He said he first gave a close look to the Wangemann cylinders in 2005. But at the time, he didn't have the equipment needed to convert the sounds stored on those fragile pieces into digital files. By 2010, he had what was needed and was able to convert the dozen cylinders that weren't too badly broken.
"When I heard that it was German speaking," he said, "that was a big clue that these might be something very important."
To figure out what it was, he called in Feaster, a lecturer in communication and culture at Indiana University, and, later, Puille, a conservator of archaeological finds at Berlin's University of Applied Sciences,
Puille said the words from the man speaking in a falsetto voice were hard to make out, but when he transcribed them he realized it was the chancellor speaking less than a year before he was replaced as chancellor.
The discovery has sparked intense interest in Germany. The Bismarck Society's Lappenkuper described it an in email as "hype," which he said could "fertilize the historical research."
He was interested to hear what the chancellor chose to say for posterity's sake: "Bismarck did not give any political advices but recitations of poems, lyrics... and a personal suggestion to his son to be moderate in working, eating and drinking!"
In Germany, the recording of Bismarck may be the most exciting. But another voice was also thrilling for Feaster to hear.
They captured Helmuth von Moltke, the longtime chief of staff for the Prussian army reciting lines from Shakespeare and other literature.
It's ironic, Feaster said, that a man born in 1800 and known as "the Great Silent One" is the owner of the only voice born in the 18th century known to be preserved.
Feaster said that find was a coup — but there are more to come in his field.
"There are always more holy grails," he said. "We're really at a moment where early sound recordings are turning up and becoming audible at a rate much greater than ever before."
Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill
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