How Users Define New Media: A History of the Amusement Phonograph
by Lisa Gitelman

The phonograph is one of those rare, Jekyll-and-Hyde devices that was invented for one thing and ended up doing something completely different. Thomas Edison invented recorded sound in 1877, improved it for sale in 1888, and was thoroughly convinced that its primary function would be in business communications. His machine had read-write capabilities, and he and a group of enthusiastic investors thought it would make a revolutionary dictation device. Of course they were wrong. In the mid-1890s consumer demand helped to transform the phonograph into the read-only amusement device we all remember, coincident with a mass market for pre-recorded music and, later on, a complicated collaboration with commercial radio broadcasting. The purpose of the present essay is to account as "thickly" as possible for this diversion of purpose and, in doing so, to urge that the definition of new media be sought more deeply, amid uses and users rather than simply amid descriptions of product development, product place ment, or calculations of market share.

My interest is in posing questions that might bedevil the strict dichotomy of production and consumption, which is so familiar to accounts of the history of media and technology and so characteristic of research on the phonograph to date. The production/consumption dichotomy harbors a particular determinism: within it lurks a tendency to use technology as a sufficient explanation of social and cultural change. It puts production first and has helped orient the history of technology away from the experience of any but white, middle-class men; rendering a history, according to one observer, in which "inventing the telephone is manly; talking on it is womanly." [1] An unreflected reliance on the same dichotomy has led to a history of the phonograph that runs something like this:

After Edison invented the phonograph, competition arrived from inventors at Alexander Graham Bell's Volta Laboratory (the "graphophone") and from Emile Berliner (the "gramophone"), prompting Edison's own commercial development of his machine. The phonograph and graphophone were marketed by the North American Phonograph Company, incorporated in 1888, via a network of local companies operating in protected sales territories. The expensive devices were leased and later sold as dictating machines, without much success, since office workers resisted the complicated and still temperamental machinery. But one California entrepreneur cleverly adapted his phonographs into nickel-in-the-slot machines, which both gradually proved the success of recordings as amusements and gradually created a demand for pre-recorded musical records. When Emile Berliner started to market his gramophone and disc-shaped records in America in 1894, he faced competition from imitators and from companies like the Columb ia Phonograph Company and, in 1896, Edison's National Phonograph Company, both of which sold only cylinder records at first. The market for home machines was created through technological innovation and pricing: Phonographs, gramophones, and graphophones were cleverly adapted to run by spring-motors (you wound them up), rather than by messy batteries or treadle mechanisms, while the musical records were adapted to reproduce loudly through a horn attachment. The cheap home machines sold as the $10 Eagle graphophone and the $40 (later $30) Home phonograph in 1896, the $20 Zon-o-phone in 1898, the $3 Victor Toy in 1900, and so on. Records sold because their fidelity improved, mass production processes were soon developed, advertising worked, and prices dropped from one and two dollars to around 35 cents. [2]

What's missing? Besides the elision of consumption and buying (phonographs and records are played, after all), such accounts limit the definition of production to the activities of inventors and entrepreneurs. What if that kind of production were only a tiny part of the story, granted its singular importance by the same cultural norms and expectations that construe technology as a male realm? The very meaning of technology might be at stake. The spring motor phonograph "worked" in homes around the world, but would it have been described as "working," if it did not already make sense somehow within the social contexts of its innovation? For that matter, would the nickel-in-the-slot phonograph have worked in just the way it did if the women who were

disparaged as "nickel-in-the-slot stenographers" by the North American Phonograph Company executives had embraced rather than resisted the dictation machine? Questions like these get women (and other "end users&quo t;) back into history. "Recorded sound," burbles one historian, "is surely one of the great conveniences of modern life."[3] Yet we know from Ruth Schwartz Cowan's important More Work for Mother and a few other feminist histories of technology just how vested the definition of "convenience" can be within the gendered, social and economic constructs of a time and a place. [4] It must be that homemakers helped make home phonographs to the complicated extent that they "made" "homes," once we acknowledge that technological change is not a laboratory event or a corporate strategy but a fully social practice.

I am suggesting that phonographs and phonograph records had rich symbolic careers, that they acquired and possessed meanings in the circumstances of their apprehension and use, and that those meanings, many and changeable, arose in relation to the social lives of people and of things. Perhaps because they are media in addition to being technologies and commodities, phonographs and records seem to have possessed an extraordinary "interpretive flexibility," a

range of available meanings wherein neither their inventor nor the reigning authorities on music possessed any special authorial status. [5] Thomas Edison's intention for the machine was largely confounded, while composers and musical publications left the phonograph virtually unnoticed until its immense popularity forced them into addressing its role as a musical instrument. Instead, the machine was authored by the conditions of its sale and use, acquiring its cultural heft as it acquired its range and circulation among human hands and human ears as well as among other media and other goods. [6]

Though largely ignored by cultural theorists and cultural historians who tend to emphasize the extensive qualities of mass culture, phonographs and phonograph records suggestively exhibited intensive qualities to accompany those extensive ones. [7] While they came to possess extensive, mass appeal and notably to rely upon the consumption of public taste as such, -- in the form of fads, hits, and stars, -- phonographs and records also made sense according to intensive uses, at first by customers at public phonograph parlors and later by listeners at home. I will begin by introducing this intensity and by drawing a comparison between phonograph records and another contemporary medium, the mass circulation monthly magazine, which is seen by some as the cardinal form of American mass culture, at least before the nickelodeon. I will then address the discursive definition of the phonograph as a form of mechanical reproduction and as a musical instrument dependent upon women as agents and as subjects. I conclude by alluding to the ways in which the norms and habits of shopping helped to define the home phonograph.

