Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville




Known for: Inventing the earliest known sound recording device


Invention: Phonautograph (ධ්වනිරේඛය)


Born: April 25, 1817

Died: April 26, 1879

Residence: Paris, France



Ever since First Sounds evoked the sound of Au Clair de la Lune from his 1860 recording, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (1817-1879) has been receiving a lot of attention for his invention of the phonautograph-the first instrument to record airborne sounds capable of being played back. As reliable information about Scott's work is not readily available, First Sounds is publishing his phonautograph-related writings in the original French and in English translation, along with facsimiles of associated manuscripts and diagrams. We hope the ready availability of Scott's ideas, expressed in his own words, will foster a better understanding of his goals, his accomplishments, and his legacy.


  • Principes de Phonautographie
    Although Scott claims he had the idea for the phonautograph in 1853 or 1854, he first went on record in January 1857 by depositing this document in a sealed packet with the French Academy of Sciences. In it, he spells out his plan to record sound waves on lampblacked glass plates using a mechanism based on the human ear: a funnel, two membranes separated by an airtight space, and a stylus attached to the second membrane. At the end of the document Scott has attached two plates of phonautograms "dating back three years," supposedly his very first experiments.


  • 1857 Phonautograph Patent and 1859 Certificate of Addition 
    In March 1857, Scott deposited the paperwork for a patent on the phonautograph-the same basic design described in the Principes de Phonautographie, but now laid out in greater detail with drawings and a sample phonautogram. In July 1859, he filed a certificate of addition describing a new configuration with a paper wrapped around a hand-cranked cylinder instead of a plate of glass, one membrane instead of two, and a tuning fork or chronometer attachment to record time-illustrated by yet another phonautogram. This is the better-known version of the phonautograph on which Scott collaborated with the instrument-maker Rudolph Kœnig. In the same document, Scott explores the possibility of applying phonautography to the nuances of dramatic speech.


  • Fixation Graphique de la Voix
    Scott gave this talk in October 1857 before the Société d'Encouragement, which had funded his first phonautograph patent. Because he is addressing a general audience, he goes into less technical detail than he does in his sealed packet or his patent paperwork, focusing instead on the theory underlying his work. Note, for example, his discussion of the importance of placing the membrane at an angle to pick up what he calls "waves of inflection."


  • 1861 Communication to the Académie des Sciences 
    Scott presented his latest findings to the French Academy of Sciences in July 1861 to defend his priority of invention against a “foreign scientist.”  He had parted ways with Rudolph Kœnig and reverted to an imitation of the structure of the ear, going so far as to experiment with an artificial chain of ossicles.  Another innovation was an “amplifier lever” for increasing the size and legibility of inscriptions.  Scott included a page of diagrams explaining how to “read” waveforms and a sampling of recent phonautograms, including Au Clair de la Lune.




Sound restoration. The first known recording of a human voice, from April 9th, 1860. Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville.



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