Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone allowed people to hear each other like never before. But as the man died 90 years ago and his granddaughter passed away in 2006, there was no one else to remember what the Scottish-born inventor himself sounded like — until now.
The Smithsonian had been donated a recording and through digital technology was able to recover the sound of Bell’s voice.
A biographer of Bell, Charlotte Gray, wrote in an article for Smithsonian Magazine that Bell had donated hundreds of discs and cylinders used while he attempted to make recordings. Smithsonian though wasn’t sure how Bell and his team at Volta Lab played back their own recordings.
Gray reported Carlene Stephens, a curator with the National Museum of American History, saying the discs were considered “mute artifacts.”
Then Stephens learned about the work of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory physicist Carol Haber who was able to get sound from recordings made in 1860 through high-resolution optical scans that were converted into an audio file.
It was such a technique that Haber and colleagues Earl Cornell and Peter Alyea used to release the sound on the discs from Bell’s Volta Labs, including one made from wax and cardboard dated April 15, 1885. This disc held none other than Bell’s own voice.
“In witness whereof—hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell.”
Listen to the recording here.
Here’s a report from NBC with the recording’s audio:
Read the whole of Gray’s account regarding the discovery here.
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