Thomas Edison National Historical Park News Release
Contact: Jerry Fabris, 973-736-0550 x 48
Email: [log in to unmask]

"The Origins of Sound Recording" Online Exhibit and Symposium Videos Released

WEST ORANGE, NJ – Today the National Park Service announces the release of an online exhibit and videos that share the latest historical research into the beginnings of recorded sound technology.  The web presentation, titled "The Origins of Sound Recording", is available at  Recent research calls attention to the work of French inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (1817-1879).  Scott’s phonautograph, patented in France in 1857, graphically inscribed airborne sounds over time onto a permanent medium.  As such, it was the earliest sound recording device.  Twenty years later, Thomas Edison independently re-invented sound recording in the form of the phonograph – the first device to both record and reproduce (or “playback”) sound.

The web exhibit, authored by researcher David Giovannoni, contextualizes and compares the innovations of Scott and Edison.  It also explains the role of Charles Cros (1842-1888), a visionary Frenchman who conceptualized sound reproduction just weeks before Edison.  While both Scott and Cros clearly anticipated a number of essential elements of Edison’s phonograph, historical evidence indicates that Edison conceived of sound recording without prior knowledge of their work.

On April 29th, 2017, Thomas Edison National Historical Park hosted an international symposium to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Scott's birth, titled “The Origins of Sound Recording: Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville Bicentennial Symposium.”  Researchers Patrick Feaster and David Giovannoni presented their latest findings to an audience of scholars, teachers, students, writers, and documentarians.  Included among the attendees were American representatives from the National Park Service, French dignitaries from the scientific establishment, and representatives of both Scott's and Edison's families.  The new web presentation features video recordings of the full program.

A physical version of the exhibit, which includes a full-scale replica 1859 Scott phonautograph, is on display at Thomas Edison National Historical Park this summer through August 27.

Because Scott's phonautograph lacked the ability to playback its recordings, he was unable to prove that it actually captured interpretable sound recordings, and faced skepticism.  The significance of Scott's phonautograph was not fully recognized during his lifetime.  In 2008, researchers Giovannoni and Feaster located Scott’s surviving recordings in French archives.  Using digital technologies, they demonstrated that Scott's recordings could be understood upon playback.  This confirmed Scott as the initial inventor of sound recording and called upon historians to re-examine and reframe Edison’s 1877 invention of the phonograph.  As of 2017, we have access to a much fuller, clear picture of Scott’s history, and a better understanding of how it relates to Edison’s first phonograph.


David Giovannoni (email: [log in to unmask], websites: and curates an extensive personal archive of 19th and early 20th century sound recordings. The Library of Congress has incorporated part of his early disc collection into its online National Jukebox, and the Librarian of Congress had placed his collection of wax cylinder home recordings on the prestigious National Recording Registry.  David has served on the board of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections.  As a producer of historic reissues, David is the recipient of six Grammy nominations and one Grammy.  David is a founder of First Sounds and an architect of its mission to make the earliest sound recordings available to all people for all time. First Sounds is best known for identifying and playing back Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s phonautograph recordings, made in Paris 20 years before Edison invented the phonograph. Two years ago he shepherded Scott’s recorded legacy, “Humanity’s First Recordings of its Own Voice,” onto UNESCO’s prestigious Memory of the World Register. 

Patrick Feaster (email: [log in to unmask], website:, tel: 812-331-0047) received his doctorate in folklore and ethnomusicology in 2007 from Indiana University Bloomington, where he is now Media Preservation Specialist for the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative.  A three-time Grammy nominee, co-founder of the First Sounds Initiative, and immediate past president of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, he has been actively involved in locating, making audible, and contextualizing many of the world’s oldest sound recordings.

Jerry Fabris is a Museum Curator at Thomas Edison National Historical Park, a National Park Service site dedicated to promoting an international understanding and appreciation of the life and extraordinary achievements of Thomas Alva Edison by preserving, protecting, and interpreting the Park’s extensive historic artifact and archive collections at the Edison Laboratory Complex and Glenmont, the Edison family estate. The Visitor Center is located at 211 Main Street in West Orange, New Jersey.  For more information or directions call 973-736-0550 extension 11 or visit: