Six Degrees of Separation
By Doug Boilesen 2023
Phonographia are popular culture connections
with the phonograph. Some
require multiple degrees of separation to make the link.
The following example uses a wider
scope and variation of the six
degrees of separation game which connects any two acquaintences
in a maximum of six steps.
Multiple links or strings
will be identified which connect Edison and the completion of his
phonograph in 1877 and John Rogers, sculptor of "The Traveling
Magician," with the opening of the first Kinetoscope parlor
in the world in 1894. It's a Friends of the Phonograph example
of how connections, interconnections, and multiple degrees of separation
can link the phonograph with people, places, ephemera, objects or
things like an event or moment in time.
Harper's Weekly, March
30, 1878 - The Starting
The March 30, 1878 issue of Harper's
Weekly included an article titled "The Phonograph"
and a full page illustration of what is looked like and how it worked.
It described the phonograph as one of "two marvels of a marvellous
age" saying if there were still those who believed in witch-craft
then those witch-hunters "would now find a "rich harvest
March 30, 1878 p. 249 (PM-1824)
A full page illustration for the article
"The Phonograph" included a depiction of the phonograph
reproducing speech to a group of people. To
see the entire article visit Phonographia's On
This Day March 30, 1878
March 30, 1878 p. 256
Listeners on the left of the table
look as if they are hearing the phonograph for the first time, with
the seated woman raising her hands slightly, almost in a trance
as she hears the voice. The figures on the right seem confident,
probably already having heard the phonograph and pleased that it's
working as intended for this demonstration.
This phonograph demonstration scene
reported in the March 30,1878 issue of Harper's Weekly can
be connected with John Rogers, one of the most popular sculpture
artists of the time and two of his sculpture pieces in a number
One connection is that an advertisement
for a Rogers sculpture piece, "The Magician" appears in
the same issue of the March 30, 1878 Harper's Weekly as the
"The Phonograph" article and illustration.
Another connection is between the
Roger's statuary piece "Traveling Magician" being advertised
in the Roger's ad and Edison, the 'maker' of the phonograph being
called the "Wizard" days after Harper's Weekly
"The Phonograph" article.
The March 30 Harper's Weekly
issue called Edison's phonograph "a new wonder" and a
"marvel." In popular culture Edison's was recognized for
his inventing powers but he was also something of a magician by
bottling up sound and replaying voices which could even be from
those no longer living. Prior to the phonograph all spoken words
were ephemeral. Edison's phonograph could produce a voice as heard
from the machine sitting on a table with the man demonstrating the
reproduction of speech at the turn of the crank -- like sound coming
out of an empty hat with the hand of the magician.
On April 10, 1878 Edison would be
called the "Wizard of Menlo Park" by William Croffut in
the New York Daily Graphic. It was a name the public could
Additionally, the phonograph would
soon go on tour like a magician taking his show on the road. When
listeners heard the phonograph speak in the phonograph exhibitions
it challenged their senses like a magician challenging the eyes
of his watchers with each trick. Audiences of the phonograph might
ask "Is the phonograph really talking or is it a trick?"
"Is there a ventriloquist?" "Is someone hiding somewhere?"
In writing about the origin of Edison
being called a "Wizard" phonograph historian Allen Koenigsberg
"to the world
of the late 1870's, a wizard was still seen as a stage performer
(The first English translation of Robert-Houdinís book, How to
Become a Wizard, was all the rage), and a man who used sleight-of-hand
and trickery to achieve his results. Edison, however, saw himself
as a tireless worker in the field of electricity, telegraphy,and
mechanics who wrested his achievements from nature by persistence
and perspiration. But the choice of persona was not his alone to
Edison Got His Name: Origins of the Wizard" by Allen Koenigsberg,
The Sound Box, June 7, 2010, p. 19.)
Indeed, it wasn't within Edison's
powers to define who he was to his admiring public. He was the Wizard,
like it or not. The early tin-foil Phonograph
would be exhibited throughout the country where the public would
pay to see and hear the "Miracle of the Nineteenth Century."
Edison's wizardry was confirmed by each listener of the machine
and it was rightly said in the media that Edison's wonderful invention
"never fails to excite curiosity and wonder."
for the Edison "Parlor" Tinfoil Phonograph, 1879 (Courtesy of René
Edison traveled to demonstrate to
select audiences, going to New York City on December 7, 1877 and
the office of Scientific American, followed by a demonstration
at Harper's Weekly in March; and in April to Washington,
D.C., the National Academy of Sciences and some members of Congress;
and to the White House for a late night visit where an excited President
Rutherford B. Hayes woke up his wife to come downstairs and hear
Edison's marvelous machine.
In those early months of 1878, Edison
became the "Wizard of Menlo Park" in the press -- he could
also have been called "The Traveling Magician."
"The Traveling Magician"
advertisement, March 30, 1878 Harper's Weekly showing
1155 Broadway, New York, as the address for the John Rogers studio.
The Wizardís Search. The Daily
Graphic, An Illustrated Evening Newspaper, July 9, 1879
Phonograph, 1878 - Poster
promoting demonstrations of the Phonograph (Courtesy of National Museum
of American History, Smithsonian Institution.)
