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The Entertainment Empire

The Rise of the Talking Machine
The Radio Age

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"The future of the Victor Company is now in the hands of its organization, as the business is too large and complex for any one man to ever fully grasp."

-Eldridge R. Johnson

 


The years after the end of World War I found Victor at the peak of its production and profits. Victrolas continued to sell in droves, eclipsing the efforts of competitors. Johnson's risks and efforts had paid off, but decades of non-stop competition had left him drained of energy and urgently needing rest. As the 1920s dawned, he retreated from the day-to-day operations of the company. Within a few years, he would turn over managerial control of Victor to a committee which included his son, E. R. Fenimore Johnson.

By that time, the first radios were hitting the market, but Johnson simply could not believe that the new development would replace the Talking Machine industry he had helped create, and he initially forbade Victor engineers, and his son, from researching the development of a practical Victor radio.

A new age was dawning. In 1924, Victrola sales plummeted to their lowest in a decade, due to stiff competition from the ever-improving radio. Victor soon made arrangements to secure patents from Western Electric to a new, electrical method of recording. Electric recordings were an instant hit. By July 1925, Victor had abandoned the acoustic process altogether.

Victor liquidated all remaining acoustic Victrolas, at reduced prices, then released its new Orthophonic line on "Victor Day", November 2, 1925. The Orthophonic machines were capable of reproducing the superior acoustic tones of electric recordings. Again, Victor enchanted the public. A month later, the company released the first "Electrolas", featuring electrical amplification, and the first "Victrola Radiola" combinations, using radio receivers from RCA.

As the acoustic age of the talking machine gave way to the electrical age of the radio, Johnson made a fateful decision. In January, 1927, Victor representatives walked into the Camden Safe Deposit Company and sold the Victor Talking Machine Company to investment bankers from New York. Johnson's profit was $28 million.

Johnson's legacy lives on. His humble machine shop became a 58-acre empire. Victor instrument sales topped $400 million during his tenure, and records nearly $300 million. His widespread philanthropy included construction of the Cooper Branch Free Public Library in Camden, and support of many civic organizations. His yacht, the Caroline, served as a flagship for the Smithsonian's scientific ventures. Even after its sale to RCA in 1929, the Victor brand lived on, and over a century later, Nipper remains one of the most recognized logos in the world. Through his tireless efforts, Johnson helped to bring music to the masses, and personified the American dream.

 

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