Six Degrees of Separation


By Doug Boilesen 2023

Phonographia are popular culture connections with the phonograph. Some require multiple degrees of separation to make their link.

The following examples use the six degrees of separation game where any two acquaintences can be connected in a maximum of six steps. But it goes beyond connecting people.

Using multiple links and strings the completion of Edison's phonograph in 1877 can be connected with John Rogers and his sculpture "The Traveling Magician." A connection between Rogers and Edison is also made with the opening of the first Kinetoscope parlor in the world in 1894 at 1155 Broadway, New York City.


Harper's Weekly, March 30, 1878 - The Starting Point

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. The phonograph was described 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 of victims...."


Harper's Weekly, 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


Harper's Weekly, 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 of ways.

First is the advertisement for a Rogers sculpture piece, "The Magician" which appeared in the same issue of the March 30, 1878 Harper's Weekly as the "The Phonograph" article and illustration.

Another connection is between the Rogers statuary piece "Traveling Magician" being advertised in the Rogers' ad and Edison, the 'maker' of the phonograph being called the "Wizard" days after "The Phonograph" article was published.

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 from a machine 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 believe.

Additionally, the phonograph would soon go on tours like a magicians taking their shows on the road. When listeners heard the phonograph speak in these 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 notes:

"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 makeÖ" ("How 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, whether he liked 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."


Advertising Handbill for the Edison "Parlor" Tinfoil Phonograph, 1879 (Courtesy of René Rondeau)


Edison himself traveled to demonstrate to select audiences, going to New York City on December 7, 1877 and the office of Scientific American. He did the same at Harper's Weekly in March. In April Edison went to Washington, D.C., to the National Academy of Sciences and also demonstrated the wonder to some skeptical members of Congress. And with a late night visit to the White House 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


Edison's Phonograph, 1878 - Poster promoting demonstrations of the Phonograph (Courtesy of National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.)


Edison's tinfoil phonograph surely could produce the sense of wonder at any 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 Rogers' "Traveling Magician."


The Traveling Magician, John Rogers, 1877 (Courtesy New York Historical Society)

Another documented 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). See 1877 - the Year of the Phonograph for other popular culture examples and context for 1877 in the United States of America.

The phonograph would first become 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 would be followed by the Edison Kinetoscope parlors that would open in 1894 following Edison's success in developing the Kinetoscope as a nickel-in-the-slot device to show moving pictures through its peep hole viewer. The first Edison Kinetoscope Parlor in the world opened in New York City on April 14, 1894.

The Edison Phonograph Parlors would often include kinetoscopes in their parlors during this period of the kinetoscope's popularity before projected moving pictures replaced the peep hole kinetoscopes.

The final connection of Edison and Rogers is the location of that first Kinetoscope parlor at 1155 Broadway, New York City which was 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.


The World:Tuesday Evening, New York, New York, May 29, 1894


"The Photograph" 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 at 1155 Broadway 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 Edison and his Phonograph and with John Rogers, two of Rogers' sculpture pieces, and the opening of the first Kinetoscope Parlor in 1894.

— The March 30, 1878 Harper's Weekly article "The Phonograph" with its illustration and the advertisement in the same issue by John Rogers for his sculpture piece "The Traveling Magician" are the starting points.

— The bust of Edison inside the first Kinetoscope Parlor at 1155 Broadway was the same storefront originally occupied by John Rogers' studio. Rogers made "The Traveling Magician" in 1877 in that location the same year Edison completed his Phonograph.

-- Edison's phonograph was first announced in Harper's Weekly, March 30, 1878. In that same issue John Rogers advertised his sculpture piece "The Traveling Magician." This was also 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 Rogers' sculpture piece "The Traveling Magician" were taking place during the same time period when Rogers' studio was at 1155 Broadway.

— The Edison Phonograph Parlors have many connections with Edison Kinetoscope Parlors.

— "The Photograph" sculpture made at Rogers' studio at 1155 Broadway was the same address of the first Kinetoscope Parlor where the bust of Edison was positioned in the front of that Kinetoscope Parlor in 1894.



Connections, interconnections, and multiple degrees of separation can link the phonograph with people, places, objects, ephemera, events and moments in time.

The variety of connections with the phonograph show the numerous ways Phonographia is defined.


Additional Footnote:

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."