Dictionary of Phonographia

A whimsical dictionary of words and phrases connected with the phonograph.(1)




"A phonograph record or set of records containing a collection of musical selections or sounds usually stored in a book designed to hold records or in its own packaging for a single record."

Early disc records only had one song per record, however, the discs could be stored in "albums" that had multiple pages (record sleeves). These early record albums resembled photograph albums which is appropriate since phonograph records capture sound just as photographs capture pictures.


78 rpm album May 15, 1915, The Talking Machine World


Later record albums had multiple songs on one long-playing (LP) record but these LPs continued to be called albums since it was still a collection of music. These early album "books" were usually undecorated and sometimes were stamped on the spine with a letter of the alphabet to help organize multiple albums in the record cabinet.

Record album art began in the 1940's and often featured photographs and graphic art related to the recording artist or illustrated a theme of the album.


45 rpm multiple record tote ca. 1962


Beatles' LP 1967


Record album art changed significantly in the late 1980's with the popularity of Compact Discs (CDs) (although CDs had reduced sized "cover" graphics for their jewel case packaging).

LP's and its cover art, however, are survivors and the art on record albums will always give records an identity and a place in recorded music history even when physical albums do eventually disappear.

For more examples about the history of albums and album covers see Record Albums - A Brief History.



album cover (a.k.a. album cover art)

"An album cover is the front of the packaging of a commercially released audio recording product, or album... In 1938, Columbia Records hired Alex Steinweiss as its first art director. He is credited with inventing the concept of album covers and cover art, replacing the plain covers used before. After his initial efforts at Columbia, other record companies followed his lead. By the late 1940s, record albums for all the major companies featured their own colorful paper covers in both 10- and 12-inch sizes. Some featured reproductions of classic art while others utilized original designs. " Wikipedia


anniversary of your birth (a.k.a. birthday anniversary, birthday) - see "birthday anniversary"


arum phonographicum

Sensitive and intelligent plant, a.k.a. "Singing Lily," from Salesman's Seed Catalog, Punch magazine 1911 (4)


1907 Postcard


"as a matter of record" a.k.a. "just for the record," "for the record."

This phrase is a double entendre using "Record" as a noun meaning "an account in writing or the like preserving the memory or knowledge of facts or events" and as a physical phonograph record. With the invention of the phonograph, the preservation of facts and aural events could be made using records.

"As a matter of "Record" Valentine's Day card, circa 1925 (PM-1081)


"For the Record..." Hunter's Whiskey "Masterpiece," phonograph record, 1947 magazine ad (PM-0859)


"For the Record," Stationery tablet cover, 1987 (PM-1483)



audio book - See "talking book."



automatic stop

Bringing a turntable to a stop at the end of a disc without human intervention. If the record is not stopped the needle will continue into the non-recorded part of the groove resulting in a distinct continous noise (or as the Burson illustration depicts the annoying sound Gr-r-r-r Gr-r-r-r Gr-r-r-r, etc.).

The Burson automatic brake advertised in the Talking Machine World in 1908 humorously displayed that without a mechanism to stop the record when it was done there is chaos in the home. Avoid the "annoyance of jumping up and rushing to stop the machine at the end of the record" and let the family enjoy undistracted pleasure of a talking machine with a Burson's brake. For "convenience," other companies would also include this feature, e.g., Sonora 1910.

The Talking Machine World, May 15, 1910 - Burson Automatic Stop cartoon - See full Burson add plus additional Autostops


"beats all records" (contraction of "beats all of the records")

As a "phrase" it is the winner of the competition in whatever, surpassing any performance of like kind as authoritatively recorded; the noun can be the documented "accomplishment" which establishes the highest result which can then be compared with previous and future results. The noun can also be the physical medium used by phonographs to play back whatever has been 'recorded" onto that medium.

In several early 20th century postcards "beats all records" was used to note the superiority of a phonograph related product or to humourously play with the double meaning of the noun "record." See Merriam-Webster definitions of Record (noun) including its #4) something on which sound or visual images have been recorded specifically : a disc with a spiral groove carrying recorded sound for phonograph reproduction

Portion of ad promoting the superiority of Indian Records made by American Record Company, The Talking Machine World, March 15, 1905, p. 2. Note the auto has "records" for its tires.


Postcard c. 1907 (PM-0273)


Postcard 1932 England (PM-0471)


Victor Records Distributor's ad, The Talking Machine World, January, 1916 (See full ad)


birthday anniversary (a.k.a. anniversary of your birth; birthday)

Official phrase used by Friends of the Phonograph to mark the occasion of annually celebrating a Friend of the Phonograph's date of birth. To send a birthday message or birthday wish the recommended FOTP phrase is "Happy Birthday Anniversary" or "Happy Anniversary of Your Birth!" Although some dictionaries note that the term "birthday anniversary" is not common, Friends of the Phonograph point to its etymology, history of use and connection with the phonograph, in particular the "turning" which has a connection with the rotation of a cylinder or disc when playing a record.

Middle English: from Latin anniversarius ‘returning yearly’, from annus ‘year’ + versus ‘turning’.

Example: "Mr. and Mrs Chris Boilesen entertained the following, Sunday, in honor of their daughter, Fern's birthday anniversary..." The Phonograph (newspaper), St. Paul, NE, February 15, 1939


"canned music"

Phrase of derision often associated with John Philip Sousa's article in Appleton's Magazine in April 1906 where Sousa made his case against mechanical music which he feared was becoming a “substitute for human skill, intelligence and soul.”

Canned music is "going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy...in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape."

Circa 1904 Edison cylinder record stored in cylinder box, similiar to an early 1900 can of baking powder.


An earlier use of "canned music", however, appeared in O. Henry's McClure's magazine February 1903 story "The Phonograph and the Graft." In addition to calling phonograph music "canned" O. Henry also described the phonograph and its records as "our galvanized prima donna and correct imitations of Sousa's band excavating a march from a tin mine."

In the weekly column of The Lincoln Evening News (Lincoln, Nebraska May 9, 1901), titled "Hot Tamales" the author noted "About the worst use that can be made of music is to grind it out of a phonograph."

Edison, dealer postcard for advertising The New Edison, c. 1917

For more examples of the phonograph canning and bottling up sound for future use see Phonographia's Factola "Bottling up sound for future use."


"can the picture"

An article in Photoplay Magazine, describes how Mutual Film Company's music master Joseph O'Sullivan works out his music cues without even looking at a piano. It is as systematic as the compilation of a railroad time-table and at least twice as accurate. The first step in this operation is to "can the picture," this being shop talk for the operation of dictating the plot and action of the picture, in the order of its happening and at the rate of speed with which it happens, to the wax record of a recording phonograph. "Shooting the Music," Photoplay Magazine, March 1918.

