What do Harry Potter, Justin Bieber and the Energizer Bunny all have in common? Ironically, they all owe their popularity to a man who lost most most of his hearing as a child and who’s teacher once labeled him with an “addled brain”.
At the young age of 30, Thomas Alva Edison created history’s first recorded human voice when he uttered the words “Mary had a little lamb..” into his newly invented phonograph…
Edison went on to patent his invention and used it to create the world’s first commercially available talking doll, complete with an audio of a woman’s voice. He recorded her speaking “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” by turning the vibrations of her voice into etchings in a metal cylinder.
The original cylinder, however, became badly damaged and the recordings were believed lost to the ages.
Now, thanks to the magic of microscopy, those first moments of recorded voice history can be heard again. Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, using a confocal microscope, were able to scan the original, very damaged metal cylinder.
The microscope created a fascinating, 3D map of the recording’s grooves, which looked like a 3-dimensional map of a series of long, continuous, microscopic mountain valleys. When they ran the map through their audio software they heard, through the scratches and skips..”Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
Historians using newspaper archives were able to date the recording back to 1888, near the beginning of Edison’s prolific inventing career. He would eventually hold patents on 1,093 inventions, including motion picture cameras, parallel circuits, alkaline batteries, electrical generators and of course, the incandescent light bulb.
All because an ambitious young man had an insatiable curiosity. Now if we could just find a way to bring back Elvis.
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