We know what they look like, but what did they sound like?

We recognize many historical figures by their pictures and are familiar with their looks. Abraham Lincoln was tall with a beard, George Washington with the white hair, or Benjamin Franklin with long hair and spectacles. While we can pick these men out by their portraits, have you ever wondered what their voices sounded like?

For more recent historical figures, we have voice recordings to answer that question. Yet the voices of other historical actors remain a mystery. Released earlier this year, we now know what German statesman Otto Von Bismarck sounded like. Recorded in 1889 by a technician working for Thomas Edison, the recording is one of the oldest of its kind. Restored with digital technology, listeners can now here what the statesman sounded like and can make out his adeptness for languages as he begins speaking in English and then moves to others.

But what about those before 1889? With the release of “Lincoln” on Friday, this question arises once again. Abraham Lincoln was a superb orator and speechwriter. The Gettysburg Address is a piece of rhetorical genius. As Lincoln stood on the battleground to dedicate the Soldier’s National Cemetery, his voice rang out with the now infamous words, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal….” We know what the words say, but how did he speak them?

Most often portrayed as deep and ringing out across crowds of people, more recent research disputes that analysis. Using descriptions from contemporaries who actually heard Lincoln, Daniel Day Lewis’ interpretation of Lincoln’s voice will be different from any actor who has played the part. Instead of loud and booming, this Lincoln (and perhaps the man himself) has a quieter, high-pitched sound. We will never truly know exactly how he spoke, but even without the voice, his words leave an indelible impression on our country today.

How do you think Lincoln sounded?

More on Lincoln’s voice in the new film: How did Lincoln sound?

Click here to hear Bismarck: Bismarck’s Voice


One thought on “We know what they look like, but what did they sound like?

  1. If anyone has ever seen Walter Breenan on the old tv program, THE REAL McCOYS, Lincoln probably sounded like Brennan when he was excited.

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