Looking for the Band
Edison's "Looking for the Band" was an advertising campaign meant to convey the realism of music by using the humor of a little boy who thought the source of the band music must be inside the phonograph. It sounded so real. Band music...but no band in sight?
The little boy ready to chop open the phonograph to find the band was one way to promote the phonograph's realism that Edison called "The Acme of Realism."
Edison Advertising Form No. 410, c. 1901 (PM-0262)
Edison Poster, Form 319, c. 1901 (PM-1348)
Quarter-page Pearson's magazine ad, 1901 (PM-0940A)
This 1903 postcard series of "Looking for the Band" images involves two sweet children who are apparently listening to a phonograph and all is well. But then their father leaves the room. (PM-0168)
The father returns to room and, to his shock, the innocent children have taken apart the phonograph "looking for the band." (PM-0167)
The Phonogram, October
1903 Edison Dealer Electrotype
for newspaper advertising
The following is a 1906 Edison dealer hand-out titled "How the Boys Found the Band." It was a fold-down advertising piece that showed curious boys climbing over a wall to get a glimpse of the band they could hear, but not see. When you opened the fold-out, the source was revealed: The band music came from an Edison Triumph Phonograph (Model B introduced in 1906).
Edison Form No. 407 - March, 1903 Trade card for Edison Gold Moulded Records
Double-fold Zon-o-phone advertising brochure: On the outside cover are two figures looking through the barn door trying to see where the music is coming from with the caption: "Gosh, Samantha, it's a Zon-o-phone. Thought sure 'twas one of them city bands."
Open it up and inside the barn it's confirmed that a Zon-o-phone is the source of the dance music.
This 1912 postcard shows a little girl searching for the source of the music:
"I want to see..." (PM-0438)
Another postcard, circa 1910, shows a little boy calling into the horn and asking if anyone can see the "fellow who hollers."
Circa 1910 postcard (PM-0228)
The next two postcards are each from a series of postcards where an older child is explaining to a younger child that music and voices come from the horns of these machines.
c. 1908 postcard (PM-0597)
c. 1904 postcard (PM-0163)
Nickel-in-the Slots and "Looking for the Band."
Nickel-in-the-slot Phonograph, 1891 The Phonogram, (1)
Introduction to a Nickel-in-the-Slot
"What's that -- something to cure ears?"
"No; I reckon it's a lung-tester."
"Look out, Sam! You will get a shock!"
"I'll bet it's some kind of a sell."
"Sell, is it? Sam shouts, with the tubes in his ears. "You just hear this. It's a regular band playin'. No sell about that. If that ain't worth a nickel of any man's money, I'll pay for it.
" Everybody laughed at Sam's enthusiasm expressed in such loud tones; but at his recommendation even the most skeptical dropped his little nickel in the slot and heard the phonograph.
"How do you load them, mister?"
"They don't load them. The music comes over the Western Union wires" volunteered a wise by-stander, in reply.
"Yes, it does. Didn't you hear him say that piece was played by the United States Marine Band of Washington, D.C?"
Then they both peered around the case to see where the wires came in."
The Phonogram, October 1891, p 221
The world's greatest bands parade before you..." The National Geographic, 1917 (PM-0997)
THE PHONOGRAPH AND THE RUBE.
"Yes, sir," said Uncle Reuben, as the Phonograph stopped, "that's mighty good -- mighty good!"
"Just wait awhile," said the youth, as he slipped on another record, "and I'll explain it to you."
"Oh, I understand it all right," responded Reuben."Understand it all except one thing."
"What's that?" asked the youth.
"Well," answered Reuben, with an abashed grin, "I understand how these sleight-o'-hand fellers pull big rabbits and pigeons out o' little hats, but I'll be danged if I understand how you git a full brass band in that box."
This 1921 Victrola Christmas ad, December 1921, depicted sound coming from the actual artists (in miniature) standing next to the Victrola.
Victrola Christmas ad, December 1921, The Delineator (PM-2029)
For examples of other advertisements showing performers inside phonograph horns, coming out of horns and coming out of "Victrolas," see Artists Inside the Horn.
Promoting the realism of recorded sound was a consistent theme of phonograph marketing through the decades. The highest degree of realism and fidelity possible was the ultimate goal for the phonograph and advertising to that effect would remain true for all of the phonograph's descendent sound reproducing technologies.
The boy looking for the actual band in 1900 and not believing that the music he heard was recorded sound was repeated decades later with listeners of Memorex recording tape being asked the advertiser's iconic question "Is it Live, or is it Memorex?"
1974 Memorex ad - "Is it live, or is it Memorex?"
Irwin Caplan, ca. 1953
"Looking for the Band in 1980" (courtesy Gary Larson)