Making the Perfect Record: From Inscription to Impression in Early Magnetic Recording

Not a Worthwhile Investment

But thread never caught on. One reason is economic. Even if thread was an affordable and lightweight medium, Smith presumably had no time to develop magnetic storage. Or he did not consider it a worthwhile investment. Like Edison and his work on incandescent light in the 1870s and 1880s, Smith put sound aside in order to pursue endeavors in other sectors, namely metal and coin press machinery. By 1910, his Ferracute Machine Company (located in Bridgeton, New Jersey, just three hundred miles south of Edison’s Menlo Park) supplied presses to the US Mint, Eastman Kodak, Chrysler, Cadillac, Ford, and many others. With a list of customers such as these, the press machinery business was obviously far more profitable and in demand than magnetic storage, especially since Smith’s conceptualization of storage was impractical at best. For instance, thread alone cannot store sound. In order for that to occur, a substance such as magnetic fiber must be spun through it, and that spinning process is laborious. True, in his writings on magnetic recording, Smith does list other possible cord substances, including wire and chain. Still, historians are unsure whether he ever invented a system where any medium reproduced audible results. They are, however, quite certain that he never obtained a patent for magnetic recording, a magnetic recording device, or a magnetic storage medium. For Smith, then, ideal sound and noise-free listening remained concepts impressed—at best—on paper in a pop review.

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