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 world’s most important acoustical device—the telephone—might 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 old—clearheaded, 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 Bell’s voice from a recording held by the Smithsonian—a 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 Bell’s 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 Bell’s 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 Bell’s research on light and sound during this period anticipated fiber-optic communications.


This wax-and-cardboard disc from 1885 contains a recording of Bell’s voice.


[...]

Read the full article at: smithsonianmag.com









Related Articles


Latest News from our Front Page

Aurora Shooting Victim Parents Face $200K Court Fees, Bankruptcy, After Failing to Sue Ammo Dealers
2015-08-01 2:17
The 2012 Colorado Theater Shooting still doesn’t add up… Media character and ‘Shooter’ James Holmes in court in 2012-2013. In 2014, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, the mother and stepfather of Aurora Theater Shooting victim Jessica Redfield Ghawi, tried to sue the ammo companies they believe supplied shooter James Holmes with his ammunition, body armor and other items. They bleived that the online retailer BulkAmmo.com had sold Holmes ...
FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force Investigating Confederate Flags at MLK's Ebenezer Baptist Church
2015-08-01 2:21
According to the Atlanta Police Department, two White men left four small Confederate Battle Flags outside MLK’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta … and get this, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is on the scene investigating the incident. Atlanta police Chief George Turner said his agency was working with federal authorities and they have not determined what charges might be ...
Democratic National Committee Chair Wasserman Schultz Can’t Explain Difference Between Democrat Party and Socialism
2015-08-01 2:08
Things got very awkward today when Chris Matthews asked DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz what the difference was between the modern Democratic Party and Socialism. We haven’t seen that dazed look since Rachel Dolezal was busted as a fraud. Wasserman Schultz was speechless. Completely stumped. Couldn’t answer. Then changed the subject. Because we all know there is no difference between today’s Democrat Party and the radical ...
Catching on slow: Yet Another Study Show Cellphone Radiation Cause Cancer
2015-08-01 1:44
The scientists were right — your cell phone can give you cancer. There have long been whispers of a cancer connection from your cell — and a new study backs up the claims. "These data are a clear sign of the real risks this kind of radiation poses for human health," study author Igor Yakymenko said. Yakymenko’s meta-study — basically a study of ...
Trump Goes #Cuckservative on Immigration
2015-08-01 1:28
For weeks, the media have trumpeted the supposed death of the Trump campaign. First, they claimed, Trump’s campaign imploded on launch thanks to his comments about illegal immigration. Then they claimed that Trump was finished because of his slap at Senator’s (R-AZ) war service. But neither of those comments alienated Trump’s base – he’s maintained his seven point lead over ...
More News »