Connections and the Creation of an Industry
By Doug Boilesen 2020
Phonographia are popular culture connections with the phonograph.
Ever since Edison's invention was first reported in Scientific American on December 22, 1877 the phonograph has been seen and heard in each era's popular culture conversation. The phonograph industry created, manufactured and marketed a machine that had started as a "wonder" and novelty but was to become an essential home entertainment device.
The galleries of Phonographia.com are predominantly popular culture advertisements and paper ephemera organized by phonograph related themes such as PhonoToons, PhonoFood, PhonoDrinks, PhonoAds, etc.. Examples show the phonograph's presence in daily life throughout every decade.
I like how Bill McKibben describes connections when he says in his book Falter that "everything comes with strings attached, and you can follow those strings into every corner of our past and present."(1). I would also add there are interconnections, with connections within the connections. (5B)
Artists, musicians, performers, producers, song writers, music teachers, sheet music, recording studios; various music venues such as the opera, symphonies, local bands, church choirs, minstrel shows and broadway shows each providing content and expectations regarding what could be recorded; copyrights (after 1909), patents, corporations and contracts; designs and aesthetic details for how the phonograph would work and what it would look like; raw materials for the manufacture of machines and records, factories and workers; marketing strategies and advertisements in various media; jobbers and dealers who handled specific brands of phonographs and stores where the consumers could shop for and listen to a phonograph; mail order and delivery from phonograph companies and from catalogs like Sears and Montgomery Ward with additional degrees of separation connections like the Rural Free Delivery Act of 1893; the typewriter, the sewing machine - in short, phonographia have connections everywhere.
This wider view of phonograph connections, expanded by six degrees of separation and interconnections, is in a sense its own universe.
The strings of those connections do not seem to have beginnings or ends since examples of phonographia are serendipidous points in time and space that quickly reveal other connections. Each connection also contains different meanings depending on our own interactions with the objects.
The following are a few phonograph industry entry points to glimpse aspects of "our past and our present" and further connect and interconnect.
Follow the strings and observe the multiple relationships between the phonograph and popular culture.
Artists and Recording Performers
Discographies comprehensively list songs and their artists who have recorded since April 7, 1857 when Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville made what is now recognized as the world's first recording, the French folksong "Au Clair de la Lune."
As one small example of connections within those discographies we can look at a subset of artists in the early 1900's who were opera stars who made records and were featured in phonograph ads. These artists added opera's prestige and implicit, if not direct support for the message that a phonograph recording can be a substitute for live performance.
"Home is more comfortable than
an opera house...“… whenever you want, without going a single step away
from home.” 1910
Artists and Recording Performers - Connections within Connections
We can make a further subset of recording artists and look at six early opera stars who made records and appeared in phonograph advertisements but who in addition had connections with Willa Cather's opera related characters. Phonograph popular culture examples for Cather's opera prima donnas are seen in Phonographia's webpage titled Willa Cather's Opera Prototypes who were Recording Artists. (2)
FARRAR FREMSTAD NORDICA GARDEN SCHUMANN-HEINK BORI
Relationships were established between musicians and the phonograph industry with endless connections. Likewise, the result of those relationships remained true through the decades: recorded music could bring music to anyone, anytime and as often as one wanted, and because musicians made records, music's "fleeting pleasure is made permanent."
An RPPC circa 1908, unknown location
New Victor Records Catalog, December 1916
"The best of the Broadway hits are now available no matter how far you may be from Manhattan."
"The Edison Phonograph is the theatre --the opera, the drama, the concert, the vaudeville---"
"The voice of all the people on the stage - The choice of all the people off the stage.
Edison ad, artwork by Gil Spear 1911
For more examples of the home replacing
the public performance venues visit Phonographia's PhonoAds gallery
Stage of the World.
Courtesy United States Patent and Trademark Office
Hannibal, Missouri Music Store with Phonographs, 1910
General Store with Standard Model
A Phonographs, Nebraska ca. 1910
For an excellent website that uses an interactive map to identify record store dealers in Paris visit Disquaires de Paris which is designed to pay "tribute to the record dealers and venders of phonograph cylinders, who allowed Parisians to discover recorded sound as early as the end of the 19th century."
"Disquaires de Paris" includes all shops in Paris from 1900 to 1940 that once sold recorded music (records and phonograph cylinders). A significant share of these businesses never specialized in record and cylinder sales and some existed long before the birth of the recording industry, like the piano sellers and luthiers that very early began selling recorded music.
See Phonographia's Shopping for a Phonograph for more advertising examples about shopping for a Phonograph.
List of Firms handling Edison Phonographs and Records as Jobbers in Canada and the US in 1903
The Edison Phonograph Monthly, April 1903
Denver Dry Goods Company (listed in above Edison Jobbers List), The Edison Phonograph Monthly May 1908
Jobbers were wholesalers who would supply machines and records to other stores in their area but they could also be a local dealer store.
List of Publications where this Edison ad appeared in April 1903
The Edison Phonograph Monthly, April 1903
Victor Billboard in New York's Herald Square, 1906. Courtesy Camden County Historical Society
Victor's enormous sign in New York City's Herald Square according to historian David Suisman (5) was "seen by an estimated eight hundred thousand people daily," was "illuminated by more than a thousand lightbulbs," and was reportedly the most expensive sign in the world up to that time.
For more examples of phonograph advertising using signs, billboards, and window displays visit Phonographia's PhonoSignage.
Delivery to the Customer
Phonograph and records are not unique in having innumerable connections throughout their life-cycles -- all consumer products have countless connections related to what they are and to their culture of the time.
Phonograph connections are, however, unique in being part of the first industry based on the altered human audio perception of sound and voices being captured "for future use." Previously limited by the moment and place, live performances became available as audio home entertainment to anyone, anytime, and to be heard as often as you wanted.
Each new home and personal entertainment device since the phonograph (6) continued with the phonograph's foundation of advertisements that promoted the altered world of perceived sound and the promise of the "best seat in the house."
The phonograph, 78's, LPs and 45s; radio, AM, FM; television, hi-fi, stereo and surround sound TVs; the tape recorder, 8-tracks, cassette recordings; Walkman's and boomboxes; VHS and Betamax VCRs; CDs, HDCDs, SACDs; Laserdiscs and CED Video Discs, DVDs, Blu-rays, 4K Ultra Blu-rays; computers with digital and multiple audio formats, music streaming services -- each and more offered their revised version of what the original phonograph said it could do for you in bringing personal entertainment and the "Stage of the World" into your home as if you were a king, or a millionaire or the possessor of Aladdin's Lamp.
The Phonograph was a wonder, a consumers' dream and its revolution is still turning.
"Seventh row, center. Forever."©
"It is reality, nothing less; for "The Stage of the World" presents the artists themselves to you..." Columbia Grafonola, 1916
"Ring Up the Graphophone Curtain in Your Home, and the Whole World of Entertainment Appears!" 1906