Eugene V Debs and William McKinley Sure Talked Funny

I’ve been enjoying the “earliest voices” sampling from the Vincent Voice Archive. It’s been fascinating to hear the voices of the turn of the 19th/20th century.

Just now I listened to a 1904 Eugene V Debs speech and a similar era speech from William McKinley. They spoke with an accent or style that one doesn’t hear anymore. Can anyone with more background in history/linquistics listen and tell me if these recordings are evidence of a faded accent or merely an outdated affectation? In both I note a distinct rolling/trilling of Rs.

Could it be the primitiveness of the recording equipment in 1900 and 1904? More than anything, it sounds like the speakers are taking great pains to slowly shout, almost, their speeches.

I noticed that William J. Bryan’s speech, recorded in 1921, sounds much more natural.

There was a style for speeches that sounds very pretentious to us today. Listen to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speeches to hear how strange speeches sounded even in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It was a deliberately taught and deliberately learned style that no one uses anymore.

Some of these old recordings of famous speeches are actually recreations by actors. The McKinley speech was recorded by Len Spencer. The Debs speech was probably also by Spencer. I’ve been told by experts that the Edison and Booker T. Washington speeches are genuine, and that the William Jennings Bryan speeches probably are too.

The recording of Debs sounds like a cheesy James Bond villain or something. I did a report on him in fourth grade.

A hundred years ago, there wasn’t much in the way of AV technology. No microphones connected to giant speaker stacks or jumbotron video monitors. What you are hearing is good old fashioned oratory projected out to a big audience. It was the easiest way to speak to a large crowd.

Also, before 1925 or so, there was no such thing as electric recording. All these recordings were made into a gramophone horn. Acoustic recordings have poorer sound quality than electric recordings.

The Taft recordings (at least from 1908) are also the real thing.

“Theee on-ly thing we have to fee-ah is…fee-ah it-self!” (With a vigorous bob of the head)