The Music Box
For a person of means in the Victorian era, a music box was central to the parlor. In fact, unless blessed with a musically talented family member, a household’s primary source of musical entertainment was the music box.
These beautiful musical units, crafted by jewelers, were reminiscent of tinkling church bells.
Unfortunately, with the invention of Thomas Edison’s phonograph in 1910, production of revolving cylinder devices nearly ceased entirely, and the Victorian music box became a lost art.
The first successful system of sound recording – the gramophone – was invented by Emile Berliner, a German immigrant working in Washington D.C., in 1887. Emile was the first inventor to begin recording on flat discs, or records.
What was revolutionary about Berliner records is that they were the first type of sound recording that could be mass produced. Although each record could only comfortably fit about two minutes of music, Emile succeeded in making music accessible to the middle classes, playing a large role in the dissemination of music in the early 20th century.
As a new form of entertainment was born, another new invention appeared almost overnight – the music industry. With the public hungry for recordings of popular and traditional music, demand arose for new music, creating worldwide musical stars. Bands, ensembles and singers who were previously unknown became nationwide sensations.
With the invention of his gramophone, Emile Berliner also launched the Gramophone Company to manufacture his records and the gramophones that played them. To help promote the brand, Berliner persuaded popular artists such as Enrico Caruso and Dame Nellie Melba to record their music using his system.
It is Guglielmo Marconi who is credited as the father and inventor of the household radio. In the 1920s, radio became the leading source of information for the public, as well as a source of entertainment. Families gathered together in front of the radio, tuned in to their favorite program, became a common occurrence in many households. Live musical performances dominated the airwaves in the early years, followed later by news, dramas, comedy acts, talk and educational programs.
For the first time, many in the world could experience historical and performance events together in live time, drawing people together for moments of national importance. Radio allowed its users to stay home while feeling connected to the larger world.
The radio transcended political, cultural, and economic boundaries. In 1930, more than 40 percent of American households owned a radio. In the 1940s, that number more than doubled to 83 percent.