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Extraordinary Times

The Origin of the Sound Recording Industry
The Patent Wars

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"I manufactured the instruments and put them on the market. The Trade could not get enough of them from the start."

-Eldridge R. Johnson

The "Berliner Gramophone Company of Philadelphia", established in 1895, now had a marketable product on its hands. Johnson spent the next two years building and assembling Gramophones for Berliner.

But help was sorely needed if the company was to reap the full benefits of the new invention. Berliner contracted New York advertising agent Frank Seaman to market the machines. Seaman founded the National Gramophone Company to exclusively sell Berliner's products.

Seaman's advertising skills soon reaped profits for Berliner. In the meantime, the German inventor sent William Barry Owen to England to gain a foothold in the European market.

There, Owen and London Lawyer Trevor Williams founded the Gramophone Company, Ltd., of London. The Gramophone was now being sold on both sides of the Atlantic. Products manufactured by Johnson back in New Jersey were purchased through Seaman and sold by the new company in England.

But soon after, bad blood boiled up between Berliner and Seaman, and an era of legal warfare ensued.

Seaman's contract made him the sole authorized sales agent for Berliner's products. Though the profits weren't bad, he soon decided he deserved better. Seaman set up the Universal Talking Machine Company and began promoting his own product, the Zonophone, as an "improved Gramophone." He almost simultaneously cut off his supplies from the Gramophone Company Ltd., in London, in an attempt to corner the emerging European market for himself. It began a war that would threaten to destroy the Johnson and Berliner interests at home and abroad. Both men had to act fast. While Johnson bought large quantities of records to supply the English company, upon whose success his livelihood depended, Berliner sent recording experts Fred Gaisberg and Joseph Sanders to Europe in order to establish the first disc-record pressing facilities there.

The tactics worked, and Seaman's self-styled embargo was eluded. The resulting stability for the Gramophone Company Ltd., and the availability of local music to European audiences, thanks to the efforts of the recording experts there, greatly increased demand for the disc record and the Gramophone itself.

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