LISTEN: What Did Alexander Graham Bell Sound Like?

Tech

Alexander Graham Bell, as you probably know, invented the telephone. What you may not know, is that he also made crucial refinements to the first techniques used to record and play back sound. And yet contemporary listeners have never been able to hear Bell’s voice — until now, thanks to researchers at at the Smithsonian, Library of Congress and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The first recording device — Thomas Edison’s phonograph — used tinfoil-covered cylinders to encode sound waves. Bell (Edison’s rival) and his associates came up with the more commercially viable idea of coating cardboard tubes or discs with wax to do the job. But wax recordings were incredibly fragile, capable of only limited playback and prone to deterioration over time.

So when researchers at the Smithsonian discovered a piece of paper in a collection of the earliest audio recordings ever made that transcribed an 1885 recording ostensibly made by Bell…

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