The Birth of Commercially Viable Magnetic Sound Recording (1900)

In 1900, Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen patented the first commercially viable magnetic sound recorder, which he boldly predicted would “replace the phonographs hitherto in use.” References to the potential for magnetic recording can be found dating back to the late 1870s, and there were later patent filings  on  magnetic recorders of questionable utility, including one by Victor Emerson that employed “the crumbling action of a magnetic needle” (1904). But Poulson’s magnetic wire-recorder, the application for which had a rather bumpy ride through the U.S. Patent Office, was the first to find its way into commercial production.

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The device was featured at the Paris Exposition in 1900, where Emperor Franz Joseph reportedly made a recording. In late 1903, Stilson Hutchins chartered the American Telegraphone Company to market the machines in the United States. The ad below appeared in 1906:

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Intended to record phone calls and dictation, the Telegraphone lacked the amplification and technical capabilities that would have been needed were it ever to “replace the phonographs hitherto in use.” Although it was not a commercial success, American Telegraphone somehow survived into 1920, when it was placed in receivership.

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For more on recording-industry pioneers of the early 1900s, be sure to check out A Phonograph in Every Home: Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1900 – 1919, available from Mainspring Press and many libraries.