As a Friend of the
Phonograph I can picture Edison's tinfoil phonograph producing
that sense of wonder at one of the phonograph's traveling 'demonstrations'
just like the wonder seen on the faces of the two boys watching the
rabbit come out of the hat of a "Traveling Magician."
Another connection is the 1877 date
on the sculpture on the corner top of base: "JOHN ROGERS / NEW
YORK / 1877" which was also the year that Edison completed his
Phonograph ( December 6, 1877).
The phonograph first became commercially
successful as an entertainment device with the introduction in
1889 of the Nickel-in-the-Slot
Phonograph, the earliest example of what would later be known
as the jukebox. These coin-in-the-slot "Edison Automatic
Phonographs" by the early 1890's could be heard in Phonograph
Parlors in cities through the USA.
"Walk in and hear the Phonograph"
read the sign outside the Phonograph Parlor in Cleveland, Ohio,
November 1891 (The Phonogram, 1891, p. 249).
The Edison Phonograph parlors with
their coin-in-the-slot phonographs have a connection with the Edison
Kinetoscope parlors that would open in 1894 following Edison's success
in developing the Kinetoscope as a nickel-in-the-slot device which
would show moving pictures through a peep hole viewer. The first
Edison Kinetoscope Parlor in the world opened in New York City on
April 14, 1894.
The final connection from Edison's
phonograph to Rogers' sculptures is the location where the first
commercial exhibition of Edison's Kinetoscope motion pictures opened
in the first Kinetoscope parlor at
1155 Broadway, New York City the location being the same
storefront and address where John Rogers had a studio from 1876
to 1879 and where two his sculpture pieces "The
Traveling Magician" and "The Photograph" were made
during that time.
Evening, New York, New York, May 29, 1894
is a two-piece sculpture set in the Rogers Group, 1878.
"The Photograph" has its own connecting strings to
photography, film, moving picture film and the kinetoscope.
"The Traveling Magician"
advertisement, March 30, 1878 Harper's Weekly showing
1155 Broadway as the same address where the Edison Kinetoscope
Parlor would open in 1894.
A bust of Edison was located in
the front section of the Kinetoscope parlor on opening day but
was soon removed. According to
Alfred O. Tate, Edison's Private Secretary, a few weeks after
the opening "I received a message from Edison asking me to
remove it. He thought it undignified."
Interior of first
Kinetoscope parlor, 1155 Broadway, New York, in
April 1894 (as seen in History of the Kinetograph
Kinetoscope and Phono-Kinetograph) by W. K.
L. Dickson and Antonia Dickson, p. 53 ©1895.
Summary of the Connecting Strings
between the Phonograph, John Rogers and two of his sculpture pieces,
and the Opening of the First Kinetoscope Parlor in 1894.
The March 30, 1878 Harper's
Weekly article and illustration "The Phonograph" and
the advertisement in the same issue by John Roger's for his sculpture
piece "The Traveling Magician."
The bust of Edison inside
the storefront originally occupied by John Rogers, maker of "The
Traveling Magician" in 1877 when Roger's studio was at 1155
Broadway being the same year Edison completed his Phonograph which
was first announced in Harper's Weekly, March 30, 1878 and
in the same issue in which John Rogers advertised his sculpture
piece "The Traveling Magician" and in the same year Edison
would first be called "The Wizard of Menlo Park."
The early phonograph demonstrations
and Edison traveling to exhibit the phonograph like a traveling
magician and John Roger's sculpture piece "The Traveling Magician"
made during the same time at 1155 Broadway.
Edison Phonograph Parlors
with Edison Kinetoscope Parlors.
sculpture made by John Rogers at 1155 Broadway at the same address
where the first Kinetoscope Parlor would have its moving kinetograph
pictures and a bust of Edison in the front of its parlor.
The End-to End Interconnected String
Strings can have multiple interconnections
but the end-to-end connection for this example starts with the Harper's
Weekly article "The Phonograph" and the John Roger's
advertisement for his sculpture piece "The Traveling Magician"
in the same issue of Harper's Weekly, and ends at 1155 Broadway,
New York and the opening of the world's first Kinetoscope Parlor
in 1894 with its Edison bust at the front of that parlor.
Phonograph connections, interconnections,
and multiple degrees of separation strings, each have their own
Does any of this matter?
I would suggest yes, to the degree
that stories matter, human connections matter, and technologies
that we give our attention to matter.
Phonograph connections are the definition
But there are many other roads to
choose from in the yellow woods.
In the article "The Birthplace
of Movies" by Christopher Gray (New York Times, February
9, 1992) Gray wrote that the Kinetoscope parlor "at the southwest
corner of 27th Street was a neo-Grec style building built in 1876
where Rogers would live until at least 1879.
Gray also noted that
"the Kinetoscope was superseded only two years later by projected
motion pictures, first exhibited in 1896 at Koster & Bial's Theater
on West 34th Street...A turn-of-the-century street view shows
the 27th Street building with extensive signage for the Edison
phonograph -- presumably the Kinetoscope operation was open for
only a year or two."