Early sound recordings
Edison, Bell, and Berliner offered objects and supporting documents to the Smithsonian Institution. The Museum has about 400 of the earliest audio recordings ever made. These experimental recordings are made with diverse techniques and materials. They date from the first decades of sound recording and reproduction, from 1878 to 1898.

Beyond vague notes written on old catalog cards, the content of most of the Smithsonian recordings has remained a mystery, until now. A newly invented sound recovery process is beginning to let us hear these recordings, once considered unplayable. The recordings provide insights into the invention process of their designers and shed new light on speech and hearing at the end of the 19th century. These sounds promise a wealth of new material for scholarly analysis.

The six recordings, tested for sound recovery to date, are examples of experiments conducted by the Volta Laboratory Associates—Alexander Graham Bell, his cousin Chichester Bell, and Charles Sumner Tainter—between roughly 1880 and 1885.
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