The history of this make is most
interesting and deserves to be told in detail.
Invention played a relatively minor role in the evolution of the Gramophone. It
was mostly a series of painstaking refinements of existing processes and of
fantastic publicity through prestigious recordings that helped propel the
Gramophone to its widest audience. Good sales organization and a rapidly growing
network of factories in all the major countries quickly established the
GRAMOPHONE COMPANY as a world leader.
Invariably, at the bottom of every late
nineteenth century industrial undertaking there is one man. In this case, that
man was born in Hanover in 1851 and his name was Emile Berliner. Reaching the
United States very young, he tried many jobs including that of secretary. His
various jobs led him from New York to Washington. The young man was interested
in science, and spent his evenings reading in the public libraries. With his
modest savings, Berliner set up a little laboratory and conducted experiments.
His first work concerned telephones, newly invented by Alexander Graham Bell.
Returning briefly to Europe, Berliner, with his brother Joseph, started a
factory for the manufacture and marketing of telephones. The TELEPHON FABRIK
BERLINER at Hanover soon proved of crucial importance in the history of the
GRAMOPHONE COMPANY. When Berliner returned to Washington in 1883 he began
patiently probing into the phonograph and its origins. Starting from a study of
the Phonautograph, Scott de Martinville's device, then the writings of Charles
Cros, in which the two possibilities of recording on disc or cylinder are
considered, Berliner became interested in the patents taken out by Edison in
1878 and finally began work on the discoveries of Bell and Tainter. Possibly to
avoid clashing with established processes, Berliner focused his attention on the
flat disc, which seemed to him full of promise.
The importance of Emile Berliner's work concerns the recording of sound by
laterally cut grooves on a flat disc. By 1887 his process was in use. It was
known as Phonogravure. Instead of tin foil as used by Edison, Berliner employed
a circular zinc plate lightly coated with wax. The recording stylus scratched
away the wax leaving the metal exposed; the plate was then placed in an acid
bath, which attacked the metal where it was not protected by wax. In a way,
Berliner made etchings of the human voice.
A demonstration was held at the FRANKLIN INSTITUTE in Philadelphia in May 1888.
The results were satisfactory but not yet suitable for exploitation on a
commercial scale. Emile Berliner continued his experiments, and before long
succeeded in taking electrotype copies from his discs, which paved the way to
their reproduction commercially. The phonograph used by Berliner was primitive
in the extreme, operated by turning a handle, with a ball overnor to hold the
speed constant. Crude as it was, the machine was christened Gramophone, to
distinguish it from Edison's Phonograph and the Graphophone of Bell and Tainter;
it may well have been the toy-like simplicity of his machine that gave Berliner
the idea of manufacturing a toy gramophone during one of his trips home to
Germany. These toys were produced for some years, probably from 1889 to 1891.
The firm of Kammerer and Reinhardt, of Watershausen produced children's records
in several European languages under Berliner patents. Once back in America,
Emile Berliner found ways of improving his records and the means of taking
copies. The first commercial flotation was the UNITED STATES GRAMOPHONE COMPANY,
with offices at 1410 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., but without enough
capital for rapid expansion.
However, a very important event occurred during 1893: a young man joined
Berliner's concern, Fred Gaisberg by name. Having worked for some while with the
COLUMBIA PHONOGRAPH COMPANY, Gaisberg understood the technique of recording;
what is more, he was an excellent pianist, a fact which became very instrumental
later. The first records he was concerned with were: 1) The Lord's Prayer,
spoken by Berliner himself in a guttural voice and a heavy German accent, and 2) The Mocking-Bird whistled by John York Atlee 'accompanied
by Professor Gaisberg'. Primitive perhaps, but what collectors' pieces!
The quality of the recordings improved but the little hand phonographs did
not really satisfy their audience. Originally the nominal speed of rotation was
70 revolutions per minute, but it was not easy to prevent variations in pace.
Gaisberg therefore decided to call in a specialist and fit a clockwork motor to
his talking-machines. A young man named Eldridge Reeves Johnson (1867-
1945) was found, with workshops at Camden, N.J. It was from here that the first
gramophone motors emerged. By now Berliner had found the necessary capital, and
was at last able to launch the gramophone on a proper scale. This was at the end
Here it is worth remarking that the dynamic qualities of the team Berliner
had built up were largely due to their age. Gaisberg was young, Johnson 29,
Berliner himself an energetic 45. Starting from the bottom of the social ladder
these men all made large fortunes and reached the top. They became 'Gramophone
millionaires' — and they were by no means the only ones...
