Early Sound Recording

Edison announced his success in recording and playing back sound in July, 1877, but his achievement took place at a time when other inventors were also theorizing and experimenting with how to capture recorded sound. There were other recording devices that existed before the phonograph, such as the phonautograph (1857). And Charles Cros, the French contemporary of Edison, published a paper describing a similar device of his own creation, the paleophone, in 1877, just months before Edison produced his phonograph.

Edison’s invention encouraged experimentation and imaginative new applications. Early uses of the phonograph were focused on creating one’s own recordings, ranging from the humorous to the somber. Accounts of phonograph owners surprising dinner party guests, for instance, suggest that visitors were greeted in the voice of someone other than the homeowner standing before them. The guests were startled to hear the voice of a speaker they could not see. The early technology was also marketed as a way to commemorate family members, providing an object of remembrance that would keep memories of loved ones alive. One advertisement, for example, told the story of parents who were grateful they had purchased a phonograph and recorded their child, who died soon thereafter. The family was able to find comfort in listening to his recorded voice.

Edison himself was opposed to the creation of marketing of commercially recorded discs, believing that owners should make their own recordings. But as the novelty of the apparatus began to wear off, owners looked for new ways to use their devices, and the popularity of commercial recordings of both music and speech spread quickly. Soon, the early cylinders would be replaced by discs as a recording medium, and multiple companies rushed to produce turntable-style phonographs.

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