Edison’s very on the afterlife and the supposed machine he was building.  They demanded all copies in circulation be destroyed and a second edition was released omitting around 70 pages of text discussing his machine.  In recent years as the paranormal has become more acceptable and ITC has become more prevalent, the rumours of a spirit telephone are to many people more plausible than ever before.

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Here is the full transcript of the article published in Modern Mechanix and Inventions:

Edison, though materialist-minded, was yet willing to accept spiritual beliefs if they could be proven by scientific tests. Here is described one of his amazing secret experiments whereby he sought to lure spirits from beyond the grave and trap them with super-sensitive instruments.

ONE black, howling wintry night in 1920 —just such a night when superstitious people would bar their doors and windows against marauding ghosts—Thomas Edison, the famous inventive wizard, gathered a small group of scientists in his laboratory to witness his secret attempts to lure spirits from beyond the grave and trap them with instruments of incredible sensitivity.

Until recently only the few favored spectators ever knew the outcome of this sensational experiment. Only the few Edison intimates, assembled like members of a mystic clan, ever knew what unearthly forms materialized in the scientist’s laboratory that night to give proof or disproof of existence beyond the grave.

For thirteen years results of Edison’s astounding attempt to penetrate that wall that lies beyond mortality have been withheld from the world, but now the amazing story can be told.

In a darkened room in his great laboratory, surrounded with beakers, generators, and other experimental equipment, Edison set up a photo-electric cell. A tiny pencil of light, coming from a powerful lamp, bored through the darkness and struck the active surface of this cell, where it was transformed instantly into a feeble electric current. Any object, no matter how thin, transparent or small, would cause a registration on the cell if it cut through the beam.

When the experiment was ready to begin the spiritualists in the group of witnesses were called upon to summon from eternity the etherial form of one or two of its inhabitants, and command the spirit to walk across the beam. Then while the spiritualists went through their rites the scientists watched intently the meter of the electric eye, which would flicker the instant any ghostly form interrupted the light beam.

Spirits Remain in Eternity

Tense hours were spent watching the delicate instruments for the slightest indication of a spirit form, but none came. The wind howled around the corners of the laboratory building, the spiritualists exorcised, but the ghosts, if any, remained in their abode in eternity. Narrowed scientific eyes saw the meter’s needle remain steady as a rock.

It was because of these negative results that the news of the amazing experiments was never given out to the world. Edison would not reveal his belief-shattering discoveries to a believing world.

The great inventor was a realist and his experiment revealed the stony silence his profound mind expected to find. If spiritual entities existed Edison believed that they should have some of the attributes of ordinary matter. Hence his belief that if spirits existed they could be detected by the electric eye.

It was Edison’s belief, even up to the day of his death, that life in man and animal results from the activity of countless myriads of what he called “immortal units,” endowed with intelligent direction of life and its processes.

To substantiate his hypothesis, Edison burnt his finger intentionally! (Before the finger was burned, however, the scientist had a Bertillion print made of his digit.) The burn was severe enough to obliterate all the delicate skin lines, yet after the finger had healed, another print showed that the lines and whorls, even though they had been hopelessly destroyed, had returned to their original position.

From this experiment, Edison got confirmation of his hypothesis that it is these aforementioned “immortal units” which supervised the regrowth of his finger skin, following out the original design. Man, he believed, is a mosaic of such life units, and it is these entities which determine what we shall be.

To make his hypothesis clear, Edison was wont to cite the following analogy. Suppose this earth were visited by some extraterrestrial being whose eyes were so coarse that the smallest thing he could see was the Brooklyn bridge. Naturally he would take the structure as some sort of natural growth.

Now suppose this imaginary giant were to destroy the bridge, then, after a couple of years, find it rebuilt. Don’t you suppose the giant would assume that some guiding intelligence were behind the reconstruction? That’s what Edison believed.

http://blog.modernmechanix.com/edisons-own-secret-spirit-experiments/2/#mmGal

References:

References

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristintablang/2019/10/25/thomas-edison-bc-forbes-mystery-spirit-phone/#30d5e66a29ad

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/dial-a-ghost-on-thomas-edisons-least-successful-invention-the-spirit-phone

https://www.paranormal-encyclopedia.com/e/thomas-edison/

The Americian Magazine October 16th (1920) published by Forbes

Literary Digest (1921)

https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/02/11/thomas-edison-on-sleep-and-success/

http://blog.modernmechanix.com/edisons-own-secret-spirit-experiments/

Modern Merchanix and Inventions October (1933)

http://itcvoices.org/thomas-edisons-telephone-to-the-dead-myth-or-fact/

The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison edited by Dagobert D Runes (1948) Chapter VIII

http://blog.modernmechanix.com/edisons-own-secret-spirit-experiments/2/#mmGal

 

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