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The Entertainment Empire

The Rise of the Talking Machine
Victor's Voices

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"Improvements come hard now-a-days. The field is no longer a virgin one. Great chunks of free gold are no longer lying around to be picked up by lucky hunters...the old fashioned prospector is out of the race."

-Eldridge R. Johnson


Johnson's operation had expanded from a single machine shop into a small empire, thanks to his innovations in technology and branding. Beginning in 1906, Johnson publicized these achievements in his own trade magazine, "The Voice of the Victor". The success of the Victrola brought a period of unprecedented expansion. Nearly 1/2 of the company's captial investment from the period of 1901-1928 happened between 1912 and 1917.

With the construction of new shipping and record departments, two cabinet factories, a coal-burning power plant, and the first Camden recording studio, the company became a self contained unit. Artists were recorded in Camden, the records were pressed on site, and the machines they would play on were constructed alongside them. Victor then shipped them throughout the world by boat and train. They were a powerhouse in the industry

The less prestigious, but more affordable "Purple" and "Blue" seal records were introduced in 1910 and 1912, respectively, to complement the famous "Red Seal" records, which continued to bloom as Violin virtuoso Fritz Kreissler, Irish tenor John McCormack, and sopranos Alma Gluck, Nellie Melba, and Luisa Tetrazzini joined the label.

They were as important as the Victrola to the company's success. In 1915, Alma Gluck's rendition of Carry Me Back to Old Virginny sold one million copies, the first Red Seal record to do so. Victor also responded to the rise of dance music and ragtime, making recordings in every popular style. Victor recording experts Harry, Raymond and Charles Sooy made their first orchestral recordings in 1917, adding another popular genre to the catalog.

Johnson established a traveling department to help turn every shop into a brand showcase. Victor machines, needles, records, and signs were distributed to dealers. Exact plans for window displays were described each month in the "Voice of the Victor". Once again, brand consistency led to increased sales.

Soon after, Victor unveiled the landmark "Nipper Tower", which stood atop its cabinet factory, and still stands today on the Camden Waterfront. Four stained-glass windows, designed by D'Ascenzo studios in Philadelphia, capped the dramatic building, and lit the famous "His Master's Voice" image against the evening sky, a symbol of Johnson's success. Even with the rapid expansion of operations, Johnson could scarcely match the public's demand for his products. Victor was at the pinnacle of its production.

Table-top Victrola sales peaked in 1917, as the Victrola IV became a favorite of US Servicemen. Indeed, the Great War was the only thing that could slow Victor's pace, as Johnson accepted government contracts in 1918, and Talking Machines briefly gave way to rifle fittings, casings and airplane wings for the war effort.

Victor advertising played heavily on the conflict, bearing images of troops and Victrolas on the cover of the Voice of the Victor, on record catalogs, and in prominent magazine advertisements.

The recording department also did its part, producing records of favorite patriotic songs, as well as hometown favorites that became beacons of hope for the young men and women stationed abroad. At the war's end, Victrola production resumed as usual.

 

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