[This note covers the "Phonograph" folders for both January-June and July-December 1916.]
This folder contains correspondence, reports, minutes, interoffice communications, and other documents relating to the commercial and technical development of Edison's cylinder and disc phonograph. Many of the items for 1916 pertain to efforts to continue record manufacturing despite war-related shortages of raw materials. There are numerous technical and administrative documents written by Edison engineers, experimenters, and company officials. Included are items by assistant chief engineer John P. Constable on a phonograph built at the Ford factory in Detroit and on the testing of phonograph components, by C. E. Fairbanks on diamond point production and phonograph inspection protocols, and by Zachariah P. Halpin on tests of reproducers and electric motors. In addition, there are documents by Archie D. Hoffman on chemical formulas for record composition and equipment for record blank manufacturing, by Harry T. Leeming on phonograph output projections, by J. W. S. Moss on mold production time reductions, and by William F. Nehr on chemicals. Also included are minutes prepared by Constable of the Manufacturing Committee meetings.
The documents relating to the business of the Thomas A. Edison, Inc. Phonograph Division include items written by division manager William Maxwell on training plans, artist coaching, relations with jobbers, advertising schemes, and the possibility of manufacturing cabinets and assembling phonographs in Canada. A few documents pertain to the introduction of "Period" model phonographs at the end of the year. A communication from Walter Stevens, manager of the Export Division, discusses the phonograph business in Cuba. Other Edison officials represented in the documents include chief engineer Miller Reese Hutchison and Carl H. Wilson, vice president and general manager of TAE Inc.
In addition, there are numerous incoming letters, some of which bear Edison's marginal comments, on song selection and desired musical styles (for example, Swedish, Hawaiian, and bagpipe). There are also references to sound quality issues, particularly surface noise, which Edison indicated was due to changes made in the chemical composition of the records as a result of the war. Many of the incoming letters contain suggestions for improvements to the phonograph (such as increased volume and automatic stopping), some of which were evaluated and reported upon by Constable or Kennedy. Attached to one of the incoming letters are instructions that all suggestions about inventions or improvements should be sent directly to Edison rather than referred to the Engineering Dept. "in order to avoid claims being made that Mr. Edison has appropriated devices submitted to him." Other subjects covered in the documents include attempts to purchase an old 1878 tinfoil phonograph from E. C. Peterke; the donation of a similar machine to the Smithsonian Institution; the proceedings of the Manchester Edison Society, a British organization of phonograph enthusiasts; the record-buying habits of Native Americans, as described by the Ryder Music Co. of Oklahoma; and a proposal by explorer Oliver Bainbridge to make recordings during his expedition to the South Seas.
There are also numerous items relating to prospective recording artists, some of whom were encouraged to visit the studio for an audition, and to composers such as Thomas P. Westendorf, who wrote "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen," Edison's favorite song. Included are comments by Edison regarding some of the performers and a communication from Absalom M. Kennedy, E. Rowland Dawson, and Clarence B. Hayes about the musical abilities of two female members of the staff. At the end of the folder are undated communications to Edison from music room supervisor Hayes about trial recordings, as well as technical items concerning record production.
Other correspondents include recording artists Virginia L. Bean and Alice Verlet; longtime Edison associate Henry Edmunds; Goodyear chemist C. R. Johnson General Electric engineer Frederick M. Kimball; virtuoso pianist and future Polish prime minister Ignace J. Paderewski; Richard Rathbun of the Smithsonian's U.S. National Museum; Charles O. Sloane, president of the Phonograph Sales Co. of Newark and brother-in-law of Madeleine Edison Sloane; and phonograph enthusiast Frederic A. Whiting.
Approximately 30 percent of the documents have been selected. Many of the unselected items are unsolicited suggestions for phonograph improvements; most of these are marked for a form letter reply, but some bear routine Edison marginalia explaining that he was not interested in the idea or could not use it. Other categories of unselected material include letters of thanks or appreciation; unanswered requests for auditions and correspondence with artists whose auditions did not lead to a recording; non-pursued business inquiries from clients, vendors, composers, lyricists, and performers; unsolicited items relating to war preparedness and to peace songs; letters from dealers or customers that were not handled, or were indefinitely deferred, by Edison; other routine documents that did not receive Edison's attention and do not pertain to his role in the company; printed items submitted by inventors and recording artists; credit reports on prospective dealers; and duplicates. Also unselected are routine business letters handled by Charles Edison, by Edison's assistant William H. Meadowcroft, by Recording Division manager Walter Miller, or by music room supervisor Clarence B. Hayes; reports on auditions not heard by Edison; periodic quantitative data reports on production, testing, and shipping; form letters to dealers; and other sales material. Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park.