March 28, 2008 Thomas Alva Edison has been considered the father of recorded sound since he captured the spoken words "Mary had a little lamb" on a sheet of tinfoil. Now a recording has come to light made by Frenchman Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville on his phonautograph which captured the waves and translated them into visible form on paper. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory developed the playback technology which unlocked the recorded sound (listen to it here as an MP3). According to the researchers, the recording was made on April 9, 1860, predating Edison’s recording by a full two decades.
The New York Times has the full story, though there’s a plethora of information on the web about the Frenchman and his work. Interestingly, in a self-published memoir in 1878, Scott de Martinville railed against Edison for "appropriating" his methods and misconstruing the purpose of recording technology. The goal, Scott argued, was not sound reproduction, but "writing speech, which is what the word phonograph means."