The Evolution of a Revolution
A Brief History and a few Factolas
By Doug Boilesen 2019*
Recorded sound has a richly connected and relatively long history of over 160 years.
This gallery, however, is not a comprehensive timeline of an evolution. Instead, a few pieces of ephemera are displayed to illustrate some of the important changes during the phonograph's history and consumer life. The relationship of the phonograph with other sound delivering devices that were introduced after the phonograph is also included. For example, in 1925 The Victrola and Radiola were "combined in one beautiful Credenza cabinet" and in 1948 the phonograph, radio and television were combined making it a "Triple Thrill" for home entertainment.
But it was 20 years later with the completion of the Phonograph by Edison at his Menlo Park Laboratory in the United States on December 6, 1877 when the social, cultural and literal rpm revolution of recorded sound began. Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville had recorded sound but it was for transcription of the sound waves and not audio reproduction. Thomas Alva Edison, on the other hand, successfully captured the human voice and played it back on his "Talking Phonograph." (3)
One of the earliest illustrations related to Edison's tinfoil Phonograph was this full page of Harper's Weekly, March 30, 1878 which showed how the phonograph worked and how it was being used to capture and play back sound.
"The Phonograph" Harper's Weekly's March 30, 1878 (courtesy of tinfoil.com)
The Harper's Weekly illustration featured the device which phonograph collector's call the "Brady" phonograph. The following cabinet card shows Edison seated next to in his second tinfoil phonograph in a photograph taken at the studios of Mathew Brady in Washington, D.C., on April 18, 1878.
Uriah Painter, Charles Batchelor and Thomas Alva Edison, April 18, 1878
The introduction of the coin-in-the-slot phonograph was an pivital step for the phonograph to become a music and home entertainment machine. These early jukeboxes played music using cylinder records like the ones in Edison's first catalogue in 1890 which were called 'Musical Phonograms."(3A) The commercial success of these early coin operated phonographs led to the introduction of easier to operate, cheaper, spring-powered phonographs which in the mid-1890's would be made and marketed for the home.
Factola: The first nickel-in-the-slot phonograph was installed November 23, 1889, by Louis Glass inside the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco.
In 1923 "Nickel in the Slot" was recorded as a musical novelty song. Jukeboxes remain a pop culture icon in the history of listening to recorded sound.
Phonographs First Marketed Specifically for the Home
The Columbia Phonograph Company introduced the Type 'G' "Baby Grand in 1894 as the first in their line of graphophones "to be produced exclusively for the home entertainment market." The 1895 "Columbia Bijou was the second model designed specifically for the home." (2). The Edison Home Phonograph Model A was introduced in 1896. (3B)
In the United States magazine advertisments announced that the revolution of home entertainment had started. Phonographs for the home were ready to play and record songs and the human voice, including your own.
These early spring wound phonographs advertisements had simple themes: it laughs, talks, sings and can repeat your own voice or song; it plays loudly and clearly; it was easy to operate.
"It Sings, Plays, Talks, &c.." Munsey's Magazine, September 1896
For additional pre-1900 phonograph ads visit Phonographia's Pre-1900 Trade and Magazine Ads
In 1908 Victor ran an ad campaign questioning if you could tell the difference between a live performer and a record. "You think you can...But can you?" Victor then suggested there was one way to find out: "Why not hear the Victor for yourself?" Geraldine Farrar was one of the opera stars featured in the "Which is which" campaign..
Geraldine Farrar, Colliers, 1908
This suggestion that the "live" could be replaced by a recording would be repeated in many phonograph ads and later repeated by descendent technologies like Memorex Recording Tape where it was famously asked "Is it live, or is it Memorex?"
Is it live, or is it Memorex? 1974
In August of 1906 a significant change took place that would refine and redefine talking machines in the home. A new product-line called the Victor-Victrola was introduced and the talking machine's external horn was gone -- moved inside the cabinet. In so doing the Victrola in popular culture became fine furniture, a musical instrument and a brand name that would become a generic term (Victrola) for all talking machines, like Kodak for cameras and Kleenex for tissues.
By the 1920's the phonograph could be considered the definitive home entertainer. Ads showing Caruso and the greatest artists of the world coming into your home made the point that the Victrola was an instrument unparalleled in providing the best in home entertainment.
Evolution of the Phonograph - Brands and Styles
In 1922 the Strand Phonograph Company advertised in the phonograph trade magazine The Talking Machine World how talking machines had undergone an evolution of changes and styles in 25 years and how their Strand Consoles were part of the unmistakable trend defining the Modern style of today.
The Talking Machine World, April 1922
The evolution of recorded sound created hundreds of phonograph companies. A subset of phonograph companies that used "phone" "graph" or "ola" in their branding are identified in these two Phonographia Factola Galleries:
With the growing popularity of radio in the early 1920's combination sets of radios and phonographs were first put together by some small manufacturers around 1922. The Emerson Phonograph Co. is said to have "introduced the first radio-phonograph combination sold in the United States." The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1924 offered their Radiola IX as a radio that could fit "snuggly inside your phonograph cover!" Brunswick put the Radiola IX in their phonographs at the end of 1923 and Sonora was also an early seller of combination Radio-Phonographs. "
In 1929, RCA purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company, then the world's largest manufacturer of both records and phonographs, including its popular showcase Victrola line," and RCA Victor was born which would make RCA Radiola-Victrola sets. (Wikipedia)"
The Radiola IX was made to fit into a console or upright phonograph. The Ladies' Home Journal, March 1924
The new Orthophonic Victrola and Radiola Super-Heterodyne were combined into one cabinet in 1925 by the Victor Talking Machine Company. The Ladies' Home Journal, November 1925
"A perfect combination -- this great new radio-phonograph" Look magazine, 1946
Combination Radio-Phonographs would continue to be manufactured into the 1940's when television was added as a new component to home entertainment consoles making it what Admiral would call a "Triple Thrill" and "Complete Home Entertainment all in one luxurious console."
