Connections and the Phonograph Industry


Connections Created by a Talking Machine and an Industry

By Doug Boilesen 2020

Phonographia are connections with the phonograph.

Ever since the wonder of Edison's invention was first reported in Scientific American on December 22, 1877 the phonograph has been part of popular culture. The phonograph industry created a machine that would be marketed as a necessity and as the best source of music and home entertainment for everyone in the family.

The galleries of are primarily advertisements and phonograph related popular culture connections organized by themes such as PhonoArt, PhonoAds, and numerous Factolas related to its evolution from the 1890's to the present day.

Bill McKibben implies the endlessness of connections when he says in his book Falter that "everything comes with strings attached, and you can follow those strings into every corner of our past and present."(1). Add the interconnections and the connections within the connections and the magnitude of these connections becomes mind-bending. (5B)

Every product, of course, has connections. As an industry the phonograph was unique because it used captured sound which could be replayed and the world of music created innumerable sources for connections. This doesn't mean it has the most connections of any consumer product. But its captured sounds and its sound producing machines and all of the components of the phonograph industry can be seen as having their own universe of connections.

Artists, musicians, performers, producers, sound recorders, song writers, music teachers, sheet music, recording studios (6B); various music venues such as the opera, symphonies, local bands, church choirs, minstrel shows and broadway shows each provided content and expectations regarding what could be recorded; copyrights (after 1909), patents, corporations and contracts; designs and aesthetic details for how the phonograph would work and what it would look like resulted in more connections; raw materials for the manufacture of machines and records, factories and workers; marketing strategies, record catalogs, and advertisements in various media; owners manuals and instructions for operating the phonograph; jobbers and dealers who handled specific brands of phonographs and stores where the consumers could shop for and listen to a phonograph or buy phonograph accessories; mail order and delivery from phonograph companies and from catalogs like Sears and Montgomery Ward with additional degrees of separation to connections like the Rural Free Delivery Act of 1893, the typewriter and the sewing machine.


The Phonograph Industry

All phonograph connections in this scrapbook contribute to the definition of the "phonograph industry."

Examples of phonograph connections (i.e., phonographia) originate at various points in time and place, however, finding a connection is dependent on an individual's interaction with an end point and the following of its respective string to its other end.

The following are some of those phonograph industry entry points which are part of the definition of the "phonography industry." Each provides an opportunity to enjoy the 'phonograph's string theory' for viewing the phonograph's universe and a piece of its history.


Artists and Recording Performers

Discographies comprehensively list songs and their artists who have recorded since April 7, 1857 when Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville made what is now recognized as the world's first recording, the French folksong "Au Clair de la Lune."

Another example of connections within those discographies is a subset of artists in the early 1900's who were opera stars who made records and were featured in phonograph ads. These artists added opera's prestige and implicit, if not direct support for the message that a phonograph recording can be a substitute for live performance. Each of these artists, of course, has their own history and their own innumerable connections.


"Home is more comfortable than an opera house... whenever you want, without going a single step away from home. 1910.


Artists and Recording Performers - Connections within Connections

An example of a further subset of opera recording artists can be seen by looking at six early opera stars who made records and appeared in phonograph advertisements but who additionally had connections with Willa Cather's opera related characters. Phonograph popular culture examples for Cather's opera prima donnas are seen in Phonographia's webpage titled Willa Cather's Prototypes who were Recording Artists. (2)




Sound Recorders - People who made sound recordings, i.e., the recording engineers.

We often think only about the names of songs and artists who make records when we think about music on records. But there is a key group of amateurs and professionals who have made sound recordings through the decades, i.e., 'the recording engineers.'

Relationships between musicians, recording engineers and the phonograph industry have endless other connections. Each of those connections likewise have supported the advertising message that was consistent throughout the decades: recorded music offered music to anyone, anytime and as often as one wanted -- possible because music's "fleeting pleasure" has been made permanent."


An RPPC circa 1908, unknown location


Sheet Music

Before the phonograph, the latest songs were purchased by going to shops that sold sheet music.

Bamforth and Co.'s Comic Postcard, postmarked June 28, 1909.


Sheet music would continue to be important for listening to music in the home but the phonograph's recorded songs removed sheet music as a requirement as songs from sheet music quickly were being turned into records by the phonograph industry.

In 1910, the sheet music for the song Gee! But the Moon Makes Me Lonesome was released.

Gee! But the Moon Makes Me Lonesome. Courtesy of The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins.


