Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (25 April 1817 – 26 April 1879) was a French printer and bookseller who lived in Paris. He invented the earliest known sound recording device, the phonautograph, which was patented in France on 25 March 1857.[1][2][3]

As a printer by trade, he was able to read accounts of the latest scientific discoveries and became an inventor. Scott de Martinville was interested in recording the sound of human speech in a way similar to that achieved by the then new technology of photography for light and image. He hoped for a form of stenography that could record the whole of a conversation without any omissions. His earliest interest was in an improved form of stenography and he was the author of several papers on shorthand and a history of the subject (1849).[4]


From 1854 he became fascinated in a mechanical means of transcribing vocal sounds. While proofreading some engravings for a physics textbook he came across drawings of auditory anatomy. He sought to mimic the working in a mechanical device, substituting an elastic membrane for the tympanum, a series of levers for the ossicle, which moved a stylus he proposed would press on a paper, wood or glass surface covered in lampblack. On 26 January 1857, he delivered his design in a sealed envelope to the French Academy.[4] On 25 March 1857, he received French patent #17,897/31,470 for the phonautograph.

The phonautograph used a horn to collect sound, attached to a diaphragm which vibrated a stiff bristle which inscribed an image on a lamp black coated, hand-cranked cylinder. Scott built several devices with the help of acoustic instrument maker Rudolph Koenig. Unlike Edison’s later invention of 1877, the phonograph, the phonautograph only created visual images of the sound and did not have the ability to play back its recordings. Scott de Martinville’s device was used only for scientific investigations of sound waves.

Scott de Martinville managed to sell several phonautographs to scientific laboratories for use in the investigation of sound. It proved useful in the study of vowel sounds and was used by Franciscus Donders, Heinrich Schneebeli and Rene Marage. It also initiated further research into tools able to image sound such as Koenig’s manometric flame.[4] He was not, however, able to profit from his invention and spent the remainder of his life as a librarian and bookseller at 9 Rue Vivienne in Paris.

Scott de Martinville also became interested in the relationship between linguistics, people’s names and their character and published a paper on the subject (1857).[4]

Rediscovery of the Au clair de la lune recording

In 2008, The New York Times reported the playback of a phonautogram recorded on 9 April 1860.[7] The recording was converted from “squiggles on paper” to a playable digital audio file by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California.[7] The phonautogram was one of several deposited by Leon Scott in two archives in Paris and only recently brought to light.

The recording, of part of the French folk song Au clair de la lune, was initially played at a speed that produced a reasonable musical tempo, and on that basis it was taken as a 10-second recording of the voice of a woman or child. It was later decided[by whom?] that the playback speed had been too fast, and that it was actually a 20-second recording of a man, probably Scott himself, singing the song very slowly.[8] It is now the earliest known recording of singing in existence, predating, by 28 years, several 1888 Edison wax cylinder phonograph recordings of a massed chorus performing Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt.[9]

A phonautogram by Scott containing the opening lines of Torquato Tasso’s pastoral drama Aminta, in Italian, has also been found. Recorded around 1860, probably after the recording of Au clair de la lune, this phonautogram is now the earliest known recording of intelligible human speech.[10] Recordings of Scott’s voice made in 1857 have also survived, but they are only unintelligible snippets.

It is said that in 1863 a recording was made of Abraham Lincoln’s voice at the White House, using Scott’s phonautograph.[11] A phonautographic tracing of Lincoln’s voice was supposedly included among the artifacts kept by Edison. According to, Scott did not travel to the U.S. in the 1860s.[12]

Scott’s phonautograms were selected by the Library of Congress as a 2010 addition to the National Recording Registry, which selects recordings annually that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.[13]

– from Wikipedia

Thomas Edison

Edison began his career as an inventor in Newark, New Jersey, with the automatic repeater and his other improved telegraphic devices, but the invention that first gained him notice was the phonograph in 1877.[31] This accomplishment was so unexpected by the public at large as to appear almost magical. Edison became known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” New Jersey.[2]

Edison_and_phonograph_edit1His first phonograph recorded on tinfoil around a grooved cylinder. Despite its limited sound quality and that the recordings could be played only a few times, the phonograph made Edison a celebrity. Joseph Henry, president of the National Academy of Sciences and one of the most renowned electrical scientists in the US, described Edison as “the most ingenious inventor in this country… or in any other”.[32] In April 1878, Edison travelled to Washington to demonstrate the phonograph before the National Academy of Sciences, Congressmen, Senators and US President Hayes.[33] The Washington Post described Edison as a “genius” and his presentation as “a scene… that will live in history”.[34] Although Edison obtained a patent for the phonograph in 1878,[35] he did little to develop it until Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell, and Charles Tainter produced a phonograph-like device in the 1880s that used wax-coated cardboard cylinders.

From Wikipedia


Emile Berliner

Emile Berliner or Emil Berliner (May 20, 1851 – August 3, 1929) was a German-born American inventor. He is best known for developing the disc record gramophone (phonograph in American English). He founded the Berliner Gramophone Company in 1895, The Gramophone Company in London, England, in 1897, Deutsche Grammophon in Hanover, Germany, in 1898 and Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada in Montreal in 1899 (chartered in 1904).

Emile_Berliner_portraitIn 1886 Berliner began experimenting with methods of sound recording. He was granted his first patent for what he called the “Gramophone” in 1887. The patent described recording sound using horizontal modulation of a stylus as it traced a line on a rotating cylindrical surface coated with an unresisting opaque material such as lampblack, subsequently fixed with varnish and used to photoengrave a corresponding groove into the surface of a metal playback cylinder. In practice, Berliner opted for the disc format, which made the photoengraving step much less difficult and offered the prospect of making multiple copies of the result by some simpler process such as electrotyping, molding or stamping. In 1888 Berliner was using a more direct recording method, in which the stylus traced a line through a very thin coating of wax on a zinc disc, which was then etched in acid to convert the line of bared metal into a playable groove.

By 1890 a Berliner licensee in Germany was manufacturing a toy Gramophone and five-inch hard rubber discs (stamped-out replicas of etched zinc master discs), but because key US patents were still pending they were sold only in Europe. Berliner meant his Gramophone to be more than a mere toy, and in 1895 he persuaded a group of businessmen to invest $25,000, with which he started the US Berliner Gramophone Company. He began marketing seven-inch records and a more substantial Gramophone, which was, however, still hand-propelled like the smaller toy machine.

The difficulty in using early hand-driven Gramophones was getting the turntable to rotate at an acceptably steady speed while playing a disc. Engineer Eldridge R. Johnson, the owner of a small machine shop in Camden, New Jersey, assisted Berliner in developing a suitable low-cost wind-up spring motor for the Gramophone and became Berliner’s manufacturer. Berliner gave Frank Seaman the exclusive sales rights in the US, but after disagreements Seaman began selling his own version of the Gramophone, as well as unauthorized copies of Berliner’s records, and Berliner was legally barred from selling his own products. The US Berliner Gramophone Company shut down in mid-1900 and Berliner moved to Canada. Following various legal maneuvers, the Victor Talking Machine Company was officially founded by Eldridge Johnson in 1901 and the trade name “Gramophone” was completely and permanently abandoned in the US, although its use continued elsewhere. The Berliner Gramophone Co. of Canada was chartered on 8 April 1904 and reorganized as the Berliner Gramophone Co. in 1909.



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