Alexander Graham Bell invented a device so necessary for daily life that we often take it for granted: the telephone. Few devices have changed the way we communicate with each other so dramatically. You can thank him for calls as trivial as ordering pizza and as important as wishing a loved one happy birthday.
None of this would have been possible, however, without the ability to record sound. Thomas Edison introduced the phonograph cylinder, the first practical audio recording device, in 1877. Bell furthered Edison’s work by experimenting with gramophone discs as early as 1881. In this recording from 1885, you can hear Bell testing one of these discs. As strange as it seems to listen to a man reading numbers for four minutes, his recording is a valuable link to the past.
The recording is from the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History (SI NMAH) Volta Laboratory collection.
Optical scanning is a process to restore historic sound recordings, non-invasively. The technology used here was developed mainly by a collaboration of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Library of Congress.