Connections and the Phonograph Industry
Created by an Industry
By Doug Boilesen 2020
Phonographia are popular culture
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 started as a "wonder"
and novelty but became 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,
etc.. Examples show the phonograph's presence in daily life throughout
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)
Any industry creates innumerable
connections. In the case of the phonograph
industry looking at its phonograph connections can be like viewing
its own universe.
musicians, performers, producers, sound
recorders, song writers, music teachers, sheet
studios (6B); 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
catalogs, 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 related connections to the Rural Free Delivery Act of 1893;
owners manuals and instructions
for operating the phonograph; and a host of other connections,
some with additional degrees of separation like the typewriter,
the sewing machine, etc.
The strings of connections do
not seem to have beginnings or ends since examples of phonographia
are points in time and space that then can reveal other connections.
Each connection can also contain different meanings depending on our
own interactions with the objects.
The following are a few phonograph
industry entry points to phonographia strings to glimpse aspects of
"our past and our present." Follow
the strings and observe relationships between the phonograph and popular
Artists and Recording
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
A further subset of recording artists can be seen
by looking at six early opera stars who made records and appeared
in phonograph advertisements but who additionally 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
Sound Recorders - People who made
sound recordings, i.e., the recording engineers.
We often think only about the names of songs and
artists who make records when we think about music on records. But
there is a key group of amatuers and professionals who have made sound
recordings through the decades, i.e., 'the recording engineers.' For
an excellent website about early sound recording pioneers described
as "a collection of scrapbooks on people", visit Recording
Relationships between musicians
and the phonograph industry have endless other connections. But the
result of those connections is constant throughout the decades: recorded
music offered music to anyone, anytime and as often as one wanted,
and music's "fleeting
pleasure is made permanent."
circa 1908, unknown location
Before the phonograph, sheet music could be the
key to learning or playing a song. After the phonograph, songs didn't
require sheet music in the home -- just put on the record. Sheet music,
however, remained important for popular music even as its songs quickly
were turned into records.
In 1910, the song and its sheet music Gee!
But the Moon Makes Me Lonesome was released.
Gee! But the Moon Makes Me
Lonesome. Courtesy of The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection,
In the June 1911 issue of Edison's The New
Phonogram it was announced that Record No. 694 - Gee! But the
Moon Makes Me Lonesone" sung by Mr. Manuel
Romain was being released. (3)
This new Edison Amberol Record No. 694, like all
recorded music, was dependent on popular culture taste, song writers,
publishers, performers, vaudeville tours, and sheet music including
sheet music illustrations like this one that The New Phonogram
took as the basis for its own catalog cover.
Showing this connection between the illustration
of Edison's catalogue and the original sheet music is simply that
- a connection in a point in time in which many other connections
were also going off in other directions.
For one of those other directions visit Phonographia's
PhonoArt gallery Phono
Sheet Music Art to see examples of sheet music with phonograph
For examples of sheet music directly preceding
the release of new Victor records in January 1919, visit New
Victor Records January 1919.
replaced by the Home
References to some of the prominent venues of
the world like the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City where
Geraldine Farrar sang "Carmen" or the La Scala Theatre in
Milan where "Il Trovatore" was being performed; or general
references to Broadway, the opera, vaudeville, etc. -- all of these
venue references in phonograph ads were outside of the home. And in
each of these ads the consumer was reminded, often explicitly, that
even if the song by a prima donna could be heard live it would require
a ticket and then your attendance in a specific venue in some city
at a specific time and date.
Munsey's, Victor Talking
Machine Co., 1906
New Victor Records Catalog,
"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 The
Stage of the World.
The Patent History of the Phonograph, 1877-1912
by Allen Koenigsberg (4) identifies
2,118 patents and 1,013 inventors who helped create the talking machine
The big three of the early twentieth century,
i.e., Victor, Columbia and Edison, were often involved in litigation,
protecting and responding to patent lawsuits with each other and anyone
else who tried to infringe on what they said they owned.
