Some Early Record-Pressing Plants

AUBURN BUTTON WORKS (Auburn, NY) — Founded in 1876  by John Hermon Woodruff, as Woodruff’s Button Factory, this  company was renamed Auburn Button Works in the late 1880s. It moved into the Washington Street buildings shown here in 1900. Auburn pressed the 7″ and 9″ brown-shellac Zonophone discs at an auxiliary plant in New York City.

The relationship was severed after Zonophone switched to Duranoid pressings in 1904, and the pressing equipment was moved to Auburn, where the International Record Company (producers of Excelsior, Lyric, et al.) was set up as a recording subsidiary. The company was forced to suspend production of its own records after losing a 1907 patent-infringement suit to Columbia. In the early 1920s the pressing plant was leased to Brunswick, then was sold to the Scranton Record Company in November 1924.

Auburn continued to manufacture other goods after spinning off the pressing business. Its final incarnation was as Auburn Plastics, Inc., which was incorporated on July 1, 1957, and dissolved (after many years of inactivity) on March 24, 1993.

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COLUMBIA PHONOGRAPH COMPANY (Bridgeport, CT) — Columbia’s sprawling Bridgeport complex housed most production operations other than recording. Acquired by the American Record Corporation in 1934, it continued to produce high-quality laminated pressings for ARC’s more expensive labels (Brunswick, Columbia, Liberty Music Shops, et al.), while pressing of ARC’s budget labels remained in Scranton. Conditions in the Bridgeport pressing plant were so bad by the mid-1930s that record producer John Hammond published a scathing exposé and attempted to unionize the workforce.

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VICTOR TALKING MACHINE COMPANY (Camden, NJ) — The largest record-production facility in the United States at the time, the Victor complex was a city unto itself, with its own printing plant, fire department, infirmary, auditorium, police force, docks, and rail line. The view above is from 1916; just twenty years earlier, future Victor founder Eldridge Johnson was building motors for Emile Berliner in a rented shack. The sole surviving structure now houses luxury apartments.

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LEEDS & CATLIN COMPANY (Middletown, CT) — In September 1905, Leeds & Catlin opened this pressing plant in the former Worcester Cycle Company factory, replacing its New York City plant. The move coincided with Leeds’ phase-out of its foil-labeled discs. Three months later, the company announced it had installed fifty additional presses to accommodate the ever-increasing demand for its new paper-labeled Imperial records. By the end of 1905, the Middletown plant was said to have an annual capacity of 150 million discs. This view appeared in a 1906 ad for Radium cylinders, Leeds’ short-lived attempt to re-enter the cylinder market.

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AMERICAN RECORD COMPANY / DOMESTIC / OKEH  (Springfield, MA) — The American Record Company (Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott) pressed their blue-shellac discs in this building during 1904–1906. Horace Sheble later pressed his Domestic discs here, using the same sort of blue shellac.

Following the demise of Domestic, Otto Heineman took over the plant in early 1918 for his newly launched Okeh label. Unable to keep up with orders for the first several years, Heineman contracted his overflow pressing to at least two outside plants.

In this view, Okeh is sharing space with the International Insulating Corporation, one of Heineman’s many other business ventures. This pressing plant was closed after Heineman opened a more modern facility in Newark, NJ, in 1921.

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BRUNSWICK-BALKE-COLLENDER COMPANY (Jersey City, NJ) — This was Brunswick’s second pressing plant; initially, it used a facility in Long Island City, NY. Brunswick also used the Auburn Button Works facility as an auxiliary pressing plant until November 1924, when the Scranton Button Company acquired Auburn’s pressing plant. Brunswick’s main pressing plant, in Muskegon, MI, opened in 1922. Vocalion’s masters were transferred there in March 1925. The Muskegon pressing plant was closed after the Brunswick and Vocalion labels were licensed to American Record Corporation, and in 1934 Decca Records purchased the largely obsolete equipment, much to its regret.

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STANDARD MUSIC ROLL COMPANY / THE ARTO COMPANY (Orange, NJ) — Employees assemble for a company photo in 1918 at the Standard Music Roll plant, before production of Arto records began (above). The photo was presented to president George Howlett Davis as a Christmas gift.

The Arto pressing plant was housed in a new structure, shown here in a 1919 architect’s sketch (below). Only the two-story structure on the right was actually built. In addition to the pressing plant, it housed Standard’s piano-roll flange factory. Although Arto claimed to operate its own studio, the vast majority of its masters were commissioned from outside sources, including Jones Recording Laboratories, Independent Recording Laboratories, New York Recording Laboratories, and Harry Marker’s H&M Laboratories (see Bell and Arto Records: A History and Discography, 1920–1928, available from Mainspring Press).

SCRANTON BUTTON COMPANY (Scranton, PA) — The largest independent American pressing plant for several decades, Scranton was closely affiliated with the Plaza Music Company / Regal Record Company group beginning in the early 1920s. Some accounts refer to this company in error as the Scranton Button Works.

Scranton sometimes invested in its clients (including National Music Lovers, in which it held a 49% stake) as a means of ensuring their continued business. At the time this view was published in 1924, the company has just acquired the Emerson recording division, which had been split from the radio division (the latter being the ancestor of the present-day Emerson corporation).

