Hear the Voice That Made the First Telephone Call! Smithsonian Recovers Audio from Bell’s Recording.

File this under SUPER COOL! Smithsonian Scientists have restored a recording of Alexander Graham Bell’s voice from a nearly 130 year old cardboard and wax disc.

Without Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone our site wouldn’t exist and neither would the fancy gadget you carry around in your pocket. The first telephone call was made by Bell in 1876. After spending years working on electromagnetic voice recording, Bell spoke into a rudimentary microphone to his assistant in another room. The vibrations of his voice were carried through a wire to the other room where his assistant heard, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” Mr Watson heard Bell’s voice clearly and was able to respond, and thus the telephone was born. While it would take several years of refinement before telephones were reliable enough to be available to the public,  Alexander Graham Bell’s historic call marked the first practical telephone, and he later patented the device.

Audio Recording was a major part of Bell’s life. Bell’s father, grandfather, and brother had all been involved with work on elocution and speech, and both his mother and wife were deaf. He began experimenting with sound at a young age, driven by his desire to help the deaf to hear. As the Smithsonian notes, Bell made hundreds of recordings over the years and donated them to the Smithsonian later in life.

“Today, however, a dramatic application of digital technology has allowed researchers to recover Bell’s voice from a recording held by the Smithsonian—a breakthrough announced here for the first time. From the 1880s on, until his death in 1922, Bell gave an extensive collection of laboratory materials to the Smithsonian Institution, where he was a member of the Board of Regents. The donation included more than 400 discs and cylinders Bell used as he tried his hand at recording sound.”

The piece goes on to describe in detail the painstaking recovery process the Smithsonian scientists are using to glean the audio data from the ancient discs. You can read all about it, watch a really cool video, and hear the voice of the man who made the first telephone call on their page. Basically, they’re using super high resolution optical scans of the discs and converting them to audio files with computers.

So take a listen to the recording. However muffled, it’s a direct line to the past and a time of major technological innovation. The reproduction of audio and the ability to converse instantaneously with folks not in the same room changed things in a fundamental way. The line of technological achievements that followed can be traced all the way up to the touch screen device you might be reading this on right now.

[Via: Smithsonian Magazine, Wikipedia]


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