Many Americans first experienced recorded sound as part of public demonstrations or in public parlors. Whether it was seen as more edifying (in the demonstrations) or more amusing (in the parlors), recorded sound from the beginning involved public participation, collective accedence to its existence as one or several among the curious, the remarkable, the novel, the entertaining, and the worth-between-a-nickel-and-a-quarter. Such participation importantly accompanied further, tacit participation in the conventions of recording as a medium, offering ways for the listeners of records to make and remake themselves as moderns, as part of an imagined community that was both familiar with the phonographic mediation of sound and constituted in the availability and circulation of phonograph records. The first nickel-in-the-slot machines were located at train stations, then at hotels and drug stores, where such an imagined community would have been both diffuse and masculine. A few years later brightly lit arcades promoted as "parlors" were located along busy shopping streets, pedestrian thoroughfares where the imagination could dilate, as it must have at country fairs and summer resorts, where showmen plied among women, children, and men. Customers listened to records through ear tubes, so that this public experience was in another sense a profoundly private one. The modest volume of the early records made ear tubes preferable, and so (like the nearly contemporary necessity of watching projected motion pictures in the dark) the medium itself helped devide customers from one another even as it drew them into crowds and helped imagine them as communities. Photographs that survive show phonograph parlor patrons standing together yet listening by themselves, their eyes vacant as their ears enjoy.

Nickel-in-the-slot machines and public phonograph parlors enjoyed great popularity for several years in the mid-1890s without, I think, becoming a genuinely "mass" phenomenon. The number

of machines playing in public could usually be easily counted. One source notes 140 machines in Washington, D.C., in 1892, when a best-selling record might mean a sale of 5000 copies over two years. [8]By contrast print media already enjoyed a mass audience of long standing, though print forms too underwent dramatic change during the mid and late 1890s. In Selling Culture Richard Ohmann argues specifically that American mass culture arrived in the pages of magazines like Munsey's, McClures, and Cosmopolitan. Starting around 1893 a growing number of monthly magazines such as these integrated additional illustrated advertisements into their feature pages and started to profit more on the sale of ad revenue rather than on the sale of issues and subscriptions. Both the timing and the scale of the modern monthlies make them helpful yardsticks. Simply in terms of numbers, the aggregate circulation of monthly magazines shot from 18 million in 1890 to 64 million in 1905. In terms of content, scholars generally agree that the magazines helped map the social spaces of American life in which "women were usually singled out as the trainees for participation in the commodity-laden modern world." -- Advertisers

pitched to women in the women's and the general circulation magazines, so that the vague category of "consumption" itself became gender-typed. [9]Indeed, the National Phonograph Company advertised in Munsey's as early at 1900, while the Victor Talking Machine Company had begun its lavish advertising campaigns in Cosmopolitan and the Saturday Evening Post by 1902. In 1906 the Victor company boasted that its "advertising campaigns reached some 49 million people every month," more than half the U.S. population, while Edison's reputedly less aggressive National Phonograph Company advertised its wares by placing full page ads in more than a dozen national circulation magazines each month, including Cosmopolitan, Munsey's, Good Housekeeping, Everybody's, and Outlook. [10]

More than simply a platform for advertising home phonographs, the modern monthlies helped enable and were enabled by some of the very social, economic, and cultural conditions that helped make home phonographs a success. If the "big three" phonograph companies, Victor, National, and Columbia, started their meteoric rise roughly three years after the new Munsey's, McClures, and Cosmopolitan, they nonetheless joined the modern monthlies as, in Ohmann's

terms, a "major form of repeated cultural experience for the people of the United States." By 1909 the phonograph industry was producing a steady 27.2 million records a year, still a fraction of the aggregate circulation of the magazines. [11] Yet while monthly issues had a shelf life of one month, phonograph records individually survived on a logic of repetition. Even more than print media of the time, records were repeated cultural experiences, literally played again and again and again. This distinction seems central to the meaning of the home phonograph as an element of mass culture: When a woman took down a box of Uneeda or opened a package of Sapolio, the brand name was familiar and the biscuit or the soap was continuous with the contents in previous tins or packages. All Uneeda biscuits looked the same, and that sameness formed part of the magic of standardized mass production. It was "magic" in part because as much as the biscuits looked the same, they really were different. By contrast the phonograph introduced the intensity of true repetition to the performance of mass markets.

When American consumers went mad for the best-selling novel Trilby, for example, (serialized by Harpers in 1894) they entered a world of mass consumption characterized by the apparent seamlessness of connections enacted between fiction, advertising, illustration, drama, and dry goods: Trilby hats, Trilby dolls, Trilby shoes, and more. [12]This was just when the amusement phonograph was earning its appeal, and, as the recording engineer Frank Gaisberg recalled,

The thirst for music among the people must have been prodigious to endure the crude and noisy records produced at that time. I remember my own affection for those rough tunes. I seemed never to tire of repeating the record of "Ben Bolt" from Trilby.


