Inventions

Thomas Edison Planned to Invent A Spirit Phone to Talk With The Dead

Thomas Edison is known for many inventions, but not all of them worked out. Of his hundreds of patents, one little-known idea sticks out as slightly peculiar: a spirit phone. The inventor had plans to create a device that would communicate with the dead.

You Used to Call Me on My Spirit Phone

In 1920, Edison told American Magazine that he had been working on his spirit phone for some time, saying he was "building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this earth to communicate with us." By communicating with the dead, Edison wasn't talking about any Ouija board-type mumbo-jumbo. He wanted his device to not function by "any occult, mystifying, mysterious, or weird means employed by so-called 'mediums,' but by scientific methods." He believed that when people die, they may scatter "life units" through the universe that could be detected with the right device.

That might sound crazy to modern ears, but you've got to put yourself in his shoes: the telephone, phonograph, and lightbulb had all just been invented. For the first time, people were turning invisible energy into something they could pipe through wires to become light and sound. Is it really so farfetched to imagine that something once though "supernatural," like telepathy or necromancy, was right around the corner?

The Proof Is in Print

Edison's announcement sparked a fervor in the media at the time, but in the decades to follow, historians started to think it was just a big hoax: they didn't find any blueprints, much less prototypes, of this purported spirit phone. But in 2015, French journalist Philippe Baudoin was shopping in a thrift store when he found a rare version of Edison's diary that contained an extra chapter. That chapter was entirely dedicated to his theories on how to contact the spirit world. Boudoin quickly re-published it as "Le Royaume de l'au-delà," or "The Kingdom of the Afterlife."

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The Inventions of Thomas Edison

Written by Ashley Hamer October 28, 2016

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