The Phonograph Girls

The Phonograph Girls and Columbia's Twentieth Century Graphophone


By Doug Boilesen, 2021

The Phonograph Girls is a vaudeville melodrama presented in 1906 by the "Jersey Lilies," a company which opened in New Orleans in September 1906 and then went "on the Western circuit." The Talking Machine World wrote that

"the sketch originated in London, England, and was reported a success. One of the scenes represents the interior of a talking machine store, and the Columbia Phonograph Co.'s Twentieth Century machine is employed to advantage in revealing the plot."

This scrapbook page of ephemera starts with the 1906 Talking Machine World's article about the musical skit "The Phonograph Girls." Newspaper reviews identify theatres and details about this play as it travelled its "Western circuit" of vaudeville. (1) (2)

Ads for the 1906 Columbia Twentieth Century Graphophone show the machine that was used in The Phonograph Girls "in revealing the plot."

Clippings of 1906 interiors of talking machine stores provide some contemporary context since a store's interior was one of the scenes represented in this musical skit.


The Talking Machine World, October 15, 1906 p. 40


Greenwall Theatre - The Times-Democrat, New Orleans, LA, September 2, 1906



An illustration of New Orleans’ Greenwall Theatre as it appeared in the Oct. 20, 1904, edition of The Daily Picayune. Note: Sarah Bernhardt in March 1906 appeared in this theatre for a seven-night stand. (3) (Courtesy of THE TIMES-PICAYUNE ARCHIVES)


The "Jersey Lilies" - "Rather an odd title for the name of a theatrical company. Is it not?" commented the following September 9, 1906 review. One might speculate, however, that the theatrical company named the "Jersey Lilies" may have triggered some association in the public's mind with Lillie Langtry, a.k.a. "The Jersey Lillie" (4) who was on a vaudeville tour in the United States in 1906.


Austin American-Statesman (Austin, Texas), September 9, 1906


View Fannie Vedder's Obituary, New York Times, January 22, 1938

View 1907 Ida Gladstone Sheet Music "Wish Me Good Luck On My Journey"


"Ida Gladstone, the European Magnate, her first time in this country..."


Austin American-Statesman, September 12, 1906


Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), September 13, 1906


View Fort Worth's Greenwall's Opera House circa 1907 (Courtesy Collection: UTA Libraries - Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection). William Clark was still Manager of "The Jersey Lilies" for the 1910-11 season, Julius Cann's Official Theatrical Guide 1910-1911 "Traveling Companies and Their Managers"


"A chorus of fourteen girls dances to music played by a big phonograph on the stage."


The Kansas City Star, September 17, 1906



"The opening extravaganza, entitled The Phonograph Girls is a pretentious burletta with a real plot..."

Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan), October 14, 1906


Gayety Vaudeville Extravaganza, circa 1910


"The opening extravaganza, entitled "The Phonograph Girls," is a pretentious burletta with a real plot, and it serves to introduce Miss Irene May, "the English Nightingale"...

Miss Irene May, "the English Nightingale" © National Portrait Gallery, London - Actress - portrait by Charles & Russell, bromide postcard print, 1900-1917


The Buffalo Commercial (Buffalo, New York), November 10, 1906


Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), November 20, 1906


Corinthian Theatre, Rochester, NY c.1910



The Boston Globe, December 4, 1906



Palace Theatre Boston, 1890's - Wikipedia


The New Twentieth Century Columbia Graphophone


"ARRIVED The Twentieth Century Graphophone"- The Talking Machine World, July 1905


"16 Times Louder Than All Other Talking Machines," The Twentieth Century Graphophone"

The Talking Machine World, September, October and November 1905


The New Columbia Twentieth Century Graphophone was publicized as being so loud it was heard outside phonograph stores causing street obstructions.


"The Twentieth Century Columbia Graphophone has been the cause of several suits for attracting crowds that caused street obstructions. In every case the suits have been dismissed." The Talking Machine World, November 1905


Introducing Columbia's Twentieth Century Graphophone "especially adapted to Theatres, Halls, Auditoriums, Ball rooms, Stores and the Home." The Talking Machine World, January 15, 1906


An extraordinary machine for 'restaurants, small theatres and places of public amusement." The Talking Machine World, April 15, 1906




"This machine involves an entirely new principle of sound reproduction, producing the full volume and exact tone quality of the original." The Talking Machine World, April 15, 1906.

