Memoir of my Career at Victor Talking Machine Company
by Harry O. Sooy
January 1, 1909, with an increase of salary, I was made Chief of the Recording Staff, and made responsible for all mechanical work, under Mr. C. G. Child.
The Victor Company being in possession of the Zonophone Comrany at this time, it was decided in January that we would record the records that were to be marketed as Zonophone records. These dates were being carried on as specified in the Laboratory Day Book and Diaries, and continued thru the duration of the Zonophone existence.
During January and February, this year, Raymond Sooy had his second foreign recording trip, it being to Cuba to make a new repertoire for the Islanders.
February 15th to 18th, 1909, Chas. Sooy and I were in Washington, D.C., making records of the U.S. Marine Band. The recording was done in “Weller’s Hall,” on the corner of 8th and I Ste., S.E., opposite the Marine Barracks, which was then used as a lodge room.
June 1 and 2d, we moved the Recording Laboratory in New York from 234 Fifth Avenue to 37-39 E. 28th St.
From June to September, inclusive, I was laid up with Typhoid Fever. Mr. Child, manager of the Laboratory, had just left for Europe when I was taken ill, and I can recall early in June when I was trying to get some work out for Legal purposes, Mr. C. K. Haddon called on the ‘phone to make inquiries concerning same, I answered the ‘phone, and he was much surprised to know I was in the Laboratory owing to my condition; he called me to his office and demanded of me to go home and stay there until my family physician said I was able to report for duty. The Victor Company was very considerate of me during this illness, as I have found them in most all cases. (p. 42)
October 2, 1909, Raymond Sooy made a record of Dr. Cook as to how he discovered the North Pole. After completing this record of Dr. Cook’s it was listed in the Victor Catalog, but because of the many protests against Dr. Cook by the public, the record was withdrawn from the catalog. And, I believe, many purchasers of this record made by Dr. Cook were allowed to return them, or exchange for other records, as he became very unpopular. Dr. Cook was to have made this record sometime before (Ray being selected to do the job) but he did not keep his appointment.
November 18, 1909, after recuperating from Typhoid Fever, we moved to 205 Myrtle Avenue, Merchantville, N.J., the property which we had purchased. (p. 43)
On Sunday, January 2, 1910, Commander Robert Peary came to the Laboratory at Camden, which was shortly after his return from the frozen North, and made a record of his own successful discovery of the North Pole. The first attempt to make the record on the above date was not just satisfactory, so Comm. Peary returned to the Camden Laboratory on February 14th, this year, and remade the record of how he discovered the North Pole. The second attempt was successful and the record was accepted and listed in the Victor Catalog.
Early in January, after the Victor Company had purchased the Zonophone Company, Henry J. Hagen was transferred to the Victor Laboratory to do Experimental work, having been previously employed by the Zonophone Co., and on January 31, this year, he was put on the recording staff. He was to act in the capacity of traveling recorder for the Export Department, but he filled in with the recording staff while at home.
From January 20th to May 5th, 1910, Raymond Sooy was on a recording repertoire for the Victor Co. to Buenos Aires, S.A., this being the second recording repertoire in this country by the Victor Company.
January 3, 1910, we secured the services of John McCormack, tenor, for making Victor records.
June 11, 1910, Fritz Kreisler, violinist, made his first records for the Victor Company.
June 26, 1910, William Borton started work in the Laboratory Machine Shop, he being formerly employed in the Engineering Department. He continued his services in this capacity until November 3, 1913, when he resigned by request.
November 6, 1910, Mischa Elman, violinist, joined the ranks of Victor Artists. (p. 44)
November 7, 1910, V. E. Stackhouse was transferred to the Laboratory Machine Shop and continued in this position until some years later when he was transferred to Mr. Owen of the Research Department.
During November and a portion of December, this year, I was on my second recording trip to Mexico City, accompanied by Mrs. Sooy. The first trip we made to Mexico in 1907 I thought things were very nice and harmonious, but this trip was quite different, as the Mexican Revolution broke out while we were there. On November 5th the Mexicans started demonstrations against the Americans, stating their reason as being a protest against the execution of a Mexican in Texas for outraging an American woman. But, this proved to be all sham as I learned later that November 16 was set for the Mexican Revolution to overthrow the Diaz Government. They started their demonstrations against the Americans to get the greasers whipped into line. November 6, they took the furniture from the St. Francis Hotel and burnt it in the street. On November 8 they showed their ill breeding by coming in masses to the Porters Hotel, where we were stopping. As a matter of fact, a party of us Americans were wondering that evening in the dining room why they had not shown any demonstrations against the Porters Hotel, which was strictly American; in fact, we were somewhat disappointed.
As I had some writing to do that evening, Nov. 8, Mrs. Sooy and I excused ourselves after dinner and went to our room. After entering our room, Mrs. Sooy stepped out on the small balcony, and, glancing up the street, she exclaimed “Here comes a whole mass of people, I guess there must be a parade”—I stepped to the door leading to the balcony, and took her by the arm, asking her to come into the room quickly, then I closed the door and turned out the electric light, by that time the howling mob was in front of our hotel. They stoned the place furiously, breaking nearly every window of the hotel, but none of the Mexicans attempted to enter. In the hotel lobby there were many Americans, old timers in Mexico City and vicinity, who sat with (p. 45) their guns lying across their laps, waiting for something to start, but the mob was finally dispersed by a company of cavalrymen. Immediately after they were driven away from the hotel, they went around the corner to the American Grocery Co. store, smashing in same, taking everything they could carry and leaving the place a wreck. From the Grocery Co. store they went to Sanburn’s Drug Store, where they demolished it, and they kept on circling around the block until they finally came back to Porter’s Hotel again.—They were again driven away, and twelve mounted officers were kept on duty in front of the hotel for ten days to keep order. It was understood three men were killed in the street mob in front of the hotel that night, Nov. 8th, and two policemen badly injured.
I recall a Mexican Guitar teacher by the name of Ynyes, who was giving our salesman, Mr. Therrien, lessons on the instrument, and was at the hotel when the demonstration occurred; this fellow was scared pink, and, for fear he would be seen or recognized by some of the mob, he sat on the back stairway of the hotel during the entire demonstration.
