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1917 Dictaphone advertisement
A Dictaphone is a sound recording device most commonly used to record speech for later playback or to be typed into print. The name "Dictaphone" is a trade mark of a corporation which makes such devices, but has also become a common way to refer to all such devices, especially historic versions that used phonograph cylinders as the recording medium, as was common from the late 19th century until the mid 20th century, when audio tape became the preferred medium. Sometimes when the general term rather than the specific company is referred to, the variation "dictophone" is used.


Shortly after Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, the first device for recording sound, in 1877, he thought that the main use for the new device would be for recording speech in business settings. (Given the low audio fidelity of earliest versions of the phonograph, thinking that recording speech would be more important than recording music may not have been as absurd an assumption as it may seem in retrospect.) Some early phonographs were indeed used this way, but this did not become common until the mass production of reusable wax cylinders in the late 1880s. The differentiation of office dictation devices from other early phonographs (which commonly had attachments for making one's own recordings) was gradual.

Thomas A. Edison dictating in his library, 1907

The name "Dictaphone" was trademarked by the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1907, which soon became the leading manufacturer of such devices. Dictaphone was spun off into a separate company in 1923.

The machine marketed by the Edison Records company was trademarked as the "Ediphone".

Electric microphones generally replaced the strictly acoustical recording methods of earlier dictaphones by the late 1930s. In 1947, Dictaphone replaced wax cylinders with their DictaBelt technology, which cut a mechanical groove into a plastic belt instead of into a wax cylinder. This was later replaced by magnetic tape recording.

Today the Dictaphone company sells a range of products, including voice recognition software and interactive voice response systems (IVR, for voicemail loops.)

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