Phonograph toys and early sound cartoons: Towards a history of visualized phonography

Jacob Smith*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Between 1909 and 1925, a number of toys were patented and produced that were operated by the spinning motion of a phonograph player. In this article, the author argues that these 'phonotoys' complement and refine our understanding of the genealogy of the sound cartoon, and suggests that popular recordings should be considered as an important expressive resource for early sound animators just as were film, vaudeville, and newspaper comic strips. By outlining a constellation of family resemblances shared by phonotoys and sound cartoons made by the Disney, Fleischer, Warner Brothers, Van Beuren, and Iwerks studios in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the article establishes a dialogue between sound cartoons of this era and phonograph culture that provides a fresh perspective on discussions in Animation Studies having to do with the representation of race, ethnicity, and gender, as well as strategies of sound/image synchronization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-174
Number of pages24
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • Fleischer
  • Mickey Mouse
  • Orientalism
  • Silly Symphony
  • Ub Iwerks
  • minstrel show
  • music
  • phonograph
  • sound
  • synchronization
  • toys

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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