Joseph O'Sullivan, Mutual's music master, paints tune poems to accompany the presentation of the pictures in the theatres, the first step being to "can the picture" into the wax record of his dictating phonograph.


"canned marriage proposal"

See "Cupid's Story is Canned" for the newspaper story about how one engagement announcement in Leominster, Massachusetts in 1912 was performed using the phonograph.



"canned speech"

'Canned" originally referred to putting something into a can or jar, e.g., canned peaches or canned pumpkin. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 'canned' was first used in that sense in 1856. With the introduction of recorded sound the "canning" of music or words (particularly when used for political speeches) was a term of derision. Canned speech became a generic term for speech that was written beforehand that was delivered unaltered.

In 1906 "canned speeches" was a term said to be used by opponents of W.R. Hearst who was running for governor and who made records for his campaign "to be heard throughout the state" -- although not actually recorded in his own voice as the article said "Mr. Hearst has a poor voice — lacking the essential vibrant quality and depth — for satisfactory sound reproduction." It was further noted that "The Columbia Twentieth Century machine will be used. The New York daily papers, in treating of this departure in campaign methods, laud it highly, one of them saying: "It is not known in whose fertile brain this scheme originated, but it looks very much as if it would be a grand success, from a show stand- point if from no other." See "Talker Now Electioneering", The Talking Machine World, October 15, 1906 for full article with its reference to these "canned" speeches..."

Celebrity and political impersonation speeches (e.g., McKinley original Speech is what Brainey is currently recording) Judge, June 1897

Also see, human phonograph record



1. A state or fact of being connected (bound, joined, brought together - from Online Etymology Dictionary)

2. A relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else. (from Oxford Languages)

3. Connections for humans are "a circular loop" and "an energy circle that goes back and forth" See Yo-Yo Ma and the Meaning of Life (6)

4. Connections for humans take place within the "little circle" of man's experiences. See My Antonia by Willa Cather (3)

5. Connections are part of "multiple chronologies that are intertwined with each other" in "the prismatic recollection of history." See Jenna Wortham's How an Archive of the Internet Could Change History (5)

6. Connections can be based on degrees of separation but are not limited to the definition of six degrees separation of human relationships e.g., there can be six degrees of separation in popular culture connections.

7. Connections with the phonograph, i.e., Phonographia. (1)


cricket stridulation (e.g., how a cricket 'chirps' with the "file" on one wing rubbed by the "scraper" on the other wing "like the dragging of a phonograph needle across a vinyl record.")

The act of producing sound by rubbing together certain body parts. This behavior is mostly associated with insects, but other animals are known to do this as well, such as a number of species of fish, snakes and spiders. The mechanism is typically that of one structure with a well-defined lip, ridge, or nodules (the "scraper" or plectrum) being moved across a finely-ridged surface (the "file" or stridulitrum—sometimes called the pars stridens) or vice versa, and vibrating as it does so, like the dragging of a phonograph needle across a vinyl record. - Wikipedia, extracted August 11, 2020

Note: Sounds of crickets and frogs were included on the "Golden Record" of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.

See Phonograph needle simile for definition and other examples, e.g., hearing the sound of the 'pine siskin' bird.

Cricket Records, 1953


10” 78 RPM / Mono / 1955




The way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time. Cambridge Dictionary

"The way we express ourselves and understand each other -- can bind us together as one world." Yo-Yo Ma


Disc Jockey a.k.a. DJ

A disc jockey, more commonly abbreviated as DJ, is a person who plays recorded music for an audience. Wikipedia



A list of sound recordings. These recordings are not limited to recordings of phonograph records/discs and can focus on cylinder recordings and other non-disc media including phonautograms created by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville.


An earworm, sometimes known as a brainworm, sticky music, stuck song syndrome, or Involuntary Musical Imagery (IMI), is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person's mind after it is no longer playing. Phrases used to describe an earworm include "musical imagery repetition" and "involuntary musical imagery". - Courtesy Wikipedia (See WIkipedia for references and "In Popular Culture" examples.

Courtesy Bizarro, Lincoln Journal August 4, 2020


"Echo all over the World." - An advertising phrase Edison's National Phonograph Company's used for its early Edison cylinder records. See revolution of recorded sound for the connection between "echo all over the world" and the shot heard round the world.

For more details about Edison's National Phonograph Company's early cylinder records and the Edison Records that would 'Echo all over the World' -- a phrase that Edison had begun using "on his new orange wrap-around labels by mid-1899 (when the '1200' selections were reached)" see Allen Koenigsberg's article They Echoed All Over the World” ...But When Did the First ‘National Phonograph’ Cylinders Appear? The Sound Box, December 2011.


elevator music

Recorded music transmitted originally by wires to commercial establishments like retail stores, restaurants and even elevators to be played as background music. Muzak was the tradename for a company that came to be dominant in this business and ultimately Muzak became a generic term for background music. Muzak or "elevator music" is another form of canned music that Sousa probably would have railed against both for the quality of selections but also for its pervasiveness (e.g, air pollution in the aural sense).



noun. "The minor transient documents of everyday life" is a definition formulated by the Ephemera Society's founder, Maurice Rickards. The word ephemera is taken from the Greek: epi (on, about) and hemera (day). Some libraries are now distinguishing ephemeral printed matter from the more 'permanent' printed books and periodicals with new codes and named collections e.g., Bodleian Library's John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera. See The Ephemera Society for additional information.

"The Ephemera Society is a non-profit body devoted to the conversation, study and presentation of printed and handwritten ephemera."



noun. A fact related to talking machines, phonographia and recorded sound that is known through evidence and believed to be true.

A factola identifies or highlights a popular culture connection with the phonograph from various perspectives.

Etymology - Combination of 16th century English definition of "fact" and suffix "-ola" (which was used in naming over 180 talking machine brands in the 20th century, e.g., Victrola, Carola, Grafonola, etc.). The "-ola" as a suffix associated with recorded music and talking machines originates from the Aeolian Company's 1898 "pianola" player piano named for the piano and the "viola" instrument. The first known use of factola is from the 1982 draft of "Hats Off to the Phonograph," by Doug Boilesen ©1982 and subsequently used by Friends of the Phonograph and Phonographia.com.

1. A phonograph fact that is fundamental to its legacy. Identifying a fact in this sense highlights an established fact. For example, "The Phonograph changed the human perception of ephemeral sound in popular culture."

2. A phonograph fact based on its position of being the first, or the most, or some other historical distinction in the world of recorded sound. This type of fact in popular culture is commonly identified as trivia.