Those demonstrations of hatred against the Americans did not affect my work of making the native records, which I was sent there for, to any great extent, although, I had a large American flag stretched in my working Laboratory. It seemed as long as I had the money to pay them for the records they made I got by very well, and, after finishing a number of records from a Mexican duet team by the name of Rosales and Robinson, they invited Mr. Therrien and me to the Rosales home to have a real Mexican dinner with then. With the present feeling existing, we hesitated, but finally accepted. It proved to be a dinner in appreciation for the work we had given then. I would not, at this time, attempt to quote the menu, but I do recall they had plenty of Chile con carne and their native beverage, “Pulque,” the latter being a sap from their native plant called “pulque plant,” and. looks very much like poor milk, but it ferments very quickly and becomes intoxicating. (p. 46)
The Victor Company, of course, learning of this trouble while I was in Mexico City, cabled me a number of times suggesting I leave the vicinity immediately whether I was finished with my recording repertoire or not. But, I decided there was no necessity for immediate hurry and remained until finished with my repertoire, after which Mrs. Sooy and I took the train for U.S.A., via Loredo, which was, we learned, the only R.R. leading out of Mexico that had not been torn up. The train was heavily guarded by soldiers all the way to the border, and, believe me, we were glad when we crossed the Rio Grande into Texas, U.S.A.
I may add that on one Sunday, during our stay in Mexico, we saw the first Mexican Derby, which President Diaz was trying to introduce to take the place of the bloody and inhuman Bull Fighting.
I recall on December 28, 1910, we had an important engagement with Mr. Caruso, and I was notified at the very last minute that one of the selections he was to make was to have a piano introduced with the orchestra for the accompaniment; therefore, it was necessary to do some hustling around and locate a piano tuner, which was difficult on short notice. After telephoning a number of piano stores in Philadelphia, with little or no prospect of getting a tuner, I finally called Blasius’ Store. It so happened they were able to send a tuner over to the Laboratory the following morning, which listened [sounded] very good to me. Then I asked Mr. Abe Levy, one of the clarinet players of the orchestra, to be at the Laboratory the next morning at the appointed time with his clarinet to give the piano tuner the proper pitch, that the piano might be tuned exactly with the orchestra. The piano tuner reported first and introduced himself as Mr. Wreckenveg, and upon Levy’s arrival we told him (Levy) the tuner was here and he could go right in and get the tuning started. Levy replied he would do so just as soon as he could get his clarinet warmed up to the temperature of the room. I supposed everything was going along nicely, but to my great surprise a short time after (p. 47) Levy had arrived the piano tuner came to my office with his overcoat and hat on—I said “Hello, finished already?” His reply was “No, I refuse to tune the piano.” I asked him what the trouble was and he said “The clarinet player assaulted me.” Well, I could not see how this could be from Abe Levy, so I said to Wreckenveg “Come back to the room with me and we will see what this is all about.” So, I got Levy and Wreckenveg together, both strapping big men, and neither could slide a word in edgewise—I could see blood in the eyes of both, so I decided my only move was to get what information I could from each individual, and let Wreckenveg go back to Blasius’ Office, then call them on the ‘phone and explain just what had happened, but it simmered down to this.— Wreckenveg, the tuner, would not accept the pitch from Levy, saying he had tuned pianos before Levy was born, and Levy replied “You’re one of those damned, thick-headed Dutchmen without reason.” After this remark the piano tuner picked up a chair in the room and started for Levy, and Levy punched him straight on the jaw, knocking him in a heap under the piano. The fall of Wreckenveg broke three piano keys and the piano stool, and also the piano tuning. Levy felt very sorry that such a thing had happened, especially in the Victor Laboratory, but he said it was one of two things—“I had to get him or he would have gotten me.”
Even at this late date, I was finally successful in getting another tuner, and had everything in readiness for the date.
From December 29, 1910, to February 21, 1911, Henry Hagen was in Cuba making a repertoire of Victor records for the Islanders, this being Hagen’s first recording trip abroad for the Victor Company. (p. 48)
James J. Conaty, an errand boy in the Laboratory Office, was transferred to work in the office of H. O. Sooy. He did general clerical work for the Recording Department, and remained in this capacity until February 26, 1917, when he was transferred to the Sales Department under Mr. Shartle.
After completing the work of adding three more stories to the building at S.W. corner of Front and Cooper Streets (known as Building No. 15), on March 13th we moved the Recording Laboratory from the fourth to the seventh floor. The first date (or records made) after moving to the seventh floor was with Reed Miller and Reinald Werrenrath, tenor and baritone.
March 15th we made our first records of Mme. Luisa Tetrazzini, soprano. These records were made in our new quarters, seventh floor, Building 15.
March 3d and April 5, 6 and 7, Henry Hagen and Charles Sooy were sent to Atlantic City on little excursions to make records of Vessella’s Band.
March 22d Alma Gluck, soprano, made her first records for the Victor Company, and became an exclusive artist.
November 20th to June 11, 1912, Henry Hagen and Charles Althouse were on a recording expedition to Buenos Aires, Argentina, S.A., for the Victor Company, making native records for that territory. This was the second recording trip that Althouse had made to foreign territory, but after considerable globe trotting, you will see, later on, after a lapse of ten years, he was chosen to go to Buenos Aires to manage the plant known as the Pan American Recording Company. (p. 49)
January 1, 1912, the Laboratory Experimental Machine Shop was placed solely in charge of H. O. Sooy, and the Shop has proved to be of great value to the Recording Department.
March—Frederick L. Maisch was added to the Laboratory Staff as machinist, having been transferred from Department “A.”
March 10th—Champ Clark, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., came to the Victor Laboratory at Camden, N.J. and made some records of political talks to be used for campaign purposes. The first record he made consisted of two short talks entitled: 1– Payne and Aldrich Bill a Humbug, and 2– Clark Opposed to Automobiles at Public Expense.
April 29th—I journeyed to Indianapolis, Indiana, with the instructions to make records of some poems by the author, James Whitcomb Riley (the Hoosier Poet). On my arrival at Indianapolis, I got in telephone communication with Mr. Riley at his home on Lockerbie Street, a very quaint and unassuming street just one block long. He asked me to come out to see him that we might talk over the problems of making records. Upon my arrival at Mr. Riley’s home I was very sad to see him almost an invalid, after having an attack of paralysis, affecting his entire right side, and, naturally, leaving him in a very weak condition.
