This Is My Testimony, Spoken by Myself into a Talking Machine

Wilford Woodruff’s 1897 Statement in Stereo

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In March 1844, just weeks before his martyrdom, Joseph Smith “called the Twelve Apostles together and he delivered unto them the ordinances of the Church and kingdom of God.” Wilford Woodruff noted the events of the day in a terse journal entry. March “26th A rainey day. I met in council with the brethren.”1 Perhaps the sacredness and magnitude of the meeting called for the brief, cryptic note. Or perhaps it would take hindsight for Wilford to recognize the momentousness of the day’s events. In either case, fifty-three years later at age ninety, President Woodruff recorded his spoken testimony of the historic meeting.

Two decades earlier, in late 1877, while working to improve the efficiency of a telegraph transmitter, Thomas Edison noticed that the tape of the machine gave off a noise resembling spoken words when played at high speed. Wondering if he could record a telephone message, Edison experimented with the diaphragm of a receiver by attaching a needle to it. He reasoned that the needle could prick paper tape to record a message. Experiments led him to try a stylus on a tinfoil cylinder, which, to his great delight, played back the short message he recorded, “Mary had a little lamb.” Phonograph was the trade name for Edison’s device, which played cylinders rather than discs. Sound vibrations generated by speaking into the mouthpiece were indented into the cylinder by a recording needle. This cylinder phonograph was the first machine that could record and reproduce sound.

Joseph J. Daynes, husband of President Woodruff’s daughter Winnifred and president of Daynes Music, brought a phonograph to his father-in-law’s office on March 12, 1897, “for the purpose of showing its workings, and to get Pres. Woodruff to talk into it.” President Woodruff agreed on the condition that he retain possession of the cylinder to prevent it from being used for advertising. He “spoke into the phonograph, which afterwards repeated back quite audibly and satisfactorily [to] all of the First Presidency.”2

One week later on March 19,

Pres. Wilford Woodruff spoke again into the graphaphone, or phonograph, the same words which he uttered into the instrument on March 12th. They were repeated in order to obtain better results than were secured on that date. After reading his testimony as recorded on the 12th inst., he signed it with his own hand, that it might go on record.3

Wilford Woodruff painstakingly prepared the words he wanted to ring in the ears of his posterity—his enduring witness of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, who conferred priesthood keys upon the Twelve and commissioned them three months before his death. Arthur Winter, Church reporter, noted in his journal on March 19:

Several days ago President Woodruff dictated to me his testimony on several points connected with the work of God, his intention being to get his testimony written down just as he wanted it and then he could speak it into the phonograph. Today he repeated it into the talking machine, so that in years to come, long after he shall have passed away, one may hear reproduced by the phonograph, the words he spoke and the very tone of his voice.4

We are awed by that voice. It flows from a man whose ears heard Joseph teach the fulness of the gospel, whose eyes saw him “covered with a power I had never seen in any man in the flesh before,” who “received my own endowments under his hands and direction,” and who lived to record a witness that resonates in our ears.

 

Listen to his testimony here:

About the author(s)

Richard Neitzel Holzapfel is Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University and Photographic Editor at BYU Studies. He received his MA and PhD degress from the University of California at Irvine, and he received his BA at Brigham Young University.

Steven C. Harper is Assistant Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University and Documents Editor at BYU Studies. He received his PhD from Lehigh University, and he received his BA from Brigham Young University.

Notes

1. Wilford Woodruff, Journal, March 26, 1844, Church Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City (hereafter cited as Church Archives).

2. Journal History of the Church, March 12, 1897, Church Archives, microfilm copy also available in Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

3. Journal History of the Church, March 19, 1897.

4. Arthur Winter, Journal, March 19, 1897, Church Archives.

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