Who Invented the First Music Player?

Who Invented the First Music Player?
Lucy Hayes: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: One class period


In 1878, when the Hayes family lived in the White House, the great inventor, Thomas Edison, came one evening to demonstrate his new invention, the phonograph, for Lucy and Rutherford and their guests.   Up until that time, if people wanted to hear music, they would have to go to a concert, or to a theatrical performance.  Now, with the gramaphone, they could buy a record (or a cylinder), bring it home, and play it on a gramophone.    The people gathered at the White House were so excited by this marvelous machine that they stayed on and on, not leaving until the middle of the night!


Students who participate in this activity will gain experience in research and in coming to a conclusion from data.  They will also learn something about early versions of music players and about two important inventors.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet Sheet of paper with large Venn diagram on it; at the top of the circles on the diagram are marked Emile Berliner and Thomas Edison


1.  Give each student a paper with a Venn diagram on it. Ask if they have a CD player at home?  Or do they have a portable CD player? Or if they have ever downloaded music from the Internet onto an MP3 player or similar device?
2.  After a short discussion, tell them that they are going to solve a mystery today, and the mystery has to do with the invention of the first mechanical “music player” – the phonograph.  Or was it the gramophone?
3.  Divide the group into four or five smaller groups.  For each group the instructions are the same:  using the web sites listed below, gather information on Emile Berliner and Thomas Edison with respect to their inventions of music players.  List Berliner information in the circle marked “Berliner,” and Edison information in the circle marked “Edison.”
4.  Using the information they’ve gathered, each group should make a decision about who invented the first mechanical “music player.”
5.  In the whole group, discuss findings and decisions.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended by having students compare and contrast early music players with such modern music players as CD players or MP3 players.  Students could also research the evolution of music players from the gramophone to the MP3 player.

Sources & Resources:




This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.