Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville: The Phonautograph
Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville invented sound recording 20 years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. Sound had been invisible and transient since the beginning of time. Scott’s phonautograph recorded it and made it both visible and permanent. It was a technological breakthrough, ahead of its time. He did not intend for his phonautograms to be played back; that concept was another 20 years away.
When Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville first conceived of sound recording he was an editor and typographer of manuscripts at a scientific publishing house in Paris. One day in 1853 or 1854 he was pouring over a text on human physiology when he envisioned an amazing new possibility. He called it “the imprudent idea of photographing the word.” If photography could capture fleeting images with lenses modeled on the eye, might not a replica of the ear similarly capture spoken words?