After our talk regarding the making of the records, I returned to Mr. Riley’s home the next day with the recording paraphernalia, at which time I found it necessary, and did, make the records there in his home by having him recline in an easy chair. This was accomplished by having the recording machine movable, permitting me to place the recording horn very close to his face while in a reclining position. Mr. Riley’s voice was, of course, very weak, so much so that I felt the records would not have commercial (p. 50)
value, which proved to be quite true after I had returned and they were manufactured. The first selection Mr. Riley made was that familiar poem of his, “An Old Sweetheart of Mine.”
After some discussion by the Company over these finished records of Mr. Riley’s, he was informed they did not have commercial value owing to their lack of volume. Mr. Riley then requested having me come out again to Indianapolis to try again, so I was instructed to make over the records in June. This time I took Mrs. Sooy along with me. After our arrival at Indianapolis, we secured quarters in the Claypole Hotel, and found Mr. Riley somewhat improved in health, and determined to make good.
I, on this trip, persuaded Mr. Riley to come to the hotel to make the records. The second engagement of recording started June 7, 1912, and continued 8th, 9th and 10th—p.m. only, as Mr. Riley had his automobile ride habitually every morning for recreation. And, while we were there on the trip, he would stop regularly at the hotel and insist that Mrs. Sooy and I accompany him on these automobile trips.
We always found Mr. Riley to be in a jovial spirit, and a real entertainer even in his broken health. I recall one morning, while riding with him, we had a blow-out, which, naturally, made quite a report, and Mr. Riley exclaimed— “My God! They pop just like pop-corn don’t they?”
After our auto ride and luncheon, Mr. Riley came to our hotel each afternoon until we had finished our recording. I am very sorry to say he was too ill to make a good record of his voice. Although a few of Mr. Riley’s records appear in the Victor Catalog, they are not as good as we aim to have Victor products, but very few people understand just why they are not good; the foregoing is self-explanatory. (p. 51)
I have a set of Mr. Riley’s works, which he gave me, and, needless to say, they are prized very highly.
Mr. Riley’s death occurred July 22, 1916.
Friday, September 20th, I left for Emporia, Kansas, to make records of Theodore Roosevelt, the Victor Company having previously made an appointment. I left Philadelphia via Pennsylvania R.R., with full recording outfit, and, by a close connection at Chicago, September 21st, after bribing many baggage men to get my luggage through, I caught the first train out of Chicago on the Santa Fe R.R. for Emporia, arriving at my destination Sunday, September 22d, 1:30 a.m. After my arrival at Emporia, I went at once to the Bartlett Hotel and engaged quarters, turning in for the balance of the night. On Sunday morning, September 22d, I arose early and arranged the recording paraphernalia in preparation for Mr. Theodore Roosevelt’s arrival at the hotel to make the records, he being very busy owing to a campaign tour he was making of the country.
I well remember the arrival of this distinguished statesman at the little Hotel Bartlett in Emporia, Kansas. He was absolutely worn out from his long journey, and somewhat impatient, and he showed displeasure because the little country hotel did not have an elevator, therefore, making it necessary for him to walk up one flight of stairs to my suite of rooms. Then Mr. Roosevelt arrived in our quarters, where we were prepared to make records of his voice, he threw his hat over on the small dresser, which comprised a portion of the furniture in the room, and I, knowing his time was valuable, naturally, started right on with the work of making the records.
The Colonel made one record of a political talk entitled “The Liberty of the People,” after which he picked up his hat and started for the door. Then
(p. 52) it became my duty to tell Mr. Roosevelt that my instructions from the Victor Company were to make a least four records of his voice, which, I supposed, must have been agreed upon. After this, he threw his hat back upon the little dresser and exclaimed “I don’t know what to talk about.” Finally, his secretary, a Mr. Roosevelt also, suggested he give us a talk on Archibald and Penrose—“A good suggestion, a good suggestion” he remarked.
After having finished the four records of political talks, he was asked about making a non-political record, that his voice might be preserved for future generations. Mr. Roosevelt’s reply was “No, I don’t care a damn about the preservation of my voice, no, I would not think of such a thing.”
Colonel Roosevelt was then on his way to fill other engagements on his campaign tour. I also left Emporia, Kansas, that night with the records in order to have them manufactured and hear the finished products as soon as possible.
September 24th—While I was in Emporia, Kansas, making records of Colonel Roosevelt, Raymond Sooy was sent to New York to make records of political talks by Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey, which were for campaign purposes. The first record the Governor made was entitled “Governor Wilson on the Third Party.” On November 3d, this year, Mr. Wilson was elected President of the United States.
Henry Hagen, a member of the Recording Staff, was taken ill during August, and died at his home on West Cedar Avenue, Merchantville, N.J., September 29th. Mr. Hagen, up to the time of his death, was a traveling recorder, and had just recently returned from an extended trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina, S.A.
October 1, 1912, was the second time Mr. William Howard Taft made records. The records were made in his Beverly home, Massachusetts. Charles Sooy was (p. 53) selected to make this trip, and all the records made by Mr. Taft were political talks, or campaign speeches.
This was the second time Mr. Taft made Victor records, and the ones made this date were to replace the numbers in the Victor Catalog which were recorded at Hot Springs. Virginia, during August, 1908. (p. 54)
During January, 1913, Frank S. Rambo succeeded Henry Hagen as a member of the Recording Staff of the Victor Company, to act in the same capacity as Hagen—traveling recorder for the Export Department.
Rambo started on his first recording trip March 1, 1913, to Havana, Cuba. Rambo not having had any foreign recording experience, the Victor Company requested H. O. Sooy to follow Rambo to Cuba on the S.S. Havana, sailing March 8th, to instruct Rambo as much as possible that he might gain the knowledge in his duties of Export Recording. Mrs. Sooy accompanied me to Cuba, and we returned with Rambo on the S.S. Saratoga April 2d.