Americans could eat ice-cream versions of the character Trilby's shapely feet (her feet are important in the novel), but they could also, as Gaisberg did, actively reproduce the strains of Trilby's love lorn suitor, Little Billie. Each of these acts of consumption -- eating ice-cream feet, wearing your Trilby shoes or wearing down your record of "Ben Bolt" -- produces its own meaning, according to the mode, the frequency, and the reproducibility of its experience. Gaisberg's "Ben Bolt" and his phonograph made sense of each other, over and over again, in the context of Gaisberg's home. Such intensity, such repetition had previously been more a feature of musical education ("Practice, practice, practice") than of musical reception. It was reminiscent of the literacy practices surrounding devotional texts, for instance, or literacy in situations of particular scarcity, when a single newspaper or a mail order catalogue got read intensively, again and again, and by many readers. To day we have gotten used to the way in which small children play the same video cassettes over and over again, or the way some idiosyncratic cultural forms seem to elicit idiosyncratic repetitions (Rock Horror Picture Show, The Wizard of Oz, e.g.), but adult American culture consumes and discards, reads and recycles, buys extensively and buys some more. Phonograph records, tapes, CDS, and video cassettes all counter that trend; part of their logic as possessions is repetition and reenactment, rewind and replay.

I will return briefly to this question of repetition and the role that almost ritualized repetition seems to have played in the social construction of the home phonograph, amid the magic and the desires of the modern marketplace. First, however, it is necessary to think more directly about the domestication of mechanical reproduction. The phonograph was a reproductive technology. It is possible to call it this with assurance because one crucial part of every phonograph was its "reproducer" (containing a "diaphragm"), a term which of necessity entered the vocabularies of many phonograph owners at the turn of the century. And if phonographs thus provoked little changes or additions to the semantic lives of Americans, it likewise came to have meaning within and against existing "discourse" more broadly defined. The vocabulary with which the phonograph was introduced and the symbolic terrain it occupied were all part of its definition, its coming into focus, first as a novelty and eventually as a familiar within American homes, right near where the radio and then the TV would sit further on into the century. Like the discursive lives of those later media, the discourses making sense of recorded sound formed a matrix of

heterogenous, changing, and even contradictory messages. These messages were registered in part within promotional representations,-- advertising, trade brochures, published accounts, and the habits of retail establishments handling the products. Also like radios and televisions, part of the discursive life of the phonograph emanated from the design and use of machine itself. [14] The japanned surface of an early table-top machine or the mahogany finish of an enclosed-horn Victrola (1906) were each suggestions of the way a machine might fit into home decor, while musical records were also representations of music in the home, two-minute versions of a genre, a composition, and a performance, packaged materially and acoustically for domestic consumption. -- Early Columb ia and Edison records started with recorded announcements, and not a few of the earliest records had ended with recorded applause.

What happened in part was the displacement of personification and its gradual replacement with richer figurative identifications of the phonograph within the existing discourses surrounding music and home in American life. Although the earliest phonographs and those promoted for office use were routinely represented according to metaphors of embodiment and gyno/ anthropomorphism, the home phonograph was not. That makes it unusual. Cars and boats remain "she," while many early domestic appliances, including home electrification, were frequently represented in terms of domestic servants or even slaves. When Edison unveiled his invention at the New York offices of Scientific American, he and witnesses alike anthropamophized the device. A decade later, a programme distributed later at Worth's Palace Museum in New York urged novelty seekers, "Before leaving the museum don't fail to interview the wonderful EDISON PHONOGRAPH." Americans stood ready to personify new technology. Among the widely anticipated applications for the machine were talking dolls and talking clocks, cyborgs with mechanical bodies and women's voices. (Both dolls and clocks were attempted, without much commercial success.) Meanwhile the dictation phonograph was promoted as a businessman's "ideal amanuensis," at first gendered male. A few years later, when women made up more of the nation's office workforce, the cover of one National Phonograph pamphlet made a simple equation by picturing a phonograph beside the words "Your Stenographer." In other representations it was the tubular wax record that formed "The Stenographer That's Always

Ready," while corporate propaganda assured wives that their businessmen husbands were dictating to a phonograph, "instead of talking to a giddy and unreliable young lady stenographer." Yet somehow these metaphors did not follow the phonograph into American homes. Playback did not elicit the same personifications that recording did. [15]

Instead, catalogues and advertisements for amusement phonographs and related supplies indicate that claims of more literal verisimilitude dominated representations of the machine. As they had in the imagination of talking dolls and clocks, women's voices continued to form a kind of standard, in this case because they were particularly hard to record well. Columbia proved unsuccessful at recording women's voices as late as 1895, when Lilla Coleman's records were admitted in their catalogue to be "suitable only for use with the tubes -- NOT ADAPTED FOR HORN REPRODUCTION." The Boswell Company of Chicago offered its "high grade original" records in 1898 with the assurance that "At last we have succeeded in making a true Record of a Lady's voice. No squeak, no blast; but natural, clear, and human." The Bettini Phonograph Laboratory in New York similarly claimed "The only diaphragms that successfully record and reproduce female voices." Just as Boswell records were reputedly "original," Bettini's were "autograph records," the telling expressions of unique human voices. (Bettini was fond of mixing his metaphors; in 1900 his slogan was "A True Mirror of Sound.") Both terms meant to indicate that these records were recorded from human voices rather than duplicated from preexistent recordings, a common practice in 1898. It was a distinction between records that may have confused consumers, who were necessarily more mindful of the broader distinction between live music and recorded sound.

