The year was 1927 and the future had hardly ever looked brighter for the City of Camden. Times were prosperous, business and industry were booming, and the city was full of recently constructed public buildings, civic improvements, schools, the new Delaware River bridge and its new highway to the suburbs. The stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed were in the unimagined future.
It was in these times that Camden prepare for its 100th anniversary, and in this spirit of optimism that the city fathers under the direction of Mayor Winfield S. Price commissioned the booklet whose text you will find below.
Company’s Growth from Tiny Shop in 1898 to Mammoth Plant Employing Thousands, has Placed Camden in Front Rank as Industrial City.
No CITY in the United States is better known for its manufactured products than Camden. The great industries which have played leading parts in its development and growth have also carried its fame into the remote corners of the world. Of these none has played a larger part than the Victor Talking Machine Company, whose trademark, “His Master’s Voice,” is known from Baffinland to Tierra del Fuego, from New York to Shanghai. Wherever music is played, the name of Camden has gone.
Of greater material importance to the community itself, however, is the part the Victor Company, has played in the development of Camden as an industrial center. From its meager beginning in a tiny machine shop, a little more than a quarter of a century ago, the plant of the Victor Company has expanded until today it consists of thirty-one large modern buildings of fireproof and brick construction with floor space of 2,534,000 square feet, the equivalent of ten city blocks or fifty-eight acres, where, at the time this article is written, 9,016 persons find employment.
These figures are all the more startling when one looks back over the years to the little 10 by 20 brick building near the banks of the Delaware where Eldridge R. Johnson, founder and first president of the Victor Company, found the inspiration from which grew the instrument which has given the world so much happiness.
Mr. Johnson was a machinist with an imagination, which is another way of saying that he was a practical inventor. Everything that passed through his hands intrigued his imagination. Therefore, when a man walked into his shop to have some minor repairs made on one of the first crude talking machines, forces were set in motion which a few years later were to exert a powerful influence upon the musical and social life of the entire world.
The sensitive ear of the inventor was offended by the rather grotesque sounds that came from the curious toy, but he immediately visioned its potentialities. With the inventor’s enthusiasm for perfection, he set about making a machine that would really ‘talk and sing, and reproduce instrumental music. He saw scientific, educational, commercial possibilities; merely awaiting the development of something more nearly approaching a convincing sound quality. That, briefly, is how one of the world’s great industrial enterprises had its birth.
With the logical procedure that was later to permeate the company which he founded, Mr. Johnson attacked the problem of recording. He saw that the first step was to put realistic sounds upon a record. His meager funds, and his time and inventive genius, were devoted to the task, and finally he produced a record that sang like a real, human voice.
When he heard the first clear notes of “Telegraph My Baby”, a popular song of the day, coming from the throat of the machine, he realized that he had completed the first lap of a long journey. It was a scientific and a business victory. “Victor” became the name of the new product.
That was in 1896. But for the fact that Mr. Johnson was that unusual combination, an inventive genius and a keen businessman, the story of Victor might have ended there. Restless to proceed toward his goal of greater perfection, he diverted a part of his energies to the problem of organization, and in 1901 the Victor Talking Machine Company was incorporated.
Production of machine and records was begun with the same enthusiasm that had been poured into the invention itself. In addition to the improved record, Mr. Johnson had invented a spring motor which ran evenly, and could be manufactured at a reasonable price, so that the new company was starting out with superior products, which enabled it to meet any competition that developed.
Over in England, Francis Barraud, an artist, had one of the earliest talking machines. Another of his treasured possessions was a little black and white fox terrier named Nipper.
As Nipper sat before the horn of the instrument, exhibiting interest and bewilderment in every line of his tense little body and pricked up ears, the artist had an inspiration. Setting up a fresh canvas, he began to paint. When he had finished an exact replica of the scene before him, he appended a title which was as happy an inspiration as the picture itself “His Master’s Voice.” It was the same picture that today appears on products of the Victor Talking Machine Company and its associated companies and that has become one of the best-known trade symbols in the world.
With a machine which gave a creditable reproduction of the music of the human voice, and a trade mark which not only identified its instrument and records but actually told a convincing story as well, the new company and its tireless founder began enthusiastically the task of giving music to the world. A dealer, here and there, at first took on Victor products, and as the number grew, production began to mount up and up. In the devotion to his blossoming ideal the founder lost sight of the inevitable flood of money that was to pour into the company. To some of his old comrades at the bench, who had stood with him through the lean and heart-breaking days, the founder handed out substantial allotments of stock which were later to represent millions of dollars.
Hand in hand with the building of a dealer organization went that other essential of sales- advertising. In fact, the company and its advertising can be said to have started and grown together. It is true that the original advertising appropriation would hardly be a decent postage item in the present-day Victor advertising program. A total of $1500 was all that could be squeezed for that first education effort. But it was a start for one of the greatest continual advertising campaigns the world has ever seen, a campaign in which, in the last 25 years has been invested considerably more than $40,000,000.
