The Origins of Sound Recording

Scott phonautograph and Edison phonograph (267 px w)
Top:  Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville's phonoautograph of 1859.  Directly above:  Thomas Edison's phonograph of 1877.

The history of the earliest origins of recorded sound technology is being rewritten!

Recent scholarship makes it clear that sound recording was invented twice: First by inventor Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in 1857 France, then 20 years later by Thomas Alva Edison in the United States. While Edison's story is often told, history books mention Scott's name merely in passing.

Scott’s phonautograph graphed airborne sound waves for visual analysis. But because it lacked the ability to "playback" its recordings, there was no proof that it actually made interpretable sound recordings. In 2008 researchers located Scott’s surviving recordings. Using digital technologies, they proved Scott's recordings could be understood upon playback. This confirmed Scott as the initial inventor of sound recording and called upon historians to reexamine and reframe Edison’s 1877 invention of the phonograph, a device that could both record and playback sound. Since 2008, historians have learned a great deal about Scott and his work. As a result, we now have access to a much fuller, clear picture of this history, and a better understanding of how it relates to Edison and his phonograph.

The year 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Scott’s birth. To commemorate, on April 29 Thomas Edison National Historical Park launched an exhibit at the Edison Laboratory and hosted a symposium titled "The Origins of Sound Recording."

In this set of web pages, we present a virtual online version of the exhibit and video recordings of the symposium:

  • Who Invented Sound Recording? (an interpretive exhibit written by David Giovannoni, with links for research)
  • The Origins of Sound Recording: Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville Bicentennial Symposium (VIDEO) On April 29th 2017, Thomas Edison National Historical Park hosted a symposium commemorating the 200th anniversary of Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s birth. Researchers shared their latest findings with scholars, teachers, students, writers, documentarians, and others who are rewriting the “origins of sound recording” story. American representatives from the National Park Service, French dignitaries from the scientific establishment, and representatives of the two inventors’ families honored the symposium with their encouragement to craft new, accurate narratives.

 
Acknowledgments

Thomas Edison National Historical Park and the National Park Service gratefully acknowledge the following individuals and organizations that contributed time, expertise, and information for "The Origins of Sound Recording" exhibit and symposium.

Académie des sciences-Institut de France
Jean-Paul Agnard
Catherine Bréchignac
Michael Devecka
Patrick Feaster
Bob Ferrel
First Sounds
Friends of Thomas Edison National Historical Park
David Giovannoni
Meagan Hennessey
Institut national de la propriété industrielle
Richard Martin
William Miller
Philippe Nicolet
Ray Phillips
Kip Rowan
Société d'encouragement pour l'industrie nationale
Laurent Scott de Martinville
Katherine Sheram
David Edward Edison Sloane
Anton Stoelwinder
Thomas A. Edison Papers, Rutgers University
Anthony Wellman

Last updated: July 18, 2017

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