3. A phonograph fact that is whimsical or even obscure. These factolas could also be classified under the trivia factola sense but usually require adding degrees of separation to make the connection. These factolas tend to bring a detail into the light (making a connection that would otherwise remain unknown). For example, there are multiple connections between the phonograph and the sewing machine. One of the more obscure phonograph-sewing machine connections is the factola that Mr. Charles Batchelor (who would become Edison's chief assistant at Menlo Park, New Jersey and who stands next to him in the April 1878 photograph taken at the Mathew Brady Studio of Edison with his tin-foil phonograph) was a very skillful mechanic who was sent "from England to superintend the setting up and adjusting of the automatic thread machinery for the Clark Thread Works." Interestingly, John Kruesi, who built the first phonograph for Edison in 1877, went to work for the Singer Sewing Machine Company at Elizabethport, New Jersey after he immigrated from Switzerland in 1870.

The Clark thread mill on the banks of the Passaic River. The Newark Public Library



fair fiction

1. A genre of historical fiction, also known as "fairground fiction" where the story is about, or set in, a world's fair.

2. A genre of "fair fiction" where the story is about, or set in, a world's fair and a connection with the phonograph is made in the story.

3. A genre of "fair fiction" where the story is about, or set in, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. See the 1893 World's Fair website for this definition and cataloging for their "Fairground Fiction" and Non-Fiction World’s Columbian Exposition bookshelf.


field recording

Term used for an audio recording produced outside a recording studio which applies to recordings of both natural and human-produced sounds. - Wikipedia

Field recording can be traced back to Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville using his phonautograph – the world’s first patented recording device - to capture 18 seconds of the words“Au Clair de la Lune” on April 9th, 1860.

In 1889 an eight year old Ludwig Karl Koch – the “Master of Nature’s Music,” as he would become known – used his father’s wax cylinder recorder to capture the first documented form of non-human sound: the song of a Common Shama bird. In doing so Koch accidentally invented the notion of preserving sound as a form of archaeology, creating an object that could be stored for future generations". - Jack Needham, Red Bull Music Academy Daily, March 24, 2017 (2)

"Field recordings" may also refer to simple monaural or stereo recordings taken of musicians in familiar and casual surroundings, such as the ethnomusicology recordings pioneered by John Lomax, Nonesuch Records, and Vanguard Records. Wikipedia



noun. The opposite side of something is the flip side. In phonographia, this is often called the B-side since the A-side of a 45 RPM was normally the hit recording and the reason for purchasing the record.

Phonograph 33 1/3 and 78 RPM records were also labeled Side A and Side B although like 45's they might not say Side A but rather would have a number on the label followed by the A or B, e.g., 83234A. For multi-record albums there could also be Side C and Side D, etc.



"for the record" - see as a matter of record, "just for the record."


flexi disc

noun. Flexi disc (also known as a phonosheet, Sonosheet or Soundsheet, a trademark) is a phonograph record made of a thin, flexible vinyl sheet with a molded-in spiral stylus groove, and is designed to be playable on a normal phonograph turntable (Wikipedia definition). Flexible records were inserted into magazines (like the Mad Magazine example below, given away as promotional ads, included with toys and dolls, given to employees or the format for a host of other creative uses.

Examples are courtesy of Michael Cumella, WFMU and the wonderful website: The Internet Museum of Flexi/Cardboard/Oddity Records Records Records. Go there and learn more about these playable records that are a fun part of the phonograph's history.


Friends of the Phonograph (FOTP)

FOTP is a society that remembers the legacy and wonder of the phonograph and recorded sound. Friends annually celebrate the birthday of Edison's Phonograph on December 6. Begun as a family event circa 1977 there was no official name until two charter members of the Emeryville-Oakland-Berkeley phonograph birthday party group created a wooden sign in 1988 featuring Nipper and the painted words "Friends of Phonography".

In 1990 the name of the society was revised to Friends of the Phonograph. Despite a revision to the name the original sign is annually hung at Friends of the Phonograph birthday parties. The name became one of Phonographia's main scrapbook galleries in 2001 (i.e., friendsofthephonograph.org).

Debbie and "Joey" holding original sign at the Phonograph's birthday party in 1988.


garbage dump

A location where "things that were once needed, useful or meaningful are redefined as no longer wanted and relocated (dumped) to an area designated for receiving unwanted material. Collectors and artists can interrupt that process but what goes into landfills normally descends "into a material purgatory, where everything is mixed back into a primeval mess." ("Reframing Trash Into Art" by Vik Muniz, The New York Times, December 6, 2023.)

Golden Record

In 1977, one-hundred years after the invention of the Phonograph, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched. On the outside of each spacecraft was attached a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth - essentially a "message in a bottle" and "Greetings from Earth".

Now travelling in interstellar space these phonograph records remarkably could end up outliving humans on Earth.

Voyager's Golden Record cover



noun. A Grammy Award, or Grammy, is an award presented by The Recording Academy to recognize achievements in the music industry. The trophy depicts a gilded gramophone. The annual presentation ceremony features performances by prominent artists, and the presentation of those awards that have a more popular interest. - Wikipedia




noun. Originally the name by which Emile Berliner's disc talking machine was known, it became a generic term to denote any disc playing talking machine, but fell out of use in the United States - Glossary, Discovering Antique Phonographs 1877-1929, Timothy C. Fabrizio and George F. Paul

Gramophone ad, McClure's magazine, November 1896



noun. gramopoem is a term coined in 1933 by John Murray Gibbon in "The Magic of Melody" defining a poem created by "writing love lyrics with machinery" and snatching lyrics "out of a gramophone." Gibbon's process for creating a gramopoem is as follows: "Take a gramophone and a record into a quiet room and play it over and over; words in rhymed or unrhymed cadences will come to you and the result will be poetry."

Etymology: "Gramo" from Gramophone (grámma the Ancient Greek meaning "letter" or "something written" and used in branding Emile Berliner's 'talking machine," i.e, the Gramophone) and poem, the production of a poet ('something made' from Middle French poème, from Latin poema, from Ancient Greek (poíema), from (poiéo, “I make”) - Wiktionary)




noun. Long, narrow channel or depression. In the context of a phonograph record it is the track or channel of a phonograph record for the needle or stylus to play the 'captured' sound waves that have been cut into the record.

In describing when the spacecraft Voyager I in the Fall of 1990 was getting close enough to Saturn to see details that hadn't been seen by telescopes the 2017 critically acclaimed documentary "The Farthest - Voyager in Space" described Saturn's rings as looking "almost like the grooves of a phonograph record."

