John S. Macdonald — better known to record buyers as the tenor “Harry Macdonough” — led a dual life. He was one of the best-selling recording artists of the early 1900s, while at the same time working his way up the ladder at Victor, from studio manager to manager of artists and repertoire manager, and eventually, to sales manager. Here are some of his recollections, as recounted to Ulysses (Jim) Walsh in 1931. The letter was written just as Walsh was beginning to undertake the research that would culminate in his long-running “Pioneer Recording Artists” column for Hobbies magazine. For more on Macdonald’s remarkable career (much of which he downplays in his letter), see “Harry Macdonough, Victor’s Singing Executive” on the Mainspring Press website.
The U-S Phonograph Company’s Cleveland factory in 1912, from The Talking Machine World. (We’ve not found any photos inside their New York studio just yet, but recently got a lead on where some might be.)
If you’re a U-S Everlasting cylinder fan, be sure to check out Indestructible and U-S Everlasting Cylinders: An Illustrated History and Cylinderography. It’s an ARSC award-winner, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.
Clinton B. Repp’s Vitaphone* machine was an oddity for its day, dispensing with the usual reproducer and hollow tone-arm assembly. Instead, the sound vibrations were transmitted by a solid wooden tone-arm to a stationery reproducer positioned at the horn linkage. Edward Amet had employed a similar idea in his glass-arm Echophone (U.S. patent #562,693, filed in November 1895), but Repp’s was a much more sophisticated design. It was also a universal phonograph, able to play lateral- or vertical-cut discs at a time when the latter were first appearing in the American market:
Repp’s patent #1,003,655, filed on June 24, 1909, used a cylinder machine for illustrative purposes. We don’t know of any Repp cylinder machines having been produced, but the same basic design was incorporated in the Vitaphone disc machine:
The Vitaphone Company launched a nationwide ad campaign in 1911, which naturally caught the attention of Victor’s patent attorneys. On October 6, 1911, Victor applied for an injunction, claiming infringement of its Berliner patent. On November 13, Judge Lacombe ruled in Victor’s favor and ordered issuance of a temporary injunction. Vitaphone appealed and continued to operate. The company advertised heavily during 1912, assuring dealers that its unique product infringed no patents (although it actually did):
The company even arranged to have Columbia press Vitaphone records, which were sold in Canada. More legal wrangling ensued, but in the end the legal issues became largely moot, as there apparently was too little demand for the product to keep Vitaphone afloat.
* Of no relation to the earlier American Vitaphone Company (although Repp had sold their products in Cuba and Mexico), the Warner Brothers’ sound-film system, or any of the various other ventures using the Vitaphone name.