In the June 1911 Edison's The New Phonogram announced that Record No. 694 - Gee! But the Moon Makes Me Lonesone" sung by Mr. Manuel Romain was being released. (3)


This new Edison Amberol Record No. 694, like all recorded music, was dependent on popular culture taste, song writers, publishers, performers, vaudeville tours, and sheet music which normally had an illustration on its cover. Edison's Amberol Record No. 694 was featured on The New Phonogram's cover for June 1911 revealing one of the many connections that can be made between music and the phonograph.

More phonograph and sheet music connections can be seen in Phonographia's PhonoArt gallery Phono Sheet Music Art which is a focused collection of sheet music with phonograph themed connections.

For examples of sheet music preceding the release of the new Victor records in January 1919, visit New Victor Records January 1919.


Performance Venues replaced by the Home

References to some of the prominent venues of the world like the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City where Geraldine Farrar sang "Carmen" or the La Scala Theatre in Milan where "Il Trovatore" was being performed; or general references to Broadway, the opera, vaudeville, etc. -- all of these venue references in phonograph ads were outside of the home. And in each of these ads the consumer was reminded, often explicitly, that even if the song by a prima donna could be heard live it would require a ticket and then your attendance in a specific venue in some city at a specific time and date.

Munsey's, Victor Talking Machine Co., 1906

New Victor Records Catalog, December 1916

"The best of the Broadway hits are now available no matter how far you may be from Manhattan."


"The Edison Phonograph is the theatre --the opera, the drama, the concert, the vaudeville---"

"The voice of all the people on the stage - The choice of all the people off the stage.

Edison ad, artwork by Gil Spear 1911


For more examples of the home replacing the public performance venues visit Phonographia's PhonoAds gallery The Stage of the World.



The Patent History of the Phonograph, 1877-1912 by Allen Koenigsberg identifies 2,118 patents and 1,013 inventors who helped create the talking machine industry.

The big three of the early twentieth century, i.e., Victor, Columbia and Edison, were often involved in litigation, protecting and responding to patent lawsuits with each other and anyone else who tried to infringe on what they said they owned.

Edison's original patent No. 200,521 for his"Phonograph or Speaking Machine" would itself later be used in important litigation regarding how a record is made with attention to the definitions of a stylus indenting, etching, engraving, or inscribing the sound waves in the recording process.

Courtesy United States Patent and Trademark Office

Factories and Manufacturing

Postcard, 1909


"The greatest musical industry in the entire world," The Literary Digest for April 3, 1920


See Mainspring Press for excellent information regarding some early Record-Pressing Plants.


Marketing Strategies

Early tinfoil phonographs were often first seen in public spaces like meeting halls and opera houses where for 25 cents you could hear "The Greatest Triumph Known to Ancient or Modern Science!" (4A) Years later, as it became marketed as a home entertainment device, some phonograph dealers continued this idea of public demonstrations, however, this time they would be free and often presented as a "Grand Concert."

The following is an example from 1905 of the Thomas Book Store, which sold Edison Phonographs and Records in Madison, Nebraska, renting the local Hein Opera House to put on a free phonograph concert. The event was noted in the November 1905 edition of The Edison Phonograph Monthly.


Crowd gets demonstration in Koller's hardware store. "Finest instrument we ever saw or heard..." "Entertainment was better than most fifty cent shows."

The Edison Phonograph Monthly, May 1905


Phonograph Stores

When the Phonograph became a machine for the home there were several ways to get one. You could order directly from the phonograph company perhaps in response to something you read in a magazine's or newspaper's phonograph ad or an advertising postcard; you could order through a catalog, like Sears or Montgomery Wards, or from a catalog available from the phonograph and record companies; or visit a phonograph store, music store or other local business carrying "talking machines."

The phonograph companies had different ways of explaining why their machine should be selected and Columbia ads used one of the catchiest lines to invite consumers to visit their store: "Hearing is Believing, -- and you can hear today at the nearest Columbia dealer's." Victor likewise used the advertising phrase "Hearing is Believing."


1908 C. B. Haynes & Co., Richmond, Virginia


Hannibal, Missouri Music Store with Phonographs, 1910


General Store with Standard Model A Phonographs, Nebraska ca. 1910


An excellent website that uses an interactive map to identify record store dealers in Paris is Disquaires de Paris which was designed to pay "tribute to the record dealers and venders of phonograph cylinders, who allowed Parisians to discover recorded sound as early as the end of the 19th century."

