A Look at History: Thomas Edison’s 1889 Recording of Otto von Bismarck

Feb 1, 2012 9:28am

While current history is minutely chronicled by computer, iPhone and digital video, it’s easy to forget that the people of our past weren’t graced with such a luxury.  While we may never hear Cleopatra’s voice or a see a YouTube video of George Washington, recent findings from the Thomas Edison National Historical Park Service have given us a small peek into the past.

A collection of 122-year-old wax cylinder phonograph records were discovered in Thomas Edison’s laboratory in 1957.  They remained untouched until recently, when Jerry Fabris, the curator at the Edison Laboratory, used a playback device called an Archeophone.  Two sound historians were summoned to help identify the voices and music in the recordings — and they discovered the voice of Otto von Bismarck, Germany’s first chancellor.

gty otto von bismarck dm 120201 wblog A Look at History: Thomas Edisons 1889 Recording of Otto von Bismarck

Credit: Kean Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Von Bismarck is recorded saying the first few phrases of “In Good Old Colony Times” and “Gaudeamus igitur” (“so let us rejoice”) and the poem “Als Kaiser Rotbart Iobesam.”  He also read the first few lines of  the French national anthem, or Marseillaise, which is seen as being quite controversial coming from a German chancellor.  The recording also includes a message of advice to his son Herbert.

Other recordings that were found include works by German and Hungarian musicians, one of which is thought to be the first recorded work of Chopin.

Edison’s German assistant, Adelbert Theodor Edward Wangemann, recorded the session.

Click here for the complete transcript released for the first time since 1889.

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