Admiral's Triple Thrill FM-AM Radio-Phonograph-Television Set, 1948
Magavox Stereo Theatre in your home, 1962
Sylvania Phonograph and AM/FM Radio Console, 1970
Hi-Fi and Component Systems
From the 1950's and into the 1970's the home entertainment center combining TV, stereo high fidelity phonograph and FM/AM radio was moving into living rooms. Component stand-alone Hi-Fi systems were also used in homes during this time period, and beyond.
This painting titled "Hi-Fi" from the series "Homelife in America" by Haddon Sundblom features friends with cold glasses of beer listening to state-of-the-art music from the component high fidelity phonograph system while another record is being selected. The image is extracted from a 1956 Collier's magazine ad that was sponsored by the United States Brewers Foundation.
1951 Zenith High Fidelity Demonstration Record
Beocenter 7000, Turntable, Cassette Tape, and FM Radio, Bang & Olufsen 1971
Stereo System Components - Turntables, AM/FM Stereo Receivers and stand-alone Speakers continued to be popular from the 1970's and on-ward.
Zenith Integrated Stereo Component Systems, 1980
Set your life to music - Sony's Interlock Sound Systems with Sony's Direct Drive turntable, 1980
Consumer component multi-channel system with turntable, 2021 (Courtesy of Fluance - The Ultimate Guide to Turntables).
Evolution, Change and the Phonograph's Revolution Continues On
Home and personal entertainment devices with dependencies on recorded sound have a consumer history of being introduced, purchased and replaced. Through the decades previous "state of the art" devices have commonly moved to the attic, to museums or to the dump.
The New Yorker cover by Perry Barlow with the an earlier model of the TV joining the radio and the Victrola, October 22, 1955
The New Yorker cartoon by George Price, 1950 featuring 'in case anything new is invented."
Everything's Archie comic, Archie Publications, January 1987
Popular Science magazine in February 1977 announced the upcoming release of video-disc players. Two competing systems, SelectaVision and DiscoVision were featured as the soon to be new state-of-the-art formats for home entertainment. RCA's SelectaVision was an analog disc playing machine using a Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED) that relied on a special needle, like a phonograph's, for its audio and video. Magnavox with their DiscoVision, along with Philips and Pioneer (LaserDiscs and LaserVision) would use a laser beam to optically read their Laserdiscs.
A 1981 RCA television ad promoted RCA's SelectaVision as the "extraordinary machine that plays extraordinary records that you watch on your own TV." Released in 1981, the SelectaVision ended production in 1984 with estimated loses of $580 million.
Factola: The tape cassette (a.k.a. compact cassette) was introduced by the Dutch company Royal Philips in September 1963.
Factola: The Sony Walkman TPS-L2, the world's first low-cost personal stereo compact cassette tape player, went on sale in Japan on July 1, 1979. (Wikipedia)
Factola: The Magnavox Magnavision model 8000 was the first reflective optical videodisc player to be released to the general public on December 15, 1978 at three stores in Atlanta, GA. (Courtesy LaserVision Landmarks)
Factola: The RCA Selectavision VideoDisc player (which used its CED phonograph-like record and needle to play audio and video) went on sale March 22, 1981. Wikipedia
The Attic - Home for Relics from an Ancient Lost Civilization
Courtesy Greg Evans, March 9, 1997
Streaming is on top, but the phonograph continues to play...
Recorded sound has a history of different devices, speeds, media and formats and many of these choices played out as individual marketing wars, for example cylinder records vs. disc records, 45 rpms vs. 33 1/3 LPs, tape cassettes vs. CDs, Beta vs. VHS tapes, analog vs. digital, etc. In the 21st Century music found new homes with services like Spotify, iTunes and a host of other streaming services and digital processing devices. But through it all there continued to be one player that had heard it all. Since 1877 and "Mary had a little lamb" the phonograph is a revolution still playing.
Factola: In 2015, for the first time, streaming became the largest component of industry revenues, just slightly higher than digital downloads.
See The New York Times article The Soundtrack to Your Life, With a Stream of Discoveries for reviews and discussion of some 2012 streaming apps for radio.
While streaming dominates today, recorded sound continues to be heard on phonographs and their vinyl records with over 18 million LPs sold in the US in 2019.
As seen in the 2016 Holiday Catalogue for Pottery Barn, record players and their vinyl records also have a pretty good selling point if they are able to "turn back time."
In 2021 this record console was advertised by Wrensilva® as the "ultimate reimagining as we remember from decades past."
Wrensilva® M1 January 2021
Summary of the Evolution of the Phonograph's Revolution
The Phonograph started the social and cultural revolution of capturing sound that could then be heard repeatedly, anytime and anywhere.
The technology of the phonograph, with 'needle' and 'record,' is still being used to play back recorded sound.
One particular phonograph record, the Voyager's Golden Record, may end up existing longer than humans on Earth -- a mind-bending possibility that would extend the playing time and meaning of a Long-Playing (LP).
If the Voyager's Golden Record do outlive the human Earth's race that surely would be the ultimate Phonographia Factola.
Listening tubes and the Edison Phonograph, Bettmann/Corbis c. 1890
Apple iPod 2015
Watch Apple's promotional video launching Apple Music in June 2015 titled "The History of Sound: 127 Years of Recorded Music" for Apple's brief history of recorded sound.
The Voyager's Golden Record's cover
* Last updated 7-13-2021