Eldridge R. Johnson
RCA in 1929, known today as
Classical, blues, jazz, country, bluegrass, folk
Country of origin
United States of America
Camden, New Jersey
Victor Talking Machine Company
Victor Talking Machine Company was an American record company and
phonograph manufacturer headquartered in Camden, New Jersey.
The company was founded by engineer Eldridge R. Johnson, who had
previously made gramophones to play Emile Berliner's disc records.
After a series of legal wranglings between Berliner, Johnson and their
former business partners, the two joined to form the Consolidated
Talking Machine Co. in order to combine the patents for the record
with Johnson's patents improving its fidelity. Victor Talking Machine
Co. was incorporated officially in 1901 shortly before agreeing to
Columbia Records use of its disc record patent.
3 Acoustical recording era
4 Electrical recording era
5 Acquisition by Radio Corporation of America
6 Subsidiaries, partners, and plants
7 List of Victor Records artists
9 The Victrola and other products
10 See also
11 Further reading
13 External links
Victor IV gramophone. Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da
Victor had acquired the Pan-American rights to use the famous
trademark of the fox terrier
Nipper listening to a gramophone when
Berliner and Johnson joined their fledgling companies. (See also His
Master's Voice.) The original painting was an oil on canvas by Francis
Barraud in 1898. Barraud's deceased brother, a London photographer,
willed him his estate including his DC-powered Edison-Bell cylinder
phonograph with a case of cylinders and his dog Nipper. Barraud's
Nipper staring intently into the horn of an
Edison-Bell while both sit on a polished wooden surface. The horn on
the Edison-Bell machine was black and after a failed attempt at
selling the painting to a cylinder record supplier of Edison
Phonographs in the UK, a friend of Barraud's suggested that the
painting could be brightened up (and possibly made more marketable) by
substituting one of the brass-belled horns on display in the window at
the new gramophone shop on Maiden Lane. The London branch was managed
by an American, William Barry Owen. Barraud paid a visit with a
photograph of the painting and asked to borrow a horn. Owen gave
Barraud an entire gramophone and asked him to paint it into the
picture, offering to buy the result. The original painting still shows
the contours of the Edison-Bell phonograph beneath the paint of the
gramophone when viewed in the correct light. Only 13 originally
commissioned "His Master's Voice" paintings were commissioned by the
company and the original belongs to the archives at
EMI (the successor company to Victor's partner in the United Kingdom).
In 1915, the "His Master's Voice" logo was rendered in immense
circular leaded-glass windows in the tower of the Victrola factory
building. The tower remains today with replica windows installed
during RCA's ownership of the plant in its later years. Today, one of
the original windows is located at the Smithsonian museum in
There are different accounts as to how the "Victor" name came about.
RCA historian Fred Barnum gives various possible origins of the
name in "His Master's Voice" In America, he writes, "One story claims
that Johnson considered his first improved Gramophone to be both a
scientific and business 'victory.' A second account is that Johnson
emerged as the 'Victor' from the lengthy and costly patent litigations
involving Berliner and Frank Seaman's Zonophone. A third story is that
Johnson's partner, Leon Douglass, derived the word from his wife's
name 'Victoria.' Finally, a fourth story is that Johnson took the name
from the popular 'Victor' bicycle, which he had admired for its
superior engineering. Of these four accounts the first two are the
most generally accepted." Perhaps coincidentally, the first use of
the Victor title on a letterhead, on March 28, 1901, was only nine
weeks after the death of British Queen Victoria.
Acoustical recording era
Enrico Caruso with a customized Victrola given to him as a wedding
gift by the Victor Company in 1918
Before 1925, recording was done by the same purely mechanical,
non-electronic "acoustical" method used since the invention of the
phonograph nearly fifty years earlier. No microphone was involved and
there was no means of amplification. The recording machine was
essentially an exposed-horn acoustical record player functioning in
reverse. One or more funnel-like metal horns was used to concentrate
the energy of the airborne sound waves onto a recording diaphragm,
which was a thin glass disc about two inches in diameter held in place
by rubber gaskets at its perimeter. The sound-vibrated center of the
diaphragm was linked to a cutting stylus that was guided across the
surface of a very thick wax disc, engraving a sound-modulated groove
into its surface. The wax was too soft to be played back even once
without seriously damaging it, although test recordings were sometimes
made and sacrificed by playing them back immediately. The wax master
disc was sent to a processing plant where it was electroplated to
create a negative metal "stamper" used to mold or "press" durable
replicas of the recording from heated "biscuits" of a shellac-based
compound. Although sound quality was gradually improved by a series of
small refinements, the process was inherently insensitive. It could
only record sources of sound that were very close to the recording
horn or very loud, and even then the high-frequency overtones and
sibilants necessary for clear, detailed sound reproduction were too
feeble to register above the background noise. Resonances in the
recording horns and associated components resulted in a characteristic
"horn sound" that immediately identifies an acoustical recording to an
experienced modern listener and seemed inseparable from "phonograph
music" to contemporary listeners.