Early in January we started to make dance records by the Victor Band, which were demanded by the public. We followed these records up pretty closely for some time, but there seemed to be quite a lot of dissatisfaction with them, or, at least, they did not meet the approval of the public as we thought they should. Although many of the records had been approved, as to music and tempo, by some of the leading dancing masters, or teachers, of large cities, for some reason, which we could not determine, they were not just what the public wanted, and the public seemed unable to tell us just what the disappointment was.
Then we started to make some Orchestra dance records with our own organization, but with very little, or no more satisfaction to the public, although, we still continued to make these records for dancing, and had scouts out trying to ascertain just what the public wanted for dancing. We kept plugging along with our organization until, and after, the McKee Orchestra and Trio were engaged in 1914.
From March 7th to April 1st, 1913, Mr. and Mrs. H. O. Sooy were in Cuba, I being sent there to instruct Frank Rambo in the duties of Export Recording. (p. 55)
On July 13th, Frank S. Rambo and Charles S. Althouse sailed for Lima, Peru, via the Panama Canal, to make a repertoire of Peruvian records for the Victor Company, this being the first trip we made on the west coast of South America. After finishing recording in Peru, they made their shipment of records back home for manufacture, and we had Rambo and Althouse go back to Panama from Peru, and there change steamships and proceed to Central America, up the Magdalena River to Bogotá, Colombia, where they made records of the natives for that part of the world, it being also the first and only time to date that records were made in this territory by the Victor Talking Machine Company.
Rambo and Althouse returned from this trip December 11th. This proved to be Rambo’s last recording trip, as he returned very much run down in health, and in February, 1914, he was given some time off owing to his ill health. He was later sent to Albuquerque, New Mexico, by the Victor Talking Machine Company, to try to regain his health. Rambo returned in 1916, and died July 25, 1917.
November 3, 1913—Wm. J. Borton, who was employed in the Laboratory Machine shop, left the department by request this date, owing to some misunderstanding.
November 13, 1913—Marcus Olsen was transferred from the Engineering Department and took up the duties in the Laboratory Machine Shop to fill the vacancy left by Wm. J. Borton.
November 26, 1913—I was made a member of the Recording and Matrix Committee. This committee meets weekly for the purpose of reporting the work during the week, and also to discuss the mechanical problems which may arise pertaining to the two departments. (p. 56)
On March 16th, 1914, Oscar J. Clair joined the ranks of the Laboratory Staff as a Recording Experimentalist, having been transferred from the Engineering Department. Mr. Clair was on November 27, 1915, loaned to the Research Department to assist them with Government Experimental Recording. He was returned to this department September 12, 1918.
April 29, 1914 —Ignace Jan Paderewski made his first piano records for the Victor Talking Machine Company.
After searching for outside organizations to make dance records for us, we secured the services, and made records, of the McKee Trio and Orchestra in July. Their records proved to be successful, and were accepted more favorably by the public than any other dance records made up to this time. Waltzes were the favorite McKee numbers for dancing at this time, and two of the most popular numbers made by the McKee organization were “Cecile” and “Millicent.” The McKee organization made records for us up until September, 1916, when Joseph C. Smith and His Orchestra fell in line with the public’s approval.
During the summer of 1914 the Talking Machine Jobbers’ Convention was held in Atlantic City. This body consisted of dealers from all parts of the country. The Victor Company, of course, naturally felt it was up to them to entertain the dealers during their stay in Atlantic City, so they conceived the idea of having motion pictures made of the entire plant and its working departments, that the Company might show the dealers on the screen the exact procedure of manufacturing Victor machines and records. The motion pictures were made by Lubin and Company of Philadelphia.
After many days of photographing throughout the plant, I was notified the photographer would do the Laboratory photographing June 19, 1914, and that I should be prepared to have a picture made of the artists while singing the “Sextet from Lucia” for a record. I had (p. 57) the recording paraphernalia all in readiness the morning of June 19th, and we met the artists at the ferry, bringing them to the laboratory in automobiles. They were photographed on their arrival at the Laboratory Building, then we proceeded to the Recording Rooms, seventh floor, Building No. 15, where the picture was made of the artists rendering the “Sextet from Lucia” for a record. The artists were Olive Kline, Marguerite Dunlap, Harry Macdonough, Lambert Murphy, Reinald Werrenrath and Wilfred Glenn. After making a picture of the artists rendering the “Sextet,” the photographer came in the operating room and made a picture of what he and many others thought was the actual procedure of recording a record, but this mechanical work was arranged specially for the motion pictures, with Yours Truly at the machine.
After the photographing was finished in the Laboratory, the talent, with the Victor Orchestra, were taken to Front and Cooper Streets, where the Victor Company had a concert platform constructed on the southwest corner, and. all the employees, representing about 10,500 in number, were marched out with their respective departments, pictures being continuously taken of the march. The employees were then assigned to their respective positions, taking up the larger part of Johnson Park, and making formations both east and west from Front Street on Cooper Street, and north and south on Front Street from Cooper Street, after which the artists rendered a few selections while pictures were being taken of the whole massed group of Victor employees.
This moving picture proved to be quite a surprise, as well as educational and interesting to the multitude of dealers.
October 3, 1914, we made a record of Hon. Joe Russell’s speech nominating Champ Clark, Speaker of the House of Representatives, for President. (p. 58)
On February 11th, I, accompanied by Raymond Sooy and Marcus Olsen, two members of the Recording Department. took a recording equipment to Independence Hall, Philadelphia, and made a record of the Taps of the Liberty Bell (tapping being done by Mayor Smith of Philadelphia) which were transmitted by wire to San Francisco, Cal., as the official opening signal of the Pan American Exposition. Don’t ask me whether or not the liberty Bell sounds like a bell, because I shall tell you “It does not.”
In the spring of 1915 the new office building was started on the northwest corner of Front and Cooper streets, known as Building No. 2, Executive Offices.
We had considerable trouble while this building was being erected, owing to the hoisting engines, pile drivers, riveters etc., which interfered with the recording so much that we found it necessary on many engagements to have the building operations stopped, during the record making period, due to the many noises being recorded in the records. Many of the records we were obliged to throw away because of this trouble. Finally, we had to use Recording Room No. 2, which is located on the Front Street side of Building No. 15; this eliminated a lot of our difficulties.
