The phonograph is a device for the mechanical recording and reproduction of sound. In its later forms, it is also called a gramophone (as a trademark since 1887, as a generic name in the UK since 1910) or, since the 1940s, a record player. The sound vibration waveforms are recorded as corresponding physical deviations of a spiral groove engraved, etched, incised, or impressed into the surface of a rotating cylinder or disc, called a "record". To recreate the sound, the surface is similarly rotated while a playback stylus traces the groove and is therefore vibrated by it, very faintly reproducing the recorded sound. In early acoustic phonographs, the stylus vibrated a diaphragm which produced sound waves which were coupled to the open air through a flaring horn, or directly to the listener's ears through stethoscope-type earphones.
Arguably, any device used to record sound or reproduce recorded sound could be called a type of "phonograph", but in common practice the word has come to mean historic technologies of sound recording, involving audio-frequency modulations of a physical trace or groove. In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, "Phonograph", "Gramophone", "Graphophone", "Zonophone", and the like were still brand names specific to various makers of sometimes very different (i.e. cylinder and disc) machines; so considerable use was made of the generic term "talking machine", especially in print. "Talking machine" had earlier been used to refer to complicated devices which produced a crude imitation of speech, by simulating the workings of the vocal cords, tongue, and lips – a potential source of confusion both then and now.
Gramophone, as a brand name, was not used in the United States after 1902, and the word quickly fell out of use there, although it has survived in its nickname form, Grammy, as the name of the Grammy Awards. The Grammy trophy itself is a small rendering of a gramophone, resembling a Victor disc machine with a taper arm.
Cros was a poet of meager means, not in a position to pay a machinist to build a working model, and largely content to bequeath his ideas to the public domain free of charge and let others reduce them to practice, but after the earliest reports of Edison's presumably independent invention crossed the Atlantic he had his sealed letter of April 30 opened and read at the December 3, 1877 meeting of the French Academy of Sciences, claiming due scientific credit for priority of conception.
A recording made on a sheet of tinfoil at an 1878 demonstration of Edison's phonograph in St. Louis, Missouri has been played back by optical scanning and digital analysis. A few other early tinfoil recordings are known to survive, including a slightly earlier one which is believed to preserve the voice of U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes, but as of May 2014 they have not yet been scanned. These antique tinfoil recordings, which have typically been stored folded, are too fragile to be played back with a stylus without seriously damaging them. Edison's 1877 tinfoil recording of Mary Had a Little Lamb, not preserved, has been called the first instance of recorded verse. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the phonograph, Edison recounted reciting Mary Had a Little Lamb to test his first machine. The 1927 event was filmed by an early sound-on-film newsreel camera, and an audio clip from that film's soundtrack is sometimes mistakenly presented as the original 1877 recording. Wax cylinder recordings made by 19th century media legends such as P. T. Barnum and Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth are amongst the earliest verified recordings by the famous that have survived to the present.