from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. (noun) An instrument for registering the vibrations of a sounding body. That devised about 1858 by Léon Scott consists of a large barrel-shaped vessel made of plaster of Paris, into the open end of which the sound enters; the other end, somewhat contracted in shape, is closed by a membrane with a style attached on the outside, whose point rests against a horizontal cylinder covered with lampblacked paper. If the membrane is at rest the trace of the style is a straight line, but when the sound enters the membrane vibrates, and the writing-point registers these vibrations with great perfection.


  • I always discover something unusual or odd when browsing, like the fact that the acronym H.A.L, for the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, is made up of the letters that precede I.B.M. in the alphabet, and that a sound recording technology, the phonautograph, has been discovered that predates Edison's by two decades.

    Jillian Burt: The Concept of Reuse Is Regenerating the Arts and Culture in Australia

  • He had not been forgetful of 'Visible Speech' all this while, but had been making experiments with two remarkable machines -- the phonautograph and the manometric capsule, by means of which the vibrations of sound were made plainly visible.

    The History of the Telephone

  • In like manner, the simple phonautograph of Leon Scott, invented about 1858, records on a revolving cylinder of blackened paper the sound vibrations transmitted through a membrane to which a tiny stylus is attached; so that a human mouth uses a pen and inscribes its sign vocal.

    Edison, His Life and Inventions, vol. 1

  • Recordings have of course always been physical objects, ever since the first known recording device, a phonautograph, was created in France in the mid-1800s. Top Stories


'Phonautograph' is made up of the Greek 'phone,' sound, voice, and 'autographos,' written with one's own hand.