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Fairy Phonograph lesson plans

Fairy Phonograph

This lesson plan uses the attitude objectives stated in the Alberta Program of Studies for Elementary Science. It is intended to encourage students to develop the following attitudes towards scientific study:

Demonstrate positive attitudes for the study of science and for the application of science in responsible ways.

Specific Learner Expectations

Students will show growth in acquiring and applying the following traits

  • curiosity
  • confidence in personal ability to learn and develop problem-solving skills
  • inventiveness and open-mindedness
  • perseverance in the search for understandings and for solutions to problems
  • flexibility in considering new ideas
  • critical-mindedness in examining evidence and determining what the evidence means
  • a willingness to use evidence as the basis for their conclusions and actions
  • a willingness to work with others in shared activities and in sharing of experiences
  • appreciation of the benefits gained from shared effort and cooperation
  • a sense of personal and shared responsibility for actions taken
  • respect for living things and environments, and commitment for their care.

Teachers are encouraged to use these lesson plans as a springboard for studying specific topics in Elementary Science.

What was the Fairy Phonograph?

This lesson plan introduces the students to the born-in-Alberta Fairy Phonograph.

The Fairy Phonograph was invented by Roman Gonsett, a man who was born in Ukraine and came to Eastern Canada in 1907 and later moved to Edmonton. His invention was a combination lamp and phonograph or early record player. Since the 1880s, a lamp with a domed cover and a candle insert had been called a “fairy lamp.” When Gonsett added a phonograph underneath the lamp, he used the whimsical name for his invention.

Gonsett’s phonograph consisted of a turntable that was sheltered by the lamp and its lampshade. The base of the lamp formed the horn, or speaker, of the phonograph; the lamp’s upper portion housed the record turntable’s electric motor.

Gonsett’s invention was also a forerunner of the tri-light lamp. The Fairy Phonograph had three light sockets that could be used singly or in combination.

Lesson 1—Activity 1

Find a museum, antique shop or audio shop that has a phonograph and early record player that can demonstrate how early recordings were played. Compare the sound reproduced by the two players, and discuss the differences and similarities.

Lesson 1—Activity 2

Visit an audio shop to hear the advances in sound technology. Have the sound engineer describe how speakers broadcast sound, and how digital technology has improved both the recording and playing of music.    

Did the Fairy Phonograph lead to any other inventions?

This lesson plan introduces students to other inventions by Roman Gonsett.

Gonsett’s greatest success came in the United States. He and his family moved to California in 1916, as he felt that the comparative isolation of Edmonton prevented him from capitalizing on his inventions.

The “Ukrainian Edison”—as he was called in the United States—would receive patents on almost one hundred inventions, including the Fairy Phonograph. These included a two-way radio, electric scissors, and an aircraft computer capable of measuring the weight and balance of an aircraft in flight. Even though several of his inventions were designed in Edmonton—including the world’s first telephone answering machine in 1912—Gonsett would not secure any Canadian patents.

Lesson 2—Activity 1
Plan a field trip to a radio or recording studio to show students how music is either broadcast or recorded. 

Why do some people consider the Fairy Phonograph to be a piece of art?

This lesson plan shows students the details of early-period phonographs and record players.

The design of the Fairy Phonograph was considered both elegant and practical. Its lampshade was made of silk in an oriental pattern, and the lamp and turntable were finished in gold, silver or mahogany. When not being used to play recordings, the phonograph arm would fold up to be incorporated with the lamp.

Today, the prices for this antique phonograph can be high because of its novelty and the foresightedness of its inventor. It is a rare piece of early-period audio equipment and furniture. There are no records of how many were produced or sold.

When a Fairy Phonograph is found in antique shops or online, prices can run as high as $8,500. It can also be found in museums such as the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton.

Lesson 3—Activity 1
Plan a field trip to the Royal Alberta Museum to see not just the Fairy Phonograph, but other examples of early-period record players. Alternatively, ask an antique dealer to speak to the class about the Fairy Phonograph and to show examples.

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