Historical Speeches on Edison Cylinders


Thomas Edison originally envisioned sound recording as a tool for office dictation and not popular amusement, but eventually entertainment—primarily recorded music—prevailed. Nonetheless, from the earliest days of recorded sound, spoken word was also recorded on cylinders and sold for educational purposes such as language instruction and for edification of the people through exposure to historical speeches, as well as for entertainment, including comic monologues and vaudeville sketches. This program presents examples of the second of these three categories.

Speeches by contemporary figures were recorded because of their current fame, as with the cylinders of actress Sarah Bernhardt, or because of their political importance, as with the cylinders of Roosevelt, Taft, and Bryan. They are significant today because they are still important historical figures, but also because their voices are not well known today. Edison infrequently recorded, but his famous speech about World War I can be heard here. Other cylinders, like the recitations by Harry Humphrey, including his dramatization of Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" speech, show which historical figures were admired and how history was viewed in the early 20th century.

This program begins with a cylinder that is somewhat different, Len Spencer's famous "Advertising Record" in which he personifies the phonograph in a speech designed to demonstrate and sell phonographs in stores. This cylinder, recorded purely for commercial purposes, has become historically significant itself, not unlike the famous television commercials created by Coca-Cola or Apple Computer.

—David Seubert, UC Santa Barbara