Joseph Faber’s Incredible 19th Century Talking Machine
German born inventor Joseph Faber moved to Vienna at an early age. In the 1820s, he read a copy of Wolfgang von Kempeler’s “On the Mechanism of Human Speech,” which gave him the idea of building a talking machine.
He began demonstrating versions of his early talking devices in Vienna about 1840. When they didn’t seem to generate much interest, he decided to bring them to America. He first displayed his invention in New York in 1844, then brought it to Philadelphia in 1845. Robert Patterson, director of the U.S. Mint, examined it and encouraged Faber to speak about it at the American Philosophical Society. Although Faber failed to find financial backing, Patterson encouraged him to continue his work.
In December of 1845, Faber demonstrated his invention, which he called the “Euphonia,” at Musical Fund Hall on Locust Street. He used a bellows, 16 keys attached to strings, and a recreated tongue and glottis, all covered with an eerie false head of a woman. The keys represented the sounds A, O, U, I, E, L, R, W, F, S, Sh, B and G. The speech was somewhat slow, and one listener said the keyboard “produced words which, slowly and deliberately in a hoarse sepulchral voice came from the mouth of the figure, as if from the depths of a tomb.”
Faber’s Euphonia never became more than a sideshow attraction. Despondent after failing to promote his invention around Europe and the U.S., Faber committed suicide in 1850. Showman P.T. Barnum continued to display a version of the Euphonia as late as 1874.