Film theorist Richard Dyer has explained the way that film lighting historically normalized white skins, making the filmic reproduction of non-white complexions the special or "abnormal" case. Recorded sound provides something of a related (if inverted) case, in which recorded music was

normalized in relation to women's voices, particularly the soprano. Victor advertisements soon assured readers that "The living voices of the worlds' greatest artists can now be heard, whenever you choose, in your own home." Edison records were "the acme of realism." [16]

Slippage in terms like "original," "true," "natural," "living," and "real," served to emphasize rather than to contradict the apparent power of mechanical reproduction to appeal and entrance: Everywhere Victor's trademark dog, Nipper, sat listening for "his master's voice." The pleasures of that slippage, the contiguity and contestation of imitation and reality, are evident in the mass circulation of Nipper's image as well as in the records themselves. The earliest records were marketed without identifying the recording artists who preformed them. A few years later some of Columbia's recording artists were each sold under many different names. Bettini, who did identify well known bel canto singers of the day, also offered records of "Lady X," coyly represented in his catalogue with her back turned to conceal her identity. Because recordings displaced the visual norms of performance (you couldn't see the stage) they hinted at imitation or ventriloquism in new ways, just as mimicry was becoming so popular in American vaudeville, the particular

province of comediennes like Cissie Loftus, Elsie Janis, and Juliet Delf. Their mimicry and its reception helped open "questions about the relationship between self and other, individually and reproducibility" that proved both provocative and timely. [17] As Susan Glenn, Miles Orvell, and others have described, American culture was deeply engaged with questions of authenticity and artifice, realism and illusion, at the turn of the century. There were celebrations of certain imitations as potently "true," while in literature and the other arts, "the real thing" proved an elusive category, pleasurably attended. In the marketplace rhetoric was hardly as nuanced: manufacturers urged us to "Accept no imitations." Even in the music trades, record companies were beset by pirates, and more than half of the pianos sold were reportedly the infamous "stencil" instrument s, labeled and sold by companies that had not manufactured them (the particular bugaboo of Steinway, Chickering, and the other famous makers). Of course the preeminent claim of verisimilitude available to phonograph promoters and listeners alike was the

surprisingly pliable notion of acoustic fidelity. Recordings sounded exactly like the sounds they recorded, although the quality of sounding "exactly like" has continued to change over time and according to available technology, most recently from the standard of analog to that of digital recording. [18]

In addition to tapping the varied discourses of American realism, home phonographs gradually came to make sense against (and eventually within) the musical practices of the day. To give a complete summary would be impossible, but there are certain "givens" regarding American musical life at the turn of the century, among them the association of home, woman, and piano, and the complimentary though perhaps less portentous association of outdoor public space, man, and band music. -- Both were to be tested by the immense popularity of recorded band music for home play. -- Music literacy rates were high. Among the middle and upper classes some level of musical literacy was expected of all women, and those talents were freighted with the sanctity of home and family. Hundreds of companies made pianos to feed these expectations, and the industry managed to produce 170,000 pianos in 1899 alone. Meanwhile, there were more than 80,000 bandsmen at the turn of the century, some professionals but most amateurs , their gathering, practicing, and playing evidence of community identities fostered by geographic, ethnic, or institutional association. Towns with populations as small as 2000 supported amateur bands, composed primarily of lower and middle class male workers. Music of all kinds had recognized social functions, gendered relations, and moral valences. Opera, in

particular and somewhat like Shakespeare, was both the subject and the instrument of (high/low) cultural hierarchy. Pianos were both the subject and the instrument of (middle) class aspiration. Ragtime was both the subject and the instrument of quickening markets and (racialized) play. [19]

Clearly the arbiter of musical activity within the home was woman, while the most direct arbiter of musical activity at large tended to be an uncalculated combination of sheet music publishing houses, musical periodicals, instrument makers, urban performance institutions, and an army of roughly 80,000 music teachers of both sexes. Professionalization on the civic and national levels was applauded, while the professionalization of women was usually condemned. Musical periodicals carried chastening stories of popular divas and their harrowing lives, while mass circulation monthlies like Good Housekeeping lamented when any young woman, suffering from too much talent or too much ambition, returned from Conservatory and denied "to her father and mother the simple music that they love and understand," ("She has learned that Beethoven and Chopin and Schumann are great, but she has not realized that simpler music has not lost its charm. . . Perhaps she has caught Wagneritis. . ."). To so me observers, women were simply condemned to amateurism. James Huneker, a writer fond of sorting European composers into

masculine and feminine types (Bach and Beethoven vs. Hydan, Chopin, and Mendelssohn), summed up, "Enfín: the lesson of the years seems to be true that women may play anything written for the piano, and play it well, but not remarkably." [20]

It helped not at all that the most successful popularizer of "good" music in the era, band leader John Philip Sousa, was both prone to a noticeably "feminine" fastidiousness, and explained his often popular repertoire as an act of redeeming the fallen. Played by Sousa and his men, a "common street melody" became a respectable woman:

I have washed its face, put a clean dress on it, put a frill around its neck, pretty stockings, you can see the turn of the ankle of the street girl. It is now an attractive thing, entirely different from the frowzly-headed thing of the gutter.


Thus Sousa popularized good music and made popular music good. In his several perorations on the "menace of mechanical music" Sousa deployed similar metaphors to equal effect. The pianola and the phonograph, he was sure, would reduce music to "a mathematical system of megaphones, wheels, cogs, disks, cylinders, and all manner of revolving things, which are as like real art as the marble statue of Eve is like her beautiful, living, breathing daughters." To use these devices was to subvert nature in a world where naturalness and womanliness coincided with seeming ease; "The nightingale's song is delightful because the nightingale herself gives it forth." Sousa warned that these machines were like the recent "crazes" for roller skates and bicycles, but that they might do more damage, like the English sparrow, which "introduced and welcomed in all innocence, lost no time in multiplying itself to the dignity of a pest, to the destruction of numberless native song bir ds." Here were Sousa's metaphors adrift amid gender and national categories in their allusion to birds and description of musical culture. Women amateurs have "made much headway" in music, he wrote approvingly, but the mechanical music will make them lose interest, and "Then what of the national throat? Will it not weaken?" -- Sousa's American amateur loses some of her gender definition directly in his next question: "What of the national chest? Will it not shrink?" His rhetoric was extreme, but Sousa foresaw the deminishment of amateur music with great perspicacity.

