The Phonograph and Its Future
Probability: Speech and other Utterances
Speech and other Utterances. -- It will henceforth be possible to preserve for future generations the voices as well as the words of our Washingtons, our Lincolns, our Gladstones, etc., and to have them give us their " greatest effort" in every town and hamlet in the country, upon our holidays.
With the invention of the phonograph the possibility of hearing the recorded voices of family and of the famous was wonderous. Voices could be preserved in family 'phonogram' albums along with their photographs in their photo albums. And for the nation the voices of their greatest leaders would be available for any occasion and preserved forever.
The importance to the family of recorded sound versus photographs for Edison was clear. In his prediction titled Family Record stated "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."
Although a phonograph could not capture the voice of Washington or Lincoln, there would later be some early recordings which re-enacted their famous words.
Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg was performed by Russell Hunting on a brown wax cylinder for Columbia Phonograph Co between 1896 and 1900. Len Spencer performed this recitation on Edison Gold Moulded Record Number 8154 in 1902 and Harry E. Humphrey likewise performed Lincoln's speech on Edison Blue Amberol Number 1651 in 1913.
According to this AP article in 2013, President Lincoln at the dedication of the Civil War cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863 is seated about two thirds up from bottom and 1 third in from left, no hat. These modern prints showing the crowd around the platform at Gettysburg and a detail from that picture of President Lincoln on the platform were made from the original glass plate negative at the National Archives. The plate lay unidentified in the Archives for some fifty-five years until in 1952, Josephine Cobb of the National Archives identified Lincoln in a photo taken by David Bachrach.
Courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine
Harry E. Humphrey also performed "Washington's Farewell Address" on Edison Blue Amberol Number 1654 in 1913. See Wikipedia's Popular Culture entry regarding Washington's Farewell Address and "its return to public awareness" with the song "One Last Time" in the 2015 Broadway musical "Hamilton, where lines are sung by Washington and Hamilton from the end of the Address."
No photographs or phonograph recordings in 1796, however, the Gilbert Stuart portrait of Washington from 1796 dates closely to Washington's September 1796 publication of his "Farewell Address."
The 1908 Presidential Election: Bryan vs. Taft
"Now, for the first time, one can introduce the rival candidates for the Presidency in one's own home, can listen to their political views, expressed in their real voices, and make comparison." The Edison Phonograph Monthly, September 1908
Edison's recording and release in 1908 of ten speeches by William Jennings Bryan followed by twelve speeches recorded by the Republican Presidential candidate William H. Taft, provided the possibility that Edison had predicted in 1878 where citizens could hear for themselves the voices and words of national leaders and "have them give us their "greatest effort" in every town and hamlet in the country..."
Ten Edison Records by William Jennings Bryan, Edison Phonograph Monthly, June 1908
Recordings courtesy of UCSB Digital Cylinder Archive
"Swollen Fortunes" by William Jennings Bryan, Edison Record: 9914
"The Labor Question" by William Jennings Bryan, Edison Record: 9915
"The Railroad Question" by William Jennings Bryan, Edison Record: 9916
"The Trust Question" by William Jennings Bryan, Edison Record: 9917
"The Tariff Question" by William Jennings Bryan, Edison Record: 9918
"Popular Election of Senators" by William Jennings Bryan, Edison Record: 9919
"Imperialism" by William Jennings Bryan, Edison Record: 9920
"Guaranty of Bank Deposits" by William Jennings Bryan, Edison Record: 9921
"An Ideal Republic" by William Jennings Bryan, Edison Record: 9922
"Immortality" by William Jennings Bryan, Edison Record 9923
Edison Phonograph Monthly, August 1908
William Jennings Bryan, in his Presidential bid of 1908 recorded a series of cylinder phonograph records for the Edison Phonograph Company. In this cartoon, Taft is seen complaining that he has missed out on this innovative campaigning.
The Edison Phonograph Monthly in September 1908, however, announced the release of 12 Edison Records by William H. Taft made at Virginia Hot Springs, after Mr. Taft delivered his speech of acceptance at Cincinnati. The EPM called this an announcement of great importance, noting that "no matter how the November election may result we shall have Records by the next President. This makes new history. It indicates progress."
