The Phonograph and Its Future

Probability: Books


Books. -- -- Books may be read by the charitably-inclined professional reader, or by such readers especially employed for that purpose, and the record of such book used in the asylums of the blind, hospitals, the sick-chamber, or even with great profit and amusement by the lady or gentleman whose eyes and hands may be otherwise employed; or, again, because of the greater enjoyment to be had from a book when read by an elocutionist than when read by the average reader. The ordinary record-sheet, repeating this book from fifty to a hundred times as it will, would command a price that would pay the original reader well for the slightly-increased difficulty in reading it aloud in the phonograph.




For the sick or well

1905 - Entertainment in bed - Sick or Well




Doctor's prescription for a severe case of grouchitis: a Victor Talking Machine

Panel from New York Review cartoon promoting the Landay Bros. as the leading distributors of the Victor Talking Machines and Records in Greater New York. (The Talking Machine World, July 1910).




Julian Hawthorne, the son of Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in 1888 with enthusiasm about the phonograph's future stating that its possible effects upon literature are where "imagination finds its broadest opportunity. A spoken literature instead of a written one, a library full of human voices...Let us invest in our Phonograph-Graphophones with as little delay as may be."

"The Human Voice in Literature" by Julian Hawthorne

Description of the Phonograph and Phonograph-Graphophone by their Respective Inventors-

Testimonials as to their practical use, 1888, New York






1910 postcard by Villemard predicting how the newspaper will be heard on a phonograph record in the year 2000.




Kiddie stories "told in the author's own voice." Columbia records, The Talking Machine World, March 15, 1918


The Talking Machine World, May 15, 1919




The Talking Machine World, May 15, 1919


Published by Talking Book Corporation, Illustrated by C.M. Burd


Inside cover of Mother Goose Talking Book.

The Mocking Bird - Talking Book Corporation 1918

"Relief from the tedium of the sick room" with music from the Talking Machine.

The Talking Machine World, June 1915


Library of Congress authorized in 1931 to administer books for those with vision loss

"The Pratt-Smoot Act of March 1931 authorized the Library of Congress to administer a project in which selected libraries would "serve as local or regional centers for the circulation of books" to adults with vision loss. Eighteen libraries were chosen to distribute the books, and the Library of Congress selected fifteen titles to be brailled. This was the beginning of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped." See the American Foundation for the Blind AFB for details of confidential letter suggesting the use of phonograph records and the authorization of funds in 1933 for talking books.

"We will not only have to build up a library of phonograph records, but we will have to provide thousands of blind people with inexpensive talking machines." The legal question that also must be answered "is whether a book is still a book when it is printed on phonograph records."

Here is some history of the "Talking Books" project as described on the National Library Services webpage (1):

"Finally, in 1933, AFB produced two types of machines – one spring driven and the other a combination electric radio and phonograph. A durable record was perfected, recorded at 150 grooves to an inch, so that a book of 60,000 words could be contained on eight or nine double-faced, twelve-inch records. The turntable ran at 33-1/3 revolutions per minute, which permitted thirty minutes of reading time on each record. By 1934, the talking book was developed and the number of reproducers in the hands of blind readers was sufficient to justify using part of the congressional appropriation for purchasing records." (1)

"The 1934 annual report of the Librarian of Congress, the Library's first order was for the following titles:

The Four Gospels

The Psalms

Selected Patriotic Documents:

Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States Washington's Farewell Address and Washington's Valley Forge Letter to the Continental Congress. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Lincoln's First and Second Inaugural Addresses.

Collection of Poems


As You Like It, Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Sonnets.

Fiction: Carroll: As the Earth Turns Delafield: The Diary of a Provincial Lady Jarrett: Night Over Fitch's Pond Kipling: The Brushwood Boy Masefield: The Bird of Dawning Wodehouse: Very Good, Jeeves." (list from Chapter 10, The Talking Book, AFB)

"The Library’s appropriation did not at first include funds for machines; they had to be purchased at a cost between thirty-five and sixty dollars, either by the blind person who desired to borrow the recorded books or on his behalf (as was frequently the case) by philanthropic organizations." (1)


Robert B. Irwin, AFB Executive Director, demonstrates the Talking Book machine to Helen Keller in the Helen Keller Room at AFB (photograph courtesy of Talking Book Archives, American Foundation for the Blind. Circa December 1935)



Photo courtesy of The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled


"In spring 1962 the Library of Congress began ordering talking books for juveniles recorded on ten-inch records at 16-2/3 rpm, and all talking-books ordered after January 1963 were recorded on 16-2/3 rpm records. This smaller, slower-speed disc provided forty-five minutes of recorded time on each side of the record, thus reducing the number of records required for each book. The savings effected by the change of speed were used to increase the number of copies of each talking book that could be produced and to add five popular magazines to the talking-book program.

In 1969, magazines began to be recorded at 8-1/3 rpm, and the recording of all disc talking books at 8-1/3 rpm began in January 1973. Use of these slow recording speeds made it possible to include almost twice as much material as on a disc of corresponding size recorded at 16-2/3 rpm. Savings thus effected allowed for an increase in the number of copies issued for each title selected. Since fewer records were required for each book, readers and librarians could handle, store, and ship the ten-inch, 8-1/3 rpm records much more easily and economically than the larger, bulkier records." (1)

An excellent timeline and Chronology of Developments in the National Program is also on the NLS webpage.



Examples of Digital Audio Books available in 2020 for free from National Library Service

"Enchanting excursions into storyland..." read by "familiar voices of beloved personalities..."

The Saturday Evening Post, 1946