Listen to More Than 10,000 Wax Cylinder Recordings From the Turn of the Last Century
Before people were listening to vinyl records, they were tuning in to tinfoil. In 1877, Thomas Edison created a hand-cranked phonograph that played recorded sound from the material. Later, Edison and other sound pioneers swapped tinfoil for wax cylinders etched with grooves. These soda can-sized cylinders would become the dominant recording technology of the turn of the last century.
The University of California, Santa Barbara has collected more than 10,000 of these cylinder recordings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These recordings—including vaudeville acts, music, speeches, and comedy—have been digitized and archived online as part of the UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive.
Some of the recordings have degraded substantially in the century since they were created, despite attempts to restore the files, but they’re still included in the archive. (Some record of those historical files is better than none at all.) Others sound perfectly clear. Some of the earliest recordings, from the 1890s, sound pretty good for their age.