"Now, for the first time, one can introduce the rival candidates for the Presidency in one's own home, can listen to their political views, expressed in their real voices, and mak comparison."
"We are proud that of all talking machines, the Edison was the first choice of both candidates for reaching the American public." The Edison Phonograph Monthly, September 1908, p.19
In the December 1908 issue of The Edison Phonograph Monthly it was observed that with the Election Day having passed "The Taft Records are the first in the history of the world to be made by the head of a great government. After March 4th next the owner of one of these Records can say with no little pride: "This is a Record made by the President of the United States....The Records of his voice will become more and more interesting, and they will have a value that could not be estimated if it were not possible to duplicate them."
Twelve Edison Records by William H. Taft, Edison Phonograph Monthly, September 1908
Recordings courtesy of UCSB Digital Cylinder Archive
"Foreign Missions" by William H. Taft, Edison Record 9996
"Irish Humor" by William H. Taft, Edison Record 9997
"Republican and Democratic Treatment of Trusts" by William H. Taft, Edison Record 9998
"The Rights of Labor" by William H. Taft, Edison Record 9999
"Unlawful Trusts" by William H. Taft, Edison Record 10000
"Function of Next Administration" by William H. Taft, Edison Record 10001
"Roosevelt Policies" by William H. Taft, Edison Record 10002
"The Philippines" by William H. Taft, Edison Record 10003
"Enforced Insurance of Bank Deposits" by William H. Taft, Edison Record 10004
"Jury Trial in Contempt Cases" by William H. Taft, Edison Record 10005
"The Farmer and the Republican Party" by William H. Taft, Edison Record 10006
"Rights and Progress of the Negro" by William H. Taft, Edison Record 10007
"A Favorite Record - Taft Records" The Edison Phonograph Monthly, May 1912
For more information about "The Old Couple" see The Phonograph
Form 935 Edison Advertising Card
Puck magazine, July 8, 1908
Imperialism, Judge magazine, August 11, 1900
The Gladstone recording was made by Colonel Charles Gouraud who lived in London originally to promote the Edison Telegraph System. Edison had sent Gouraud his "Perfected Phonograph" and on August 18, 1888 Gouraud introduced that machine to the London Press.
On December 18, 1888 Gouraud recorded an introductory message to Edison and then introduced Mr. Gladstone who recorded a message to Edison.
Transcript of Charles Gouraud's introduction and Gladstone's message to Edison (courtesy of transformingArt)
London, 18th December 1888. To Edison from Colonel Gouraud, introducing Mr Gladstone. The Phonograph Salutation. The latest-born of science and American genius bends its knee of steel and bows its neck of iron in reverential homage before the veteran statesman of England. Mr Gladstone, the phonograph salutes you, and through the medium of the phonograph, Mr Edison greets you. Now, Edison, listen to a voice that has electrified its generation - the voice of William Ewart Gladstone;
Dear Mr Edison, I am profoundly indebted to you for, not the entertainment only, but the instruction and the marvels of one of the most remarkable evenings which it has been my privilege to enjoy. The request, that you have done me the honour to make - to receive the record of my voice - is one that I cheerfully comply with so far as it lies in my power; though I lament to say that the voice which I transmit to you is only the relic of an organ, the employment of which has been overstrained. Yet I offer to you as much as I possess and so much as old age has left me, with the utmost satisfaction, as being, at least, a testimony to the instruction and delight that I have received from your marvellous invention. As to future consequences it is impossible to anticipate them. All I see is that wonders upon wonders are opening before us. Your great country is leading the way in the important work of invention. Heartily do we wish it well. And to you, as one of its greatest celebrities, allow me to offer my hearty good wishes and earnest prayers that you may long live to witness its triumphs in all that appertains to the well-being of mankind. William Ewart Gladstone.
The Thomas Edison National Historic Park has a page titled Documentary Recordings and Political Speeches which has a number of pre-1915 recordings.