« Bum Trip | Main | Rats »

March 28, 2008

Sound Invention

Thomas Edison has been credited with inventing sound reproduction, duly granted U.S. patent 200,521 on an 1877 filing. Newly revived is the work of "Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter and tinkerer who went to his grave convinced that credit for his breakthroughs had been improperly bestowed on Edison."

From the New York Times:

Scott's device had a barrel-shaped horn attached to a stylus, which etched sound waves onto sheets of paper blackened by smoke from an oil lamp. The recordings were not intended for listening; the idea of audio playback had not been conceived. Rather, Scott sought to create a paper record of human speech that could later be deciphered.

Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory figured out how to decipher Scott's recorder using optical imaging, thereupon eeking sound from a soot-blackened recording Scott made.

Scott's 1860 phonautogram was made 17 years before Edison received a patent for the phonograph and 28 years before an Edison associate captured a snippet of a Handel oratorio on a wax cylinder, a recording that until now was widely regarded by experts as the oldest that could be played back.

Scott's work has long been known, but not given much credit.

Scott was something of an unlikely pioneering inventor.

Born in Paris in 1817, he was a man of letters, not a scientist, who worked in the printing trade and as a librarian. He published a book on the history of shorthand, and evidently viewed sound recording as an extension of stenography.

Scott was bitter towards Edison.

In a self-published memoir in 1878, he railed against Edison for "appropriating" his methods and misconstruing the purpose of recording technology. The goal, Scott argued, was not sound reproduction, but "writing speech, which is what the word phonograph means."

In his memoir, Scott scorned his American rival Edison and made brazen appeals to French nationalism. "What are the rights of the discoverer versus the improver?" he wrote less than a year before his death in 1879. "Come, Parisians, don't let them take our prize."

There is no evidence that Edison knew of Scott's work. Edison's invention of sound reproduction is in no way diminished by recognition of Scott's achievement.

Posted by Patent Hawk at March 28, 2008 12:54 AM | Prior Art


Edison's patent covered both the recording and reproduction of sound. He claimed in his patent that he had "discovered, after a long series of experiments, that a diaphragm or other body
capable of being set in motion by the human
voice does not give, except in rare instances,
superimposed vibrations, ashasheretoforebeen
supposed, but that each vibration is separate
and distinct, and therefore it becomes possible
to record and reproduce the sounds of the human

Edison took, and was given, credit for both the invention of recording and reproducing sound, when he was in fact only responsible for inventing the reproduction.

Posted by: DanC at March 29, 2008 11:02 AM