The plant was included in the 1929 merger that created the American Record Corporation. It continued to press budget labels for ARC until that company was sold to CBS, which had no use for the facility. Reorganized as the Scranton Record Company in 1939, it barely survived an entanglement with Eli Oberstein’s failed United States Record Corporation before re-emerging as a major independent plant. Capitol Records began purchasing  Scranton stock in 1944, and on March 26, 1946, it bought the company outright.

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NEW YORK RECORDING LABORATORIES (Grafton, Wisconsin) — Owned by the Wisconsin Chair Company (Port Washington, WI), this converted knitting mill on the Milwaukee River housed the pressing plant for Paramount and its many associated labels. It was a relatively primitive operation, and its pressings tend to reflect that. The pressing plant occupied the large structure on the left. Paramount’s now-legendary (and equally primitive) recording studio opened in late 1929, in the smaller building on the right. The studio building was demolished in 1938, the pressing-plant building in the mid-1940s.

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Discographic Update: Corrected Personnel for the 1927 Okeh “Goofus Five” Sessions, from Ed Kirkeby’s Payroll Book

We continue with our corrections to the undocumented (and thus, often very incorrect) personnel listings in Johnson & Shirley’s American Dance Bands on Films and Records, successor to Brian Rust’s American Dance Band Discography.

The following listings, taken from Ed Kirkeby’s payroll books,  correct ADBFR’s speculative personnel for the 1927 “Goofus Five” sessions at Okeh’s New York studio. Names in boldface are correct personnel, from the payroll books. Struck-out names are incorrect guesses that appear in ADBFR. See the previous posting for more information on the Kirkeby archival materials.

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New York: February 8, 1927

“Farewell Blues” (mx. 80402) / “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate” (mx. 80403) / “Some of These Days” (mx. 80404)

 

Tpt: Chelsea Quealey  Roy Johnston

Tbn: Abe Lincoln  Ivan Johnston

Reeds: Sam Ruby, Bobby Davis, Adrian Rollini

Pno: Irving Brodsky  Jack Russin

Bjo: Tommy Felline

____________________

 

New York: April 14, 1927

“Muddy Water” (mx. 80730) / “The Wang Wang Blues” (mx. 80731) / “The Whisper Song” (mx. 80732) / “Arkansas Blues” (mx. 80733)

 

Tpt: Chelsea Quealey

Tbn: Abe Lincoln  [none listed]

Reeds: Sam Ruby, Bobby Davis, Adrian Rollini

Pno: Irving Brodsky  Jack Russin

Bjo / Gtr: Tommy Felline

Percussion: Herb Weil

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New York: June 15, 1927

“Lazy Weather” (mx. 81015) / “Vo-Do-Do-De-O Blues” (mx. 81016) / “Ain’t That a Grand and Glorious Feeling?” (mx. 81017)

 

Tpt: Chelsea Quealey

Tbn: Al Philburn  Tommy Dorsey

Reeds: Bobby Davis, Sam Ruby, Adrian Rollini

Pno: Jack Russin

Bjo: Tommy Felline

Percussion: Herb Weil

Vocal: Ed Kirkeby

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New York: August 10 and 12, 1927

August 10: “Clementine” (mx. 81207) / “Nothin’ Does It Like It Used to Do-Do-Do” (mx. 81208)

August 12: “I Left My Sugar Standing in the Rain” (mx. 81219; originally scheduled for August 10 session)

 

Tpt: Chelsea Quealey

Tbn: Al Philburn  [none listed]

Reeds: Bobby Davis, Sam Ruby, Adrian Rollini

Pno: Jack Russin

Bjo: Tommy Felline

Percussion: Herb Weil

Note: The vocalist (Beth Challis) was not on Kirkeby’s payroll.

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New York: November 3, 1927

“Blue Baby, Why Are You Blue?” (mx. 81772) / “Make My Cot Where the Cot-Cot-Cotton Grows” (mx. 81773) / “Is She My Girl Friend?” (mx. 81774)

 

Tpt: Henry Levine, Chelsea Quealey

Tbn: Al Philburn

Reeds: Bob Fallon, Pete Pumiglio, Spencer Clark

Pno: Jack Russin

Bjo: Tommy Felline

Percussion: Herb Weil

Note: The vocalist (Les Reis) was not on Kirkeby’s payroll.

More Early Okeh “Race” Talent Ads (and a Note on the Identity of “Milo Rega”)

A couple more early Okeh race-artist ads, from 1921 editions of The Talking Machine World. Okeh spared no expense for these ads, which were specially printed as single-sided color inserts.

Incidentally, “Milo Rega,” the purported composer of “Sax-o-Phoney Blues,” was not a real person, contrary to some discographies. He was a fictional character, created by cobbling-together two other pseudonyms — “F. Wallace Rega” (actually Fred Hager) and “Justin Milo” (actually Justin Ring). The poor fellow sometimes suffered a split personality, appearing in some Okeh composer credits as “Milo – Rega.” (For more on these and 6,200 other aliases, be sure to check out the new expanded edition of Pseudonyms on American Records.)

These pseudonyms were used in Hager’s publishing business as well as in his and Ring’s work for Okeh. The actual identities of both are confirmed in multiple early-’20s listings in the U.S. Catalog of Copyright Entries, the official federal registry of copyright filings.

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