In all of its modalities, -- performance, instrumentation, composition, education, -- the sounds, subjects, and spaces of American music were shot through with assumptions of moral and aesthetic value that remained inseparable from active categories like tradition, class, race, gender, domesticity, and professionalism. What interests me here are the translations that appeared available between categories around 1900, which might indicate points of contestation or of change in the mutual discourses of music and home. Among them there were public, performative translations, of course, like Sousa's play across the Popular and the Good, like the adaptive traditions of blackface, or like the success of a few "lady" orchestras. But there were other translations as well, and the home phonograph became party to many. Victor advertisements asked, "Why don't you get a Victor and have theatre and opera in your own home? The Victor is easy to play . . ." (1902), while National Phonogr aph assured that its

product "calls for no musical training on the part of any one, yet gives all that the combined training of the country's greatest artists give" (1906). Both appeals resemble contemporary advertisements for pianolas and player pianos, which stressed ease of play along with salutory musical production, good for the soul, good for the family. [22] At work was a partial translation between amateurism and professionalism that tended to enforce the amateurism of home listeners, not just in the subsequent withering away of live home music making, as Sousa recognized, but also in the celebrated availability of professionally produced music in the home. -- Records and piano rolls were professional in the dual sense that they reproduced the work of professional, paid musicians, and that they were the standardized, mass products of purposeful corporate concerns with which listeners engaged in commercial relations.

Even as home-based amateurism was enforced, the possibility of professional reproductions in the home seemed empowering. In Britain, where similar conditions pertained, Virginia Woof

recalled, "We opened one little window when we bought the gramophone; now another/ opens with the motor [car] -- I was going to say, but stopped." Woolf's image of "one little window" is from her diary, that most private of public documents. [23] Like her hesitant analogy to the automobile, it suggests the role that the home phonograph played as a translation device between private and public spheres. Playing recorded music at home mediated between at home and in public in ways that seem to have offered its listeners a sense of autonomy, however fleeting, that was greatly in contrast with later, Adorno-like assessments of the media as an instrument of social control or collective torpor.

But the home phonograph was more than just a transparent divide, a pane of glass between public and domestic space, in part because neither the public nor the domestic sphere were

homogenous or unchanging. The middle and upper-class parlor with its piano was becoming a "living room," as American homes became more expressive of the personalities of their inhabitants. [24] Public space evolved as well, as an increasingly urban population and a growing number of women in the workforce helped forge what historian Kathy Peiss calls "the shift from homosocial to heterosocial culture." [25] The shift was evident in the consumption of public amusements, as well as in the tissue of outdoor, public advertising, in changes to the patterns of retail, and in changes to the habits of outdoor recreation.

Consider the chaotic social spaces where people shopped. The Victor Talking Machine Company erected a huge electric sign above Broadway at Thirty-seventh Street in New York City in 1906. Visible from Madison Square three quarters of a mile away and illuminated at night by 1000 light bulbs, the sign read "VICTOR" above the usual picture of Nipper. Below the caption, made plural in this instance -- "His Masters' Voice," -- the sign continued in seven-foot letters, "The Opera At Home." The company boasted that 800,000 men and women saw the sign each day. The sign loomed two blocks north of the new Macy's at 34th Street and two blocks from the old Metropolitan Opera House on Seventh Avenue at 36th. It is illustrative in several respects. The "Opera" advertised in gigantic letters "At Home" could not but evoke and resemble the more sedate "Opera" between "Metropolitan" and "House" a few steps away. Stars at the Metropolitan were alr eady cutting records, to be sure, yet there was no simple conversion of Opera House into Home Opera, in large part because the terms of such a conversion were contested by the public and commercial nature of its suggestion. "Opera" seen by 800,000 moving people already violated a central precept of opera as a taste category or as a performance of status definition for a comparatively select few. This "Opera" had as much to do with Macy's, which aggressively sold Victor goods, as it did with the Metropolitan. And it had plenty to do with popular music, which remained a staple at all of the record companies, despite commercial paeans to opera and Classical. Likewise, the gigantic "Home" could not signify a family abode, a refuge from urban chaos, without calling upon the public spaces which served to inscribe if not to jeopardize that sanctum, among them the workplace, street, and store. Then the image of Nipper, as difficult to parse as it was apparently compelling, loomed all the more confusing in the plurality of his "Masters'" unitary "Voice." Was Nipper at "Home"? Who were his "Masters" there? And how was their one "Voice" reproduced on the record player that sat beside him? These unasked and unanswerable questions at once recall the slippage in descriptive terms like "real" and "live" as

they were applied to recorded sound, and demonstrate the extent to which the translation from public to private remained shot through with power relations, indeterminate evocations of taste hierarchies, social superiority, mastery and seduction, all tied intricately to the immense power of mimesis and mechanical reproduction. [26]

