The Phonograph and Its Future

Probability: Advertising, etc.


Advertising, etc. -- This class of phonographic work is so akin to the foregoing, that it is only necessary to call attention to it.
The phonograph by its very nature could speak for itself. The fact that the phonograph could capture the human voice and that consumers could buy such a machine and record their own voices was an early selling point.

Munsey's, September 1896


This 1897 Berliner Gramophone emphasizes the human voice aspect calling it a machine that "Talks, Talk."

"Ask to hear the machine that "TALKS TALK" The Cosmopolitan, 1897


"Talk is Cheap!" The Phonoscope, February 1898


It Speaks for Itself!

Besides being a machine that 'talks talk,' the phonograph could advertise itself. George Graham recorded an advertisement for the Berliner Gramophone sometime before June 1896 (the recording is not available but here is the transcript).

In the Edison Trade magazine The Edison Phonograph Monthly of October 1904 under the heading "An Advertising Record" there was a letter published suggesting that it might be a good idea to create a "good talking record that would dilate upon the merits of your Phonographs and Records." The conclusion of EPM was that they would make a decision in the near future but would be glad to receive from the trade suggestions as to what such a Record should say to a crowd of listeners."

That record was eventually created and the January 1906 issue of The Edison Phonograph Monthly announced its availability for Edison dealers. In February 1906 Edison sent an offer to each Dealer entitling them to a copy of this record which "we are loaning the trade for use in connection with store exhibitions."The record was expressed prohibited from being sold or given away to the public and was being loaned to the trade for 'store exhibitions."

The following includes the 'dilated' merits of the Phonograph detailed in the "talk" by Len Spencer with a link to the recording "An Advertising Record" courtesy of the UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive.



Edison Form 935 Advertising Card - Delighted and Amazed 1905 (PM-2111)

"This famous painting is remarkable for the delight and amazement depicted upon the faces of the old couple upon their first hearing the Phonograph."


The success of this advertising record was noted in the March 1906 edition of The Edison Phonograph Monthly saying there had been so many requests for the Record that "we may make it over, eliminating the last sentence "Ask the Dealer," give it a number and title and put it into the regular catalogue as a talking Record."


The Edison Phonograph Monthly, February 1906


Other consumer products would use the phonograph as their own sales representative by recording messages that were heard on early coin-in-the-slot 'jukeboxes.' Located in hotels, ferry depots, railroad stations, saloons, and other public places this was an opportunity for a passerby to perhaps even hear a phonograph playing band music or recitation for free -- with its advertising message.

An early example of an phonograph's use as an advertising machine was Gramophone Record No. 641 "Advertising Plant's Baking Powder" recorded by George Graham in Washington, D.C on May 26, 1896


DeLand & Co Baking Power Tradecard - circa 1890 (By Unknown author - Collection of Lynn Purvis, Public Domain


The Phonogram in June 1892 (1) reported how Sapolio soap was using the public coin-in-the-slot phonographs as an advertiser.

"Go to Bloomingdale's and hear the sweet strains of George Gaskin's tenor pouring forth in fervid and sonorous eloquence the merits of Sapolio. Then returning, perhaps, to your Staten Island home, stop at the ferry and listen to Meyer's baritone, which tells you in rythmic rhyme why Sapolio will bring life and youth to its patrons. It is enough to make one buy tons of soap to hear the soft cadences of these great singers pronouncing eulogies on this commonplace yet useful article, and we congratulate the owners of Sapolio on the novel method they have recently adopted to win and entrance the public."

Sapolio's print advertising, as seen in a later 1908 Sapolio ad, would also take advantage of its relationship with the phonograph, this time with the image of the phonograph 'speaking' its advertising message.


"Not all Talk," ad for Sapolio Soap, Appleton's magazine, 1908


The Phonogram article titled The Phonograph Becomes the Great American Advertiser (2) described how free entertainment was being provided by advertisers such as Mulligan's cigarettes.