See "in the groove" for related usage



Hit Parade

A hit parade is a ranked list of the most popular recordings at a given point in time, usually determined by sales and/or airplay. The term originated in the 1930s; Billboard magazine published its first music hit parade on January 4, 1936. It has also been used by broadcast programs which featured hit tunes (sheet music and record) such as Your Hit Parade which aired on radio and television in the United States from 1935 through the 1950s. - Wikipedia

Valentine ca. 1940


"human phonograph record"

A metaphor used to compare a human who repeats phrases or 'lines' like a phonograph record, usually disparagingly.

Example - "You're a well-dressed talker, a parrot full of commercial phrases, a human phonograph record---and a phonograph record, if you play it all the time, gets to be a nuisance."

"He Produced the $100,000,000 Idea" by James Hay, Jr., The Popular Magazine, p. 124





verb - to make or become better (definitions from Oxford Languages)

Origin - early 16th century (as emprowe or improwe ): from Anglo-Norman French emprower (based on Old French prou ‘profit’, ultimately from Latin prodest ‘is of advantage’); -owe was changed to -ove under the influence of prove. The original sense was ‘make a profit, increase the value of’; subsequently ‘make greater in amount or degree’. (Oxford Languages)

The phonograph industry has countless examples of its technology and components being improved (or "perfected" as Edison announced on June 16, 1888 his "PERFECTED PHONOGRAPH", the same year he had months earlier announced his "Improved Phonograph". To make the phonograph sound better, become part of daily life and make a profit is the history of the phonograph industry. Not a unique history in the consumer world. But certainly lengthy and comprised by a variety of successes.

See ad for the 1897 Improved Berliner Gramophone.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, March 1890


"in the groove"

noun. "Groove" is listed in dictionaries as a long, narrow channel or depression. In the context of a phonograph record it is the track or channel of a phonograph record for the needle or stylus. The verb "groove" as slang continues to live and is often associated with music, e.g., "to take great pleasure; enjoy oneself: He was grooving on the music." The idiom slang "in the groove" likewise can have some sexual connotations e.g.,Madonna's song "In the Groove", but in general means to be "in the popular fashion; up-to-date."

The link between "groove" and a "phonograph groove" still exists, just like a musical "track" is still the language used for selecting a song on an iPod (even though there is literally no "track" or "groove" but rather only the somewhat boring and mysterious computer file). Digital displays on CD players and iPods could say "Groove 1" instead of "Track 1" when playing the first song of an album, but in this case "groove" hasn't made the cut.

Christmas Greeting Card ca. 1955


noun. Something that has never been made before, or the process of creating something that has never been made before - Cambridge Dictionary

"An invention is an idea. It's an idea that is useful. Somebody thinks of something and gives us a new device, a new approach, a new technique." - Nathan Myhrvold.

"In the late 19th century, Americans began thinking of their country as a nation of inventors. Watch AMERICAN EXPERIENCE "Invention in the Late 19th Century" for a brief overview of a changing world as inventors and their patents redefine the American identity."


"I Want to See a Phonograph in Every American Home." Thomas A. Edison, 1907

Edison was explicit that his Phonograph was the "perfect musical instrument" and should be in every American home stating in a 1907 ad "I want to see a Phonograph in Every American Home." And there was no reason to wait. "On Free Trial. No Money Down. No C.O.D."



looking "like the old RCA dog looked at the phonograph"

Simile used to describe a quizzical look with head cocked. In the 2004 U.S. Presidential Debate Number 3, October 13, 2004 commentator Paul Begala described the following:

Bush tried to make a joke about media reports that have said Bush is misleading people...then oddly stopped and chuckled to himself. All across America people are looking at their TV's like the old RCA dog looked at the phonograph -- head cocked, brow furrowed, with a quizzical look on their face."



LP record (Long-Playing Record)

"The LP (from "long playing" or "long play") is an analog sound storage medium, a phonograph record format characterized by a speed of 33 1/3 rpm, a 12- or 10-inch (30- or 25-cm) diameter, and use of the "microgroove" groove specification. Introduced by Columbia in 1948, it was soon adopted as a new standard by the entire record industry. Apart from a few relatively minor refinements and the important later addition of stereophonic sound, it remained the standard format for record albums until its gradual replacement from the 1980s to the early 21st century, first by compact discs and then by streaming media." Wikipedia

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft were launched in 1977 with each carrying a phonograph record that is Earth's "message in the bottle" and "greetings from Earth." This "Golden Record" is essentially an LP that plays audio at 16 2/3, and as Carl Sagan noted, the record will only be played "if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space." So perhaps the "Golden Record" will never be played. But there is still the mind-bending possibility that the Voyager record will exist longer than humans on Earth and that surely expands the definition of a "long-playing record."


Magic Lantern

The magic lantern, "also known by its Latin name laterna magica, is an early type of image projector that used pictures—paintings, prints, or photographs—on transparent plates (usually made of glass), one or more lenses, and a light source." Wikipedia

See David Robinson's explanation of nomenclature problem in relation to "stereopticon."


NBC Chimes

Some sounds are iconic in popular culture and the NBC chimes are one of those. In 1950 the NBC chimes became the first "purely audio" service mark granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "The NBC chimes are a sequence of three tones played on National Broadcasting Company (NBC) broadcasts." See Wikipedia's NBC Chimes for more details and to listen to NBC Chimes.

In 1932 Col. Richard Ranger, who was involved in broadcasting and recording, developed the Rangertone electronic chimes that replaced the manually-struck NBC chimes on the network.

Richard Ranger "Rangertone" tape recorder at the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting


NBC Xylophone, c. 1930, gift of NBC Radio Chicago, WMAQ - Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago)



noun. The point (usually steel) of the SOUNDBOX which rides the grooves of the recording and transmits vibrations to the DIAPHRAGM. (Definition from The Talking Machine by Fabrizio and Paul) TMC2.




1) A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. - Oxford Languages Dictionary

2) Something done or presented in order to evoke feelings of nostalgia. An evening of playing old records. Listening to a phonograph record repeatedly for the memories it contains. See Phonographia's The Our Song Phenomenon.




suffix - "-ola" was used in 1898 with the introduction of the pianola by the Aeolian Company in New York. The pianola was a specific name for the player piano manufuctured by the Aeolian Company but it would become a generic term for all player pianos. Its name may have originally been based on "piano" and "viola".

When the Victor Talking Machine Company introduced their new cabinet model Victor gramophone in August 1906 they named it the "Victor-Victrola". There are over 100 phonograph or music playing machines that use "-ola" as a suffix for their brand name.



"ok after a record run"

Phrase was used on a postcard mailed in November 1932 where the postcard shows a roadster that has Victrola records for tires. The phrase uses the double entendre "Record" for the literal meaning of having records for wheels and running on records, and for the meaning of "record" as the highest or best rate, amount, etc., ever attained, esp. in sports e.g., to hold the record for home runs.


"On this day in the world of Phonographia"

This calendar on Phonographia.com (a.k.a. "On This Day" PhonoCalendar) features days from 1877 to the present with phonograph connections in popular culture. It's typical of the "scrapbook" design of Phonographia.com with its lists - in this case somewhat random lists of phonograph connected days organized by months. Better websites are certainly available for "On this day" music and history events (sometimes called 'channels') but Phonographia's "On this Day" does include items that are unlikely to be found on any other "On this Day" calendar.


noun. Payola is a secret or indirect payment (as to a disc jockey) for a commercial favor (as for promoting a particular record), in the music industry - Merriam-Webster
The term was coined in 1938 when entertainment industry publication Variety combined the words "pay" and "ola" as in "Victrola." See the History Channel's This Day in History which calls February 11, 1960 the day the "Payola scandal reaches a new level of public prominence, when President Eisenhower called it an issue of public morality ..."



noun. The phonautograph is the earliest known device for recording sound. Previously, tracings had been obtained of the sound-producing vibratory motions of tuning forks and other objects by physical contact with them, but not of actual sound waves as they propagated through air or other media. Invented and patented by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville on March 25, 1857. - Wikipedia

Phonautograph, 1859



noun. A virtual street lined with phonograph museums where Friends of the Phonograph can visit. PhonoAvenue features phonograph museums from around the world with examples from each collection.




noun. A Phonogram is a grapheme (written character) which represents a phoneme (speech sound) or combination of phonemes, such as the letters of the Latin alphabet or the Japanese kana. For example, "igh" is an English-language phonogram that represents the hard "I" sound in "high". Whereas the word phonemes refers to the sounds, the word phonogram refers to the letter(s) that represent that sound. - Wikipedia

Phonogram - The original name given by Thomas Edison to his cylinder records, suggesting their intended use for business purposes. Later, musical cylinders were called "records." - The Routledge Guide to Music Technology

The Phonogram - "The Official Organ of the Phonograph Companies of the United States" published monthly from January 1891 to April 1893. It was "a magazine devoted to all interests connected with the recording of sound, the reproduction and preservation of speech, the Telephone, the Typewriter, and the progress of electricity."




noun. Phonograph is what Edison named his invention which was completed on December 6, 1877and was the first device to successfully record and reproduce the human voice.


The term phonograph ("sound writer") is derived from the Greek words meaning "sound" or "voice" (and transliterated as phone-) and "writing" (transliterated as graphe-). Similiar terms gramophone and graphophone have the same root meanings. The coinage, particularly the use of the -graph root, may were probably influenced by the then-existing words phonographic and phonography, which referred to a system of phonetic shorthand; in 1852 The New York Times carried an advertisement for "Professor Webster's phonographic class," and in 1859 the New York State Teachers' Association tabled a motion to "employ a phonographic recorder" to record its meetings.

F. B. Fenby was the original author of the word. An inventor in Worcester, Massachusetts, he was granted a patent in 1863 for an unsuccessful device called the "Electro-Magnetic Phonograph". His concept detailed a system that would record a sequence of keyboard strokes onto paper tape. Although no model or workable device was ever made, it is often seen as a link to the concept of punched paper for player piano rolls (1880s), as well as Herman Hollerith's punch card tabulator (used in the 1890 United States census), a distant precursor of the modern computer.

Arguably, any device used to record sound or reproduce recorded sound could be called a type of "phonograph," but in common practice it has come to mean historic technologies of sound recording. - Wikipedia

For a list of of talking machines that used 'phon,' 'fone,' 'phone,' 'graph,' and 'graf' in their company branding see Phonographia's Factola The 'Phon' and 'Graph' Brands

For an excellent description of how the 1876 telephone contributed to the invention of the Edison's 1877 phonograph, see The American Experience video Edison: From the Telephone and Telegraph Comes the Phonograph



noun. An irritating toy that restores life to dead noises. - Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, 1911

"Infernal talking machine " postcard ca. 1908



noun. Used as a metaphor to describe a human talking repetitiously or constantly e.g., "The family's phonograph" which plays the 'record' of a baby crying over and over.

"The family's phonograph" postcard ca. 1930 (PM-2097)


phonograph game

1. A game that is dependent on a phonograph record for outcome of the game, e.g., progress of the game, instructions, steps.

See Name That Tune - A Music BINGO Game, with 33 1/3 RPM Record, 1957

See K-Tel SuperStar Game - Board game with Chance-A-Tune 45 RPM Record, 1973

See "They're at the Post" - Horse racing game uses 4 33 1/3 RPM records, 1976

See "The Record Game" - Board game of the music industry uses 33 1/3 RPM for rules, objectives and The Record Game Song, 1984

2. A game that uses a phonograph record to provide sound effects or 'atmosphere' for the game.

See London Murder Mystery Game - Board game uses 33 1/3 RPM record for sound effects, 1985

3. A toy or game constituting an attachment for a flat disk phonograph and designed to convert the phonograph into a toy or game of chance or into a combined phonograph and game. Patented by C. H. MAIER on December 5, 1922. The invention specifically constitutes a continuation of the subject-matter defined in Maier's invention on roulettaphones, filed July 5 1917. See Patent No. 1437472.

See Phon-O-Game for 1922 advertisement of roulette style game using phonograph.

See Gramogames for 1930's horse racing/gambling games that use gramophone disc instead of dice or other method to control the play of the game.

See Which Horse Wins? for 1945 horse race game/gambling record

4. A speculation process which created prices for stock quotations on the phonograph, playing them back and then recording those quotes on the board. Developed by the Public Stock Exchange which was incorporated in San Francisco in December 1890 its by-laws stated that "stocks may be bought and sold by oral expression or by the reannouncement of orders on a phonograph in the exchange room. When a phonograph is used to make the bids and offers it shall be done aloud so that all may hear it and a record made at once of each offer to buy and sell on a blackboard in the Exchange room. The phonograph thus used is designated the "Main Phonograph." See BOGUS STOCK GAMBLING." Chief Crowley Says He Will Raid the Phonograph Game for details about creating the prices for stock quotations on the phonograph, playing them back and then recording those quotes on the board. The Examiner, November 7, 1891.




noun. A new disease, not listed in any known text book on medicine, invaded Pasadena in December 1906. "Symptoms of the disease have been manifested in the past, but lately it has assumed a more virulent form and its victims are numberless....There is an extraordinary demand for Edison phonographs and it is difficult to fill all of the orders" according to the Waterhouse Music Company and The Edison Phonograph Monthly, December 1906.



Phonograph Needle Simile

A phrase or comparison that relies on the reader or listener being familiar with the sound of a phonograph needle scratching across a record.

"makes a sound resembling a needle dragged across a phonograph record."

"When words fail, birders resort to analogous sounds to describe vocalizations. The gang-gang cockatoo and Montezuma oropendola sound like creaking hinges. The black-and-white warbler sounds like a squeaky wheel, while the field spar- row sounds like a ping-pong ball bouncing on a table. The pine siskin makes a sound resembling a needle dragged across a phonograph record, while the rufous whistler can sound like a stuck record" - from VERBATIM VOL. XXVIII, NO . 1 - The Language Quarterly, Winter 2003 (VERBATIM, a periodical devoted to "Translating the Language of Birds")

Listen to needle scratching a record HERE

"...squeaking like a phonograph needle scratched across the grooves."

"At this point, instead of turning back to find an alternate route, he began to move in circles, squeaking like a phonograph needle scratched across the grooves." Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, New York ©1994 p. 239




noun. Phonographia are all things in popular culture that can be connected with the Phonograph. These can be objects, recorded sounds, facts, stories, ephemera, memorabilia, people, places, events, moments in time — whatever is part of the popular culture memory of the Phonograph is Phonographia.

Phonograph connections, interconnections, and multiple degrees of separation, each with its own string and story, define phonographia.

The 'three Rs" of Phonographia, i.e, Relate, Reference and Remind, have multiple sources for their connections: as art, advertisements, personal stories, literature, photographs, newspapers, movies, greeting cards, postcards, cartoons, sheet music, comics and anything else in popular culture from which a 'connection' can be made with the phonograph.




noun. A Phonographian is Friend of the Phonograph who enjoys all connections to the Phonograph.

Example: A Phonographian playing Pinochle will always bid "33 1/3" instead of 33 when given the opportunity.

Example: Important birthdays for Phonographian's are 16 2/3, 33 1/3, 45, and 78.

Example: A "Phonograph Red-Letter Day" and major holiday of the year is December 6, the anniversary of the completion of Edison's Phonograph.

The Motto of Phonographians: "Save Energy - Wind a Phonograph!"

The Mantra of Phonographians: "It's a Revolution still turning!"

The Mission Statement of Phonographians: "Remember the Phonograph!"



phonographic piano - The Phonograph Set to Music

1878 invention capitalizing on Edison's Phonograph


Courtesy NYPL - The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. "The phonograph set to music." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1878-12-28. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-1d77-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.





1. Pitman shorthand, a system of shorthand stenography developed by Isaac Pitman (1837). Andrew J. Graham, author and teacher of stenography, developed the Graham shorthand system and was conductor of the Phonetic Academy, New York (1860)

2. Field recording of natural sounds, also called phonography (a term chosen to illustrate its similarities to photography) - Wikipedia

3. Phonography (album), the 1976 debut album by R. Stevie Moore

4. Phonography (song), from 2008 Circus album by Britney Spears

Andrew Graham’s stenography (1860) for “Phonographic students”.


Phonography (album), 1976 by R. Stevie Moore


Phonography (song), from 2008 Circus album by Britney Spears


Phonograph Industry - See "Connections and the Phonograph Industry"



Phono=Record Post=Cards, 1905

A novelty postcard designed to have a thin transparent record over the picture on the postal card which can still clearly be seen. Provides a multi-media experience in receiving a postcard, i.e., music and the image on the postcard.

Phono=Record Post=Cards, The Talking Machine World, March 15, 1905




Platters, The

A vocal quartet formed in 1953 that would eventually be named The Platters. "The name came from the metal disk, or “platters,” that rotate vinyl records and facilitate the playing of recordings on the turntable of a phonograph." The "original" quartet was formed by "a recently discharged young Army veteran named Herb Reed who recruited Cornell Gunther, Joe Jefferson, and Alex Hodge." See 1953, The Platter's History.




When the radio started broadcasting music from records its list of records that the station played would become known as its "playlist." That list became a problem in the music industry as it historically included records selected by the illegal practice known as Payola which involved payments being made to "commercial radio stations to play a song without the station disclosing the payment. Under U.S. law, a radio station must disclose songs they were paid to play on the air as sponsored airtime." (Wikipedia, Payola).


The selection of recorded music and Top100 lists would be dependent on radio stations for decades until technology provided new options to create personal music playlists. The introduction of cassette tapes, personal computers, mini-discs, compact discs (CD-R), on-line file (music) sharing programs, and streaming services allowed users to create their own playlists on the new media. Devices to play that media included some very popular portable devices such as Sony's Walkmans (cassette, CD, and MZ1 minidisc, MP3 players), mobile phones and smartphones, and Apple's iPod. Peer-to-peer file sharing software like Napster also involved legality questions but ultimately the evolution of playlists meant that personal choices of songs and the order those songs played was within the control of its users.

Portable Music Milestones (Source: Statista 2023)


Besides organizing your own favorite songs, personal playlists are a way to share those favorites with others. Additionally, software on most computers has the "shuffle" feature which randomizes at one time the order the songs will play (i.e., shuffle playback prevents repeated tracks, as opposed to random playback where the next track is chosen at random after each track has played).

Playlists, whether personal, social or generated by computer programs continue to promote 'records' and recorded sound in popular culture.



popular culture

"Popular culture is generally recognized by members of a society as a set of the practices, beliefs, and objects that are dominant or prevalent in a society at a given point in time. Popular culture also encompasses the activities and feelings produced as a result of interaction with these dominant objects. Heavily influenced in modern times by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of people in a given society. Therefore, popular culture has a way of influencing an individual's attitudes towards certain topics....Popular culture is constantly evolving and occurs uniquely in place and time." - Wikipedia

Popular culture examples in Phonographia are mostly phonograph connections with visual culture, popular music, advertising, paper media, and consumerism.




noun. "Explaining to your grandchildren what a record is: Priceless" (Mastercard, 2004)

MasterCard, 2004


"put a sock in it"

This phrase is generally thought of in the context of someone being noisy and these words being the colorful request to quiet down. Interestingly, many believe that this phrase actually originates with the phonograph being noisy or annoying and the solution being to literally put a sock in the phonograph's horn.

Early phonograph's horns amplified the sound but there was no volume control so putting a sock in the horn would dampen that sound. Edison's later Diamond Disc phonograph had an internal metal horn but actually did have a mechanism for dampening the sound that used a lever to move a large cotton ball into the horn to dampen the sound.