The same translation(s) were necessarily evoked inside stores like Macy's, where the "dream world" of mass consumption beckoned. [27] Department stores were not the only stores to sell phonographs and records, however. They were sold in music stores, from the gigantic Lyon & Healy firm in Chicago to small town shops specializing in sheet music, lessons, and instrument repair. And they were also sold in stores where hardware, sporting goods, or dry goods were the main articles of trade. In each of these venues, phonographs and records helped theatricalize the point of sale. Without radio to familiarize listeners with new songs and recordings, phonograph demonstrations were a necessary part of every shopper's curiosity and desire. So called "pluggers" (and payola) tried to influence sheet music sales in music stores and at the music counters of the big department stores. Demonstrations were a recent if familiar part of selling everything from Fuller brushes to cosmetics. Phonographs and re cords put the two together, helping to ensure that home play was re-play, the repetition of a public and commercial desire

and its translation into related, private, personal reenactments. Lyon & Healy offered "concerts" every day, free and open to the public; a live pianist performed, but most of the music came from a Victrola, playing to tired women shoppers and lunch-time idlers in the Loop. Smaller stores sometimes organized "recitals" but were also prepared to play sample records upon request. [28]

Faced with a legal challenge to its sales rights in New York State, Edison's National Phonograph Company did a survey of its upstate dealers in 1906. It was a boom year for cylinder

phonographs, and the survey offers a rare look at local sales operations. Out of 133 dealers visited (some of them also wholesale jobbers), it was notable when one, like William Harrison in Utica, devoted his or her business to phonographs and records exclusively. [29] In Watertown (pop. 27,787) there were seven dealers, one specializing in "stoves and household goods," and another in "wallpaper, mouldings, etc." Many music stores carried phonographs, though some were notably discouraged "that it affects the piano and musical end of their business." In Buffalo there was a drug store selling phonographs out of a back room; in Elmira the Elmira Arms Company was doing well; and in Syracuse a furniture store was struggling. In Oneonta one tiny dealership "keeps Edison phonographs and records to accommo date his customers who are mostly farmers"; "He says when they come to his place for records they are liable to purchase

other goods that they might require." Most carried very small stocks of machines and records, and all save the one dealer in Cobelskill (pop. 2,800) had competition from other Edison dealers in the same town, plus the dealers pushing Columbia and Victor goods. [30] One common situation was a bicycle or sporting goods store that specialized in phonographs during the winter. There was the Utica Cycle Company, the Rome Cycle Company, as well as George W. Johnson of Rochester, who "May first of each year takes his phonographs from the windows and puts in bicycles and on October first each year he takes his bicycles from the window and puts in phonographs and records." The association of phonographs and these other goods unavoidably suggests context for recorded sound. The seasonal equilibrium between bikes and phonographs, in particular, offers a reminder that such goods cir culated amid an economy in a modest sense determined by cultural conversations about New Women and about middle-class domesticity.

Ellen Gruber Garvey has demonstrated persuasively the ways in which bicycles became the subjects and the instruments gender definition, according to which advertisers represented women's bodies and helped construct their roles as consumers. [31] By 1906 the bicycle "craze" had largely subsided, but I wonder just how distant the craze for ragtime and jazz records really was, in social as well as commercial terms.

I have been suggesting that "inventing" or "producing" recorded sound cannot be narrowed to the activities of Thomas Edison or to the efforts of corporate entities invested in the manufacture, advertisement, or sale of phonographs and records at the turn of the twentieth century. To my mind the phonograph provides an exemplary instance of cultural production snatched from the hands of putative producing agents. Understanding its social construction suggestively complicates our notions of technological and media change at the same time that it provides an opportunity to add a little more context to two well studied loci of modern mass culture, the department store and the monthly magazine. In this light, casting mass culture as a shift from a tactile, craft-oriented world to a visual, mass-production one, as Simon Bronner has, seems simplistic at best. Our readings of cultural history must also include the squeaks and noises of change. We must be prepared to explain the intensity of mode rn cultural experiences as well as their extensive range and appeal. Far from simply transferring public music into private homes, the popular success of the amusement phonograph formed part of a profound transformation in the public sphere, signaling new subjectivities and continued developments in the categorization of gender, class, and other relevant parameters of identity and community.

A bit like newspapers or like photographs and other print media, phonographs relied upon a logic of transparency, of pure mediation, that was as chimerical as it was accessory to the imagination of self and community, to a sense of location amid social spaces and forces. As much as their promoters seemed to invoke the possibility, records could never be transparent windows between musical experiences at the concert hall and in the home. There were differences in sound quality, of course, the lacking "aura" of performative origination, differing commercial and emotional investments, differences in arrangement, instrumentation, and so on, as well as the tacit participation that all such differences required of audiences. This tacit participation is that part of media and mediation that invisibly unites us, even as we "all" want to hear the latest recordings by our favorite artists, even as "everybody" knows who the stars are and have been. In the case of recorded sound, mediation seems cl early to have involved assumptions regarding women and their roles in society. It is not just that women were represented and reproduced (Think of the comparable inquiries: blacks in radio, gays and lesbians on television), rather that modern forms of mediation are in part defined by normative constructions of difference, whether gender, racial, or other versions of difference. Women's voices early provided a standard for both the desire and the accomplishment of recorded sound. -- Gender colored distinctions between work and play, recording and playback, business and amusement. Gender infused contemporary experiences of reality and imitation, performance and mimicry. And gender flavored the pursuits of middle-class self-improvement and self-indulgence. -- Phonographs only "worked" when they got women's voices right, just as home phonographs only "worked" according to the ways they interlocked with existing tensions surrounding music and home, with ongoing construction s of shopping as something women do, and with the ways in which users of all sorts wanted, heard, and played recorded sounds.

