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 and recorded sound have been important in each era's popular culture conversation. The phonograph revolution and the phonograph industry created, manufactured and marketed what would be the definitive home entertainer in 1920.

The galleries of are predominantly popular culture connections of advertisements and paper ephemera organized by phonograph related themes such as PhonoToons, PhonoFood, PhonoDrinks, PhonoAds, etc.

However, there are innumerable other phonograph connections. Bill McKibben summarizes this larger world of connections in his book Falter when he says "everything comes with strings attached, and you can follow those strings into every corner of our past and present."(1)

As such, the list of phonograph connections is endless: 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 which each provided 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 to shop and listen to a phonograph; mail order and delivery from phonograph companies and from catalogs like Sears and Montgomery Ward with two degrees of separation connections like the Rural Free Delivery Act of 1893; the typewriter, the sewing machine to name just a few of the broad categories.

The following are a few examples of phonograph industry strings to "our past and our present."


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."

A subset example of artists from those comprehensive discographies are the opera prima donnas who made records and in the process added opera's prestige and implicit if not direct support for the message that a phonograph recording is 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


To see six of those early recording artists as they appeared in phonograph advertisements (and from the Willa Cather connection perspective which have an additional degree of separation (2) from her opera related characters), visit Phonographia's webpage titled Willa Cather's Opera Prototypes who were Recording Artists.





An RPPC circa 1908, unknown location




Sheet Music

Before the phonograph, sheet music could be the key to learning or hearing 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 for some time 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, Johns Hopkins


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 most recorded music, was dependent on popular culture taste, song writers, publishers, performers like Mr. Romain, 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.




Performance Venues 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, 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




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 industry.

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.



Courtesy United States Patent and Trademark Office

Factories and Manufacturing

Postcard, 1909


See Mainspring Press for excellent information regarding some early Record-Pressing Plants.






Phonograph Stores

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 "talking machines."

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 Columbia dealer's."


1908 C. B. Haynes & Co., Richmond, Virginia



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.



Jobbers (Distributors)

List of Firms handling Edison Phonographs and Records as Jobbers in Canada and the US in 1903

The Edison Phonograph Monthly, April 1903

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.




Delivery to the Customer

"The Victor For Every Day in the Week" brochure - Delivery of the Victor and Victor records. 1907

Ordering the Edison Amberola 30 - F.K. Babson Catalogue, Edison Phonograph Distributor




Advertising postcard, Sonora Delivery Truck, 1920





Phonograph and records are not unique in having innumerable connections throughout their life-cycles -- all consumer products have multiple connections related to what they are and their culture of the time.

Phonograph connections are unique in being the first industry based on the altered human audio perception of captured sound. Previously limited by the moment and place, the world of audio home entertainment became available to anyone, anytime, and as often as you wanted.

Each new home and personal entertainment device since the phonograph (6) continued with the foundation and the advertisements for this altered world of perceiving sound and the promise of the "best seat in the house." The phonograph, radio, television; 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 offered their revised version of bringing you personal entertainment and your own "Stage of the World" as if you were a king, or a millionaire or the possessor of Aladdin's Lamp.

It was a wonder.

It was a consumers' dream.

"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 realism." 1958


"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.