‘Photo-Electric Marimba’ or ‘Marimbalite’. Dr. Phillips Thomas. USA, 1934

The Marimbalite on the cover of the October 1934 edition of Radio Craft (USA)
Pogot_eectric Marimba
Photo-electric Marimba

Dr Phillip Thomas a research physicist at the Westinghouse Research laboratory created the ‘Marimbalite’ sometime around 1935 as a way of publicising Westinghouse’s research into photo-electric technology. Other promotional applications included ‘Rastus’ the rubber negro robot who could be commanded to stand up and talk when illuminated by a torch beam.

Dr Thomas plays the Marimbalite
Dr Thomas plays the Marimbalite

The Marimbalite was an electro-mechanical device which created sounds mechanically from light triggered vibrating tubes, Dr Thomas was able to ‘play’ the Marimbalite with a torch in each had:

“Dozens of photo-cells and radio tubes are lined up side by side atop the new musical device. For each musical note there is an oscillating circuit which produces electrical vibrations when light is directed on that circuits photo-cell. Reproducers convert the electrical vibrations into sound which is directed into the marimba pipes.”

‘Modern Mechanix Magazine’ Archive. September 1935

Dr Phillip Thomas worked at Westinghouse Research laboratory for thirty five years and developed numerous inventions including primitive robots, ‘vortex chimneys’, lightbulbs, voice activated switches, ultra-audible microphones. After retirement he proposed to study the possibility of recording telepathic human thoughts –there is no record of his findings with this endeavour.

Dr Phillips Thomas shoots 'Rastus' the Negro robot
Dr Phillips Thomas shoots ‘Rastus’ the African-American robot with a light beam bow and arrow.
Dr Phillips Thomas
Westinghouse electrical engineer Phillips Thomas measures the heart palpitations of a couple kissing with his “ultra-audible” microphone, Pittsburgh, PA, March 15, 1924.

In the early 1920s Thomas invented an “ultra-audible” microphone that enabled “scientists to hear sounds inaudible to the naked ear.” He would later work on radio signal-controlled electric circuitry, and a vortex gun designed to eliminate smoke from factories by shooting it in vortex rings high into the atmosphere. After World War II, Thomas believed that the answer to mental telepathy might be found in the unexplored frequency band between ultra-short radar waves and the longest waves of light.”



‘Modern Mechanix Magazine’ Archive. September 1935

‘Popular Science’ Magazine. May 1949

Telelux and rastus: Westinghouse’s forgotten robots


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