In the late 1870s, Thomas Edison, America's prolific inventor, perfected the phonograph and captured a very early recording of the human voice – his own voice reciting the still popular nursery rhyme, Mary Had a Little Lamb. (Get mp3 here.) Later, the Edison cylinder also recorded for posterity Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky (The Nutcracker, the 1812 Overture, etc.) talking with other musicians in a light moment.
The Edison cylinder was actually preceded by another sound-recording device, the phonautograph, invented by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in 1857. Not long ago, scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory extracted a recording not heard in 150 years, a voice singing the French folk song "Au Clair de la Lune."