Little known facts

about better known people

April 1997
This article is part of the Noteworthy News archives.

(April 1997)

Everyone knows the big picture. Here's the insignificant part of the story.

What would their resumes have looked like?

Prior occupations of prominent industrialists.

Emile Berliner. Haberdasher.

Eldridge Johnson. Farmer, Bookbinder.

Thomas Edison. Telegrapher.

Edward Easton. Stenographer.

Eldridge Johnson

He liked the product so much, he bought the company (a testimonial).

Johnson would not allow a talking machine in his home.

But he liked the name:

Johnson's horse was called Victor.

Johnson suffered from melancholia (depression) which deepened as the years went by. Victor probably lost the important Gennett case in 1922 when Johnson refused to go to court to testify.

Of sailing ship and cabbages and kings:

When Johnson sold the company in 1927 he took a cruise of the world in his yacht and bought the original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland for $150,000.

Thomas Edison

The master as music critic:

Almost deaf from scarlet fever contracted as a child, Edison would clamp his teeth on a piano to audition artists. He preferred "pure"music with no overtones. His favorite song: "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen."

Edison approved every recorded selection.

Hello, is anybody listening?

Edison popularized the use of word "hello" as a greeting to answer the telephone. Probably a corruption of an early word "haloo," a shout at a distance, "hello" doesn't even appear in the English language until the 1870s.

Get me out of this Victor T shirt:

During his legal war with Frank Seaman, Johnson approached Edison about manufacturing the Gram-o-phone.

He hadn't invented Raid.

At a vermin infested telegraph station the young Edison invented a device to electrocute cockroaches.

The criminal was Westinghoused.

Years later, Edison was locked in a battle with George Westinghouse over the danger of alternating current. Always a direct current man, Edison staged public executions of small animals on his grounds to illustrate the effects of alternating current. Since the world "electrocute" did not exist Edison suggested the verb "to Westinghouse."

Surgeon general's warning.

An inveterate consumer of tobacco, Edison puffed cigars and kept a chewing plug in his mouth until the age of 84. When his friend and fellow nicotine addict Henry Ford became concerned about the consequences of cigarettes, Edison conducted experiments. He concluded that the danger was in the paper.

Emile Berliner

Heil no, he wouldn't go.

Berliner entered the United States as a draft dodger from the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.

Good deeds.

In the 1920s, following an epidemic, the prosperous Berliner paid to have milk pasteurized for the children of Washington, DC.

Enrico Caruso

Amount of money Caruso earned from the Victor company over 20 years:

$5 million.

Are those old one-sided Caruso records worth anything?

The rarest Caruso records are a set of cylinders made in Europe for the Anglo-Italian Commerce Company around October, 1903. The second rarest are a set of blue label Zonophones from the same era.

If it was Tuesday, this wasn't Belgium.

On a tour of San Francisco in 1906 with the NY Metropolitan Opera, Caruso was roused from his sleep by a mirror shattering on his bed. It was the great earthquake! He dragged his trunk out of the motel only to have it stolen by a Chinaman. He escaped to a hill where he spent the night eating sardines and crackers and drinking tepid water from a radiator.

Caruso vowed never to return to San Francisco, and he never did.

It  saved the tonsils.

Rather than sing for guests at his home, Caruso preferrred to give record recitals.

The romance of the automobile.

Caruso loved to pose for photographs at the wheel of an automobile, but never learned how to drive. He always required a chauffeur.

His first wife ran away with the chauffeur.

On the requirements of a great singer:

"A big chest, a big mouth, 90% memory, 10% intelligence, lots of hard work, and something in the heart."

Cal Stewart

The real Uncle Josh

Uncle Josh Weathersby was suggested by Uncle Josh Whitcomb, a character Stewart portrayed in a play called "The Old Homestead." Uncle Josh Whitcomb was suggested by a real New England farmer.

Although his monologues seemed to flow effortlessly, Stewart assiduously studied farmers and old age characters all over the nation. No one could assign his accent to a particular region. Stewart himself owned a farm near Tipton, Indiana.

Advice from Uncle Josh:

"Advice is something the other fellow can't use, so he gives it  to you."

Ada Jones

As viewed through a phonograph:

She was graced with a will-o'-the-wisp voice, but unknown to her admirers Jones was short and buxom.

But she was m-a-double r i-e-d.

Jones was married to Hugh Flaherty, a vaudeville actor. But she was deluged with marriage proposals from all over the world. Gold miners in Alaska wrote the record companies to learn if she was single. If she wasn't single, demanded her suitors, why was her name Miss Ada Jones?

Stage fright.

An epileptic, Jones lived in constant fear of having a seizure while performing.

Billy Murray

Saved from the cradle of the deep.

Murray ran away from home in Denver to become an actor. He decided to join the Alaska gold rush, then changed his mind. The vessel he would have boarded sank, killing all.

Pride of the Yankees.

An incorrigible baseball fan, Murray for many years toured with the New York Yankees and knew every player in the American and National leagues.

Collins and Harlan

Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down and rest until it goes away.

The portly Collins and Harlan were sometimes introduced as the Half Ton Duo.

An Edison publication once printed a photograph of Harlan in a kitchen with this caption: "Even great singers must have athletic exercise to keep fit---Mr. Harlan frying an egg."

The next Caruso.

Harlan was so talented that a prank recording of his convinced Edison executives that they had discovered a new operatic star.

Hitting the low note.

In 1921, on a darkened stage during a Diamond Disc tone test demonstration in Medina, Ohio, Collins fell through  a trap door to the basement. It took him two years to recover.

Pseudonymous men.

Artist who made more records than anybody, yet unknown:

Harry McClaskey.

You know him as Henry Burr, Irving Gillette, Frank Knapp, and others.

Other aliases and real names:

Arthur Fields--Abe Finkelstein

Al Bernard--John Bennett

Vernon Dalhart--Marion Slaughter (Named after two towns in Texas.)

Sources: Baldwin. Edison, Inventing the Century.
Farkas, Andrew. Enrico Caruso, My Father and My Family.
Johnson, Fenimore. His Master's Voice was Eldridge Johnson.
Koenigsberg,Allen. Patent History of the Phonograph.
Walsh, Jim. Pioneer Recording Artists. Hobbies Magazine.

Copyright 2016 Lynn Bilton

Lynn Bilton
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Randolph,OH 44265
330 325-7866

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