[Dixielandjazz] Who can spot the flaw in this story?

Edgerton, Paul A paul.edgerton at eds.com
Fri Jul 23 18:01:24 PDT 2004

Was recording Lincoln before 1865 possible? 

A British physician named Thomas Young experimented with ways of capturing
vibrations before 1810. His original interest was finding better ways to
measure small increments of time. A French bookmaker named Leon Scott
adapted some of Young's techniques to capturing the human voice. His
machine, which he called the "Vibrograph," recorded sound as a visible line
scratched in a thin layer of lampblack. He was primarily interested in the
visual study of waveforms, and had no means of reproducing sounds. One of
these machines was purchased by Joseph Henry in 1866 and is on display at
the Smithsonian.

That's about it for the verifiable facts. But there are rumors that Mr.
Henry himself had experimented with a similar technique and used it to
record Lincoln's voice during a visit to Washington some three years
earlier. We can't establish for sure if that visit took place or that
Lincoln was recorded or that the "recording" was preserved. It seems
improbable that a means of reproducing such a recording was available at the
time, and possibly not even considered. The reproduction of sound was still
some 20 years in the future, even though the conceptual framework for the
process was nearly complete.

Today there are various means of reading those images and extracting audio
from them -- if those "recordings" can be found. It would be truly ironic if
the earliest recordings, like modern CDs, were optical.

Paul Edgerton

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list