The Development of Recording Technology Before Edison


In a world in which even the most mundane of sounds can be recorded and shared to an audience of millions with the camera phones that many of us have, a world without recording technology can seem terribly foreign to us. However, recording technology dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century.

The audio aspects of the world before that point have been lost to history altogether. The mysteries involving that huge portion of history only make it that much easier to appreciate the ubiquity of recording technology today and the fact that it has undergone so many different developments since its humble beginnings.

Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Edison is not the proper father of all of recording technology, and his phonograph was not the first sound recording device. If nothing else, Thomas Edison was a truly magnificent marketer and businessman. His marketing skills have managed to have incredible posterity, since he still has people singing his praises today, and often at the expense of the other inventors that paved the way for him or that competed against him.

Leon Scott’s 1857 Phonoautograph was one of the earliest of all recording devices. It wasn’t the only one of its type at the time, but it is perhaps the most famous of these models today. The recording devices of its generation were devised for the sake of capturing and studying sound waves in a scientific environment. As such, there is a direct ancestral link between the recording devices used for entertainment today and the recording devices used for the sake of scientific research a century and a half ago.

The early Phonoautographs were a wonder to behold. Sound was directed through enormous horns that were similar to the devices that hearing-impaired people at the time often used in order to augment their hearing. The technology in both cases was fairly basic, and the people involved were taking advantage of some of the basic physics of sound.

Alexander Graham Bell added his own variation to the Phonoautograph in 1874, and his variation also managed to predate Thomas Edison’s. He actually experimented with building his device using a human ear that he removed from a cadaver, exploring the internal mechanisms of the human ear all the while. Alexander Graham Bell was certainly dedicated to technological progress, and definitely wasn’t afraid to think outside the box when it came to exploring his own ideas.

Posted under Sound Engineering