NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1891 __ The Postal Phonograph
Comment : The postal phonograph.and similar ideas, like “phonographic calling cards”.were also results of conceptualizing the use if sound-reproduction technologies outside the consumerist, domestic middle-class context within which they were popularized. A postal phonograph system would have had recording and reproducing machines at each post office so that those who could not write could speak into the machines and send the recordings in the mail to friends, family, and associates. This idea was in circulation before sound-recording devices were commercially available. Chichester Alexander Bell wrote to his Volta Laboratory notes of techniques “for making records of which copies are not required, as for example, messages on strips of paper to be sent by post”. Emile Berliner’s idea of a gramophone office in every town implied that, once recordings were made, they could be mailed. An industry publication reported another plan for a postal phonograph in 1891 : “Phonographs are to be used in Mexican post offices for the benefit of the illiterate. The sender will go to the office, talk his message into the receiver of the phonograph, and when the cylindr reaches its destination the person addressed will be sent for, and the message will be repeated to him from another machine.” Although I have found no records of fully functioning official postal phonograph systems, the mailing of cylinders was considered a significant potential use of the business phonograph. For instance, Bell’s original plan for improving Edision’s phonograph include experimenting with paper cylinder as paper would facilitate ease in mailing. In fact, Bell mailed a graphophone cylinder to his colleagues at Volta in order to demonstrate the machine’s readiness for commercial development. (Jonathan Sterne, pp. 194-195)In the Talking Machine World.The new idea of a postal phonograph is expected to create a small revolution. As developed at Vienna a penny-in-the-slot machine is to supply a thin gramophone disc made into a record of the sender's message as spoken by him into a machine, and this record is mailed as a postal card. Being of tough material it sustains no injury. A small phonograph, to cost bu a few shillings, is to be manufactured to enable the receiver to reproduce the message of the disc. (In The Music Trade Review, 1905, 40-1-40)
Source : Sterne, Jonathan (2003), “The Audible Past - Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction”, Durham & London : Duke University Press, pp. 194-195.
Urls : http://www.arcade-museum.com/mtr/MTR-1905-40-1/MTR-1905-40-1-40.pdf (last visited )

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