Pre-Edison Audio Recording Discovered

March 28, 2008 03:46 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Researchers have found a recording of a human voice dating from 1860, shedding light on the work of a little-known French inventor.

30-Second Summary

Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter, recorded a 10-second clip of a human voice singing the folk song “Au Clair de La Lune” on his phonautograph machine.

The device, which recorded sounds visually but could not play them back, predates Thomas Alva Edison’s first phonograph by nearly two decades.

Created April 9, 1860, the 10-second clip was discovered by historians in a Paris archive earlier this month and was made playable for the first time by scientists at a lab in Berkeley, Calif.

Regardless of the discovery, Edison remains the first person to reproduce sound with his phonograph machine, which brought him fame and ushered in a new era of music.  

“Edison is not diminished whatsoever by this discovery,” said David Giovannoni, an American historian who led the research effort.

However, the discovery has finally shed light on de Martinville’s achievement, as he believed that credit for his breakthroughs in sound recording had been improperly given to Edison.

“What are the rights of the discoverer versus the improver?” de Martinville wrote before his death in 1879. “Come, Parisians, don’t let them take our prize.”

The history of invention is rife with stories of disputed claims and competing egos.

American inventor Elisha Gray missed his chance at history when he filed his patent for the telephone a few hours after Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. The U.S. Patent Office gave the patent to Bell, although Gray started a lengthy litigation process.

Edison is also given historical credit for the invention of the incandescent lamp, although English physicist Sir Joseph Wilson Swan produced an early electric light bulb in 1860. Edison’s light bulb, however, was the first that was commercially viable.

Headline links: Researchers play tune recorded before Edison

Reaction: BBC newsreader loses it on air

Related Topics: History’s contested inventions

Reference: Edison invents the phonograph


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