Scott de Martinville, Edouard-Léon

SUBJECT AREA: Recording
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b. 25 April 1817 Paris, France
d. 29 April 1879 Paris, France
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French amateur phonetician, who developed a recorder for sound waves.
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He was the descendant of a Scottish family who emigrated to France in 1688. He trained as a printer and later became a proof corrector in printing houses catering predominantly for scientific publishers. He became interested in shorthand systems and eventually turned his interest to making a permanent record of sounds in air. At the time it was already known (Young, Duhamel, Wertheim) to record vibrations of bodies. He made a theoretical study and deposited under sealed wrapper a note in the Académie des Sciences on 26 January 1857. He approached the scientific instrument maker Froment and was able to pay for the manufacture of one instrument due to support from the Société d'Encouragement à l'Industrie Nationale. This funding body obtained a positive report from the physicist Lissajous on 6 January 1858. A new model phonautograph was constructed in collaboration with the leading scientific instrument maker in Paris at the time, Rudolph Koenig, and a contract was signed in 1859. The instrument was a success, and Koenig published a collection of traces in 1864.
Although the membrane was parallel to the rotating surface, a primitive lever system generated lateral movements of a bristle which scratched curves in a thin layer of lampblack on the rotating surface. The curves were not necessarily representative of the vibrations in the air. Scott did not imagine the need for reproducing a recorded sound; rather, his intention was to obtain a trace that would lend itself to mathematical analysis and visual recognition of sounds. Obviously the latter did not require the same degree of linearity as the former. When Scott learned that similar apparatus had been built independently in the USA, he requested that his sealed wrapper be opened on 15 July 1861 in order to prove his scientific priority. The contract with Koenig left Scott without influence over his instrument, and eventually he became convinced that everyone else, including Edison in the end, had stolen his invention. Towards the end of his life he became interested mainly in the history of printing, and he was involved in the publishing of a series of books about books.
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Bibliography
25 March 1857, amended 29 July 1859, French patent no. 31,470.
Further Reading
P.Charbon, 1878, Scott de Martinville, Paris: Hifi Stereo, pp. 199–205 (a good biography produced at the time of the centenary of the Edison phonograph).
V.J.Philips, 1987, Waveforms, Bristol: Adam Hilger, pp. 45–8 (provides a good account of the importance of his contributions to accurate measurements of temporal phenomena).
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Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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