An Age of Wonders
Wonders, Wizards, Magic and Aladdin's Lamp
"If it were not that the days of belief in witchcraft are long since past, witch-hunters such as those who figured so conspicuously in the early history of our country would now find a rich harvest of victims" listening to a "new wonder called the phonograph." - The Phonograph, March 30, 1878, Harper's Weekly
"the telephone, is now eclipsed by a new wonder called the phonograph." March 30, 1878, Harper's Weekly
The fact that the phonograph could record and play back the human voice gave it accolades of being a 'wonder' from its beginning. The early years saw the tin-foil playing phonograph go on tour as an exhibition machine which resulted in amusement and predictions for its future. But it was the Bell-Tainter Graphophone and Edison returning to work on his phonograph nearly ten years after its invention when the phonograph started generating new 'wonder' talk in popular culture. The 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris gave Edison's phonograph a large venue where it was heard and praised on an international scale.
Edison's Phonograph being demonstrated as part of the United States Exhibition Area by Paul Uestel
In anticipation of the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition The Examiner, San Francisco in April 24, 1891 wrote that the phonograph was "one of the wonders to be exhibited at the world's fair's" "Electric House" where many uses of electricity for the home would be displayed.
The kitchen was to have electrical appliances like an electric range, electric dishwasher; the washing, ironing and scrubbing of the floors and woodwork would all be electrically performed and even the washing of the windows would be done by electricity. "In the parlor would be a "phonograph and cylinders containing celebrated speeches by celebrated men, and songs by celebrated women. "In the sanctum of the master of the house for the purposes of his business" would be a telephone and "a portable phonograph with cylinders, for mailing a conversation to any point."
The following picture from The Book of the Fair shows the portion of Edison's exhibit in the Exhibition's Electricity Building which had an Edison electric (battery powered) phonograph on display with tubes for multiple listeners.
Thomas Edison’s phonograph exhibit in the Electricity Building. (Image from Bancroft, Hubert Howe's The Book of the Fair. The Bancroft Company, 1893.) (1)
Coin-operated phonographs were also at the 1893 fair and were a popular entertainment for exhibition visitors. The Adventures of Uncle Jeremiah and Family at the Great Fair by Charles McCellan Stevens is an example of the new category of "fair fiction" literature featuring stories about families visiting the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and enjoying the phonograph. In Stevens' book we see the reaction of Uncle Jeremiah and his family as they listen "in open-mouthed wonder" to the nickel-in-the-slot machines.
"The first objects that met their gaze were the graphophones or phonographs. Some nickels were soon in the slots and the family for the first time listening to music coming from some where by singers unseen... Between each verse Johnny told the boy who stood in open-mouthed wonder near him that the "feller is a singer from way back." He could not realize that he was not in a concert hall and that all standing about were not hearing what he heard. When the music ceased and he withdrew the tubes from his ears he said to the boy, "Wasn't that out of sight?"
"They listened to melodies by musicians unseen, and from somewhere unknown."
The Adventures of Uncle Jeremiah and Family at the Great Fair by Charles McCellan Stevens, Chicago, Laird and Lee, ©1893
A Wonder Never Built
The last paragraph of The Examiner's 1891 article about the Electric House describes what would have been another wonder if it had been built as proposed.
The Examiner, San Francisco, April 24, 1891
The proposed facsimile figure of Adelina Patti with a phonograph inside her was never built. Patti did make a recording circa 1890 but it has been lost and its title is unknown.(2).
However, an Edison phonograph was used inside a large figure of Uncle Sam, and it did deliver recorded speeches promoting Hub Gore Shoes.
Postcard showing Uncle Sam promoting Hub Gore shoes at the 1893 Columbian Exposition with an Edison Phonograph providing his sales 'speeches.'
UNCLE SAM'S SPEECH.
Victor Advertising Brochure 1906 - "Does daily experience yield anything more wonderful than this?"
Witchery and the magic of photography ran parallel in popular culture with the phonograph. The Ladies' Home Journal, June 1913
Edison Home Phonograph, Model A with 14" horn known to modern collectors as a "Witches Hat Horn" circa 1904 (courtesy Technogallerie)
The Music of the Spheres. All Music is its Province.
Munsey's Magazine, October 1897
"Most Wonderful of All..." the phonograph playing music "in your own parlor!!!"
The Talking Machine World, November 15, 1909
The "most wonderful of all" in the above ad ends with hearing the "Sextette from "Lucia" in your own parlor!!!"
FACTOLA: In Mari Sandoz's "recollection" short story The Christmas of the Phonograph Records her father's extravagant and much anticipated Phonograph is delivered to their isolated homestead in western Nebraska just in time for Christmas. The first cylinder record they play is the Sextet from Lucia. Mari remembers that moment of hearing Lucia as "what still seems to me the most beautiful singing in the world."
