DigiHist Blog – Jon Berndt Olsen

Wiring about History and Memory in the Digital Age

DigiHist Blog – Jon Berndt Olsen - Wiring about History and Memory in the Digital Age

Found Sounds

Two researchers at the Thomas Edison National Historic Park discovered a really unique piece of history this past week – the only known recording of Germany’s first chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. The wax cylinders that were found had been recorded in Germany in 1989 and 1990. Not only do these cylinders contain recordings of Bismarck, but also of the German general Helmuth von Moltke, who was 89 years old at the time, making him the only known person born in 1800 or earlier to have their voice recorded.

Another bit of interesting historical novelty comes when one looks at what Bismarck, Moltke and others on the cylinders decided to record for posterity – readings of poetry, literature, and songs in German, French, English, and Latin. Moltke cited lines of Shakespeare and Bismarck even sang a portion of the French National Anthem – a bit strange given the fact that it was his war in 1870 and 1871 against France that led to the founding of the German Empire!

In order to recover the sounds from these wax cylinders, the researchers employed a device known as an Archeophone, which is able to transfer the sounds on the cylinders to a CD without causing the type of damage that a regular wax cylinder player from the period would cause to these fragile pieces of history. Here is a short video that demonstrates how the Archeophone functions.

If you are interested in learning more about this discovery, here are a few links for further reading: