Thaddeus Cahill (1867 – 1934) was a prominent inventor of the early 20th century. He is widely credited with the invention of the first electromechanical musical instrument, which he dubbed the telharmonium. Cahill had tremendous ambitions for his invention; he wanted telharmonium music to be broadcast into hotels, restaurants, theaters, and even houses via the telephone line. At a weight of 7 tons and a price tag of $200,000, only three telharmoniums were ever built, and Cahill’s great vision was never fully implemented. His idea proved to be fruitful, nearly a century later, with the advent of Streaming media.

The Idea

In 1890’s, Thaddeus Cahill was a lawyer and an inventor living in Washington DC. Before inventing the Telharmonium, he mostly invented devices for Pianos and Typewriters. In 1893, after fooling around with his telephone, trying to broadcast music through the phone lines, Cahill had the idea for the Telharmonium. Before the 1920’s there was no way to amplify electrical signals. So in order to hear sounds through the telephone, you had to put the receiver up to your ear. Cahill knew that if he could generate a large enough of an electrical signal, and if he stuck a cone on the telephone receiver (much like a gramophone cone) he could transmit music through the telephone that could be heard by an audience. He figured that if he could send music through the telephone at the proper volume, he could set up a tidy business providing music to hotels, restaurants, and even private homes. So, in a large way, Cahill invented what we know of today as “Muzak”. By 1896 he had his invention worked out and applied for a patent. In 1898 he was granted, patent #580,035 for the “Art of and Apparatus for Generating and Distributing Music Electrically.” In his patent, Cahill used the term “synthesizing.” This proves, some say, that the Telharmonium was truly the world’s first Synthesizer.

The Telharmonium had to create a loud signal. Therefore it had to create a large amount of electricity. Cahill had observed that when an electric motor, or dynamo, was used to create an alternating current (as opposed to a direct current) the output could be heard through a telephone receiver as a steady pitch. The volume of this signal depended on the size of generator. A larger generator created more electricity, and, therefore, more sound. His idea was that if he had enough generators of a sufficient size, one for each note in the scale, he could switch on and off their outputs (or combine them, even) to create music.

Source: Wikipedia

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