"Like turning Iron into Gold"
The talking machine has been transformed by Edison into "a beautiful musical instrument." The Booklovers Magazine World, 1905
"Like Turning Iron to Gold," McClure's Magazine, 1905
Edison's Genii of Entertainment, rising from an Edison Gold Moulded Record, Form 690, September 1905
See The Edison Phonograph Monthly for the announcement of this new form
The Edison Phonograph Monthly, February 1907
"The Loftiest Flight of Inventive Genius," American Magazine, February 1906
The Gateway to One Thousand and One Entertainments, Collier's, 1908
"the mystic, weird machine... summons spirits of the past for our delight"
The Phonograph - Our Genii counterpart serving our least command!
The New Phonogram as reprinted in The Talking Machine World, September 1911
The Wizard Phonograph, ca.1911
The Wizard Phonograph was made by the International Phonograph Company in Newark, New Jersey around 1911. "The design was an attempt to avoid patent infringement problems with Edison. The "Wizard" name was an obvious reference to Edison, who was known as the Wizard of Menlo Park." Photo and text courtesy of MusicalTreasuresofMiami.
The Gateway to a Thousand-and-One Entertainments, 1916
"it can improvise at call a concert-platform on which the magicians of music appear...The Gateway to a Thousand-and-One Entertainments" 1916 (PM-2014)
"Unsightly winding crank can now be replaced with electric motor "to give you fullest possible enjoyment from your phonograph."
1918 The Magic of Motrola, 1918
A Magical Voice of Music, Country Life, September 1919
"Possess the Power of Aladdin" Cosmopolitan for January 1918
"Daddy Lew Lehr Tells a Story" Point of Sale display for his "See and hear" recording of "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp" circa 1948
"For 1,001 nights and even more..." Stereo Wholesalers ad, 1973
"The exciting 1942 Magic Brain RCA Victrola! "An amazing new way to play records." The Magic Tone Cell recreates records with brilliant tone fidelity...and the sensatonal Magic Tone Cell adds to record life..." Built in "Magic Loop Antenna" in the RCA Victor Super-Six radio." The Magic Brain does all the work -- you just sit back and listen!"
California Magic Carpet postcard (front and back) advertising LP record by the UC Berkeley California Band and Glee Club, 1955.
'...you can always have a front-row seat for a complete program of California songs and yells..."
The Three Suns on a Magic Carpet, Victor LPM-2235, 1960
"...here's your chance to fly now and be enchanted forever. You'll be travelling first class all the way, on a magic carpet borne aloft by the artistry of the inimitable Three Suns...On this trip time, space and music are fused to perfection."
"Climb aboard this album and you'll travel in spirit as well as in space -- no surprise when you remember you're on a MAGIC CARPET."
Also noted on the back cover: IMPORTANT NOTICE -- "MIRACLE SURFACE" This record contains the new revolutionary anti-static ingredient 317X... -- Text from back cover of The Three Suns LP album).
Immortality and the Phonograph's Promise to its Artists and the World.
Recorded voices are immortal. That is the essence of the Phonograph’s wonder and its revolution. Victor used the phrase “Victor Supremacy” for decades and it was primarily meant to convey its supremacy of technology and of its recording artists. But it also may have been a claim of Triumph over the ephemeral - Supremacy over mortality - Preservation of culture for Posterity - “Art perpetuated for all time.”
"Jenny Lind is only a memory, but the voice of Melba can never die." Life Magazine, March 1918 (Courtesy of Hagley Digital Archives, David Sarnoff Library digital collection)
Victor artists who have passed are placed on this memorial style plaque ad with the names and the word "Victor Immortals - The Victrola has transformed their art into a living reality that will endure for all time." 1922 (PM-2037)
In the beginning it was a Wonder...and now?
In 1912 Chicago Tribune John T. McCutcheon published a cartoon titled "Things Don't Seem Wonderful If You've Seen Them All Your Life." The cartoon "shows a young mother and father and their toddler child. The parents are impressed with a racing automobile, a phonograph, a wireless (radio) tower, an aeroplane, and a color moving picture show, while the son is disinterested. In the last panel he is excited and amazed at a goat cart."
The second panel is the phonograph scene of amazement expressed by the parents while the young boy plays with his dog.
Panel from 1912 cartoon by John T. McCutcheon
It's a good reminder that wonders are replaced by new wonders and new generations take for granted what amazed a previous generation and often call early versions of those wonders antiques.
For Friends of the Phonograph recorded sound and the machines that first captured and played those sounds will always be remembered.
The 1906 Victor brochure had it right: "Many common things become wonders if we know how to look at them, and many wonders become common things just because we do not keep the wonder of them alive."