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Oberlin Smith


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Oberlin Smith was born on March 22, 1840 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

He started a small machine shop in Bridgeton, New Jersey, where he lived most of his life, which became known as the Ferracute Machine Company in 1877. For the entire existence of the company he was the president and chief engineer.

On September 8th, 1888, Smith published a short note entitled "Some Possible Forms of the Phonograph" in the British journal Electrical World, where he suggested (probably for the first time) the use of permanent magnetic impressions for the recording of sound. (Smith's sketch of his magnetic recording concept is at right) Smith suggested using cotton or silk thread, into which steel dust or short clippings of fine wire could be suspended. These particles were to be magnetized in accordance with the alternating current from a microphone source. Smith also discussed the possibility of using a hard steel wire, but thought it scarcely possible. A working unit was never built. Many of Smith's ideas were used by Valdemar Poulsen when he developed the first true magnetic recorder.

Oberlin Smith passed away on July 19, 1926 in New Jersey.

Regarding the presidency of F.M.C. Obetlin remained so until his death in 1926. The next in line was his son Percival who remained CEO until the company was sold to George E. Bass during the late 1930s. He in turn  remained president until Mr. Bass sold the company to Fulton Iron Works, St.Louis in 1968. As far as know it continues to be a branch of their business.   - Arthur J. Cox

Additional information:

Oberlin Smith biographyOberlin Smith web siteThe Story of Oberlin Smith book by Arthur J. CoxThe Electrical World 19882nd biography Oberlin Smithinventions and patents

Oberlin Smith and the Invention of Magnetic Sound Recording - An Appreciation on the 150th Anniversary of the Inventor's Birth • With an Introduction by Friedrich Karl Engel

Audio interview by MOMSR with Arthur J. Cox & Chris Meyers • July 3, 2015  • Arthur and Chris share information about the efforts to preserve Oberlin Smith's legacy and his contributions to sound recording. Please note: Mr. Cox send us a correction stating that in this recorded interview, "the location of the Philosophical Society being Philadelphia not New York."

"James W. Gandy and I contributed to Friedrich Karl Engel's's work in identifying Oberlin Smith as the inventor of Magnetic Recording as documented in his paper ''Oberlin Smith and the Invention of Magnetic Sound Recording - An Appreciation on the 150th Anniversary of the Inventor's Birth''. The first version was prepared by Engel in Germany and identified by him as  supplement to my 1985 biography of Smith's company Ferracurte Machine Company that includes one biographical chapter on Smith." - Arthur J. Cox

Video about the Oberlin Smith facilities and asking why his story has not received more attention.

More about Ferracute Machine Company

Oberlin Smith’s Ferracute Machine Company Tokens • Ferracute Machine Company records - Hagley Museum - Arthur Cox • Machine HistoryPreservation

Arthur Cox Collection of Ferracute Machine Company Archival Material







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