Gillett phonograph
Gillett phonograph

  • Who was William Gillett?

  • What is a Gillett phonograph?

  • What is this project and frequent asked questions.

  • When is this project taking place?

  • How can you participate and what will you get?

    • Buyers

    • Sponsors

    • Spectators

  • About the book

  • Who is behind this project?

Who was William Gillett?

Very little is known about William Gillett. On 2018, Francis W. Pratt published on the "The antique Phonograph" magazine two articles with the contents of his research about him from which the following information was extracted:

William Gillett (1869-1894) resided at "Faraday Cottage" in Slough, London, he received a seven-and-a-half-year education (and apprenticeship?) under a man by the name of Mr Henry Middleton 

He was only 21 or 22 years old when he published the articles and plans of his electric phonograph on the "The English mechanic and World of Science" magazine in 1891 that were later part of his book "The phonograph and how to construct it" published on October 14, 1892,

By 1891, the young Mr Gillett had become established and respected in his own right, and had later published a series of articles in The English Mechanic And World Of Science entitled "Elementary physics" - throughout the scant three years between his Phonograph plans, right up to his untimely death on Sunday, August 12,1894

As an entrepreneur, he was involved in the business world, as can be seen with this advertisement printed in the November 25, 1892 "The English mechanic and World of Science" Exchange Column: "Gillett. -Faraday Cottage, Slough: Dynamo Carcass, thorough good magnet circuit, cost 30s. Excellent for three-speed lathe wheel (20in.) and vice, or tools. -Gillett, Faraday Cottage, Slough."

To put Gillett's Phonograph articles into the greater historical context, a month earlier than Part I of his series was published, The English mechanic and World of Science had featured in their January 2, 1891 issue, an article titled, "THE NEW MICROGRAPHOPHONE" - extolling the virtues of an invention by a "Lieutenant in the Italian navy "Gianni Bettini. And, only six months prior, in August 1890, the same publication had printed a short article, illustrating two separate mechanical devices described as: "THE GRAMOPHONE" Among instruments for recording and reproducing speech and other sounds, the invention of Mr. Emil Berliner, of Washington, D.C., known as the gramophone, is remarkable as being distinct from the others in both form and principle.

On August 18, 1894, The Slough, Eton, and Windsor Observer magazine, published the following article on pg.8:


It was only in our issue of Saturday the 14th July that a very interesting article from the pen of Mr W. Gillett, author of a work, entitled "The Phonograph" appeared upon the subject of "The Electric Telephone; a brief account of its history, construction and working," and we now regretfully record the fact that this promising young writer on Sunday evening last joined the great majority, after suffering a brief but painful illness. Mr Gillett, who at the time of his death was only 25 years of age, pursued with intense application the study of mechanics and science, and suitably enough both the house and the street in which he lived were associated names of most distinguished scientists, the house being known as Faraday Cottage and the thoroughfare in which it was situated being Herschel-street. So high an opinion did a well known firm of publishers of scientific works entertain of his manuscript on "The Phonograph" that they not only undertook the responsibility of an issue at their own expense, but offered to pay royalty on all sales above a certain number. To those who have any knowledge of the publishing business this will be acknowledged to be a most encouraging start, as publishers are as a rule extremely wary, and instead of promising royalties are more likely to require indemnification against loss. For seven and a half years Mr. Gillett had been in the service of Mr Henry Middleton, the well-known engineer and inventor of Wellington-street, Slough, and had applied himself to his work with a fidelity and zeal which could not fail to command the approbation and commendation of his principal. In his leisure time Mr Gillett wrote articles upon elementary physics, and a series of articles from his pen has lately been appearing in the English Mechanic, the subjects treated being "Sound," "Electricity, Light, and Heat," &c.

He was the teacher appointed for the class in "Magnetism and Electricity," one of the subjects taught in connection with the Slough Technical School, and was so popular with the students that on the occasion of the funeral at Deal on Wednesday last, prominent among the floral tributes was one from the students in his class, including Miss Newlyn, Mr Lovegrove, Mr Cherrie, Mr Ball, and Mr Porrie. It is a singular thing that the funeral service of the deceased young man whose career, so prematurely terminated, gave evidence of so much promise, was christened and married in the same church where the funeral obsequies were performed on Wednesday afternoon last, He had made every arrangement for experimentally illuminating his own house, and those of one or two of his nearest neighbours by electricity, and the motive power was to be furnished by a petroleum engine, with which he had provided himself, but his good-natured designs were frustrated by death, the immediate cause of which was peritonitis, or inflammation of the bowels (sic).

