Before there were MP3 files, before CDs, before vinyl, there were waxed cylinders upon which were stored the faint tracings that could be replayed as sound.
Thomas Edison patented the first phonograph in 1880, and cylinders maintained their popularity until the 1910s when discs began to outsell them. The University of California, Santa Barbara has archived and digitized over 10,000 of these cylinders and made them available on the web.
Rummaging through the collection gives a real taste of the turn of the (last) century. Most of the cylinders contain music. If you like marches, this was the time of John Philip Sousa. There are also some recordings of important speeches of the day, including several by Theodore Roosevelt, and a description of his journeys in Antarctica by Ernest Shackleton.
For the steampunk enthusiast, there’s also a recording from 1905 of a song titled, “Come, take a trip in my air-ship.” (And for a modern recording of this song, listen to Unwoman (a Steampunk favorite) sing it. You can even buy her version on a cylinder, in case vinyl isn’t hip enough for you!)
Personally, I’ve used these recordings to give a bit of ambience as background music in a historic house museum I’m involved with. Most people don’t notice it, but it lends a bit more authenticity to the experience, I find. And I’ve spent a fair amount of time just perusing the archives, listening to the sounds of ghosts from the past.