The voice of Alexander Graham Bell, best known as the inventor of the telephone, can be heard now for the first time in nearly a century.


Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1847 and died in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 1922. (Smithsonian Institution Archives)

The recording made by Bell on April 15, 1885, was released to the public in digital format this week by the Smithsonian Institution.

Bell, who was born in Scotland in 1847, lived and worked in both Canada and the U.S., and died in Cape Breton, N.S., in 1922.  Many of the early recordings from his Washington, D.C., lab ended up in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

The audio released this week was originally recorded on a cardboard disc coated with wax. The grooves on the wax, similar to those on a vinyl record, were recovered using high-resolution digital imaging. Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory created a map of the disc, then processed the image to remove any marks or damage that could cause skips or scratches during playback. A computer then calculated the sounds that would have been played back by a stylus moving through the grooves.

Listen to the recording as it was played back on CBC's As It Happens.