From the start, Victor innovated manufacturing processes and soon rose
to preeminence by recording famous performers. In 1903, it instituted
a three-step mother-stamper process to produce more stampers and
records than previously possible. After improving the quality of disc
records and players, Johnson began an ambitious project to have the
most prestigious singers and musicians of the day record for Victor,
with exclusive agreements where possible. Even if these artists
demanded royalty advances which the company could not hope to make up
from the sales of their records, Johnson shrewdly knew that he would
get his money's worth in the long run in promotion of the Victor brand
name. These new celebrity recordings bore red labels, and were
marketed as Red Seal records. For many years these records were
single-sided; only in 1923 did Victor begin offering Red Seals in
double-sided form. Countless advertisements were published praising
renowned stars of the opera and concert stages and boasting that they
recorded only for Victor. As Johnson intended, much of the
record-buying public assumed from this that Victor Records must be
In the company's early years, Victor issued recordings on the Victor,
Monarch and De Luxe labels, with the Victor label on 7-inch records,
Monarch on 10-inch records and De Luxe on 12-inch records. De Luxe
Special 14-inch records were briefly marketed in 1903–1904. In 1905,
all labels and sizes were consolidated into the Victor imprint.
A Victor Talking Machine
The Victor recordings made by world-famous tenor
Enrico Caruso between
1904 and 1920 were particularly successful. They were often used by
retailers to demonstrate Victor phonographs; Caruso's rich powerful
baritonal quality highlighted the best range of audio fidelity of the
early audio technology while being minimally affected by its defects.
Even people who otherwise never listened to opera often owned a record
or two of the great voice of Caruso.
Victor recorded numerous classical musicians, including Jascha
Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Victor Herbert,
Ignacy Jan Paderewski
Ignacy Jan Paderewski and
Sergei Rachmaninoff in recordings at its home studios in Camden, New
Jersey and in New York. Rachmaninoff, in particular, became one of the
first composer-performers to record extensively; he recorded
exclusively for Victor from 1920 to 1942. Arturo Toscanini's long
association with Victor also began in 1920, with a series of records
conducting members of the orchestra of the
La Scala Opera House of
Milan. He recorded for the company until his retirement in 1954.
The first jazz and blues records were recorded by the Victor Talking
Machine Company. The Victor Military Band recorded the first recorded
blues song, "The Memphis Blues", on July 15, 1914 in Camden, New
Jersey. In 1917,
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded "Livery
Stable Blues", and established jazz as popular music.
Electrical recording era
Victor "scroll" label from 1930, featuring the company's house band
directed by Nathaniel Shilkret
The advent of radio as a home entertainment medium in the early 1920s
presented Victor and the entire record industry with new challenges.
Not only was music becoming available over the air free of charge, but
a live broadcast made using a high-quality microphone and heard over a
high-quality receiver provided clearer, more "natural" sound than a
contemporary record. In 1925, Victor switched from the acoustical or
mechanical method of recording to the new microphone-based electrical
system developed by Western Electric. Victor called its version of the
improved fidelity recording process "Orthophonic", and sold a new line
of record players, called "Orthophonic Victrolas", scientifically
designed to play these improved records. Victor's first electrical
recordings were made and issued in the spring of 1925. However, in
order to create sufficient catalogs of them to satisfy anticipated
demand, and to allow dealers time to liquidate their stocks of
acoustical recordings, Victor and its rival, Columbia, agreed to keep
secret from the public, until near the end of 1925, the fact that they
were making the new electrical recordings which offered a vast
improvement over the ones currently available. Then, with a large
advertising campaign, Victor openly announced the new technology and
introduced its Orthophonic Victrolas on "Victor Day", November 2,
The "VE", indicating a Victor electrical recording
Victor's first commercial electrical recording was made at the
Camden, New Jersey
Camden, New Jersey studios on February 26, 1925. A group of
eight popular Victor artists, Billy Murray, Frank Banta, Henry Burr,
Albert Campbell, Frank Croxton, John Meyer, Monroe Silver, and Rudy
Wiedoeft gathered to record "A Miniature Concert". Several takes were
recorded by the old acoustical process, then additional takes were
recorded electrically for test purposes. The electrical recordings
turned out well, and Victor issued the results that summer as the two
sides of 12-inch 78 rpm record Victor 35753.