[1] Carroll Purcell, "Seeing the Invisible: New Perceptions in the History of Technology" Icon 1 (1995) 9-15. Purcell’s is a recent and cogent critique. See also Rosalind Williams, "The Political and Feminist Dimensions of Technological Determinism" Does Technology Drive History?: The Dilemma of Technological Determinism, eds. Merritt Roe Smith and Leo Marx (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994) 217-235. return

[2] The most thorough account of the history of the phonograph is still Oliver Read and Walter L. Welch, Tin Foil to Stereo: Evolution of the Phonograph, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis, IN: Howard W. Sams & Co., 1976). For a recent version of the story see Leonard DeGraaf, "Thomas Edison and the Origins of the Entertainment Phonograph" NARAS Journal 8 (Winter/Spring 1997/8) 43-69, as well as William Howland Kenney’s recent and welcome Recorded Music in American Life: The Phonograph and Popular Memory, 1890-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). Much of the technocentric focus of literature on the phonograph (a focus Kenney’s cultural history finally shifts) may derive from the interests of collectors, for whom I have the utmost respect. In the interest of simplicity I am going to use the eventual American generic, "phonograph," for the graphophone and gramophone as well as the phonograph. Of course in Britain and much of the postcolonial world the generic is "gramophone." return

[3] No gender is specified for these stenographers; Proceedings of the First Annual Convention of Local Phonograph Companies. Nashville, TN: Country Music Foundation Press, 1974 [1890] 57. Andre Millard, America on Record: A History of Recorded Sound (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995) 1. return

[4] Ruth Schwartz Cowan, More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983). On feminist histories of technology I’m thinking gratefully of a panel at the recent workshop, "Science, Medicine, and Technology in the 20th Century: What Difference Has Feminism Made?" Princeton University, October 2-3, 1998. See also (in chronological order) Judith A. McGaw, "Women and the History of American Technology" Signs 7 (1982):798-828 and "No Passive Victims, No Separate Spheres: A Feminist Perspective on Technology’s History" In Context, History and the History of Technology: Essays in Honor of Melvin Kranzberg, eds. Stephen H. Cutcliffe and Robert C. Post (Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press, 1989) 172-191; Judy Wajcman, Feminism Confronts Technology (University Park: Penn State University Press , 1991); also Technology and Culture 38 (January 1997), a special issue on gender and technology, eds. Nina E. Lerman, Arwen Palmer Mohun, and Ruth Oldenziel, with their introduction, "The Shoulders We Stand On and the View From Here: Historiography and Directions for Research," pp. 9-30. return

[5] This is a term from the "Social Construction of Technology" program, outlined by Wiebe E. Bijker, among others; see Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995). return

[6] According to anthropologist Mary Douglas, "All goods carry meanings, but none by itself. . . The meaning is in the relations between all the goods." She writes that "Goods are used for marking in the sense of clarifying categories"; The World of Goods, Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood (New York: Basic Books, 1979) 72, 74. return

[7] I have adapted this dichotomy of intensive and extensive from both the work of American book historians, where it has been appropriated from R. Englesing, and from the work of anthropologist Sidney W. Mintz in his discussion of Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Viking, 1985) 152, passim. return

[8] On Washington, Katherine K. Preston, Music for Hire: A Study of Professional Musicians in Washington, 1877-1900; Sociology of Music No. 6 (Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press, 1992) 239; Tim Brooks, "Columbia Records in the 1890's: Founding the Record Industry" Association for Recorded Sound Collections Journal 10 (1979) 5-36. return

[9] Ohmann’s Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (London: Verso, 1996) 29 and passim. "Trainees" is from R.F. Bogardus, "The Reorientation of Paradise: Modern Mass Media and Narratives of Desire in the Making of American Consumer Culture" American Literary History (1998) 508-523, which reviews two books that develop the point, including Ellen Garvey, Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture, 1880's-1910's (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996). return

[10] On Victor advertising, Frederick O. Barnum III, "His Master’s Voice" in America (Camden: General Electric Company, 1991) 29; The Music Trades 31, April 7, 1906: 46, cited in Paul Théberge, 102 . On Edison, National Phonograph Co. Records, "Advertising" folders, 1906 and other years, ENHS. return

[11] (Though on the same order of magnitude) U.S. Bureau of the Census. Census of Manufactures 1914 (GPO, 1919) Vol. 2, p 825. Notably, print runs for the monthlies were vastly beyond the runs of individual records, which went from several hundred in the late 1890s, to several hundred thousand by 1920. Annual record production topped 60 million in the 1920s before plummeting during the Depression. return

[12] On Trilby as an exemplary fad, see Elaine S. Abelson, When Ladies Go A-Thieving: Middle-Class Shoplifters in the Victorian Department Store (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989) 34; see also Edward L. Purcell, "Trilby and Trilby-Mania, The Beginning of the Bestseller System." Journal of Popular Culture 11 (1977): 62-76; and Emily Jenkins, "Trilby: Fads, Photographers, and ‘Over-Perfect Feet’" Book History 1 (1998) 221-267. Jenkins’s interesting attempt to account for the Trilby fad fails to mention the novel’s vicious anti-semitism, consumed, along with the novel’s Parisian setting, just as the Dreyfus case was played out in the press. return

[13] F.W. Gaisberg, The Music Goes Round (New York: Macmillan, 1942) 18. return

[14] See Lynn Spigel’s helpful account, "Installing the Television Set: Popular Discourses on Television and Domestic Space, 1948-1955" Camera Obscura 16 (1988) 11-46. On radio, see Susan J. Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899-1922 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987) Chapter 9. return

