The Phonograph and Its Future

Probability: Family Record


"Family Record: -- For the purpose of preserving the sayings, the voices, and the last words of the dying member of the family -- as of great men--the phonograph will unquestionably outrank the photograph.


An 1888 article "The Perfected Phonograph" in Scientific American summarized the profound impact the phonograph would have for future generations because of its wonder of perserving the human voice.

"This century will be memorable above others because it is that which first preserved articulate speech for after time. All poetry, of every age, is full of the yearning, one of the deepest in human nature, for the voice whose gentle greeting could be heard no more, and yet this tender sentiment will be gratified, and each elusive tone and accent now has conferred on it a perpetuity that is not an attribute of even the graven stone or brass."



Scientific American, May 26, 1888


The following are examples of "Family Record" of wonder that any voice can provide when captured in perpetuity. But it is the voices of poets and of "great men" that draw special attention and early examples of famous voices of the 19th century that can be heard in the 21st century begin with Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning.

Alfred Lord Tennyson: In 1890, "one of Edison's assistants "carried a phonograph all the way to the poet's home on the Isle of Wight to caputre him reading excerpts from The Princess (1847) and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1854). John Picker, author of Victorian Soundscapes (1), writes the following:

"Who would have imagined that the eighty-year-old Tennyson would warm to the new technology? But he did, and recordings preserve his thanking the assistant for showing him( in a mock American accent) "Edison's my-rack-uhlis invention." He arranged to keep the machine and went on to record about a dozen poems in full or part, periodically replaying them for himself and his guests during the last two years of his life."

The wax cylinder recording of Tennyson is available on-line, however, the following link goes to a somewhat eerie animation made by Jim Clark 'showing' and hearing Tennyson recite "The Charge of the Light Brigade." (2)



Robert Browning, April 1889

In April 1889, only a few months before he died, Robert Browning became the first major literary figure to commit his voice to wax.

Read "The Sound of a Voice That Is Still" by Dan Piepenbring for details about this event and a link to hear Browning's recorded voice. (3)

“LISTENING TO THE MASTER’S VOICE,” FROM BLACK AND WHITE, 1891 (Courtesy of The Paris Review) (3)


Here's how the Browning recording event was reported by The Phonogram p. 41, February 1891




Voices of the Dead, The Phonoscope, November 15, 1896 (listening to Gladstone and Bismarck - "Death has lost some of its sting since we are able to forever retain the voices of the dead."




The Phonograph Album, The Phonogram, February 1891

"Collecting recitations or singing from popular artists of the stage."





Record Your Own Song -- Your Friends' Voices.

Munsey's Magazine, 1898




Family Record. - "For the purpose of preserving the sayings, the voices...of the family."

Recordio by Wilcox-Gay "The voice of memory" Better Homes & Gardens, September 1947




Recordio by Wilcox-Gay "cherished hours...forever yours" Better Homes & Gardens, May 1946



Recordio by Wilcox-Gay "Christmas lives forever in the hearts of children" 1947