Who is Eldridge Johnson and Why Do We Owe Him So Much?

29 Dec 2014

Eldridge R. Johnson was an American entrepreneur who saw something in Thomas Edison’s talking machine that Edison couldn’t see himself.  

While Edison was focused on using his invention to capture speech, Johnson saw the potential for music.  In doing so, he essentially created the modern music industry.

In 1901, he founded the Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden, New Jersey.  Over the following decades, the company became immensely successful and extremely important in spreading the concept of recorded music.

By making record players for the entire planet—often in the form of stylish furniture, not in the industrial look of Edison’s original phonographs—the company helped turn music into a new, powerful international cultural force.  Music also became a commodity that could be sold to the general public.

 

Mass production and distribution of all the various models of transformed listening to music from a group activity into one that could be done alone.   People were entranced with the revolutionary idea of being able to select any music they wanted any time they wanted.  This led to the decline of the age-old shared physical and sonic community experiences.  At the same time, though, it allowed for music to move from being heard by a thousand people in an opera house to millions around the world.

Through distribution on Eldridge’s Red Seal label, Enrico Caruso became a worldwide star instead of just a regional sensation.  This is despite his records selling for $7, the equivalent of $100 today.

The company’s logo—a little dog staring into the horn of a gramophone—became world famous.  Everyone has seen Little Nipper at one point.

The Victor Talking Machine Company is currently owned by Sony.  The Japanese branch–the Japanese Victor Company or JVC–separated in 1927 and remains an independent entity.

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