We Had No Idea What Alexander Graham Bell Sounded Like. Until Now.
2013-04-26 0:00

By Charlotte Gray | Smithsonian

During the years I spent in the company of Alexander Graham Bell, at work on his biography, I often wondered what the inventor of the worlds most important acoustical devicethe telephonemight have sounded like.

Born in Scotland in 1847, Bell, at different periods of his life, lived in England, then Canada and, later, the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. His favorite refuge was Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, where he spent the summers from the mid-1880s on. In his day, 85 percent of the population there conversed in Gaelic. Did Bell speak with a Scottish burr? What was the pitch and depth of the voice with which he loved to belt out ballads and music hall songs?

Someone who knew that voice was his granddaughter, Mabel Grosvenor, a noted Washington, D.C. pediatrician who retired in 1966. In 2004, I met with Dr. Mabel, as she was known in the family, when she was 99 years oldclearheaded, dignified and a bit fierce. I inquired whether her grandfather had an accent. He sounded, she said firmly, like you. As a British-born immigrant to Canada, my accent is BBC English with a Canadian overlay: It made instant sense to me that I would share intonations and pronunciations with a man raised in Edinburgh who had resided in North America from the age of 23. When Dr. Mabel died in 2006, the last direct link with the inventor was gone.

Today, however, a dramatic application of digital technology has allowed researchers to recover Bells voice from a recording held by the Smithsoniana breakthrough announced here for the first time. From the 1880s on, until his death in 1922, Bell gave an extensive collection of laboratory materials to the Smithsonian Institution, where he was a member of the Board of Regents. The donation included more than 400 discs and cylinders Bell used as he tried his hand at recording sound. The holdings also documented Bells research, should patent disputes arise similar to the protracted legal wrangling that attended the invention of the telephone.

Bell conducted his sound experiments between 1880 and 1886, collaborating with his cousin Chichester Bell and technician Charles Sumner Tainter. They worked at Bells Volta Laboratory, at 1221 Connecticut Avenue in Washington, originally established inside what had been a stable. In 1877, his great rival, Thomas Edison, had recorded sound on embossed foil; Bell was eager to improve the process. Some of Bells research on light and sound during this period anticipated fiber-optic communications.


This wax-and-cardboard disc from 1885 contains a recording of Bells voice.


[...]

Read the full article at: smithsonianmag.com









Related Articles


Latest News from our Front Page

No Jab, No Pay reforms: Religious exemptions for vaccination dumped
2015-04-20 20:03
Religious exemptions for childhood vaccinations will be scrapped to toughen Australia’s new “no jab, no pay’’ laws stripping welfare from parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. Social Services Minister Scott Morrison revealed he is dumping the last remaining exemption on the books after holding talks with religious leaders. Just a week after The Sunday Telegraph revealed Mr Morrison was scrapping exemptions ...
Inside David Lynch: An Esoteric Guide to Twin Peaks
2015-04-20 18:24
‘I learned that just beneath the surface there’s another world, and still different worlds as you dig deeper.’ – David Lynch If you’ve ever sensed the flimsy, thin veneer of what parades itself as the good ole US of A, and felt a bit like you’ve been sold a fake, then David Lynch’s Twin Peaks is a series you must see. ...
Third-gender toilet sign – now a reality in Sweden
2015-04-20 18:29
If you don’t identify yourself as a man, a woman or are officially handicapped — where should you go to relieve yourself? In Sweden, the social justice warriors have solved the problem by inventing a third-gender toilet sign. A couple of years ago, the Swedish language was introduced to a new personal pronoun, “hen“, to replace gender specific hon (she) and ...
Feminist goes crazy when compared to Swedish nationalist
2015-04-20 4:56
A picture of a media acclaimed feminist next to a young nationalist girl got real big attention in Swedish media last week. It is “hate” and “mockery” to show the difference between the two, according to the collective Swedish press. When the young nationalist Hanna Lindholm (member of the Sweden Democratic Youth) published a picture on internet, where she compared ...
Massive pollution scandal in Norwegian fjord
2015-04-20 4:53
The Norwegian government today gave the green light to one of the biggest single instances of pollution in the country's history. A new mine will dump its toxic tailings directly into the Førde fjord in the west of Norway. "It is shocking that Norway is the only country in the world allow new projects of this kind", said Lars Haltbrekken of ...
More News »