"Disquaires de Paris" includes all shops in Paris from 1900 to 1940 that once sold recorded music (records and phonograph cylinders). A significant share of these businesses never specialized in record and cylinder sales and some existed long before the birth of the recording industry, like the piano sellers and luthiers that very early began selling recorded music.


See Phonographia's Shopping for a Phonograph for more advertising examples about shopping for a Phonograph.


Phonograph Accessories

"Two very useful accessories" -- Needle Cutter and Dustless Record Cleaner

The Talking Machine World, July 1915


Jobbers (Distributors)

List of Firms handling Edison Phonographs and Records as Jobbers in Canada and the US in 1903

The Edison Phonograph Monthly, April 1903

Denver Dry Goods Company (listed in above Edison Jobbers List), The Edison Phonograph Monthly May 1908

Jobbers were wholesalers who would supply machines and records to other stores in their area but they could also be a local dealer store.


The Talking Machine World, April 15, 1907



List of Publications where this Edison ad appeared in April 1903

The Edison Phonograph Monthly, April 1903


Victor Billboard in New York's Herald Square, 1906. Courtesy Camden County Historical Society

Victor's enormous sign in New York City's Herald Square according to historian David Suisman (5) was "seen by an estimated eight hundred thousand people daily," was "illuminated by more than a thousand lightbulbs," and was reportedly the most expensive sign in the world up to that time.

For more examples of phonograph advertising using signs, billboards, and window displays visit Phonographia's PhonoSignage.


Record Catalogs

Victor Ad for 1920 Victor Record Catalog listing more than 5000 Victor records, Needlecraft Magazine, January 1920 (courtesy Internet Archive)


Delivery to the Customer

"The Victor For Every Day in the Week" brochure - Delivery of the Victor and Victor records. 1907


Freight Rate Reduction Negotiated, The Edison Phonograph Monthly, February 1906

Ordering the Edison Amberola 30 - F.K. Babson Catalogue, Edison Phonograph Distributor

The Talking Machine World, October 1908


"Rush Orders!" - The Talking Machine World, December 1908


Atlas Packing Cases, The Talking Machine World, April 1919


Delivery of Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph, circa 1920 (Courtesy Thomas Edison National Historical Park)


Advertising postcard, Sonora Delivery Truck, 1920


From the very beginning instructions were published on how to operate the phonograph. This 10 page booklet "Instructions for the Management and Operation of Edison's Speaking Phonograph" by Edward Hibberd Johnson was published in 1878 to support the early use of Edison's tin-foil phonograph. (Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center and Rutgers University). (6)

View the complete 1878 Instructions booklet (Thomas A. Edison Papers, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University).



Phonographs and records are not unique in having innumerable connections throughout their life-cycles -- all consumer products have countless connections related to how they became a product in the context of the culture of their time.

Phonograph connections, however, are unique in being part of the first industry to offer a product that altered human perception of sound with captured sounds previously limited by the moment and place. Live performances and a diversity of sounds became available as home entertainment to anyone, anytime, and to be heard as often as you wanted.

Each new home and personal entertainment device involving sound since the phonograph (7) has continued using themes from the phonograph's earliest advertisements, promoting the altered world of perceived sound and promising the "best seat in the house."

The phonograph, 78's, LPs and 45s; radio, AM, FM; television, hi-fi, stereo and surround sound TVs; the wire-recorder, tape recorder, 8-tracks, cassette recordings; Walkman's and boomboxes; VHS and Betamax VCRs; CDs, HDCDs, SACDs; Laserdiscs and CED Video Discs, DVDs, Blu-rays, 4K Ultra Blu-rays; computers with digital and multiple audio formats, music streaming services -- each and more offered their revised version of what the original phonograph said it could do because of its revolution of recorded sound, bringing entertainment and the "Stage of the World" into your home as if you were a king, or a millionaire or the possessor of Aladdin's Lamp.

The Phonograph was a wonder and a consumers' dream.

It's a revolution still turning.

"Seventh row, center. Forever."©


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


"Ring Up the Graphophone Curtain in Your Home, and the Whole World of Entertainment Appears!" 1906


Carnegie Hall - Magnavox Stereophonic High-Fidelity -- "recorded music suddenly comes alive...creating an exciting illusion of "living presence...with amazing realism." 1958


"Full, live sound..." Wollensak Stereo Tape Recorder 1963


"...hear something you've never heard before: perfection." "you listen to your favorite artists as though you, and your armchair, were centered in the spotlight above." (Courtesy of Sony, 1983)