Schenectady, NY – It’s being called a blast from the past.
An audio recording dating back to 1878 that was originally made on a Thomas Edison-invented phonograph will be publicly played this evening at the Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady.
Historians claim that it is the oldest surviving recording of an American voice and first-ever musical performance. The 78-second audio was transferred to computer from its original media: a 5″ x 15″ piece of tinfoil. Very few of the tinfoil recording sheets — which didn’t last long even when they were new — still exist, and this is apparently one of only two that are still playable.
According to AP,
“The recording opens with a 23-second cornet solo of an unidentified song, followed by a man’s voice reciting ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and ‘Old Mother Hubbard.’ The man laughs at two spots during the recording, including at the end, when he recites the wrong words in the second nursery rhyme.”
The man on the recording is believe to be St. Louis newspaper report Thomas Mason (pen name I.X. Peck), who passed away shortly after making the recording.
AP quotes a Museum trustee saying that “in the history of recorded sound that’s still playable, this is about as far back as we can go.” The tinfoil was originally donated to the museum in 1978.
Optical scanning technology was used to replicate the phonograph’s stylus, read the foil’s grooves, and create a 3D image that computer software recaptured as the original audio.
Watch a video on the 1878 Edison audio from the London Telegraph: