Looking for the Band


"Looking for the Band" was an advertising campaign meant to convey the realism of music by using the humor of a little boy who thought the source of the band music must be inside the phonograph. It sounded so real. Band music...but no band in sight?

The little boy ready to chop open the phonograph to find the band was one way to promote the phonograph's realism that Edison called "The Acme of Realism."


Edison Advertising Form No. 410, c. 1901



Edison Poster, Form 319, c. 1901



Quarter-page Pearson's magazine ad, 1901





This 1903 postcard series of "Looking for the Band" images involves two sweet children who are apparently listening to a phonograph and all is well. But then their father leaves the room.



The father returns to room and, to his shock, the innocent children have taken apart the phonograph "looking for the band."








The Phonogram, October 1902






1903 Edison Dealer Electrotype for newspaper advertising


The following is a 1906 Edison dealer hand-out titled "How the Boys Found the Band." It was a fold-down advertising piece that showed curious boys climbing over a wall to get a glimpse of the band they could hear. When you opened the fold-out, the source was revealed: The band music came from an Edison Triumph Phonograph (Model B introduced in 1906).



Edison fold-down advertising Form No. 945





Edison Form No. 407 - March 1903 Trade card for Edison Gold Moulded Records





Zon-o-phone, 1904

Double-fold Zon-o-phone advertising brochure: On the outside cover are two figures looking through the barn door trying to see where the music is coming from with the caption: "Gosh, Samantha, it's a Zon-o-phone. Thought sure 'twas one of them city bands."

Open it up and inside the barn it's confirmed that a Zon-o-phone is the source of the dance music.




This 1912 postcard shows a little girl searching for the source of the music:





c. 1910 postcard







c. 1908 postcard






c. 1904 postcard





Nickel-in-the-slot Phonograph, 1891 The Phonogram, (1)



The following is from the Phonograph trade magazine The Phonogram, October 1891

Introduction to a Nickel-in-the-Slot

"What's that -- something to cure ears?"

"No; I reckon it's a lung-tester."

"Look out, Sam! You will get a shock!"

"I'll bet it's some kind of a sell."

"Sell, is it? Sam shouts, with the tubes in his ears. "You just hear this. It's a regular band playin'. No sell about that. If that ain't worth a nickel of any man's money, I'll pay for it."

Everybody laughed at Sam's enthusiasm expressed in such loud tones; but at his recommendation even the most skeptical dropped his little nickel in the slot and heard the phonograph. "How do you load them, mister?" "They don't load them. The music comes over the Western Union wires" volunteered a wise by-stander, in reply. "No!" "Yes, it does. Didn't you hear him say that piece was played by the United States Marine Band of Washington, D.C?" Then they both peered around the case to see where the wires came in." The Phonogram, October 1891, p 221



The world's greatest bands parade before you..." The Theatre Magazine, July 1918



"Yes, sir," said Uncle Reuben, as the Phonograph stopped, "that's mighty good -- mighty good!"

"Just wait awhile," said the youth, as he slipped on another record, "and I'll explain it to you."

"Oh, I understand it all right," responded Reuben.

"Understand it all except one thing."

"What's that?" asked the youth.

"Well," answered Reuben, with an abashed grin, "I understand how these sleight-o'-hand fellers pull big rabbits and pigeons out o' little hats, but I'll be danged if I understand how you git a full brass band in that box."

Indianapolis Sun

1921 Victrola ad depicting the source of sound and the actual artists (in miniature) standing by ready to perform

For examples of other advertisements showing performers inside phonograph horns and floating above machines see Artists Inside the Horn




Promoting the realism of recorded sound was a constant in the marketing of the phonograph. The highest degree of realism and fidelity possible was the ultimate goal and this would remain true for every descendent sound reproducing technology.

The boy looking for the actual band in 1900 and not believing that the music he heard was recorded sound would be essentially repeated decades later with Memorex recording tape's iconic question "Is it Live, or is it Memorex?"



1974 Memorex ad - "Is it live, or is it Memorex?"


Irwin Caplan, ca. 1953




"Looking for the Band in 1980" (courtesy Gary Larson)