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Figure 1 (p. 3)-Edison and his improved tinfoil phonograph: Washington, D.C., April 18, 1878.

The Victor Talking Machine Company

chapter one
Scott and Edison

Mr. Leon Scott (de Martinville) is generally credited with having been the first to demonstrate, in 1857, that sound could be recorded. However, it would appear that Chladni and Duhamel, in 1809, and Eisenmanger, in 1836, produced somewhat similar results in Paris. At any rate, Scott attached a stubby hog's bristle to a flexible diaphragm and found that when this was brought into contact with a revolving cylinder smeared with lamp black, a straight line would be registered if everything were quiet. By the same token, if sound was thrown against the diaphragm, a wavy line would be registered. He also found that any given sound would always produce an identical wavy line. This is as far as he got. He called his invention the "phonautograph" and the recordings "phonautograms."

Sound is Reproduced

During August of 1877, Mr. Edison demonstrated that sound could be reproduced as well as recorded. He had originally become interested in the general subject when, as an inexperienced telegraph operator, he devised a contraption which enabled him to take down the messages by punching dots and dashes on a tape. Later he would re-run the tape more slowly and transcribe the message at his convenience.

The story goes, that he found that when the speed was increased, instead of retarded, a musical effect was produced. Mr. Edison is also reported to have said that while holding a telephone mouthpiece in his hand during a test, he noticed that vibrations caused the diaphragm to press against his hand. From this he got the idea that it might be possible to record telephone messages for both sending and receiving. With this in mind, he constructed a device very much like Scott's, except that the cylinder was enwrapped in metal foil and had helical grooves (about 10 to the inch). Recordings were made by the use of a metal pin attached to a flexible diaphragm. As the cylinder was rotated under the speaker, the foil, stretched over the grooves on the metal cylinder, was indented. The recording would be reproduced by playing it back against a "sound box" in place of the recording unit. The metal foil could be removed and replaced.

At the time, it was considered miraculous that the human voice could be reproduced, and the development created a sensation. The process, from any other point of view, left much to be desired. The resistance offered by the metal foil to the embossing point modified both the tone and the volume. The deeper the stylus tried to indent the foil, the greater the resistance it encountered. (p. 1)

At one time, Edison's priority to having invented the phonograph was challenged. It seems that Charles Cros, a Frenchman, had filed a paper with the Academy of Science in Paris on April 30, 1877, describing an almost identical "process for recording and reproducing audible phenomena." However, the contents of the paper were not divulged until December 3, 1877, which was after the Edison machine had appeared. Edison's original conception was dated August 12, 1877. However, a British patent had been filed for him on July 30, 1877. His first patent in the United States was filed February 19, 1878.

On April 24. 1878, Edison set up a company known as the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company with offices in New York and a small plant in Norwalk, Connecticut. The product was extensively exhibited by demonstrators who were sent out for this purpose to many cities. It was also used as a prop for lecturers.

During the next eight years or so, Mr. Edison was preoccupied with the incandescent lamp and, consequently, paid little attention to his Phonograph. However, around 1887, the improved results obtained by Bell and Tainter of the Volta Laboratory sparked his interest once more. Using a wax cylinder, he developed an instrument which gave much better results than his original invention even though the volume was still thin. Bell and Tainter promptly claimed infringement and sued.

The Edison Phonograph Company

On October 8, 1887, the Edison Phonograph Company was organized. About three weeks later, Mr. Edison assigned many of his patents to the new company, but shortly afterward sold it to Jesse H. Lippincott who had previously acquired exclusive rights to rent and sell the Graphophone from the American Graphophone Company under the Bell and Tainter patents. Mr. Lippincott organized and assigned the sales rights to both the Phonograph and Graphophone to the North American Phonograph Company. About 30 sub-companies, having a combined capitalization of nearly $30,000,000, were organized to sell and lease these machines in various territories. However, the North American Phonograph Company became insolvent about three years later (May, 1891). Mr. Lippincott died soon afterward and the North American Phonograph Company was thrown into a receivership. This created a serious situation for Mr. Edison since the North American company held all rights to the Edison product. This was not fully corrected until January 24, 1896. just about a month before Eldridge Johnson first saw the Berliner Gramophone. At this time, Mr. Edison bought the remaining assets of the North American Phonograph Company and organized the National Phonograph Company. (p.2)

(Figure 1)

While activities in the Edison product were naturally very much hampered in the early 1890's, Mr. Leon F. Douglass, who was to become an important factor in Victor's early history, reports that he: (1) developed a spring motor which Mr. Edison accepted somewhat reluctantly in 1891 or 1892, (2) had charge of the Edison exhibition at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893-94. making $30,000 for Mr. Edison and $3,000 for himself, and (3) invested his $3,000 to set up the Talking Machine Company of Chicago which distributed the Edison Product from 1894 until 1904 when Victor acquired control. The other initial directors of the Talking Machine Company of Chicago were Charles Dickinson, a seed merchant, and Henry Babson, who was to become one of Victor's largest stockholders.

The Search For a Formula

It was obvious from the first that the materials used in recording blanks were of the greatest importance. To obtain smooth reproduction, it was essential that the blank should have an even texture; that it should be structureless; that it should not be too hard nor yet too soft; that it should not be subject to injury by reasonable heat or cold; that "feathering" from the recording process could be removed without injuring the recording; and that it should take a mirror-like polish.
It is easy to understand, accordingly, that as satisfactory formulae were developed, they became valuable properties and "top-drawer" secrets. From the large number of possible ingredients, Hughbanks says that Edison's initial formula was as follows:

Burgundy 50%
Frankincense 25%
Colophony 9%
Beeswax 8%
Olive Oil 4%
Water 4%

This critical area soon became a field in itself. The skillful mixing of wax and shellac with other materials quickly established such internationally known experts as Mr. Joseph Sanders. (p.4)

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