For a close-up and description of the Higham reproducer used by the Twentieth Century Graphophone see the British Library Sounds - Columbia Model BC graphophone: the amber wheel.


FACTOLA: "The Higham Reproducer, invented by Daniel Higham, was used in Higham's talking machine named the High-am-o-phone and was displayed at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 as part of the exhibit of Columbia Phonograph Company records and machines. Higham's machine was noted on the exhibit's inventory sheet (#28) as "the loudest sound-reproducing machine in the world." (Courtesy Antique Phonograph Monthly 11:1, Allen Koenigsberg and Doug DeFeis).


The Talking Machine World, August 15, 1906


The Columbia Twentieth Century Graphophone "is also used outside to attract the crowd to the theater, and has proven an effective advertising medium." The Talking Machine World, October 15, 1906 p. 40.

Ad for coin-operated talking machine using the Columbia Twentieth Century Graphophone, The Talking Machine World, September 15, 1906


The Half-foot Long Record for the Twentieth Century Graphophone, The Talking Machine World, November 15, 1906


Columbia Phonograph Twentieth Century 6" Records


A few examples of 1906 phonograph store interiors


Douglas Phonograph Company's Store, 89 Chambers Street. New York, The Talking Machine World, February 1906,


Texas Phonograph Company, Houston, TX, The Talking Machine World, April 1906


Spokane Phonograph Company Show Room, The Talking Machine World, June 1906


FACTOLA: "THE PHONOGRAPH GIRLS is the first play known in which the talking machine and its commercial environment has figured in a professional way and carrying off the honors." (The "talking machine" used was Columbia's Twentieth Century Graphophone. The commercial environment was a scene inside the interior of a phonograph store). The Talking Machine World, October 15, 1906

The Columbia Twentieth Century (BC) with Higham Reproducer (Courtesy TechnoGallerie)



Additional uses of the "BC" Graphophone in the Performing Arts (Moving Pictures)

Unfortunately, no script or musical score or cylinder record has been located for The Phonograph Girls.

More about that sketch can still be found, but there are also other examples of performing arts productions having connections with the BC Graphophone and other talking machines.


FACTOLA: The "BC" Columbia Graphophone was used by the Cameraphone Company in 1908 to combine recorded sound with moving pictures. A performer "speaks, and the words come from the Graphophone in perfect accordance with the movements of his lips....He sings his song with every appropriate gesture, the word words and music all the while coming from the Graphophone." One of the most successful of the combined songs and moving pictures is the famous "Smile, Smile, Smile" from Lew Field's latest production..." (Source: May 1908 The Columbia Record trade journal and courtesy of The (Lights! Cameraphone! Action! by Doug DeFeis, Issue 89 Vol XI - No1., 1993, The Antique Phonograph Monthly and Allen Koenigsberg).


The Columbia Record trade journal, May 1908 (Courtesy of The Antique Phonograph Monthly, Ibid.)


"The Cameraphone Co., apparently chose from the very beginning to use machines based around the Higham Friction Reproducer (Twentieth Century BC)." The Antique Phonograph Monthly, Ibid.

A competitor to the Cameraphone was the Chronophone "patented by Léon Gaumont in 1902 to synchronise the Cinématographe (Chrono-Bioscope) with a disc Phonograph (Cyclophone) using a "Conductor" or "Switchboard". This sound-on-disc display was used as an experiment from 1902 to 1910....The Chronophone would show Phonoscènes (an early forerunner of music videos) and films parlants ("Talking Films") almost every week from 1911 until 1917 at the Gaumont Palace, "the Greatest Cinema Theatre in the World", previously known as the Paris Hippodrome." Wikipedia


FACTOLA: "The Judge," an English play in 1890 used a phonograph "to provide the sound effects of a crying infant from off stage." This is believed to be the first use of a phonograph in a supporting role of a stage play. (Source: "Edison in Hollywood" by Allen Koenigsberg, The Antique Phonograph, June 2016).


The Phonograph in the Movies

There are countless scenes in movies that include a phonograph.

Sometimes a phonograph is just for set design, providing an association with a particular time period. Playing a record can also create a mood while reinforcing the time period of a scene.

But in the most interesting movies (at least in the opinion of Friends of the Phonograph) it can be the star of the show. One example of an Edison phonograph and a record playing that role is the 2015 Disney movie Tomorrowland. To learn more visit The Phonograph in the Movies - The Eiffel Tower, an Edison Record and Tomorrowland.