Below is a picture of the Edison A-250, a 1914 Diamond Disc Phonograph with its ball tone modifier, said to be used because patent restrictions on doors and louvres required a different solution by Edison.





verb. "to set down, register, or fix by characteristic marks, incisions, magnetism, etc., for the purpose of reproduction by a phonograph or magnetic reproducer."

noun. "something on which sound or images have been recorded for subsequent reproduction, as a grooved disk that is played on a phonograph or an optical disk for recording sound (audiodisk) or images (videodisk). Compare compact disk."




noun. RCA Victor introduced a series of recorded operas and musical stories in 1945 and called them Victor Recordramas and RCA Victor Recordramas. The "most thrilling scenes of the opera" were said to be included in the record album along with its story.



revolution of recorded sound, a.k.a. "Echo all over the World."

When Edison's recorded voice was heard in his Menlo Park Laboratory on December 6, 1877 an echo would metaphorically be heard "all over the World." It was an event that now marks the beginning of a social and cultural revolution. It also would be a literal revolution with the turning of the crank and the revolution of the phonograph's cylindrical mandrel playing recorded sounds.

Paraphrasing Thomas Paine offering his "simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense...” and the shot that would be heard round the world on April 19, 1775, the revolution of recorded sound is documented in Phonographia.com offering simple factolas, plain connections (between the phonograph and popular culture), and common phonograph advertisements.

For a phonograph connection with the Spirit of 1776 see the Chicago Talking Machine's advertisement in The Talking Machine World, June 15, 1916.

For examples of recorded sound's revolution which has continued to reverberate through the decades see Phonographia's The Evolution of the Revolution.



"Echo all over the World" 1899; Edison Records Catalog (1901) and Gold Moulded Record; "Echo All Over the World" - Edison ad, 1900


"Echo All Over the World," Edison ad, 1901



adjective - involving or causing a complete or dramatic change. In the context of the phonograph industry there have been many examples over the decades where phonographs have been advertised would label 'revolutionary.' For recent examples see Steelman's 1957 "Revolution in Hi-Fidelity" Phonograph, Philips' 1978 Revolutionary Series 7 turntables and Crosley's 2010 "Revolution" model, a USB Portable turntable. In fact all phonograph turntables literally revolve to play records and could be called revolutionary.





noun. Single, in the music industry, is a type of release, typically a song recording of fewer tracks than an LP record or an album. This can be released for sale to the public in a variety of different formats. In most cases, a single is a song that is released separately from an album, although it usually also appears on an album. Typically, these are the songs from albums that are released separately for promotional uses such as digital download or commercial radio airplay and are expected to be the most popular. In other cases a recording released as a single may not appear on an album. Wikipedia

The most common form of the vinyl single is the 45 or 7-inch. The names are derived from its play speed, 45 rpm, and the standard diameter, 7 inches (18 cm).

A 45 rpm single typically lasts between 2 and 5 minutes. See Records' Factolas for the longest playing 45 rpm single side ever recorded.




A common designation for the reproducer of an acoustic phonograph; it is usually applied to disc machines. Its parts are the diaphragm, needle arm and screw, spring, cusions, casing, and gasket. It was supplanted in the electric era by the cartridge, or pickup. (Definition from The Routledge Guide to Music Technology, Edited by Thom Holmes, Published by Routledge, ©2006 by Taylor & Francis Group)


"sounds like a broken record"

When someone repeats themselves, usually in a tiresome or annoying manner, the reference to sounding like a broken record can be used. This description refers to a time when records, when worn or scratched, were prone to the needle getting stuck in the same groove, and thus repeated the same track over and over.

James Thurber's story in "My Life and Hard Times" about a record he grew up with called "No News, or What Killed the Dog?" is a classic example of this reiterative phenomenon.

"Father was usually in bed by nine-thirty and up again by ten-thirty to protest bitterly against a Victrola record we three boys were in the habit of playing over and over, namely, "No News, or What Killed the Dog," a recitation by Nat Wills. The record had been played so many times that its grooves were deeply cut and the needle often kept revolving in the same groove, repeating over and over the same words. Thus: "ate some burnt hoss flesh, ate some burnt hoss flesh, ate some burnt hoss flesh." It was this reiteration that generally got father out of bed."

See more Like a Broken Record for more examples in Popular Culture



n. The point (usually sapphire or diamond) of the REPRODUCER which rides the grooves of the recording and transmits vibrations to the DIAPHRAGM or PICK-UP. (Definition from The Talking Machine by Fabrizio and Paul) TMC2.


talking book

1. A recorded book. See Matthew Rubery, The Untold Story of the Talking Book, Harvard University Press, ©2016, p. 2. As Rubery explains, "talking book" is an "expansive term to cover all recorded books" although it has often been used "interchangeably with "audiobook" to describe any narrative recorded onto a record, cassette tape, compact disc, MP3 digital file, or other audio format." Rubery's historical review of "phonographic books" in the first 50 years after the phonograph's invention, to the talking books of the 1930's, "spoken word records" in the 1950's, the books on tape in the 1970's up to the Audio Publishers Association's confirmation in 1994 of "audio book" as the standard, concludes that the term "audiobook" is the "most useful one we've got" even though "using the phrase for spoken word recordings made before that date is anachronistic." Ibid. p 2.


Talking Toy

1. A toy that talks using a phonograph record.

2. A toy that uses a phonograph record to provide sound effects.

See Hasbro's Knuckle Busters - Toy includes 45 RPM record to provide ring-side sounds, 1973

See phonograph game for toys that are primarily board games or games of chance/gambling that use phonograph records.



Talking Toy Hall of Fame

Toys selected by Friends of the Phonograph as inductees of Phonographia's Talking Toy Hall of Fame meet one or more of the following requirements:

Popular Culture: The toy has been seen in multiple formats of popular culture, e.g., cartoons, movies, advertisements, stories, etc., which reflect its place in popular culture. This toy popularized the attribute of sound coming from a toy. Market success may also be another indicator.

Design: Introduced or creatively made sound a significant part of the toy's identity or intended activity/purpose.

Historical Impact: The first or best example of a toy that realized one of Edison's original predictions for a talking toy.




Top-five List "

List making happens for many reasons but in the world of recordings the 'top-five list" means selecting five favorites songs. The list can be "pure" favorites or it can be based on a theme, e.g., top-five songs related to death or love, etc.

Top-five list making was a running activity in the movie "High-Fidelity" starring John Cusask who made a habit of creating tapes of his favorites for friends. As a record store owner Cusak also engaged in competition with his employees (e.g., Jack Black) to pick top-fives for various topics (e.g., Laura's father passing).

Top-five list maker John Cusack in "Hi-Fidelity", courtesy Touchstone Pictures.


"Your Hit Parade"

"Your Hit Parade" was a popular radio show in the 1930's that continued through the 1950's.

Before disc jockeys and Top-40 charts became commonplace, there was Your Hit Parade, a radio institution that billed itself as “an accurate, authentic tabulation of America's taste in popular music.”

