You won’t recognize the tune, but this is an actual recording of a person–most likely a young girl–singing. Not too amazing by itself, until you consider that it was recorded on August 17, 1857–almost 156 years ago!

Sound recorded in 1857 [clicking will open a new tab]

This is one of the earliest sounds ever recorded, long before the invention of the phonograph record. These recordings, which were done in France in the 1850s and 1860s, were a type of technology called “phonoautograms,” which were recorded by the means of a stylus scratching through a piece of paper covered with soot. These early recordings have been collected and put online in .MP3 format by a team of researchers called the First Sounds Project. Here is their website, and there’s a lot more amazingly cool stuff there.

If you play back the recording again–it’s only 16 seconds long–think about this. When that sound was recorded, slavery was still legal in the United States. Abraham Lincoln was thinking of running for the Senate. Franklin Roosevelt wouldn’t be born for another 25 years; John F. Kennedy wouldn’t be born for another 60 years. In 1857, there were people still alive who had fought in the American Revolution. Even if she lived to be over 100, the girl whose voice you’re hearing certainly died decades before you were born.

I think this deserves the “WOW” graphic, don’t you?

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