Early Rare Audio Recordings – Alexander Graham Bell In 1885

Our Audio Time Machine:

Listen To Alexander Graham Bell Demonstrate Early Recording Technology In 1885 & The Only Known Recording Of Someone Born In The 18th Century

You almost certainly have never heard the voice of somebody who lived in the 18th century, That means someone born between 1701- 1800. Well later in this story you will hear the only known recording of someone who was alive in that period. We’ll get to that later.

Why do you have to get a new iPhone or laptop every couple of years? Modern technology has been accelerating at an astonishing pace. Every few years computing power has been improving exponentially.

What was breakthrough technology like 135 years ago? Let’s return to the dawn of audio recording. Here is the voice of Alexander Graham Bell – yes, the man associated with the invention of the telephone, speaking on a recording cylinder.

What we just presented is the concluding part of a four minute recording made on April 15, 1885. In the recording Bell recites a not very exciting litany of numbers. But here at the end of the recording he states the facts of who, when and where the recording was made.

This is just something to ponder.You are listening to an event taking place in the 19th century. I’m not sure why this is so cool, but it is, at least to me.

Bell was not the first to attempt a device that could record sound. Many intrepid inventors came up with various methods to capture sound. Some recordings are on wax or types of membranes. Other recording are on metal. Some are on discs, some on cylinders. There are even a few recordings that were conducted with ink jets in which ink would record sound.

When these rare recordings turn up today, the challenge is finding a method to play them. The devices to record and play the recordings back have been lost over time.

Speak from the grave photo via Patrick Feaster

Speaking from the grave. photo via Patrick Feaster

Now this is even more mind-blowing. Clicking the link below you will hear the only known recorded voice of someone born in the 18th century. Of the tens of millions of people who inhabited the earth from 1701 -1800, Prussian military leader and statesman Count Helmuth von Moltke’s voice is the only voice from the 18th century that we can hear today.

The recording was made by an agent for the Edison Company on October 21, 1889. Preserved on wax cylinders, von Moltke quotes Shakespeare and Goethe. While I do not expect anyone reading here to listen to four minutes of a scratchy recording in German, I think hearing a few seconds of it satisfies some strange human urge to connect with the distant past.

The interesting sidebar about Count Von Moltke (October 26, 1800-April 24, 1891) is that during his long career he was nicknamed, “The Great Silent One.”

At the beginning of the recording Von Moltke makes a deep observation. Translating from German he says, “This newest invention of Mister Edison is indeed astonishing. The phonograph makes it possible for a man who has already rested long in the grave once again to raise his voice and greet the present.”

It’s 2019 and we hear you Count Von Moltke.

1 thought on “Early Rare Audio Recordings – Alexander Graham Bell In 1885

  1. Kevin

    Yes, this is cool, and strange and chilling. If only Abraham Lincoln had lived another 20 or so years!

    Somewhere on the internet is the oldest live recording of a concert — a group of singers performing a piece by Handel. Due to its age and deterioration, it sounds like they’re literally singing from the grave.


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