Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 117

The French Didn't Invent the Phonograph

Nature, Vol XXI, January 15, 1880, p. 266.

AN attempt is made in L’Electricité by M. C. E. Séguin, fils, to claim for France the honour of the invention of the phonograph; firstly, by the plea that M. Léon Scott (who died only last July) patented the instrument under the name of the phonautograph in 1857, and secondly, by the statement that M. Charles Cros deposited before the Académie des Sciences, in April, 1877, seven months before the date of Edison’s patent, a sealed packet describing the possible reproduction of sounds from recorded traces.  In justice to Mr. Edison, we can hardly admit the validity of either of these claims.  The phonautograph of M. Scott merely recorded the graphic traces of vibrations in sinuous scratches upon a smoked surface, which, therefore, was useless for the purpose of reproduction of the sounds; and, moreover, Dr. König, who worked upon the instrument with M. Scott, and perfected it, has stated to us most candidly that the idea of reproducing the sounds from the recorded traces never occurred either to M. Scott or to himself; and that neither of them attempted or proposed to obtain graphic traces in hollows and ridges in tinfoil or soft metal, or otherwise than as plane curves. And as for the claims of M. Cros, we have yet to learn that he constructed an actual phonograph, or that his sealed packet contained any descriptions of a sufficiently detailed or practical nature to enable any instrument to be made from them.