"In a prominent position in the immediate vicinity of the Staten Island ferry an ingenious person has placed one of the Edison phonographs, and on it there is a legend which states that any one may hear a verse of a popular ballad, free of cost, by simply turning a crank. This invitation is accepted with enthusiasm by the people at large, and about once a minute a victim steps up with a smile and starts the machine.

The following gem is a sample what he hears:

"Oh, the minstrel boy to the war has gone,

And when at night he sets

In the camp-fire light, he don't feel right

WIthout Mulligan's cigarettes.

Thus the phonograph becomes an advertising medium of no small calibre, for it attracts and amuses."



Trade card showing Uncle Sam promoting Hub Gore shoes at the 1893 Columbian Exposition with the automaton using an Edison Phonograph to "talk." (Beacon Lith Co. Boston, 1894) (PM-0650)

Monthly Statement Hub Gore Makers. December 18, 1897

Courtesy of The Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Archives, Smithsonian Institution


The Phonogram, November 1902


Columbia made a special advertising record in 1913 with one side a sample of Columbia Recordings and on the other side "Good Night, Little Girl, Good Night" sung by Henry Burr for the special price of 25 cents (as opposed to their normal price of 65 cents.

Courtesy of Discogs



The Phonograph as Resume, Advertiser, and Entertainer

In an 1896 Letter to the Editor of Printers' Ink it was reported that the East Atlanta Land Company had recently been looking for an auctioneer. They heard of Mr. W. O. Beckenbaugh who had successfully handled the auctioning of buildings after the Chicago World's Fair and they wrote to him asking for testimonials of his qualifications. In response Mr. Beckenbaugh sent several 'samples' of his voice and style which he had transcribed on cylinder records. He was immediately hired. The land company, however, went further by placing some phonograph machines in public spaces throughout the city. Amused crowds were apparently intrigued to listen to these mock sales which also announced the date and place the actual auction was to take place.

As a result "one of the largest auction sales of suburban property ever know in the history of the city occurred a day or two later."



The Printers' Ink - A Journal for Advertisers, April 29, 1896 p. 28


Records throughout the years would be used to promote the phonograph with demonstration records providing music, evidence of the quality of its recordings or other product information.


Listen to the Demonstration Record advertising the Zenith Micro-Touch 2G Tone Arm and other Demo Records.


Demonstration Record for GE Stereo Phonographs



1964 Chevrolet Demonstration Record - a musical message from "Ben Cartwright"


Friends of the Phonograph's favorite site of flexi discs is Michael Cumella's Internet Museum of Flexi-Cardboard/Oddity Records includes its gallery of Advertisement Flexidiscs.


Bozo advertising record for Fedder's Air Conditioners (Courtesy THE INTERNET MUSEUM OF FLEXI/CARDBOARD/ODDITY RECORDS)



The "Our Song" Phenomenon describes the phenomenon of hearing song that can remind you of a moment or an event from the past. A song is often designated by a 'couple' as an "Our Song" because of its shared significance.

Advertisers have used this understanding of how music and memory work together and have made music an important part of building a brand's name and elicting emotional responses to consumer products and services.

Early advertising phonograph records were made for coin-in-the-slot machines where you could hear a song for free if you first listened to the product's "message" part of that record.

But what probably wasn't recognized by advertisers right away was how important the song itself would be for their product and how closely a song could be associated with a product just by hearing a few bars of that song. Anyone growing up watching the "Lone Ranger" would know immediately what was about to begin when they heard the first notes of Rossini's William Tell Overture.

The Far Side - Courtesy Gary Larson


Likewise, the following are a few examples of products that have established close associations with a song.

George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and United Airlines.

Bob Seger and his "Like a Rock" for Chevrolet trucks.

Cadbury's Dairy Milk Chocolates and Phil Collins' In the air tonight

Apple iPod - iTunes - Jet - Are You Going To Be My Girl