Victor quickly recorded the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by
Stokowski in a series at its
Camden, New Jersey
Camden, New Jersey studios and then in
Philadelphia's Academy of Music. Among Stokowski's first electrical
recordings were performances of Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns
and Marche Slave by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Frederick Stock and the
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Orchestra made a series of recordings for Victor,
beginning in 1925, first in Victor's Chicago studios and then in
Orchestra Hall. The
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by
Alfred Hertz made a few acoustical recordings early in 1925, then
switched to electrical recordings in Oakland and San Francisco,
California, continuing until 1928. Within a few years, Serge
Koussevitzky began a long series of recordings with the Boston
Symphony Orchestra in Boston's Symphony Hall. Toscanini made his first
Victor electrical recordings with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
The origins of country music as we know it today can be traced to two
seminal influences and a remarkable coincidence. Jimmie Rodgers and
Carter Family are considered the founders of country music and
their songs were first captured at an historic recording session in
Bristol, Tennessee (also known as the Bristol Sessions) on August 1,
Ralph Peer was the talent scout and recording engineer for
Acquisition by Radio Corporation of America
In 1926, Johnson sold his controlling (but not holding) interest in
the Victor Company to the banking firm of Seligman & Spyer, who in
1929 sold Victor to the Radio Corporation of America. It then became
known briefly as the Radio-Victor Division of the Radio Corporation of
America, then the
RCA Manufacturing Company, the
RCA Victor Division
and in 1968,
RCA Records. Most record labels continued to bear only
the "Victor" name until 1946, when the labels changed to "
and eventually, to simply "RCA" in 1968. (See
RCA Records for
later history of the Victor brand name.)
Subsidiaries, partners, and plants
Victor and its executives became extremely wealthy by the 1920s and in
doing so were able to establish markets outside of the original
Camden, NJ base of operations. Having established a hand-shake
Emile Berliner in forming Victor Talking Machine Co,
Berliner was sent from the U.S to manage the remaining holdings of the
Gramophone Company (a company in which Victor owned a significant
portion in part due to patent pooling agreements, and Victor's success
in its first two decades). Eventually, this meant that Victor (in
addition to owning studios, offices, and plants in Camden, New York
City, Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, South America) also owned
controlling interests in the
Gramophone Company of Canada and England,
as well as the Deutsche Gramophone Co. in Europe. Soon, Victor formed
the Victor Company of Japan (JVC), founded in 1927. As Radio
Corporation of America acquired Victor, the Gramophone Co. in England
RCA a controlling interest in JVC, Columbia (UK),
and EMI. During World War II,
JVC severed its ties to
RCA Victor and
today remains one of the oldest and most successful Japanese record
labels as well as an electronics giant. Meanwhile,
RCA sold its
remaining shares in
EMI during this time. Today the "His Master's
Voice" trademark in music is split amongst several companies including
JVC (in Japan), HMV (in the UK), and
RCA (in the US).
List of Victor Records artists
Main article: List of Victor Records artists
Victor kept meticulous written records of all of its recordings. The
files cover the period 1903 to 1958 (thus including the
era, as well as the Victor Talking Machine Co. era). These written
records are among the most extensive and important sources of
available primary discographic information in the world. There were
three main categories of files: a daily log of recordings for each
day, a file maintained for each important Victor artist, and a 4"x6"
index card file kept in catalog number order.
There are about 15,000 daily log pages, each titled "Recording Book,"
that are numbered chronologically. Each recording was assigned a
"matrix number" to identify the recording. When issued, the recording
had a "catalog number," almost always different from the matrix
number, on the record label.
As of 2010, the remaining pages available at the Victor archives go
only up to April 22, 1935. Victor's original pages after this date
were apparently discarded at some point. However, Victor's ties with
EMI in England, and at Hayes, Hillingdon, in London,
EMI has more
recent pages. These pages were sent at the time they were first
written and therefore do not have the annotations made afterwards.
