Making the Perfect Record: From Inscription to Impression in Early Magnetic Recording

An Even Earlier Recording Device

In fact, the answering machine’s predecessor existed as early as 1898. Although there is no evidence that he read Oberlin Smith’s work, that year an engineer by the name of Valdemar Poulsen experimented with storing voices on piano wire. These experiments initially occurred in his laboratory at the Copenhagen Telephone Company in Denmark. According to Marvin Camras ({Au: Which work by Camras?}, 1), a historian and practitioner of magnetic recording, Poulsen would stretch magnetic wire across the diagonal width of a room, from the top corner to its opposite bottom corner. To that wire, he would attach a trolley, which carried an electromagnet, battery, and telephone transmitter. As the trolley rolled down the wire, he would run alongside it, shouting into the transmitter.20 This process would then be repeated, but with a receiver instead of a transmitter. As the trolley rolled down the wire again, Poulsen would have a friend listen to the playback through an earpiece. The playback could be repeated (ostensibly without deterioration in audio quality), with people taking turns to individually listen.21 Better yet, they could then witness Poulsen wiping the record clean with a strong magnet, only to rerecord on the same medium (1).

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