How It All Began
From cave paintings to the Dead Sea Scrolls, information has been written down and preserved for all to see for centuries. But recording sound has been around only since the late 1800s. Sadly, much of the history of sound itself has been lost because it occurred before it was possible to record it. Imagine being able to hear Mozart play his own piano pieces, or to hear Abraham Lincoln speak. These memories survive only through written words and recollections of the events. Recording sound has served not only as an important historical tool, but also as a way for music to be preserved and enjoyed.
A Brief History
In 1877, a man working in New Jersey single-handedly invented recording, the art and science of capturing sound. Thomas Edison recorded the tune “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on a tin cylinder and played it back. Edison's system recorded sound as indentations on a rotating tin cylinder, and the sound was then played back via a needle that felt the indented grooves and replayed the sound. This was the beginning of sound recording as we know it. However, tin was not a durable medium to record sound because it deteriorated upon playback. Tin cylinders were also limited to three minutes of recording time. The fidelity of the sound wasn't exactly beautiful either, but it was a start.
Edison was not the only inventor working on sound recording; he just got there first. In the late 1800s, others saw the commercial potential in sound recording and sought to make improvements on Edison's work. Other inventors devised different disks and cylinders made of various materials to improve sound quality, recording time, and durability.
The Art of Recording Improves
Edison pioneered the first audio recordings and brought them into people's homes. Edison's work on the disk phonograph in 1914 was one of his most significant achievements as an inventor. His disks were more durable, produced immeasurably better sound quality, and could record longer pieces than anything else available. After mass-production of phonographs began, their price fell and they became widely available. Record companies started popping up everywhere! This was the beginning of the revolution of bringing recorded sound into the home. Unfortunately, making recordings was an expensive and time-consuming operation, and very few companies had the capital or the equipment to do so.