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Free Early 20th Century Historical Recordings Available as MP3 Downloads

Inventor Thomas Edison originally envisioned the recording of sound merely as a tool for office dictation, not popular amusement. We know which one ultimately prevailed, however. Still, from the beginning of recorded sound, spoken word was also recorded on cylinders (originally made of tin and about as big as a soft drink can) and sold for educational purposes such as language instruction, exposure to historical speeches, as well as for entertainment (comic monologues and vaudeville sketches).

Thanks in part to the generosity of collectors, you can listen to and download more than 6,000 little-heard songs, readings and speeches performed a century ago for free via the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project's Web site, sponsored by the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).

The range of material include readings by past luminaries like actress Sarah Bernhardt, speeches from Theodore Roosevelt and turn-of-the-century "pop" songs by Anna Chandler and Will Denny.

An interesting factoid: Cylinders could contain only a few minutes of audio which may be the reason why songs of the past and present rarely last longer than four minutes.

USA Today April 12, 2006

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