Thomas Edison NHP News Release
Contact: Karen Sloat-Olsen
Phone: 973-736-0550 x17
Reservations: 973-736-0550 x89
Humanity's First Recordings of its Own Voice
Historian David Giovannoni Presentation
WEST ORANGE, NJ - On Saturday evening, November 6, 2010, at 7:00 pm,
Thomas Edison National Historical Park welcomes historian David Giovannoni
who will give a 75-minute illustrated presentation titled “Humanity’s
First Recordings of its Own Voice.” The program will be held at the
Laboratory Complex at 211 Main Street. Admission to the program is free.
Seating is limited and reservations are required. Reservations can be made
by calling 973-736-0550, ext.89.
Thomas Edison’s tinfoil phonograph of 1877 is rightly considered one of
the marvels of the nineteenth century. But in mid-nineteenth-century
France, amateur inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville conceived of a
rather similar machine. Between 1854 and 1860 he experimented with
focusing airborne sounds of speech and music onto paper. His
phonautograph bore a striking resemblance to Edison’s phonograph of 20
years later. But his recordings, unlike Edison’s, were meant to be read
by the eye, not heard by the ear.
For a century-and-a-half his experiments lay quietly in the venerable
French archives in which he deposited them. Then in 2007 a few audio
historians hypothesized there was a real possibility that modern
technology could develop these experimental recordings like dormant
photographic plates. Instead of exposing images, however, these would
bear sounds – perhaps even humanity’s first recordings of its own voice!
In this presentation David Giovannoni recounts how he and his colleagues
have identified dozens of these forgotten documents and coaxed several to
talk and to sing. A principal in their discovery and recovery, Giovannoni
is the first person since Scott de Martinville to personally examine every
recording. He’ll explain how they were made and how they are played.
He’ll discuss Scott de Martinville experiments, his reception in
established scientific circles, and his early descent into an unmarked
For more information or directions please call 973-736-0550 ext. 11 or
visit our website at www.nps.gov/edis.
National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior Thomas Edison
National Historical Park
211 Main Street
West Orange, NJ 07052