With more sophisticated machines and much improved records made of ebonite the
Gramophone was poised to take the world by storm. In the United States branches had been opened in New York and Philadelphia and recording
studios set up. The lateral engraving process had proved a great success, although it had one disadvantage vis a vis the cylinder system: it was not
possible for Gramophone users to make their own recordings. Sales, therefore,
had to be based on other considerations. This was where Fred Gaisberg came in
once more. Everything, he reasoned, would depend upon assembling an attractive
catalogue. He practised what he preached, travelling the world in search of
celebrities, and personally recording their voices: Adelina Patti, Dame Nellie
Melba, Caruso, Chaliapin... all the great names of grand opera and the concert
platform, even the choir of the Sistine Chapel in St Peter's, Rome.
Meanwhile subsidiary companies were floated, in England (1898), then in France,
Germany and elsewhere. This proved the big moment for Emile Berliner's brother
Joseph, whom we left in charge of the TELEPHON FABRIK BERLINER at Hanover. This
works now became the largest record factory in the world, pressing discs for the
entire European market. The original of every recording made by the
globe-trotting Fred Gaisberg was sent to Hanover, where all matrices were made
from which the millions of records were pressed. Another press works was set up
at Riga in Latvia on the Baltic, although records were never made there on a
The Gramophone technology evolved by Berliner and his team over a space of ten
years was never changed; it was simply improved in 1925 by the advent of
electrical recording. Although a late starter in the talking machine stakes,
Gramophone outstripped all its competitors.
We have already noted the importance given to performers' names in the
record catalogue. Prominence was given to famous composers and instrumentalists:
Massenet, Jean de Reszke, Paul Mounet, Reynaldo Hahn, Diemer, Ernest Reyer and
Raoul Pugno. Composers were specially commissioned to write pieces for the
gramophone, the best known of which became Leoncavallo's Mattinata sung by
Enrico Caruso, accompanied by the composer at the piano. But the real stroke of
genius came from London, where the GRAMOPHONE COMPANY had recently been formed.
Francis James Barraud, whose family was of Huguenot extraction, was born
in London on June 16, 1856. He studied art and developed into a very respectable
painter. One day in 1899 he painted a dog listening to records. 'If only poor
Nipper were alive he could have sat for me' he mused, but his terrier had died
in 1895. Barraud found an old photo. That is how Nipper was to become, post
mortem, the most famous dog in the world. Barraud had now to find a machine for
he never worked without a model. He chose an Edison Bell. When he had finished
his picture he offered it to the Edison people. Nothing came of this and Barraud
next contacted the GRAMOPHONE COMPANY. Barraud was received by Barry Owen, head
of the English operation, who agreed to purchase the picture on condition,
naturally, that a recordplaying GRAMOPHONE should replace the cylinder machine.
No agreement was reached there and then, but after an exchange of letters
and telegrams the matter was settled on September 15, 1899. A day or two
later, the Company delivered a Gramophone and Francis Barraud set to work,
complaining that no records had come with the machine. This was fair enough, for
how without one could Nipper recognize His Master's Voice?
Emile Berliner was shown the picture; he was impressed and took a copy home with him in May 1900. The agreement assigning the copyright in 'His
Master's Voice' was dated July 1900, but by this time Berliner's business
affairs were going badly. Eldrige Johnson took them over, and was shortly to
float the VICTOR TALKING MACHINE COMPANY, with the listening dog as its
trademark. Barraud's picture was used in advertising and on the machines
themselves; it did not appear on record labels until 1909 in Europe. Francis
Barraud received £50 for his painting and another £50 for the copyright; but he
also got many orders from GRAMOPHONE COMPANY (VICTOR in the U.S., THE GRAMOPHONE
COMPANY in Britain, and later of course His MASTER'S VOICE and H.M.V.) for
replicas of his picture, which made him a lot of money. He died in 1924, leaving
no great name as a painter, but one work which was famous all over the world.
There are photographs of Francis Barraud but so far as is known, no record was
ever made of his voice. Sales of records and gramophones continued
to mount. Gradually gramophones lost their external horns as these became part of the instrument,
around 1906. This in no way interfered with the sound, but it did have a
profound effect on the gramophone as a piece of furniture. Nowadays, the
financial structure of the group stemming from the GRAMOPHONE COMPANY is
entirely altered; but the famous dog trademark is very much alive.