[This note covers the "Phonograph" folders for both January-June and July-December 1919.]
This folder contains correspondence, interoffice communications, and other documents relating to Edison's phonograph and record business. Included are numerous items pertaining to Edison's search for "old songs" with "fine melodies," undertaken in the United States by personal assistant William H. Meadowcroft and his son William M. Meadowcroft and in Great Britain and Ireland by Alfred F. Wagner of Thomas A. Edison, Ltd. Also included are the inventor's comments about songs and performers, along with statements of his own musical preferences such as his dislike of "high brow stuff generally." In addition, there are numerous communications between Edison and Phonograph Division manager William Maxwell pertaining to advertising, sales promotions, competition, record pricing, staff hiring and compensation, and the selection of music to be recorded. There are also documents regarding Maxwell's strategies for responding to frequent complaints about production shortages, delays, and various defects in the records, as well as his "prize money plan" â€”an elaborate scheme that linked employee compensation to a psychologically based system of "demerit" points. Several letters written in September and October during a visit to phonograph jobbers (wholesalers) in the West contain comments by Maxwell about the phonograph business, general economic conditions, and politics in the states west of Chicago.
Other business-related items pertain to cabinet manufacturing; phonograph accessories such as automatic stop mechanisms and attachments that allowed Victor and Columbia records to be played on Edison Diamond Disc phonographs; sales, profits, and returns; the decline in demand for cylinder phonographs; surface noise and other problems in the quality of the recordings; and the charitable donation of phonographs and recordings to institutions such as the Georgia Academy of the Blind. A communication from September 15, 1919, to financial executive Stephen B. Mambert, probably by assistant financial executive Ralph H. Allen, indicates an estimated annual profit of $2,951,000 from sales of disc and cylinder phonographs and recordings. Other Edison employees represented in the documents include chief engineer John P. Constable; purchasing agent Archibald C. Emery; record pressing engineer Adolph F. Gall; laboratory music room manager Clarence B. Hayes; New York recording manager Walter H. Miller; and Robert Michie and E. Trautman of the Order & Service Dept.
There is also correspondence with Edison's friends and associates and with the general public on subjects such as acoustics; the choice of artists and instruments; improvements in phonographs, recording methods, and accessories; the use of phonographs for medical and other non-entertainment purposes; and the music of new nations such as Czechoslovakia. The correspondents include former European Edison associate Julius H. Block; Adm. George E. Burd of the Brooklyn Navy Yard; James Francis Cooke, editor of The Etude; electrician and former Edison associate Joseph Hutchinson; Lt. Miles A. Libbey of the Naval Experimental Station in New London, Connecticut; hobo author Leon Ray Livingston (better known as "A-No 1 The Rambler"); journalist Edward Marshall; soap manufacturer and former wax experimenter Adolph Melzer; music publisher Theodore Presser; and Thomas P. Westendorf, composer of Edison's favorite song "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen."
Other correspondents include amateur inventors Finis M. Barney (Elm Creek, Nebraska), Frank L. Darling (Long Beach, California), Stanford Hale (London, England), Martin W. Jenkins (Grand Island, Nebraska), Dennis McNeill (Huntington, West Virginia), and John Muir Sills (Springfield, Missouri); phonograph salesman John B. Beardsley; voice teacher and amateur inventor Bertrand de Bernyz; Robert Campbell of the Nairn Linoleum Co.; soprano Donna Easley; mining engineer Bernard W. Hartley; high school student and amateur inventor Albert C. Hunterman; Czech immigrant Albert Panec; Theodore E. Smith, president of the Rotary Club of Akron, Ohio; and physician O. Le Grand Suggett.
Approximately 25 percent of the documents have been selected. Almost all of the unselected correspondence consists of unsolicited ideas for technical improvements (some accompanied by comments from Constable) and unsolicited original song compositions, along with the routine replies they received from Edison's secretaries. Other unsolicited correspondence includes requests for personal recordings and letters thanking Edison for making music available. Also unselected are Meadowcroft's correspondence with dozens of music publishers relating to his search for old songs; lists of publishers and used book stores in various cities; reports of purchases by Meadowcroft; a 31-page list of disc records returned under the exchange plan; weekly lists of new dealers issued by E. E. Davidson; a few dealer contracts and agreements; routine correspondence related to shipping, along with other routine items not involving Edison; and draft and printed copies of Maxwell's 62-page pamphlet, Prize Money Plan. Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park.