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Edison’s Spirit Phone Ft the Y Files Podcast

Blog Contribution by Y Files Podcast

Since the 1840s, spiritualists everywhere have held onto a single belief: that they may one day contact the dead, whether through psychic mediums, Ouija boards or organized séances in their homes.

Thomas Edison, known still today as “America’s greatest inventor,” is responsible for forever shifting the tides of the spiritualist movement with his technological advancements in motion pictures, sound recordings, and his most peculiar attempted invention, the spirit phone.

The spirit phone, if completed, would have allowed users to communicate directly with the dead.

“I have been at work for some time, building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this earth to communicate with us,” Edison told American Magazine in 1920, according to Atlas Obscura.

Edison was adamant that if contact with the spirit realm were ever to be achieved, it would be through science, and “not by any occult, mystifying, mysterious or weird means, such as are employed by so-called mediums,” according to Forbes.

He theorized that all living bodies are made up of “myriads and myriads of infinitesimally small individuals, each in itself a unit of life,” claiming that the units worked in everlasting swarms. Part of his theory included the idea that the “swarms” could collect in the ether, to manifest itself audibly and visually, to be received by sensitive recording devices and photography, according to Forbes.

Edison compared the apparatus to a valve, in which “the slightest conceivable effort is made to exert many times its initial power for indicative purposes,” and that “the barest whisper of effort from a spirit could influence the highly sensitive valve, and that action would be greatly magnified to give whatever form of record desired for the purposes of investigation,” according to

By 1926, Edison told a reporter of the New York Times that it had all been a joke, or a prank, though we think otherwise.

According to, no patents were ever filed for the device, and no notes, drawings or prototypes were uncovered.

Edison was 73 years old when he made his spirit phone announcement, and career-wise, his best years were behind him, which makes us wonder if the spirit phone was a way to grapple his own mortality and ending legacy. Considering the amount of detail and thought Edison gave throughout his multiple interviews on the subject, he never seemed to jest or allude that it was a joke, which leaves us to believe that he had set out to do something quite remarkable, but maybe impossible at the time.

Although the spirit phone never came to fruition, Edison’s technological advancements live on today in new mediums, taking the form of MP3 files, digital video and trendy Edison bulbs (that last one’s a joke).

Today, EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) is one of the most prominent elements of paranormal investigations, and includes the use of digital audio recorders and Frank’s Ghost Box, a radio transmitter that switches rapidly between white noise and AM stations in an attempt to communicate with the dead.

Edison’s time has passed, but his technology lives on. And we believe he’s still “swarming” out there in the ether, like he believed he would.

Make sure to check out our friends at The Y Files Podcast for more of their content.

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