November 16th, Frederick L. Maisch started to work in the Recording Department as a member of the Recording Staff.
December 11th, we made two personal records for Mr. W[alter]. J. Staats of his family’s voices. Those participating, or speaking, in the records were Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Staats, Walter Staats, Jr., Margaretta Staats, Jr., Sarah Rambo, Julia Rambo and Janet Rambo, the latter being Frank Rambo’s little daughter. These records were finished and pressings forwarded by the Staats’ family to Frank S. Rambo as a Christmas present while he was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in search of health. (p. 59)
On February 1, 1916, the Victor Talking Machine Co. appointed H. O. Sooy as Manager of its Recording Departments, in charge and responsible for all mechanical work in connection with the Departments to Mr. B[elford]. G. Royal.
Pryor to February 1st, my title was Chief of the Recording Staff, in charge of all mechanical work in the Recording Laboratory, being responsible to Mr. C[alvin]. G. Child, Manager of the Department. Following my appointment, Mr. Child moved to his quarters in the new Executive Office Building, fourth floor.
February 7th, 1916, J. H. Dobbins was transferred from the Accounting Department to the Recording Laboratory to take up duties as secretary to H. O. Sooy, and the general clerical details of the Recording Department.
March 21st, W. N. Runyon, New Jersey State Senator, made a personal record entitled “A Perfect Day,” with piano accompaniment by Rosario Bourdon. Mr. Runyon being quite popular in the New Jersey Senate, this record was made as a favor, and I believe pressings of same were distributed to the Senators, many of the Senators being present while the record was made.
In an effort to make organ records, we took our recording apparatus and equipments to the Estey Recital Hall, 25 West 45th Street, New York City, and made some records of their big demonstration organ on March 25th. After hearing the records, they were deemed unsatisfactory, so I had some additional equipment made, namely, sound conveyers, and then went back to the Estey Recital Hall on Sunday, April 9th, accompanied by C. E. Sooy and M. Olsen, and made more records of the demonstration organ; these proved to be more successful. We also had another Sunday session with this organ work on June 18th. Although two of these records were listed (p. 60) in the Victor Catalog, they were not just satisfactory products of the Victor Company.
Mr. George K. Cheney succeeded Frank Rambo as an Expert Recorder, he being engaged by the Victor Company. For sometime, when he was not abroad on recording trips, he had headquarters at Front and Linden Streets.
On May 29th, 1916, I was instructed to take over Mr. Cheney as a member of the Recording Staff to fill the position of traveling, or Export, recorder. He was also to do Domestic recording when and where we could utilize his services while at home.
September 1st, Walter B. Rogers, Musical Director of the Victor Talking Machine Company, resigned this position and severed his connection with the Company. Mr. Rogers was one of the very earliest musicians to be employed in the Laboratory.
Mr. Rosario Bourdon succeeded Mr. Rogers as Musical Director until Mr. Josef A. Pasternack was secured.
Joseph C. Smith was engaged and made the first Smith Orchestra dance records September 25th for the Victor Company. The renditions by Mr. Smith’s Orchestra seemed to be even more pleasing to the Dance Public than those of any dance organization we had so far, and this made us all feel good, because pleasing the public, naturally, was our meal ticket. Joe Smith successfully made one steps, fox trots and waltz records for the Victor Company from the time he started up to, and including, the early part of 1922.
September 29th, William J. Linderman, who had been previously employed in the Accounting Department of the Victor Company, was transferred this date to the Recording Laboratory, and made a member of the Recording Staff in the capacity of Assistant Recorder. (p. 61)
The services of Josef A. Pasternack were secured as Musical Director for the Victor Talking Machine Co., and he directed his first engagement for record making on October 16th, the talent being Reed Miller, tenor.
Mr. Pasternack succeeded in having the Orchestra increased some five or six musicians; this was tried for one year, but at the expiration of this time the extra musicians were dismissed, not being considered beneficial enough to maintain.
October 30th, 1916, we made our first records from Mme. Amelita Galli-Curci, soprano. (p. 62)
In the evening of January 1st, I, accompanied by Charles Sooy and Jack Linderman, took a recording paraphernalia to the Billy Sunday tabernacle in New York City, which was, of course, while Billy Sunday was conducting his revival meetings there, and made some records of his chorus, consisting of twenty-five hundred voices, under the direction of Homer Rodeheaver. We made the records in the tabernacle that evening under very trying difficulties. The chorus was, indeed, wonderful, and was wonderfully trained by Rodeheaver, but the results of the records were only fair, although, two of them were listed in the Victor Catalog.
January 19th we moved the New York Laboratory from 22 West 37th Street to 46 West 38th Street, 12th floor. The first date in our new quarters on 38th Street was with Reed Miller and Fred Wheeler, vocal duets.
February 26th, 1917, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band made their first records for the Victor Company. Incidentally, this was the first time the Victor Company made records of the real “Jazz” and “Blues” type of music for dancing, and, believe me, they were fully all that “Jazz” and “Blues” imply.
The first records made by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band were “Livery Stable Blues” and “Dixieland Jazz Band One Step.” These were followed by “Tiger Rag,” “Skeleton Jangle” and others of similar character, making a very big hit with the public, particularly those who liked “Blues” dance music.
March 3d George K. Cheney and Charles S. Althouse sailed from New York on the “S.S. Tennyson,” Lamport and Holt Line, for Buenos Aires, Argentina,
S.A. After finishing recording in Buenos Aires, they crossed the Andes Mountains to Chile, and returned by the west coast, stopping off at Bolivia, (p. 63) Peru and Ecuador, where they made records for the Victor Company, and then came back through the Panama Canal, returning November 24th, 1917.
April 6th, 1917, United States declared war on Germany.
On May 5th we made a series of ten-inch records, containing lessons on wireless telegraphy by a Mr. Chadwick, who used the Marconi code. Wireless operators were in great demand at this time and all during the war.
