Phonograph history reference books out and nearly out of print

April 1998
This article is part of the Noteworthy News archives.

Copyright 2016 Lynn Bilton

You may be lucky enough to find these volumes at a university library or second hand bookstore:

Emile Berliner, Maker of the Microphone by Frederic Wile (1926)

It seems odd today, but in his lifetime Berliner was known for his work on the telephone. His sale of a variable resistance transmitter to the Bell interests when they were locked in a life-or-death struggle with Western Union made him a wealthy man.

Berliner's life reads like an American saga. A penniless German immigrant finds work at a clothing store. A friend lends him a book on physics. He perfects the Gramophone and in later years does good deeds like funding the pasteurization of milk in Washington. Floridly written and less than exhaustively researched, but still the only biography of Berliner.

The Music Goes Round by Fred Gaisberg (1938)

The autobiography of Berliner's personal emissary to Europe, Gaisberg became a sort of peripatetic talent scout for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company. He takes the credit for signing Caruso against G and T's wishes (although the story is false) and was a friend to every diva and major musician in Europe such as Toscannini, Paderewski and Rachmaninoff. Stylishly written, amusing anecdotes for classical music buffs.

Edison's Open Door by Alfred Tate (1938)

Tate was Edison's personal secretary and one of his corporate officers in the 1880s and 1890s. The wonder of this book is that Tate didn't want to write a standard biography and he didn't: he produced a simple, compelling personal reminiscence. It wasn't easy, because Edison never talked about politics or religion but only about business and invention. Great trivia about Edison's sleeping habits (he could doze standing up or for 36 hours at a stretch). You can also just hear Edison's vexation at the Graphophone gang: "A bunch of pirates...I'll show them they can't get away with it."

Menlo Park Reminiscences by Francis Jehl (1937)

Young law clerk Jehl was introduced to Edison in 1878 and from then on was present at the creation. Standard Edison biographical fare from his technical assistant, but notable for more pictures of Edisonia than you'll see anywhere else in the universe: the stock ticker, carbon transmitter, electric candle, et al. Three volumes, volume one reprinted.

Lynn Bilton
Box 435
Randolph,OH 44265
330 325-7866


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