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Text-To-Speech in 1846 Involved a Talking Robotic Head With Ringlets

Professor Joseph Faber spent 25 years perfecting his “talking machine,” which he called the Euphonia. He unveiled the Euphonia in 1846 at London's grand Egyptian Hall before a crowd of people who paid a shilling each to see it. The contraption was essentially a keyboard and bellows attached to a automaton of a woman’s face.

Fourteen piano keys controlled the articulation of the Euphonia's jaw, lips, and tongue while the roles of the lungs and larynx were performed by a bellows and an ivory reed. The operator could adjust the pitch and accent of the Euphonia's speech by turning a small screw or inserting a tube into its nose. It was reported that it took Faber seven long years simply to get his machine to correctly pronounce the letter e.

But she pronounced more than that, as the Euphonia held conversations with the crowd, slowly but understandably. It was certainly a technological wonder, but people were put off by the creepiness of the face that spoke -a view of the uncanny valley. The machine might have been a sensation without the face, but it was not to be. Read the story of Faber and his Euphonia at Atlas Obscura.   


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