Every Saturday night, Your Hit Parade presented the top tunes of the week, saving the top three songs for the end of the show. As a nod to longtime sponsor Lucky Strike Cigarettes, Your Hit Parade occasionally featured an old favorite as a “Lucky Strike Extra.”

Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborne, the show’s advertising agency, remained secretive about the methods used to determine the top songs. It was acknowledged that Your Hit Parade’s statisticians examined sheet music sales and jukebox tabulations before reaching their conclusions.

Your Hit Parade debuted on April 20, 1935 and moved between NBC and CBS until January 16, 1953. A television version of Your Hit Parade was simulcast over NBC Radio from 1950 to 1959.

(Text and information courtesy of the Radio Hall of Fame.org)



"vaccinated with a phonograph needle"

Phrase used in Marx Brothers 1933 movie "Duck Soup" addressed to someone who just kept talking and talking: "You know, you haven't stopped talking since I came here. You must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle."




noun. A card given by a Phonographian on Valentine's Day, February 14, with graphics or words that have a connection with the phonograph.

Etymology. From Saint Valentine, the 3rd-century patron saint who since the Middle Ages has been associated with the tradition of 'courtly' and romantic love + grámma the Ancient Greek meaning "letter" or "something written" (e.g., Emile Berliner's Gramophone and "a distant message" telegram).

Example. "As a matter of Record, I want you for my Valentine." "Re-cord me as your Valentine!"


vaudeville - "a type of entertainment popular chiefly in the US in the early 20th century, featuring a mixture of specialty acts such as burlesque comedy and song and dance." - Oxford Languages Dictionary

Many songs heard in vaudeville originated in sheet music from broadway shows, traveling shows and musical theaters. Some vaudeville music has been preserved on records. Recorded sound would also be important for the evolution of talking pictures and famously for one of the first, Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. Although Jolson's movie was neither the first sound on film movie nor was the whole movie recorded for sound it remains important in the history of movies. Unfortunately its racism and stereotypical use of blackface require a disclaimer and diminish its legacy.




The Victor Talking Machine Company named their new cabinet internal horn Victor model the Victor-Victrola in August 1906. The Victrola was a trademarked name but it also became a generic term for any talking machine, similiar to how 'Kodak' became a generic name for any camera.

Many other manufacturers followed Victor with internal horn machines and many added '-ola' to their company name. For the etymology of Victrola and for a list of '-ola' talking machines go to Phonographia Factola "The '-Ola' Brands".





noun. Phonograph record, commonly referred to as "vinyl" because they were made with PVC (Polyvinyl chloride, a particular vinyl polymer). Although there was a resurgence of popularity of vinyl records in the 2010's there nevertheless continues to be a debate about the sound quality of vinyl records vs. digital records. Perhaps the best defense of vinyl, however, came from singer-songwriter Neil Young who observed in a CNN 2012 interview, that "Steve Jobs was a pioneer of digital music, but when he went home, he listened to vinyl."


Wizard of Menlo Park

Newspapers gave Thomas Alva Edison this accolade after his invention of the Phonograph because of the public's astonishment that a device could "bottle up" and play back sound for future generations. Calling it astounding, miraculous, the wonder of an age, witchery, etc., it seemed appropriate to call Edison a Wizard. The Phonograph was invented at Edison's Menlo Park, New Jersey Laboratory Complex, one of the earliest examples of a research and development facility.

When Edison moved his laboratory to West Orange, New Jersey the Menlo Park facility was basically abandoned and by the time Henry Ford wanted to honor Edison and include the Menlo Park buildings into his Greenfield Village only a few bricks and planks and some New Jersey dirt could be salvaged. To see the Menlo Park buildings that Ford had reconstructed in Greenfield Village (Dearborn, Michigan), visit PhonoAvenue (Phonographia's Virtual Street of Phonograph Museums) and its link to Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory.


Lithograph from Puck, May 5, 1880

J. Keppler cartoon "The Decadence Of The Wizard Of Menlo Park - From The Phonograph To Polyform."


Illustration from cover of July 9, 1879 New York Daily Graphic (with drawing of his phonograph on his robe)

Edison the Alchemist - "Like turning Iron to Gold" The Booklovers Magazine, 1905


wooden nickel
(a.k.a. wooden money)

An American adage, "Don't take any wooden nickels", is considered a lighthearted reminder to be cautious in one's dealings. (Wikipedia). The phrase is believed to have begun in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The cautionary aspect is related to being taken advantage of by unscrulpulous people, particularly by those in the big city. It also seems connected to the popular culture belief that those living in the country might be naive in the ways of the big city and that there are differences between city and country lifestyles and morals. That belief, however, didn't begin in the 19th century as countless generations heard examples told in stories going back to at least the 6th century BCE with Aesop's Fable "The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse."

See "Historically Speaking" which cites pre-Depression era use of "Don't take any wooden nickels" with an article in the Chicago Daily Tribune on February 11, 1925 which reported: He was the kind of man who calls back, “Don't take any wooden nickels” as he disappears through the door.)


"Wooden money" is a product made out of wood. It's description as a type of "money" makes it seem like it has value, like "paper money." But it's more similar to "play money." Because it's made out of wood (and not a "green back" issued by the United States government) it's considered counterfeit if there is any attempt to pass it as government issued currency. It has no value except as a consumer item with its value as a souvenir, collectible, trade token, etc. Therefore, popular culture advice about not taking any "wooden nickels" would have been the same for not taking any "wooden money."

As an example, the following is the warning published in Edison's convention's program for his July 1920 phonograph dealer's convention held in New York City as reported by The Talking Machine World:

The dealers and others attending the Edison Convention without exception followed the advice offered in the program which read: "Don't take any wooden money--or alcohol. Despite what is said by one of the characters in the skit, 'After the Nut Is Off,' there is no perfectly safe booze for sale in New York." The Talking Machine World, July15, 1920

(Note: The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919 and the country went dry at midnight on January 17, 1920. Hooch, rotgut and bathtub gin were supplementing the smuggled and bootlegged alcohol and those substitutes during Prohibition could be fatal).


"Don't Take Any Wooden Nickels!" as common sense

During World War II the following poster was issued by the United States government using the phrase "Don't take any wooden nickels!" in the context of listening to bad advice and tall tales. "Remember, four cents are worth more than a wooden nickel anytime!

Office for Emergency Management, War Production Board (circa 1942–43)


"The Chicago World's Fair in 1933 issued wooden nickels as souvenirs, and the tradition of wooden nickels as tokens and souvenirs continues to the present day." Wikipedia


1938 Wooden Nickel issued for Knoxville's Sesqui-Centennial Celebration


Wooden Nickel token 1979 (FP-0998B)