On Sunday, May 6th, while the Barnum and Bailey Shows were in Philadelphia, we were curious to make some trial records of their calliope, which they used in conjunction with their band. Arrangements were all made for this date, and we sent one of the Victor motor trucks to the circus grounds on Sunday morning, which was just after a very hard rain storm, to bring the calliope to the Recording Department. They had loaded the instrument in the truck and were about to leave the circus grounds for the Laboratory when they found themselves stuck in the soft mire to the hub, therefore, the date was delayed until late Sunday afternoon. However, the venture did not prove satisfactory, and our work was for naught.
June 5th was set by the United States Government as National Registration Day for Selective Draft Service, twenty-one to thirty years of age. This day was declared a holiday.
In the morning of June 14th there were ceremonies held in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, for the benefit of the first United States Liberty Loan Drive, after war had been declared on Germany. (p. 64)
During these ceremonies, the Liberty Bell was tapped thirteen times by Mayor Smith of Philadelphia, representing the thirteen original states of the Union.
With the hope of stimulating interest in this first Liberty Loan Drive, the Victor Company was induced to make a record of the tapping of the old Liberty Bell, so we journeyed to Philadelphia and made a record of the thirteen taps this date, June 14th, but I may add that, as far as bell tone was concerned, the taps were failures.
In the afternoon of this same day, June 14th, we made a record in the Laboratory of the ceremonies as they were held in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, that morning. The intention was to have the record we made in the Laboratory doubled with the record of the thirteen taps of the original Liberty Bell.
The record made in the Laboratory consisted of the following:
On June 20th the Victor Company gave its first concert in the Auditorium, eighth floor, Executive Office Building, for the benefit of the Red Cross Drive, which was then being carried on throughout the nation. (p. 65)
July 1917, we started to make the first Large Symphony Orchestra records. On July 23d, Mr. Pasternack got an orchestra together consisting of 51 musicians. The rooms in the general recording department not being large enough to carry on this work, I was permitted the use of the 8th floor, auditorium, Executive Office Building.
After the engagement of July 23d was finished, and we had heard our results, another date was set for September 21, 1917. At this engagement we had eighty (80) musicians under Mr. Pasternack, after which we felt quite sure commercial records could be made of Symphony Orchestras.
These dates were carried on to ascertain just what could be done with Symphony Orchestras, as an engagement was booked with the Boston Symphony Orchestra October 2, 3, 4 and. 5th, 1917, when the first Victor recorded symphony orchestra records to be listed were made. (p. 66)
On October 2d we had our first engagement with a large Symphony Orchestra, it being with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Karl Muck. The Orchestra consisted of one hundred musicians, and the records were recorded in the Auditorium on the eighth floor of the Executive Office Building.
The services of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra were secured for Record Making in October this year. The first engagement we had with this organization was on October 22d, 1917, in the Auditorium on the eighth floor of the Executive Office Building, the Orchestra under direction of Leopold Stokowski.
On October 30th I accompanied Mr. R. L. Freeman to Washington, D.C., for an interview with Majors Seibert and Lewis of the U.S. Physical Examination Department, Aviation Corps. This interview was in regard to making records and a device for testing the hearing of applicants.
After completing a device, which we thought to be quite efficient, on November 26th we returned to Washington with the rough device for the purpose of giving Majors Seibert and Lewis a demonstration. The demonstration was made in Droop’s Music Store, 1300 G Street, N.W., and was pronounced by the officers as very satisfactory. And, by request of Majors Seibert and Lewis, the apparatus was left with them to take up with higher Government, or Army, officials, who were to make a final report. Just what happened to the apparatus I am unable to say, but we never heard anything further from it. However, after our return, we continued with the work and improved considerably on the device for testing hearing, and it proved to be very accurate.
After returning on November 24, 1917, from an. extended recording trip thru South America, Charles S. Althouse, one of the boys of the Recording Staff, enlisted in the U. S. Army November 28th, resigning his position to go in the service for Uncle Sam. He returned to his position in the Laboratory June (p. 67) ___.
At the closing of the year, 1917, which was the year following my appointment as Manager of the Recording Departments, I was, of course, anxious to know about how the year’s work tallied with some of the previous years’ work in the department, and, upon making comparison with the work done in the year 1910, found the following:
Trials, experimental and foreign recordings were not included in the above summaries. (p. 68)
On May 24th, this year, occurred the death of Evan Williarns, tenor, Who was a Victor Artist. His last engagement at the Victor Laboratory was November 16, 1917, and the last selection he made was an old Welsh selection entitled “Y Deryn Pui”’ (The Dove).
During this spring there was a campaign drive launched throughout the country for the Red Cross Fund. The Victor Company, following its usual custom of responding to these drives, staged a concert in the Auditorium of their Executive Office Building in the evening of May 25th, in behalf of the Red Cross.
The talent for this concert consisted of the entire Victor Orchestra; James H. Heron, patriotic recitations; Mabel Garrison, soprano; Howard Rattay, violinist; and Clarence Whitehill, baritone.
During the gloomy days of the World War, especially when the wounded boys of the American Army were being brought back from the battlefields of France, the Victor Company did a great deal to amuse the boys by donating many Victrola machines and records. That is not all—they gave many concerts, using their own Orchestra which is under exclusive yearly contract with the Victor Company for recording purposes. And there were also many of the artists who make records exclusively for the Victor Company that were very generous in this work.
I, personally, was very much interested in this work of amusing and helping the wounded and sick soldiers at the Base Hospital, Camp Dix, N.J., therefore, I was naturally called upon both by the Victor Talking Machine Company and the Red Cross to put the concerts over. (p. 69)
January 17th the United States Government ordered all business establishments to close for eight days, starting January 18th, and also to close every Monday thereafter for a period of ten weeks. This order was issued for the purpose of conserving coal, the shortage being very acute owing to the war.
January 19th to March 4th, 1918, Geo. K. Cheney and William J. Linderman were in Havana, Cuba, making records for the Victor Company for that territory.
To take care of the necessity for quarters containing rooms large enough in which to do Symphony Orchestra recording, etc., the Victor Company purchased the Trinity Church Building, 114 North Fifth Street, Camden, this being the best available place. The building was put in order, and on February 27th I reported it was ready for operation, after which we made records of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, Victor Herbert’s Orchestra, the La Scala Orchestra of Italy and other organizations.
