This is the story of Eldredge Reeves Johnson, the man who built the Victor Talking Machine Company, one of the most successful phonograph companies at the time. (The word “phonograph” there links to the wikipedia entry for “gramaphone record” for the young’uns.) The article tells not only the events of Johnson’s success story, but also explains how the phonograph records were made.
The Victor company is the largest buyer of shellac in the world — which is easily believed when one sees the yards and yards of doughy stuff being kneaded in the cauldrons. It is pliant and thick, and is passed over the rollers just exactly as if it were a particularly black sort of dough.
When it has been kneaded enough it is put through a machine which flattens it out and cuts it into squares just large enough to make a record disk. It lies, smoking and cooling, on a big rolling board for all the world like a singularly uninviting kind of cake. In a couple of minutes it has cooled enough to be touched and taken up to the room above.
There stand men before a heated copper table. The black cake is put on the table for a few seconds to get warm and pliant again, (it is as hard as a rock when cold); then it is folded into a mold and put in a hydraulic press, with a pressure of 3,000 pounds to the square inch. In half a minute it is taken out, all ready except for a little trimming of the edges.
We took the little square we had followed, slipped it into a talking machine, and the ugly black thing that five minutes before had been smoking in a cauldron had become “The Spring Song.” It takes about five minutes, not more, to work this modern miracle.
The article goes on to describe how these records are recorded to begin with, which is interesting to read.
Even if you never heard of Victor, you still might know the logo, which is based on a painting called His Master’s Voice. The Victor Talking Machine Company later became RCA Victor and then part of RCA Records, which now belongs to Sony Music Company.
HOW A MAN WITH AN IDEA MADE MILLIONS IN TWELVE YEARS: A Little One Room Shop Earning Ten Dollars a Week Becomes Fifteen Acres of Industry Earning $30,000,000 a Year. (PDF)
From August 28, 1910
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