The Phonograph with a Soul


Doug Boilesen, 2019

Phonograph advertisements have used a variety of approaches to promote the phonograph for the home. The phonograph as an entertainer was an early and prominent advertising theme. Edison's predications for the phonograph in his 1878 article "The Phonograph and Its Future" are also a good summary for the many possibilities of how the phonograph could be used and promoted.

But in the end it was music that was foundational in promoting the phonograph as a necessity for the happy home and it was a theme that would evolve in phonograph advertisements from being an entertainment device to something important to one's very soul.


"Columbia Records -- they are the best -- they have the soul." Munsey's Magazine, 1906


"The voice of the Victor is the human voice. It "reproduces every note, every tone, body and soul."

"The voice by the fireside" - "You listen and forget it's the Victor; it is the perfect living voice." 1906




The fidelity of the phonograph was a major advertising theme in selling the phonograph home because for it to be more than a novelty its sound needed to meet some expectation of realism. A machine that accurately repeats sound as close as possible to the original sound was therefore always the goal of the phonograph industry.

As the phonograph developed its ads became more definitive in promoting the fidelity of a recorded voice in comparison with the original, living voice. In 1909 a Victrola ad confidently stated "Only life itself can compare with the Victrola."


"Only life itself can compare with the Victrola" Collier's, 1909


Recording artists were used as evidence that there was no difference between what one would hear at a concert and what could be heard in the home. With Farrar herself looked pleased as she listened to her record on the Victrola the 1914 Victor ad stated Farrar's voice "is just the same as hearing her on the operatic or concert stage...with all the personal charm and individuality of the artist."



The American magazine, 1914


As the phonograph industry increased its relationship with opera and the "greatest artists of the world" its talking machine transformed into an 'instrument' and the personification of the performing artist: "The instrument that is the greatest artists."


"The Victrola is the greatest artists in the homes of the people." Victrola 1920.


Opera star endorsed music ads increased with a focus on the "higher class music." The opera related records were said to be able to envoke the listener's potential enjoyment of "the soul-stirring arias and concerted numbers...with all its hidden mysteries."

A 1919 Columbia Grafonola ad described its "magical voice of music:" The Columbia Grafonola is greater than any artist or any musical instrument. For it is all artists and all instruments in one magical voice of music." Hearing it "you forget instrument, record, and artist alike-- only the soul of immortal music thrills you."


The golden voice of the Grafonola and its "soul of immortal music"

"A Magical Voice of Music," Columbia Grafonola, 1919


The "soul of immortal music" was said to be delivered by the phonograph and its records. All that was missing was the soul itself -- not simply the soul thrilling experience of hearing the music but the phonograph and its record personified as artist and soul who could transform consumer's souls.

To be part of this soul changing experience the necessity of owning a phonograph went to another level beyond the worldly pursuits of possessions and entertainment. It was the idea that humans needed "the refuge of the sublime; something that will take us away from the turmoil and clamor of daily trivialities and lift us to the mountain-tops of peace." Listening to Music" was one way to help our "making the soul." Listening to music had the ability to repair to the sublime and the eternal."


Harper's Bazaar article reprinted in The Edison Phonograph Monthly, August 1911


Edison took this relationship between the phonograph and the soul to its ultimate conclusion when the Edison advertisements started promoting the New Edison Disc Phonograph of 1916 as "The Phonograph with a Soul." This was a "mechanical musical device possessing the human element." The New Edison has bridged "the gulf between the human and the purely mechanical..." "This musical marvel of all ages captures " the very magnetism of the artist's personality."


The Music Trade Review, 1916 (courtesy of International Arcade Museum Library).



The New Edison, "The Phonograph with a Soul" 1921.


"The Talking Machine With a Soul," The Talking Machine World, June 15, 1918



The Masterphone "The Soul of the Phonograph"

In 1921 the Masterphone Corporation of America introduced their "attachment for the improved reproduction of tone..." April 1921, The Talking Machine World



Edison's Sublime Gift to Mankind

The New Edison has the "precious power to speak the sublime language of the soul." 1916


"This precious power" that Edison was offering to mankind could be viewed by readers as another example of Edison as the "Wizard of Menlo Park." With the introduction of Edison's Diamond Disc Phonograph and its records described as a "miracle" of the "master inventor," his "re-created music" was an extension of the original wonder of Edison's invention of a machine that "captured sound" and then reproduced the human voice.

With Edison's ads offering a machine in which sublime music was "re-created" it was perhaps a small marketing step to say that such a machine was a "phonograph with a soul."


The 'actual Re-Creation of music... Advertising postcard, 1915



The 'actual Re-Creation of music" not a mere mechanical" reproduction. Advertising postcard, 1915



"Music is the soul of man struggling to express itself." Thomas A. Edison Dealer Book, 1917


"Unless music comes into your home, that home is not half a home. It is only a house."

Thomas A. Edison Dealer Book, 1917

Open your heart to the world's great music! The Talking Machine World, July 1919


"The veritable embodiment of the liberated spirit of music," MacLean's Magazine, 1921


The Starr Phonograph plays The Soul of the Artist - The Talking Machine World, August 1922

"The human voice is human on the New Othrophonic Victrola...with the very personality of the artist." The Ladies' Home Journal, 1927

"Soul-Stirring..." General Electric's Musicphonic Radio-Phonograph, 1947