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Hear My Voice

What did 1889 sound like?

A group of people by what appears to be a hot-air balloon.

National Museum of American History Celebrates American Inventiveness in 2015

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will inspire the next generation of inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs in 2015 through hands-on exhibitions, programs and performances focused on American innovation. This special commemoration will launch with an exhibition on early recorded sound Jan. 26 and continue through the July 1 opening of a section of the museum dedicated to American ingenuity.

Hear My Voice: Alexander Graham Bell and the Origins of Recorded Sound

Alexander Graham Bell is best remembered as the inventor of the telephone, but he and his associates were also instrumental in the development of sound recording at his Volta Laboratory in Washington, D.C. This exhibition featured documents, recordings, laboratory notes, and apparatus from the Volta Laboratory dating from the 1880s. Visitors learned about the early history of sound recording in the United States and heard some of the earliest sound recordings ever made.

Playback: 130-Year-Old Sounds Revealed

In the early 1880s, three inventors—Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter, collectively making up the Volta Laboratory Associates—brought together their creativity and expertise in a laboratory on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C., to record sound. In one experiment, Nov. 17, 1884, they recorded the word “barometer” on a glass disc with a beam of light. This disc and about 200 other experimental recordings from their laboratory were packed up for safekeeping, given to the Smithsonian and, with a few exceptions, never played again.