Thomas Edison has long been credited for the invention of sound recording, thanks to his phonograph. However, researchers have recently discovered a a 10-second recording that was created 17 years before the phonograph was invented. It is believed to be history's earliest recording of sound.
Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville was a French typesetter who invented a device called a phonautograph in 1857. The phonautograph recorded sound by directing it through a large barrel, where the vibrations would cause a stylus to move, etching the sound onto paper blackened by smoke. It was through this invention that history's first recordings of a human voice were made.
Scott's invention had recorded sound a few times, but it was an April 9, 1860 recording that was the most clear. This recording was of a person singing a song called Au Clair de la Lune. The result - called a phonautogram - was merely a visual recording of sound. In fact, sound reproduction in any other format was still inconceivable at that point in history. It was only very recently that audio historians and sound engineers were able to translate the phonautogram into more than just an etching. Working with a high-resolution scan of the phonautogram, they used optical imaging along with a "virtual stylus" to turn the recording into something that could be played back. This is impressive, considering the inventor of history's first sound recordings never intended for them to be heard.
Scott was born in Paris in 1817 and was greatly interested in the written word, working as a librarian and a typesetter. It appears that when he invented the phonautograph, he did so under the belief that recording sound was in the same vein as recording written words. Scott felt so strongly about not straying from visual representation that, in his memoir published in 1878, he denounced Edison for reproducing sound with the invention of the phonograph.
Whatever his intentions for his invention, Scott's contribution to history - the earliest known recording of sound - can only be lauded.
Sources: The New York Times and Wikipedia