January 23, 2022

Listen Online: National Park Service Releases Historic Audio Recordings Made by Thomas Edison's Recording Engineer

From the Thomas Edison Historical Park/National Park Service News Release:

…National Park Service announces the first-time release of 12 historic sound recordings made by Thomas Edison’s recording engineer Theo Wangemann on wax cylinders during 1889-1890 in Germany, Austria, Prussia, and France. The recordings include the voices of eminent German historical figures Otto von Bismarck and Helmuth von Moltke, and several performances by important musicians of the period.


Museum Curators first cataloged the damaged wooden box containing the wax cylinders in 1957, found in the library of the Edison Laboratory. In 2005, the National Park Service completed a multi-year project to individually catalog every historic sound recording in the museum collection. Curators noted that the box contained 17 brown wax cylinders in fair and poor condition, several broken with large pieces missing.  No title list or other identification survived in the box with the recordings, so the recordings could not be identified until they were heard. In 2011, the park’s Curator of Sound Recordings digitized 12 of Wangemann’s 17 cylinders using a French-made Archeophone cylinder playback machine, saving the audio as Broadcast Wave Format files. (Five of the cylinders could not be digitized due to their condition.)  Once the audio could be heard, historians Stephan Puille and Patrick Feaster identified the sounds and wrote two scholarly essays, which are included with the recordings on the Thomas Edison National Historical Park website.

Entrusted by Thomas Edison with the task of applying the newly developed wax cylinder phonograph to music, Theo Wangemann oversaw the first regular production of pre-recorded cylinders at the Edison Laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey in 1888-89, ushering in the beginnings of the American musical recording industry. Then, in 1889-90, Wangemann played a prominent role in introducing Edison’s invention to continental Europe.

Listen to the Recordings Online

See Also: N.J. museum finds recording of 19th century German chancellor (via AP)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.