This is an audio recording that was made on March 19, 1897 by Wilford Woodruff, fourth president of the Church, at age 91, just one and a half years before his death. It is one of the oldest audio recordings ever made, using a “talking machine” or cylinder phonograph invented by Thomas Edison just two decades previously. This is a singular recording, as Truman G. Madsen has noted:
We hear the record of Christ’s redemptive power, his keys of authority, his organization, his pure and transforming doctrines, his spiritual gifts, and, above all, the empowering promises of his holy temple. (This Is My Testimony, Spoken by Myself into a Talking Machine, BYU Studies 5, no. 2 (2006))
Wilford Woodruff was a first-hand witness of the endowment as it was first given to the twelve apostles by Joseph Smith in a meeting on March 26, 1844, just weeks before the Prophet’s martyrdom. Here we listen to President Woodruff bear his solemn testimony of the great truths that he witnessed the prophet of God bestow in that great meeting. I can only imagine what it would have been like to be in attendance on that occasion and hear the restored ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ fall from the lips of God’s prophet for the first time in nearly two millenia.
Update (1/26/08): Aaron notes that this was not the very first time the endowment ceremony was given by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Elements of the temple ordinances were given by the Prophet in different forms and states of progression and development all the way back to 1831, as is the nature of how revelation is received and given (line upon line). The first “formal” endowment was given by the Prophet in the upper room of his red brick store in May 4, 1842 to nine people (only 3 from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). The ceremony presented on March 26, 1844, might have been the first given to the entire Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (can anyone confirm?). Certainly it was among the first endowments given, as there were only about 50 or so endowed members by the time of the Prophet’s death in June of 1844. Thanks, Aaron, for the clarification!