Alexander Graham Bell’s Voice


We all know the story of the day Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone: he spilled acid on his hand when fiddling with his invention in the attic and cried out in pain. His friend, downstairs and on the other side of the line, heard Bell yell out, and they both realized that Bell’s invention worked! But have you ever wondered what the great inventor’s voice sounded like over his telephone? Well now you can!

In the 188o’s, Bell gave his extensive collection of laboratory materials to the Smithsonian Institution, where he was a member of the Board of Regents. That collection included many discs and cylinders that Bell had used to try to record himself documenting his research in order to keep his ideas safe from other inventors. They contained research anticipating fiber-optic communications, recording devices, and extensive light research. These valuable recordings have been unplayable until recently since Bell kept his method of playing the sound back a tight secret.

However, physicist Carl Haber at the Lawrence Berkeley National Labratory in Berkeley, CA, who succeeded in playing back early recordings made in Paris in 1860 by converting optical scans into audio files, tried the same technique with Bell’s recordings with stunning success.
Previously lost recordings of muffled voices recited Hamlet, number sequences, and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” can now be played back on the computer. One such recording of Bell speaking in which he says “In witness whereof – hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell” can be heard here.

(via Smithsonian)


One thought on “Alexander Graham Bell’s Voice

  1. The museum’s collection of about 400 of the earliest audio recordings, including 200 from Bell’s lab, will likely become a key resource for new research on communications and early technology now that they can be played back, Stephens said.

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