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14 Things You Didn't Know a Mormon Invented


7. DIGITAL SOUND 

An Emmy Award winner in 1988 and Grammy winner in 1994 for his work with recording, Thomas Stockham was a pioneer in the digital sound field along with his mentee, Robert B. Ingebretsen, and colleague, Richard B. Warnock. All three were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Stockham and Ingebretsen received a joint Oscar Award in 1999 for their work in digital audio editing.

Stockham was an MIT graduate with a Ph.D. and began experimenting with digital sound not long after graduating. He spent some time at the University of Utah, where he became the mentor for Robert B. Ingebretsen. While there, Stockham developed a way to digitize old records. Around this time, he also founded the company Soundstream in 1975, which released the first of these digitally remastered recordings. His revolutionary technique for removing unwanted noises from the recordings astonished crowds and Stockham continued to find ways to improve the technology.

Warnock and Ingebretsen eventually joined their colleague at Soundstream. Using Stockham's ideas, Warnock, as Chief Electrical Engineer, designed the hardware and Ingebretsen wrote the software for the first practical digital audio editing system. After Ingebretsen failed to file the patent papers, Sony and Philips beat Soundstream to producing CDs in the early 1980s. But the discovery of digital recordings as an easier way to seamlessly splice together music recordings is still attributed to those key inventors at Soundstream.

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Illustration by James Yang

Stockham was a key player in the attempt to recover the erased minutes on the tape in the Watergate scandal and has come to be known as the “Father of Digital Recording.” One of Ingebretsen’s other notable achievements includes his work with fellow Mormon Ed Catmull to create the first digital movie—a 20-second portrait of a hand.

8. HEARING AID

Latter-day Saint Harvey Fletcher was born in Provo, Utah. After graduating from BYU in 1907, he attended the University of Chicago, where he and his mentor, Robert A. Millikan, began trying to measure the charge of an electron. His research and discoveries there would later prove vital to his invention of the 2-A audiometer—a predecessor to the modern electric hearing aid.

In 1911, he became the first summa cum laude Ph.D. graduate from the University of Chicago physics department, and a few years later he began working for what would become Bell Laboratories. Through his research in sound, he developed the first hearing aid to use vacuum tubes and has since come to be known as the “Father of Stereophonic Sound.”

The first presentation of three-dimensional sound was given by Fletcher in the early 1930s. Many were astonished by the realistic sounds coming from the stage. A few years later, he used this same stereo sound recording technology to give a concert in Carnegie Hall, and even occasionally featured recordings of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in later similar demonstrations.

Fletcher left a mark in many other ways as well. In his years of studying speech sounds, he developed a vibrating reed machine that functioned similarly to the vocal cords, which easily allowed for the development of the artificial larynx for those without vocal cords. He also pioneered work on adding recorded sound to make “talking pictures” and even developed a hearing aid for the famous inventor Thomas Edison.

Dr. Fletcher was a dedicated member of the Church throughout his life, serving as president of the New York Branch and in various other Church leadership roles.

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