The Phonograph and Its Future

Probability: Music


Music. -- The phonograph will undoubtedly be liberally devoted to music. A song sung on the phonograph is reproduced with marvelous accuracy and power. Thus a friend may in a morning-call sing us a song which shall delight an evening company, etc. As a musical teacher it will be used to enable one to master a new air, the child to form its first songs, or to sing him to sleep.


In April 1878, less than five months after Edison had completed his Phonograph, a hint of the the phonograph's musical future occurred when the French opera star Marie Rôze visited Washington, D.C. in April 1878 and tried out the phonograph. An engraving of Rôze recording on Edison tinfoil Phonograph appeared on the cover of Frank Leslie's Illustrated News, April 20, 1878.



Commercial success was still over a decade away but music and "the greatest artists of the world" would ultimately redefine the phonograph as the definitive home entertainer.

Edison’s “Perfected” Phonograph of 1888 and improvements by the American Graphophone Company in 1889 made the first ‘jukebox’ possible. The commercial success of jukeboxes in public places was a turning point for popularizing the phonograph as an entertainment device. Its instrument solos, band tunes, songs, recitations, whistling specialties, and other entertainment routines surprised some in the phonograph industry with its popularity and profitability and even concerned some that music and entertainment would be distractions from its true calling as a business machine.

Automatic Phonograph - The Phonogram, February 1891


The February 1891 edition of The Phonogram in an article titled "The Real Mission of the Phonograph" expressed on page one that placing coin-in-the-slots in public places was not the "genuine and legitimate use of the phonograph." It was conceded that coin-in-the-slots were proving profitable, nevertheless, the phonograph needed to be 'regarded as something more than the toy and plaything of the women and children."


The Phonogram, March 1892


The phonograph's real mission, because of coin-in-the-slot phonographs, "is disparaged and humiliated by being placed side by side with the nickel-in-the-slot weight machines, and every other speculative attraction of a circus show or a bar room, in order that it may turn an honest penny."


The Phonogram, February 1891


Nevertheless, coin-in-the-slots remained popular in the 1890's and recordings of music and entertainment were supplied by an new industry of record makers for the automatic phonographs to be heard in public places, and soon for the home.

Columbia Phonograph advertisement for records. The Phonogram, February 1891


When technical improvements were made and after some industry consolidation took place following the bankruptcy of Lippincott's North American Phonograph Company the phonograph, as a consumer product, was ready to deliver music and unlimited entertainment to the general public.


"no limit to the versatility of the GRAPHOPHONE" - the four competing uses for the phonograph in the 1890's: Business, Coin-in-the-slot, Home Entertainment and Concert/Exhibitions. The Cosmopolitan, 1897


"Marveous, yet so simple..." with the most enchanting selections..." Munsey's magazine, 1896



The Prince of Entertainers - "It affords an inexhaustile supply of fun and pleasure." McClure's, 1897


"It is reality, nothing less; for "The Stage of the World" presents the artists themselves to you..." Columbia Grafonola, 1916




The Victor Talking Machine's promotional brochure "The Victor for Every Day in the Week" starts by addressing Mothers on the importance of instilling a love of wholesome entertainment in every child. " Good music has been proven to accomplish that goal and making "Home the dearest and best place on earth to boys and girls." - The Victor for Every Day In the Week, c.1906




"As a musical teacher it will be used to enable one to master a new air, the child to form its first songs, or to sing him to sleep."

"Noted educators are now pointing out the importance of the phonograph in "musically developing" children."

The Ladies' Home Journal, September 1921



Learning ballet with help from the phonograph, The New Yorker cover, February 3, 1945 (Courtesy




For more examples of how the phonograph was promoted and seen as the instrument that could provide the greatest artists of music and entertainment of the world, visit Phonographia's The Stage of the World.

For more examples of how the phonograph was an educator, see Edison's Phonograph and the Future article regarding the probability of its future for "Educational Purposes ."