• Introduction to Early Voices

  • America and Its Early Voices

  • Introduction to Early Recording
  • William Jennings Bryan
  • Eugene Debs
  • Thomas Edison
  • Samuel Gompers
  • William McKinley
  • William Taft
  • Booker T. Washington

    The inaugral gallery for Historical Voices, Earliest Voices is a multimedia site presenting some of the most significant voices captured during the first fifty years of sound recording, 1877-1927. The late nineteenth to early twentieth century was a period of tremendous technological progress, and politicians and orators quickly took advantage of these innovations. In 1888, Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the phonograph, delivered a heady proclamation. He declared that sound-recording would ensure that the words of statesmen could be "multiplied a thousand-fold" and "be transmitted to prosperity, centuries afterwards, as freshly and forcibly as if those later generations heard his living accents." Nearly a century after the recordings of prominent speeches from this period were made, this gallery perhaps sees the culmination of Edison's vision.

    The century has taken its toll on original versions of these recordings, as the medium moved from wax-cylinder, to phonograph, to wire, to audio-tape, and finally the digital audio-streams featured here. Thanks to cutting-edge techniques in digitization, sound-engineers now have the tools to restore recordings that have become almost inaudible from years of disintegration. The original versions of these files, static and all, are retained within our digital repository. However, the individual voices you can listen to here are clearer than they have been for decades.

    Historical Voices is an ongoing project creating a significant, fully searchable online database of spoken word collections spanning the 20th century. The first large-scale digital sound archive of its kind, Historical Voices currently houses an expansive repository of aural resources. Our primary goal of is to feature the voice-recordings held in our collections within a set of educational, nultimedia resources.

    Historical Voices has been produced collaboratively by Michigan State University's Department of History, the Vincent Voice Library, and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online.