Thursday, May 2, 2013

Alexander Graham Bell Speaks

The people at the Smithsonian have done a fascinating thing -- actually managed to recapture Alexander Graham Bell's voice recording.
     Graham Bell, as well as others, was heavily experimenting with recording equipment and discs, as well as the telephone. The Smithsonian didn't know how to play these (see below), but managed to do an optical scan on the wax recordings. This one was dated 1885:



Sound recordings don't happen until the mid-1870s, and then only in fragmentary form. For one thing, a satisfactory material for recording wasn't found; they tried everything from wax to cardboard. (In fact, we still don't know for sure, according to the Smithsonian Magazine, how they even managed to play these cylinders.)

I wish we knew what some of our legendary figures really sounded like. What was Abraham Lincoln's voice like, reciting the Gettysburg Address? (Witnesses said it was "a little shriller, a little higher," but carried beautifully.) Was George Washington's voice low, to go with his stature? Charles Dickens was short by our standards (5'6"), but by all accounts, mesmerizing when he spoke. What did he really sound like? (All sorts of actors like to guess -- the results are usually a bit 'plummy,' or snobby British.)
      This one, at least, has finally been captured. 

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