Download 10,000 of the First Recordings of Music Ever Made, Thanks to the UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive

Three min­utes with the min­strels / Arthur Collins, S. H. Dud­ley & Ancient City. Edi­son Record. 1899.

Long before vinyl records, cas­sette tapes, CDs and MP3s came along, peo­ple first expe­ri­enced audio record­ings through anoth­er medi­um — through cylin­ders made of tin foil, wax and plas­tic. In recent years, we’ve fea­tured cylin­der record­ings from the 19th cen­tu­ry that allow you to hear the voic­es of Leo Tol­stoy, TchaikovskyOtto von Bis­mar­ck and oth­er tow­er­ing fig­ures. Those record­ings were orig­i­nal­ly record­ed and played on a cylin­der phono­graph invent­ed by Thomas Edi­son in 1877. But those were obvi­ous­ly just a hand­ful of the cylin­der record­ings pro­duced at the begin­ning of the record­ed sound era.

Thanks to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia-San­ta Bar­bara Cylin­der Audio Archive, you can now down­load or stream a dig­i­tal col­lec­tion of more than 10,000 cylin­der record­ings. “This search­able data­base,” says UCSB, “fea­tures all types of record­ings made from the late 1800s to ear­ly 1900s, includ­ing pop­u­lar songs, vaude­ville acts, clas­si­cal and oper­at­ic music, comedic mono­logues, eth­nic and for­eign record­ings, speech­es and read­ings.” You can also find in the archive a num­ber of “per­son­al record­ings,” or “home wax record­ings,” made by every­day peo­ple at home (as opposed to by record com­pa­nies).

If you go to this page, the record­ings are neat­ly cat­e­go­rized by genre, instru­ment, subject/theme and ethnicity/nation of ori­gin. You can lis­ten, for exam­ple, to record­ings of Jazz, Rag­timeOperas, and Vaude­ville acts. Or hear record­ings fea­tur­ing the Man­dolinGui­tar, Dul­cimer and Ban­jo, among oth­er instru­ments. Plus there are the­mat­i­cal­ly-arranged playlists here.

Host­ed by UCSB (UC San­ta Bar­bara), the archive is sup­port­ed by fund­ing from the Insti­tute of Muse­um and Library Ser­vices, the Gram­my Foun­da­tion, and oth­er donors.

Above, hear a record­ing called “Three min­utes with the min­strels,” by Arthur Collins, released in 1899. Below that is “Alexan­der’s rag­time band med­ley,” fea­tur­ing the ban­jo play­ing of Fred Van Eps, released in 1913.

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Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in Novem­ber, 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Beer Bot­tle Gets Turned Into a 19th Cen­tu­ry Edi­son Cylin­der and Plays Fine Music

Voic­es from the 19th Cen­tu­ry: Ten­nyson, Glad­stone, Whit­man & Tchaikovsky

Thomas Edison’s Record­ings of Leo Tol­stoy: Hear the Voice of Russia’s Great­est Nov­el­ist

Tchaikovsky’s Voice Cap­tured on an Edi­son Cylin­der (1890)


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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.