Most, but not all, daily log information for recordings made for
synchronization with motion pictures were kept separately, and the
separate synchronization recording information is missing from the
Victor also issued annual catalogs of all available recordings with
monthly supplements announcing the release of new and forthcoming
records issued throughout the year. These publications were carefully
prepared and were lavishly illustrated with many photographs and
advertisements of popular Victor recording artists.
The Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings (EDVR) is a
continuation of a project of Ted Fagan and William Moran to make a
complete discography of all Victor recordings. The Victor archive
files are a major source of information for this project.
In 2011, the
Library of Congress
Library of Congress and Victor catalog owner Sony Music
Entertainment launched the National Jukebox offering streaming audio
of more than 10,000 pre-1925 recorded works. This made the recordings,
much of them not widely available since World War I, available for
listening by the general public.
The Victrola and other products
In September 1906, Victor introduced a new line of talking machines
with the turntable and amplifying horn tucked away inside a wooden
cabinet, the horn being completely invisible. This was not done for
reasons of audio fidelity, but for visual aesthetics. The intention
was to produce a phonograph that looked less like a piece of machinery
and more like a piece of furniture. These internal horn machines,
trademarked with the name Victrola, were first marketed to the public
in September of that year and were an immediate hit. Soon an extensive
line of Victrolas was available, ranging from small tabletop models
selling for $15, through many sizes and designs of cabinets intended
to go with the decor of middle-class homes in the $100 to $250 range,
up to $600 Chippendale and Queen Anne-style cabinets of fine wood with
gold trim designed to look at home in elegant mansions. Victrolas
became by far the most popular type of home phonograph, and sold in
great numbers until the end of the 1920s.
RCA Victor continued to
market record players under the Victrola name until the late 1960s.
Other Victor products included the Electrola (an electrified record
player), Radiola (a radio often paired with a record player which was
a joint venture with
RCA prior to their acquisition of the company),
and musical instruments (including the first electronic instrument,
List of phonograph manufacturers
Instructions for the setting up, operation & care of The Victrola,
Spring Type, Victor Talking Machine Company, Camden, NJ., c. 1924.
(from The Roaring 20's Victrola page)
Bryan, Martin F. Report to the Phonothèque Québécoise on the Search
for Archival Documents of Berliner Gram-O-Phone Co., Victor Talking
Machine Co., R.C.A. Victor Co. (Montréal), 1899–1972. Further
augmented ed. Montréal: Phonothèque Québécoise, 1994. 19,  p.
^ a b c Gelatt, Roland, The Fabulous Phonograph: 1877—1977,
MacMillan, New York, 1954. ISBN 0-02-542960-4
Nipper Window on Display at Rutgers". Historiccamdencounty.com.
Retrieved 10 January 2018.
^ "Preserving the History of
RCA Victor". Historiccamdencounty.com.
Retrieved 10 January 2018.
^ Barnum, Fred, "'His Master's Voice' In America", General Electric
Co, 1991. ISBN 0939766167, ISBN 978-0939766161
^ The Talking Machine Review International, Ernie Bayly © 1973 The
Gramophone Company Limited
^ "VICTOR 78 RECORDS: Evolution of the Victor Talking Machine Company
record labels". Mainspringpress.com. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
^ "Victor matrix B-15065. The Memphis blues / Victor Military Band -
Discography of American Historical Recordings". Adp.library.ucsb.edu.
Retrieved January 10, 2018.
^ "Victor matrix B-19331. Livery stable blues / Original Dixieland
Jazz Band - Discography of American Historical Recordings".
Adp.library.ucsb.edu. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
^ Victor Recording Book log, pp. 4761 and 4761A.
^ "Discography of American Historical Recordings - Site - Discography
of American Historical Recordings". Victor.library.ucsb.edu. Retrieved
10 January 2018.
^ "Library of Congress, Sony launch streaming 'National Jukebox'".
Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
^ "About the National Jukebox - National Jukebox LOC.gov". Loc.gov.
Retrieved 10 January 2018.
Media related to
Victor Talking Machine Company
Victor Talking Machine Company at Wikimedia Commons
Victor masters in the Discography of American Historical Recordings
"Victrola Credenza" at Victor-Victrola page
"Identifying Victor Products" at Victor-Victrola page
"Two Fortunes and a Song", Victor Records "pre-dog" disc on YouTube
Victor timeline at the David Sarnoff Library
RCA Corporation records at Hagley Museum and Library (1887–1983)
About the history of
RCA and Victor
RCA Corporation photos at Hagley Museum (1878–1960)
Victor Records on the Internet Archive's Grea