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 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. 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 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.

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 believe.

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 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, 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."

 

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

 

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."

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"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

 

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Edison's 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."

 

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

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.

 

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 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.

— "The Photograph" 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 story.

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 of Phonographia.

But there are many other roads to choose from in the yellow woods.

 

 

 

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."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phonographia