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In an old, dust-covered box located in the Thomas Edison National Historic Park's sound recordings department, there sat some treasure for many, many years. In the box, labeled “Edison” and “Wangemann,” which was finally opened in 2005, there were some early phonograph recordings. Any early, intact phonograph recordings are cool, but the mystery behind the National Park Service-owned recordings runs much deeper.
It took until 2010 to really begin uncovering the mystery of what information was on the intact recordings. That’s because technology had not yet caught up with digitizing the cylinders. Once museum curator Jerry Fabris finally got a chance to digitize the collection, he encountered German voices speaking on the recordings and realized he may have come across something unique.
As it turns out, Fabris had found a veritable goldmine of information. The recordings were some highly sought after ones from an 1889-1890 Paris World’s Fair exposition made by Thomas Edison’s assistant Theo Wangemann. By the early 1900s, the early recordings had all but disappeared. That in itself would be a cool story, but what happened after proved even cooler.
After Fabris discerned the recordings might be important, he hired Indiana University’s Patrick Feaster and German researcher Stephan Puille to work on uncovering information from the phonographs. According to The Daily Mail, the recordings feature the only known taping of 19th century ruler Otto Von Bismarck’s voice sending a message to his son to live a moderate life.
Not bad for the find of a lifetime.