Also, In the August 17, 1894 issue of the "The English mechanic and World of Science" magazine , a short but respectful memorial was published: 

Our readers will greatly regret to hear that Mr W. Gillett, who has for some time contributed to our columns, passed peacefully away on Sunday last after a short illness of only eight days. His constant readiness to impart information has made his name familiar to all readers, and his memory will live as one of the many who have so heartily helped to build up "Ours" as their common monument, and to benefit their fellows and humanity at large.

He is buried at St. Andrews Church, Deal, Kent, England 

What is a Gillett phonograph?

Gillett designed and published in his book two phonographs, A very simple tinfoil and a much more complex electrical model. In 1996/1997 a batch of 15 units of the tinfoil were fabricated and sold by "Yesterday Once Again" in California but, as far as we know, no one has built a Gillett electric phonograph in the last decades or even last century. Only one Gillett electric phonograph is known to exist nowadays on the collection of Richard Scott, member of The City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society ( and it has several very interesting modifications such a different spectacle and the use of an Edison mandrel and feedscrew.

Gillett describes his electric phonograph as follows:

The phonograph to be now described is much more complicated than the "Tinfoil phonograph," and consequently will call for a higher degree of skill in workmanship. As a matter of fact the instrument when dismounted will be divided into between 100 and 200 parts; and some of these parts are made up of several smaller pieces soldered, or otherwise fastened together. (The total amount of pieces is over 370)

The instrument is not exactly a copy of the form given to it by Edison, but a modification designed by the writer. There is the usual revolving wax cylinder, across which the stylus travels parallel to the axis. In this one the phonograph itself is built on a brass bed-plate, and this is mounted on six ornamental brass pillars. The space beneath the brass bed-plate is occupied by the necessary driving gear and motor; the latter being in this case a special electro-motor.

All the parts of this instrument can be made on any good lathe above 21-inch or 3-inch centres, which is fitted with a compound slide rest. The sheets of working drawings in this book are exact reproductions on a smaller scale of the original sheets which were drawn to the exact size of the various parts. In fact, I have taken the drawings from a phonograph that I have already constructed to this design.

It will be seen that I have not gone into the various details of instrument-makers' work connected with this machine, as I naturally suppose the amateur will not attempt the work unless he possess the necessary skill and knowledge.

What is this project and frequent asked questions.

The mission of this project is to build 10 units of Gillett's electric phonograph according to the original design and incorporating the modifications he introduced on the following years to perfect it. In parallel, a book will be written with a facsimile of the original book and blueprints, additional modifications, questions and answers of the builders between 1891 and 1894 and my own comments of the building process. 

Only 10 units will be made and will be identified by a serial number, certificate and with its corresponding book. After the 10th unit is completed, all the jigs, foundry moulds and specific tools for this project will be destroyed.

If there's enough demand, the building process can be recorded and a series of videos published for subscribers.

Frequent asked questions:

Will they be replicas?

No, to be something a replica implies that it is copied from an original. You can make a replica of Michelangelo's David but, if you follow a traditional bread recipe, you will obtain an original bread and not a replica of a bread. The same principle applies here. William Gillett never made a series of phonographs. He designed it and published the blueprints so every phonograph will be a genuine Gillett phonograph.

Why only 10 units? Why not make 100?

In order to preserve the value of the only existing unit and the new 10 ones, it was decided by the promoters of this project to make a very limited run. This will ensure to the collectors the investment.

Why nobody has ventured to make them in the last decades (or century)?

Several answers seem possible and it might be among the following:

Very few people have the right tools and machinist, cabinetmaking, metal casting and electrical knowledge to make all the pieces. 

Even less people have the knowledge of understanding how a phonograph works. For example, it must be less than 200 people worldwide nowadays that know how to shave and record a wax cylinder and among them only a few will have the sufficient experience to understand why his recording has noise or is too faint or sounds distorted. Well, imagine doing it on a self made machine, cylinder and vaguely described stylus. And at 50 to 60 rpms instead of 160!

The investment in hours and money is immense. More than 1000 hours were needed to study the blueprints, make proof of concepts and to put together a business plan and around 250 hours will be needed to make every unit. 

When is this project taking place?

The first unit is currently been made. The building process started in June 2021 and it is estimated to require 3 months to be completed. The following units will require 1,5 months each.

How can you participate and what will you get?


Will get a phonograph with serial number x/10, a book with certificate and matching serial number and access to all building contents.

Standard or Gillett size mandrel (not both)

Mahogany base

Speed regulator

2 different size light metal horns as per book

Rubber hearing tubes with glass earpieces, Y connector and socket

Cone with rubber tube for registering voice

Electronic power source

Book with certificate

Direct chat for discussing options during the building of his unit

Options: (not included in the price)

  • Optional curved horn 
  • Gillett size cylinder mould
  • Glass case
  • Grennet Batteries
  • Nickel plated phonograph