Edison's original patent No. 200,521 for his"Phonograph
or Speaking Machine" would itself later be used in important
litigation regarding how a record is made with attention to the definitions
of a stylus indenting, etching, engraving, or inscribing the sound
waves in the recording process.
States Patent and Trademark Office
Factories and Manufacturing
Press for excellent information regarding some early Record-Pressing
Early tin-foil phonographs were often first seen
in public spaces like meeting halls and opera houses where for 25
cents you could hear "The Greatest Triumph Known to Ancient or
Modern Science!" (4A)
Years later, as it became marketed as a home entertainment device,
some phonograph dealers continued this idea of public demonstrations,
however, this time they would be free and often presented as a "Grand
The following is an example from 1905 of the Thomas
Book Store, which sold Edison Phonographs and Records in Madison,
Nebraska, renting the local Hein Opera House to put on a free phonograph
concert. The event was noted in the November 1905 edition of The
Edison Phonograph Monthly.
Crowd gets demonstration
in Koller's hardware store. "Finest instrument we ever saw
was better than most fifty cent shows."
The Edison Phonograph Monthly,
When the Phonograph became a machine for the home
there were several ways to get one. You could order directly from
the phonograph company perhaps in response to something you read in
a magazine's or newspaper's phonograph ad or an advertising postcard;
you could order through a catalog, like Sears or Montgomery Wards,
or from a catalog available from the phonograph and record companies;
or visit a phonograph store, music store or other local business carrying
The phonograph companies had different ways of
recommending how to shop for a phonograph but Columbia had one of
the catchiest lines: "Hearing
is Believing, -- and you can hear today at the nearest
1908 C. B. Haynes & Co., Richmond,
Hannibal, Missouri Music Store with
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,
Denver Dry Goods Company (listed
in above Edison Jobbers List), The Edison Phonograph Monthly
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,
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.
Victor Ad for 1920 Victor Record
Catalog listing more than 5000 Victor records, Needlecraft Magazine,
January 1920 (courtesy Internet
Delivery to the Customer
"The Victor For Every Day
in the Week" brochure - Delivery of the Victor and Victor records.
Freight Rate Reduction Negotiated,
The Edison Phonograph Monthly, February 1906
Ordering the Edison Amberola 30
- F.K. Babson Catalogue, Edison Phonograph Distributor
The Talking Machine World,
- The Talking Machine World,
Atlas Packing Cases, The Talking
Machine World, April 1919
Advertising postcard, Sonora Delivery
From the very beginning instructions
were published on how to operate the phonograph. This 10 page booklet
"Instructions for the Management and Operation of Edison's
Speaking Phonograph" by Edward Hibberd Johnson was published
in 1878 to support the early use of Edison's tin-foil phonograph.
(Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center and Rutgers University).
the complete 1878 Instructions booklet (Thomas A. Edison
Papers, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University).
Phonographs and records are not
unique in having innumerable connections throughout their life-cycles
-- all consumer products have countless connections related to how
they became a product and the culture of the time.
Phonograph connections, however,
are unique in being part of the first industry to offer a product
that altered human perception of sound with captured sounds previously
limited by the moment and place. Live performances and a diversity
of sounds became available as home entertainment to anyone, anytime,
and to be heard as often as you wanted.
Each new home and personal entertainment
device involving sound since the phonograph (7)
has continued using themes from the phonograph's earliest advertisements,
promoting the altered world of perceived sound and promising 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.
was a wonder and a consumers'
It's a revolution 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
Carnegie Hall - Magavox Stereophonic
High-Fidelity -- "recorded music suddenly comes alive...creating
an exciting illusion of "living presence...with amazing
"Full, live sound..."
Wollensak Stereo Tape Recorder 1963
"...hear something you've
never heard before: perfection." "you listen to your favorite
artists as though you, and your armchair, were centered in the spotlight
above." Courtesy Sony 1983.