Wire Recorder Project

Recovering old family recordings made on steel wire

This web site describes how recordings made on steel wire by my Grandfather from about 1949 were recovered to be enjoyed again by his descendants.

My Grandfather was a remarkable man who was fascinated by technology and built all kinds of electronic and mechanical gadgetery during his lifetime. He started working on electronic home projects in an era when components were only just becoming available to hobbyists. Among other things, he built electronic musical instruments, radios, and even a TV around which all the neighbours used to gather to watch some of the first BBC broadcasts from Crystal Palace in London where he lived.

In the late forties he built an electronic wire recorder. Tape recording had not yet been introduced commercially and steel wire, thinner than a human hair, was the only medium available for making audio recordings. Although by this time wire recorders were being introduced on the domestic market in America, in Britain they were still a rarity and confined mainly to the military and to offices where they were used as dictaphones.

My Grandfather was able use his wire recorder, along with a homemade microphone, to make recordings of my family including my Great Grandparents and my Mother as a little girl. He also recorded alll his favourite music from the radio and even copied a couple of old 78rpm discs. His recorder is long gone, but about 20 spools of wire have survived and have remained tantalisingly silent...until now!

Family spools: 60,000 feet of steel wire

My Grandfather made his own spools. Needless to say, they didn't fit any commercially available recorders!

A Spool for a Webster Chicago wire recorder. Several of these came with wire recorders that I bought.

My Webster 288 wire recorder - bought as one of a pair from a local dealer. This one has yet to be restored.

This website describes the process of recovering the recordings and contains some sound samples taken from the wires. When I embarked on the project I got a lot of help and encouragement from people via the web, and hope now to be able to give something back.