Phonograph Said Perfected by San Diego Man, Not Bell

from the San Diego Union, October 29, 1937

Charles Sumner Tainter, 83, and not Alexander Graham Bell, was the inventor of was recording of sound, according to documentary evidence carefully preserved by Tainter, retired, who now resides at 2960 First Ave. Refuting a news story from Washington, D.C. this week that Bell with two associates, of whom Tainter was one, worked out the wax record method of capturing sound, the only surviving member of the trio said last night that the idea was his, that he worked on the project alone and took out the patent, which he later made over to the Volta Laboratory Association. The association,he said, included himself, Bell and a cousin, C. A. Bell. He exhibited the original notes, which preceded the perfecting of the first wax recording ever made of a human voice, the patent and other material incidental to the history-making invention. "Alexander Graham Bell," said Tainter, "was busy working on his telephone and did not wish to be bothered with the phonograph idea. His father-in-law, G. G. Hubbard, was president of the company which had brought out Edison's tin-foil phonograph. Edison had ceased to show any interest in the phonograph which was impractical as he had worked it out. He was giving all his attention to electric lights. "Finally, I yielded o the insistance of Hubbard and gave serious thought to the recording of sound. I saw that the tin-foil method could never make a true record and conceived a new form, in which speech vibrations were recorded by cutting out a spiral line on a circular plate. When I had a model ready, we recorded a quotation from Shakespeare, spoken by Prof. A. Melville Bell, father of Alexander Graham Bell."

In the faded leaves of Tainter's precious notebook, there is an account of the demonstration of the machine, made secretly in the presence of only Hubbard, Miss Grac Hubbard, Mrs. David C. Bell and Prof. Bell. Then begins a new notebook. It leads off with a receipt from Smithsonian Institute, given when the model was deposited in a vault Oct. 20, 1881. The sealed box was not to be opened, according to instructions from the three depositors, except upon request of two of them. "We did this," said Tainter, "so that if Edison's company should get hold of our invention, through any leakage of information, before our patent was complete, we would have dated proof of what we had worked out. I continued the work unaided, and after we were ready to put it on the market, interested business men persuaded us to show it to Edison. I had an appointment with him, which he did not keep. Two of his assistants came, carefully inspected my invention. Very son the world was told that Edison had perfected the phonograph! It was my invention that he was using, and our companies went to court, fighting it our for more that a year before Edison agreed that our company was to use 16 of his patents for granting him the privilege of using my phonograph patent and one other. That was in 1887. I had invented the dicaphone in 1885, got a patent in 1886. My two former partners did years ago. I had come to San Diego in 1903 in search of health. Recently I made a request that the package which we placed in a vault of Smithsonian Institute 56 years ago, and which never had been removed, should be taken out and placed in the National museum in Washington. This was granted, and last Wednesday the box was unsealed in the presence of members of the Bell family."

Source: Tainter Papers, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D. C.

scanned June 21, 1999 by Schoenherr | Return to NMAH or Recording Technology History Notes | this page revised July 7, 1999