[15] Scientific American 37 (December 1877): 384. Worth’s museum program from the Theater Collection, New York Public Library (elsewhere NYPL). Edward Bellamy managed to work the clocks into a short story in 1889; he imagined a time traveler spending the night "enjoying the society of [his] bodiless companion and the delicious shock of her quarter-hourly remarks"; "With Eyes Shut" Harper’s (1889). Bellamy was not alone in sexualizing the machine. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s, "The Voice of Science" ( Strand 1 (1891) 312-317) a recording phonograph foils a caddish suitor who is unknowingly recorded; "Into the slots he thrust virgin [record] plates, all ready to receive impression, and then, bearing the phonograph under his arm, he vanished into his own sanctum. . ." On the business phonograph, letterhead and advertisements from ENHS; on giddy stenographers, National Phonograph Company, The Phonograph and How to Use It (1900) 140. I have written elsewhere about the dolls and clocks. On cyborgs and subjectivity, the manifesto of course, Donna J. Harraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991); see also, Frank, Felicia Miller The Mechanical Song: Women, Voice, and the Artificial in Nineteenth-Century French Narrative (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995). return

[16] I am grateful to Ellen Garvey for pointing me towards Dyer’s work, White (London: Routledge, 1997) Ch. 3. return

[17] On early Columbia records, Tim Brooks; and F.W. Gaisberg The Music Goes Round (New York: Macmillan, 1942) 41. On stage mimicry, see Susan A. Glenn’s valuable "‘Give and Imitation of Me’: Vaudeville Mimics and the Play of the Self" American Quarterly 50 (March 1998) 47-76; "The mimetic moment in American comedy coincided with the mimetic moment in American social thought" (48-9). return

[18] Miles Orvell, The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989); Jackson Lears in, among other titles, "Beyond Veblen: Rethinking Consumer Culture in America," Consuming Visions: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America, 1880-1920, ed. Simon J. Bronner (New York: W.W. Norton, 1989) 73-98; see also the Henry James short story "The Real Thing." return

[19] Craig H. Roell, The Paino in America, 1890-1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989); Census of Manufactures 1914 Vol. 2, pp . 807-825; Margaret Hindle Hazen and Robert M. Hazen, The Music Men: An Illustrated History of Brass Bands in America, 1800-1920 (Washington: Smithsonian Insitition Press, 1987); Kenneth Kreitner, Discoursing Sweet Music: Town Bands and Community Life in Turn of the Century Pennsylvania (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990). return

[20] "Music in the American Home" Good Housekeeping 39 (1904) 292; Huneker’s "Women and Music," Harper’s Bazar 33 (1900) 1306-8, and reported in Current Literature 39 (1905) 436-7. Sousa’s band sometimes had a woman harpist for concerts, but was an all male concern. Records of Sousa’s band were really records of a smaller ensemble. return

[21] "Sousa and His Mission" Music 16 (1899) 272-276. The following observations by Sousa are from "The Menace of Mechanical Music" Appleton’s 8 (1906) 278-284. return

[22] Roell 37-45. American music magazines tended to carry advertisements for "automatic" pianos, but not for phonographs. Etude magazine, for instance, apparently did not carry Victor Talking Machine ads until around the time of the Copyright Act of 1909, protecting composers against mechanical reproductions. (Etude urged its readers to support the bill in Congress.) But piano roll manufacturers were equally culpable. That Victor sought out music publications confirms the more highbrow associations of the company, its machines and records; Edison and Columbia, by comparison, were more lowbrow, despite attempts to market grand opera and classical music. return

[23] The Diary of Virginia Woolf, ed. Anne Olivier Bell, 5 vols. (San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, 1980) III: 151. return

[24] Karen Halttunen, "From Parlor to Living Room, Domestic Space, Interior Decoration, and the Culture of Personality" in Simon J. Bronner, ed., Consuming Visions: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America, 1880-1920 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1989) 157-190. return

[25] Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986) 6; see also John F. Kasson, Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century (New York: Hill & Wang, 1978) 41-50. return

[26] For descriptions and illustrations of the sign see the in-house Voice of Victor, July 1906. For one particularly good reading of the Victor trademark, see Michael Taussig’s Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses (New York: Routledge, 1993). Virginia Woolf proved astute on this point as well; again from the Diary (in 1939, about phonograph and radio), "L[eonard] out at Fabians; played gramophone; listened to Our Masters Voice, Hitler less truculent than expected. . ." return

[27] There is now a vast literature on department stores. "Dream worlds" is Rosalind Williams title; see also Abelson; see William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (New York: Vintage, 1993). return

[28] Everything Known in Music: A Souvenir of the New Home of the World’s Foremost Music House (Chicago: Lyon & Healy, 1916) [NYPL]. On pluggers and payola, Kerry Segrave, Payola in the Music Industry: A History, 1880-1991 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1994). return

[29] "Report as to Conditions in the Sale of Edison Phonograph in the State of New York," 66 pp. MS by Joseph McCoy, (June 4, 1906) 20; ENHS. There were a few women dealers and a few couples with dealerships; and one notably "up-to-date Jew." return

[30] The Cobelskill dealer had only 6 phonographs and 400 records on hand, while the largest dealers, like two in Utica, had around 75 records and 30-40 thousand records in stock. The size of dealership and the number of dealers in each town were neither strictly proportional to population. The National Phonograph Co. had a total of 8143 retail dealers in the US and Canada during the week the report was written; see "Report of Jobbers & Retail Dealers Agreements" ½ p. MS by C.H. Wilson, June 18th, 1906; National Phonograph Co. Records, ENHS. Some Edison dealers also handled Columbia goods. return

[31] Garvey, Ch.4, "Reframing the Bicycle: Magazines and Scorching Women" 106-134. return