On April 22d William J. Linderman, a member of the Recording Staff, joined the ranks of Uncle Sam’s Army and went to France to fight the Hums. Before leaving, Mr. W. J. Staats gave Linderman a Victrola, which he had the honor of taking to the front, not only for his own and buddies’ amusement, but he loaned this Victrola to many Field Hospitals at the front for the amusement of the wounded soldiers and sailors. The Victrola was brought back to the United States by Sergeant Linderman, still in working condition, but looking very much the worse for wear.
Sergeant Linderman was with Headquarters Company, 307th Field Artillery, and one of the Victor records most enjoyed by this company was “My Old Kentucky Home” by Alma Gluck. The Company’s request, after disbanding, was that this record be presented to Mme. Gluck. Complying with this request, Sgt. Linderman had the record beautifully framed, and made the presentation personally in behalf of the buddies of his company. Linderman returned to his position with the Victor Company Jun. 9, 1919. (p. 70)
On July 26th, 1918, the first concert was given the convalescents in the Red Cross Convalescent Building, Base Hospital, Camp Dix, N.J. The talent at this concert comprised the entire Victor Orchestra, under the direction of Josef Pasternack; Elsie Baker, contralto; and Wm. II. Reitz, xylophone. All talent service was volunteered, and the entire party taken to Camp Dix in automobiles donated for the occasion by Victor employees.
This concert we found to be a great treat, indeed, to these boys, who had heard practically no music of any kind since joining the ranks of the U.S. Army. (Subsequent concerts given will appear under their respective dates.)
In the troublous days of the World War, when every loyal citizen was trying to do his bit for Uncle Sam, our loyal and good Victor Company, feeling that their products were somewhat of an unessential nature, plunged into War Work to the extent, I understand, of about eighty per cent of the entire plant, the government constantly pushing them for production.
Skilled labor shortage was growing more acute all the time; therefore, the Victor Company was obliged to take from the Recording Laboratory on September 12th, 1918, the following men, who were placed in various departments of the plant to do war work: Raymond H. Sooy, Charles E. Sooy and Frederick L. Maisch, three members of the Recording Staff; and Marcus Olsen, John Yeager, George Murray and Russell Chafey of the Laboratory Experimental Machine Shop. This, of course, caused a decided decrease in both the Recording Staff and our Experimental Machine Shop, and naturally resulted in a. reduction of our monthly supplements of records.
But, just as soon as armistice was signed on November 11th, 1918, all government work ceased and the bunch came flocking back to the Laboratory to take up their former positions and duties. (p. 71)
The dancing craze kept growing, and. on September 20th, this year, we started to make records of the All Star Trio—this organization consisted of piano, saxophone and xylophone—with the intention of giving the public a variety of dance organizations. This one proved to be quite popular, and played mostly one steps and fox trots with very good results. The Trio continued to make records until January 25, 1921, when they added an orchestra, and the organization is now known as All Star Trio and Their Orchestra.
November 11th, 1918—During the wee hours of the morning, we were aroused by numerous whistles of all descriptions from every direction, which told us that the Armistice had been signed. We, at Sooy’s home, arose at, or about, four a.m., and, after putting the Stars and Stripes on the flag staff, and getting a cup of coffee, which consisted my breakfast, I jumped into the automobile and rushed to the Laboratory where I made a record of the Peace whistles at 5:45 a.m. This record was never listed in the Victor Catalog, but I have a pressing which I prize very highly and am keeping for historic reference.
November 11th to 18th there was a United War Workers’ Campaign Drive, which represented the Red Cross, Y.M.C.A., Salvation Army, Knights of Columbus and Jewish Welfare organizations. On November 14th the Victor Company gave a concert in their Auditorium for the benefit of this drive, using all Victor talent as follows: The entire Victor Orchestra, under direction of Josef A. Pasternack; Charles Hart, tenor; Rosario Bourdon, cellist; Wilfred Glenn, bass; Shannon Male Quartet; Elizabeth Spencer, soprano; Francis Lapitino, harpist; and Arthur Fields, tenor, comic songs. Talent services were all donated.
December 6th, Lieutenant Commander Stone of the U. S. Aircraft Service made a recitation, or speech, pertaining to the Aircraft workings, which was used, or reproduced, at a dinner in his behalf at Washington, D.C. (p. 72)
On December 29th, 1918, the Victor Company gave its second concert at the Base Hospital, Camp Dix, N.J., for the convalescents. There was a decided change made in the talent program from the first concert given in July, this year.
The talent for this concert were Billy Murray, comic songs; Monroe Silver, comic songs and monologues; Wm. H. Reitz, xylophone; and Rosario Bourdon at the piano. All talent services were volunteered, and the party taken to Camp Dix in automobiles donated by the Victor employees. (p. 73)
January 1st, this year, a Record Testing Committee was appointed and instructed to meet weekly for the purpose of testing all records recorded during the preceding week, both Red Seal and Black Label for the Domestic Catalog, and to maintain the highest musical and mechanical standard possible.
March 7th, after finishing with the Aircraft work for the U.S. Government at the Victor Plant, Commander F. G. Coburn, U. S. Navy, made a record which consisted of a talk on Aircraft Efficiency, and his associations with the Victor Company while the work was being carried on.
On June 1st, Mr. Royal instructed me to test all the records listed in the Domestic Catalog for mechanical defects, and to make reports on them, recommending those records which should be cut from the catalog, or remade, owing to mechanical deficiencies. The testing started on June 12th, 1919, and was completed in, or about, June, 1920.
During the fall of 1919, the Pope’s Vatican Choir, under the direction of Raffaele Casimiri, made a tour of the United States. The choir consisted of thirty-six men and seventeen boys, making a total of fifty-three voices. The Victor Company engaged this choir to make some records; therefore, on October 9th, they came to Camden for the purpose of making a few records before starting west. Deeming it necessary to have plenty of room to do this work, I arranged for them to go to the Church Building, 114 North 5th Street.
The choir arrived at the Church Building in sight-seeing automobiles from Philadelphia, where they were stopping, but before entering the old church, where they were to make the records, they hesitated, and it was only after we had exercised considerable persuasion, and they had crossed themselves many times, that we managed to got them to go in, after which we made two selections. The choir then left for the (p. 74) West, agreeing to stop and make the final records after their return, or before sailing, but they never did return to the Victor Company’s Plant. It is an interesting fact that some of the boys of this choir were so small they carried little toys with their for their own amusement.
