Connections and the Phonograph Industry


Connections Created by an Industry

By Doug Boilesen 2020

Phonographia are popular culture connections with the phonograph.

Ever since Edison's invention was first reported in Scientific American on December 22, 1877 the phonograph has been seen and heard in each era's popular culture conversation. The phonograph industry created, manufactured and marketed a machine that started as a "wonder" and novelty but became part of the home and a source of music and home entertainment.

The galleries of are predominantly popular culture advertisements and paper ephemera organized by phonograph related themes such as PhonoToons, PhonoFood, PhonoDrinks, PhonoAds, etc. Examples show the phonograph's presence in daily life throughout every decade.

Bill McKibben describes connections nicely 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). I would add there are also interconnections, with connections within the connections. (5B)

Any industry creates innumerable connections and the phonograph industry is no exception. As a product however, it was unique because it could capture sound and then replay it. Those captured sounds and how the machines and records were created and then selected by consumers has its own infrastructure and in a sense its own universe.

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 addtional degrees of separation to connections like the Rural Free Delivery Act of 1893, the typewriter and the sewing machine.

Innumerable connections like these comprise the phonograph's universe of connections with strings of the connections that can seem to have no beginnings or ends.

Examples of phonographia are points in time and space that one can see and then quickly see another connection. Each connection can also contain different meanings depending on our own interactions with the objects.

The following are a few phonograph industry entry points to phonographia strings to glimpse aspects of "our past and our present." Follow the strings and observe relationships between the phonograph and popular culture.


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

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 Opera 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.' For an informative website about early sound recording pioneers described as "a collection of scrapbooks on people", visit Recording Pioneers.

Relationships between musicians and the phonograph industry have endless other connections. But the result of those connections is constant throughout the decades: recorded music offered music to anyone, anytime and as often as one wanted, and music's "fleeting pleasure is made permanent."


An RPPC circa 1908, unknown location




Sheet Music

Before the phonograph, sheet music could be the key to learning or playing a song. After the phonograph, songs didn't require sheet music in the home -- just put on the record. Sheet music, however, remained important for popular music even as its songs quickly were turned into records.

In 1910, the song and its sheet music 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 issue of Edison's The New Phonogram it was 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 including sheet music illustrations like this one that The New Phonogram took as the basis for its own catalog cover.

Showing this connection between the illustration of Edison's catalogue and the original sheet music is simply that - a connection in a point in time in which many other connections were also going off in other directions.

For one of those other directions visit Phonographia's PhonoArt gallery Phono Sheet Music Art to see examples of sheet music with phonograph themed connections.

For examples of sheet music directly preceding the release of 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 (4) 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


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




Marketing Strategies

Early tin-foil 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 recommending how to shop for a phonograph but Columbia had one of the catchiest lines: "Hearing is Believing, -- and you can hear today at the nearest Columbia dealer's."


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



Hannibal, Missouri Music Store with Phonographs, 1910


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



For an excellent website that uses an interactive map to identify record store dealers in Paris visit Disquaires de Paris which is 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.





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




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 and the culture of the 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 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 for you in bringing personal 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 - Magavox 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 Sony 1983.