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|hear a barrel orchestrion made by D.Klepetar in Prague about 1860, from the Austrian Academy of Sciences|
The origins of recorded sound can be traced as far back as ancient Greeks. The colossal "vocal" statue of Memnon at Thebes was built about 1500 B.C. with the ability to make the sound of a harpstring every day to greet Memnon's mother, the Goddess of the Dawn. The secret of this sound was lost when the original statue was destroyed in 27 A.D. by earthquake.
The wheel was the first mechanism used to record sound, with pegs positioned to strike chimes as the wheel was rotated by hand. In the Middle Ages, music was reproduced by cylinders with attached pins that would strike certain keys or bells when rotated. Automatic carillons were built in the 14th century and the oldest surviving barrel organ dates from 1502 (Ord-Hume 1978). Renaissance Europe was fascinated with automata, or automatic music boxes that used elaborate clockwork gears to produce motions and sounds.
The most famous automata was a mechanical duck by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1745 that flapped its wings, raised up on its legs, stretched its neck, and moved its intestines that were visible from the outside.
|Vaucanson automata postcard, from Musica Mecanica|
After the wheel and the card, electricity was a second method of recording sound. Samuel F. B. Morse designed a telegraph during an ocean voyage on the Sully in October and November, 1832.
By 1838, Morse developed a new code with dots and dashes representing letters rather than digits. His associate Arthur Vail replace the portrule with a hand-operated key that reproduced the code by means of a pattern of clicks. The Morse code and Vail key was used to inaugurate the first commercial telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore on 24 May 1844 with the clicks for "What hath God wrought!" (from Numbers 23:23). Telegraph operators quickly learned to send and receive soley from the sound of the clicks rather than use paper tape. Morse was not the first to invent a telegraph, but he is known as the "father" of the telegraph because he created a new industry. Hiram Sibley and Ezra Cornell would make Western Union into one of the most influential corporate empires in American history.
The electric telegraph was the stimulus for inventors to search for better methods of sending and recording all kinds
|Edison stock ticker, from Edison NHS|
|Leon Scott's phonautograph about 1857, from the Smithsonian|
- Alexander Graham Bell on the Web
- Bedini, S.A. "The Role of Automata in the History of Technology." Technology and Culture 5, 1964, pp. 24-42.
- Bowers, Q. David. Encyclopedia of Automatic Instruments. New York: Vestal Press, 1972.
- Bray, John. The Communications Miracle: The Telecommunications Pioneers from Morse to the Information Superhighway. New York: Plenum, 1995.
- Bruce, Robert V. Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973.
- Chapuis, Alfred and Edmond Droz. Automata. New York: 1958. - has photo of Vaucanson's famous duck.
- Coe, Lewis. The Telegraph: A History of Morse's Invention and Its Predecessors in the United States. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1993.
- Gorman, Michael. Alexander Graham Bell's Path to the Telephone. University of Virginia. 31 October 1995.
- Helmholtz, Hermann von. On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music. New York, Dover Publications, 1954.
- Josephson, Matthew. Edison, a Biography.
- Ord-Hume, Arthur W. J. G. Barrel Organ. London: Allen and Unwin, 1978.
- Ord-Hume, Arthur W. J. G. Pianola. London: Allen and Unwin, 1984.
- Thompson, Robert L. Wiring a Continent; the History of the Telegraph Industry in the United States, 1832-1866. New York, Arno Press, 1947, 1972.
- Vaucanson, Jacques de. An Account of the Mechanism of an Automaton or Image Playing on the Germna-Flute. Translated by J. T. Desaguliers. London: 1742.
- Western Union Company History, 1999.
- 1999-2003 by Steven E. Schoenherr. All rights reserved.
Return to Recording Technology History | revised 2/1/03 by Schoenherr