Just a word about our Victor Lunch Club, where the bunch—roughnecks and others—meet for mid-day lunch. The Lunch Club was originally started in one of the old dwelling houses on Cooper Street, in which a Chef was employed. It became so popular that when it came time to raze these old dwellings to make room for the new Executive Office Building on the northwest corner of Front and Cooper Streets, the Victor Company built the present Lunch Club Building, located on Front Street above Cooper, or adjacent to the Executive Office Building, in which there are rooms on the second floor for the office force. On the first floor there is a room for the Directors, a Guest Room and a room for department heads, the latter having many tables, but there is one table I must make particular mention of, it being a large table prepared in the center of the present dining room, having a seating capacity of about fifteen, although, sometimes, I think there are twenty squeezed in about this table. This table is known as the “Roughnecks’ Table,” at which I am glad to have a stall. During the lunch hour at this table all the topics of the day are discussed, and many other things which I would not care to put in writing.
Oh, yes! There are many complaints, but when someone asks the Roughneck Table for a donation for some worthy cause, especially at Christmas time, they all dig, and dig deeply. For instance, in December, this year, when the Base Hospital at Camp Dix was filled with wounded soldiers shipped back from the battlefields of France, a suggestion came up at the Roughneck Table to give these wounded boys a treat. That was enough, in about twenty minutes we had. $225.00 in cash and sixty cartons of Camel Cigarettes. With (p. 75) this cash we had the Club’s Chef purchase the following for the sick in the Base Hospital, Camp Dix, N.J.: Six crates of oranges, four crates tangerines, eight crates apples, 24 dozen individual glasses of jelly, three 3-lb. boxes figs, twelve pounds dates, sixty pounds mixed nuts and eight and a half dozen Victor records donated by the Company, and magazines were also donated by the score.
Well, after all this donation had accumulated, consisting of nearly a truck load, H. O. Sooy was selected to see that same was personally delivered in the various needy wards of the Base Hospital, Camp Dix, N. J.
The Victor Company was, as usual, kind enough to donate a truck to transport the goods to the Hospital, and I took two other men with me. Upon our arrival at the Hospital four soldiers were assigned to help us; we loaded stretcher bearers’ trucks that were used in the Hospital and visited each ward, delivering the donations personally to the wounded and sick soldiers.
We found this to be some task, but were fully repaid for our trouble by witnessing the great pleasure it brought to these wounded and sick soldiers of the World War. (p. 76)
The third concert was given to the convalescents at the Base Hospital, Camp Dix, N.J., by the Victor Talking Machine Company on March 18th, this year. The talent participating in this concert were as follows: The entire Victor Orchestra; Miss Olive Kline, soprano; Miss Elsie Baker, contralto, these two artists singing solos and duets; Alfred Lennartz, cello; and Wm H. Reitz, xylophone. All talent service was volunteered, and the artists were transported to Camp Dix in automobiles supplied by employees of the Victor Company.
On May 14th, Mr. Leopold Auer, who in his earlier days was considered one of the best violin teachers the world had known, and who turned out such pupils as Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz and many others of note, came to the Camden Laboratory this date and made a personal record of his playing on the violin for the purpose of giving his pupils one of his records as a token of remembrance.
August 9th, this year, was the start, or first date, of making records with Paul Whiteman and his Ambassador Dance Orchestra, as the organization was then called. Mr. Whiteman and his Orchestra came to the Camden Laboratory from the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City, where they were then playing.
Two of the first selections made by this Orchestra were entitled “Avalon,” a twelve-inch record, and “Whispering,” which was a ten-inch record. These two selections, or records, seemed to appeal to the masses, both the dancing and non-dancing classes. From the very first listing of these two selections the public went wild with enthusiasm. The style of Whiteman’s playing and the musical arrangements seemed to be the last word in dance records, as they created quite a furor in the entire dance world, both foreign and domestic. As an evidence of the popularity of this Orchestra, other dance orchestras throughout the world are copying his style. (p. 77)
Paul Whiternan’s Orchestra, like many other artists, finds what the Laboratory Staff calls “Jonah” numbers to record; for instance, it was necessary for Mr. Whiteman’s organization to repeat, or play, one selection twenty-two times for us before we secured a satisfactory master record; however, these occasions are rare. We feel to-day that Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra are supreme in popularity as a Dance organization.
The last concert given the convalescents at the Base Hospital, Camp Dix, N.J., by the Victor Talking Machine Company was on December 11th, this year. Even though all the previous concerts were greatly appreciated, I think this particular one excelled, and, incidentally, we had some noted guests in the audience, including General Summerall, Commander in Chief of Camp Dix, and Mrs. Summerall.
The talent officiating at this concert were the Victor Famous Eight, which consisted of Peerless Quartet, Campbell and Burr, duets; Henry Burr, solos; Billy Murray, comic solos; Bob Willett, monologues (substituting for Mr. Monroe Silver); Fred Van Eps, banjo; and Frank Banta at the piano. All talent service was volunteered and the artists were taken to Camp Dix in automobiles.
After the concert General Summerall personally met all and expressed his appreciation and thanks for this wonderful work, and later on I received the following personal letter of thanks from General Summerall:
There were similar concerts given by the Victor Company to the boys of the Navy in Philadelphia, which I (H. O. Sooy) did not attend.
During the fall of 1920, the La Scala Orchestra of Milan, Italy, consisting of ninety-five musicians under the direction of Arturo Toscanini, made a tour of the United States. The Victor Company secured the exclusive record-making services of this organization, so on December 17th, this year, we started and made a repertoire of Victor records from this Orchestra. (p. 79)
The La Scala Orchestra was made up of green Italian musicians and we found it very difficult to make them comprehend just what we wanted them to do for record making, and we, the Recording Staff, were not sorry when the engagement terminated. However, they returned to Italy in the spring, but not until after the sailing of the steamship on which they had booked passage, for some cause, was delayed or postponed on two different occasions, which prolonged the recording engagement, as the Victor Company thought it better to keep them engaged, fearing if they had open time they might sell their services to some other recording company. (p. 80)
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