Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Talking Machines Made in Pennsylvania

Modernola talking machine
The first talking machine was invented by Thomas A. Edison in 1877. This crude machine was hand operated and was named the Phonograph (meaning Voice-writer). To record sound the operator spoke loudly into the mouth piece. The sound waves were embossed by a stylus on a sheet of soft tin foil wrapped around a revolving cylinder. To replay the sound a second stylus was run along the groove, picking up the embossed vibrations and transmitting them to a diaphragm from which a copy of the original sound could be heard.
In 1893 a new talking machine of totally different design to the cylinder machines was put on the market. Emile Berliner had devised a machine which he called the Gramophone. Compared with the cylinder machines it was very crude, being hand cranked. It used disc records seven inches in diameter. It was however louder than the cylinder machines, and the records were cheaper and easier to store.
By the early 1920's most of the basic patents had expired, and many other companies began to produce talking machines. One such firm in Johnstown, Pennsylvania was the Modernola Talking Machine Company, which produced various versions of phonographs. One of its unique products was a floor model phonograph with a lamp; and example is featured in the exhibit. By 1922, the company had a small factory on Station Street. In addition to console and portable record players, the company also made several models of radios, such as the "Delano Sheraton."
The company, however, closed in 1929, probably because few people could afford luxury items at the onset of the Depression. 

A Brief History of the Fairground Organ

Wellershaus Brothers German Fair Organ
A fairground organ is a pipe organ designed for use in a commercial public fairground setting to provide loud music to accompany fairground rides and attractions, mostly used on merry-go-rounds. Unlike organs intended for indoor use, they are designed to produce a large volume of sound to be heard over and above the noise of crowds of people and fairground machinery.


As fairgrounds became more mechanized at the end of the nineteenth century so did their musical needs grow. The period of greatest activity of fairground organ manufacture and development is from the later 1880s through to the introduction of effective electrical sound amplification in the mid-1920s. The organ chassis was typically provided with an ornate and florid decorative case fa├žade designed to be a further fairground attraction in its own right as with all fairground equipment.

The Berry-Wood A.O.W. Orchestrion

Established in Kansas City, Missouri in 1907, the Berry Wood Piano Player Company was an early entry into the coin-operated piano field. They built very rugged, yet extravagant pianos, instruments and orchestrions. The Berry-Wood A.O.W. Orchestrion combined a piano with 34 wood flute pipes, 34 wood violin pipes, a tambourine, a triangle, a cymbal, a wood block, castanets, a bass drum, a snare drum, a marimba, metal bells and a mandolin rail all in one! This player piano operated via a paper roll and featured three stained glass panels and two decorative lamps. Because the A.O.W. Orchestrion plays 10 instruments it was perfect for use in "motion picture houses."
Even so, the company went out of business in 1920. Shortly thereafter demand for coin operated pianos increased dramatically as they became widely popular in public facilities, bars, and dance clubs or the era.
Today there is only one functional Berry-Wood A.O.W. Orchestrion (pictured here) in existence and it resides at DeBence Antique Music World in Franklin.