Edouard Scott was a printer, writer, and inventor in Paris. He lived from 1817 to 1879. He liked to tinker with things and ideas in his shop.
In 1878, Paris celebrated the nation’s recovery from the Franco-Prussian War by hosting one of the first world’s fair. The Paris Exhibition drew international interest from inventors and investors as well as the public, all eager to see what new creations the modern world had created. An early prototype of a monoplane was brought to the fair, Graham Bell’s telephone had a booth there, and the French proudly displayed the head of a giant statue they planned to gift to the Americans–it is known today as the Statue of Liberty. Paris, the City of Lights, even electrified its streets in the area surrounding the exhibition to provide visitors with a nice glow well into the nights. Painting exhibits, music competitions, and dance routines were also shown. International committees on copyright laws and even organizations regarding rights of blind and deaf people convened and set standards for their groups that lasted decades.
But most people concentrated on the new inventions hall. One exhibit that caused great excitement was by the American inventor, Thomas Edison. The machine Edison put on display purported to show how sound could be captured and reproduced. The concept intrigued Edouard Scott, and he eagerly made his way to the exhibition hall to see the phenomenon for himself.
Sure enough, there it was. The Edison machine had a cone-like projection that captured the sound and put it on a tin foil roll. The exhibition of the new Edison invention, which he called the phonograph, caused a stir among the scientific community in France. Scott was suitably impressed. He asked pointed questions of the curators of the exhibition, showing a good grasp of the technology involved.
The public loved the machine. Edison, ever the capitalist and cocksure of the impact his new invention would have on the public, had even contracted with a local French manufacturer to put his hand-cranked tinfoil voice recording machine on sale.
Scott walked around the Edison exhibit and became more and more depressed. He made his way home slowly. Entering the hallway of his house, he took off his hat and made an announcement to his family.
“It’s my machine.”
You see, Scott invented something similar…20 years earlier in his shop. Instead of tinfoil, Scott’s contraption used charcoal and a stylus to record his own voice singing and talking (1860) and to record a cornet playing a scale (1857). These are the earliest recordings in history.
The design for his machine still sits in the patent office in Paris today. Researchers have found some of his recordings on the old charcoal sheets in the archives of the patent office and have digitally remastered them and found them to be similar in quality to the early Edison efforts.
Heartbroken that his own efforts had been overlooked, Scott died a year later.
His body lies today in an unmarked grave.
Scott had named his machine the Phonautograph.
Take a look for yourself. Here’s Edison’s contraption:
And here’s Scott’s:
Only in recent years has Edouard Scott begun to be recognized for what he should be: The real inventor of sound recording.