A good machine, a good record, a national business were not the only stepping-stones to Mr. Johnson’s success. The moment he could divert a portion of his energies from the perfection of the machine and the launching of the new company, he began to work on a phase of the industry that gave it incalculable prestige and added greatly to its financial success, nothing short of the exclusive right to record the voices and music of the world’s greatest artists of concert and opera would satisfy him.
The difficulties in the way of this ambition were considerable, but they were pushed aside with the same sureness and determination that had eliminated mechanical and organization problems. The coveted artists were the ideal of the public. They knew how their voices or instrumental renditions sounded amid the favorable settings of the theatre or the concert hall. But in the sounds that came from the record of that day where were lacking the accustomed volume, some of the musical detail, and the charm of the artists’ personality.
But Victor held up the picture of a worldwide audience, instead of a few thousand people in a darkened auditorium. There was the vision of singing to lonely pioneers, travelers in the far places, music lovers huddling around the fire in snow-bound farmhouses, music lovers of the countless homes of the great cities. And there was that still greater lure, the assurance that the actual music of the artists would be preserved for all time.
The arguments of the Victor Company prevailed. They fell in line, these immortals of music; one or two, timidly, at first, and then a procession that gradually swelled until a Victor contract was as sure a badge of success as any triumphal world tour – and a much surer success from a financial stand-point. Royalties from records made recording artists wealthy beyond their fondest hopes.
One idea that was firmly implanted throughout this organization by Mr. Johnson was that nothing was ever quite good enough for complete satisfaction. The old horn-type machine was good, but not good enough. The Cabinet Victrola was the next step, and finally, in 1925, in the midst of a period when radio was occupying the center of the stage, the Orthophonic Victrola and the Electrola were introduced.
From time to time, as the business developed, the research laboratories were enlarged. It was realized, however, that there were other great scientific and industrial organizations that were spending far more money in ‘acoustical research than the Victor Company could afford to invest in such work. Therefore, when it was learned that the Bell Telephone Laboratories of the Western Electric Company and the American Telephone and Telegraph Company had developed both a new method of recording and a new talking machine which far exceeded in range and quality the old recording and reproducing methods, the Victor Company eagerly investigated. Independent research in the Victor Laboratories had proceeded sufficiently far toward improved reproducing methods to enable officials of the company to appreciate the full significance of what had been developed in the Bell Laboratories.
Right to use the new electrical recording process of the Western Electric Company, and the exclusive right to manufacture and sell the new reproducing instrument, which is now known as the Orthophonic Victrola, were immediately acquired by Victor. Incidentally, this action resulted in making commercially available, through the co-operation of two great industries, the by-product of telephone research.
Therein lies another romance of science.
The principle of matched impedance, which governs the design of the Orthophonic Talking Machine, is a mechanical application of the electrical principle which made possible long distance telephone communication.
The new electrical records and the orthophonic reproducing instrument were made, commercially available by the Victor Company as soon as old stocks could be disposed of, and the factory converted to production of the new developments. Introduction of these new products came at a time when radio was holding the limelight. Improvement of the talking machine and recording had lagged. The orthophonic principle was therefore a tremendous musical, industrial and scientific surprise.
In November, 1925, the new instruments were demonstrated simultaneously throughout the United States. In a single day two million people heard them. In two weeks orders had been placed for a total of $20,000,000 worth of orthophonic instruments, at factory prices. An industry had been completely revolutionized, almost over night.
Following introduction of the orthophonic instrument, the Victor Company placed on the market combination instruments containing both orthophonic reproduction from records, and radio receiving sets manufactured by the Radio Corporation of America. Next came an electrical amplifying talking machine, developed by the General Electric Company, and having extraordinary volume capacity. This electrical instrument is marketed as the Electrola. In some of the larger Victor models, Radiola receiving equipment, orthophonic reproduction from records and electrical production from records are combined in a single cabinet, thus affording the latest acoustical developments for providing music in the home. A later development is the Automatic Victrola which changes its own records.
The recent sale by Mr. Johnson of his majority holdings in the Victor Company to a group of bankers has concentrated public attention upon the magnitude of the business built up by this inventor and businessman in twenty-five years. Today the company has a capitalization of $49,070,000. It has branches or affiliations at strategic points throughout the world. It produces records in about thirty-five languages and dialects.
Following the sale of his holdings, Mr. Johnson withdrew from active participation in the affairs of the company and Edward E. Shumaker was elected president of Victor. Coming to the company in 1904 as office boy, Mr. Shumaker has risen steadily. Elected to the board of directors in 1920, he is the official who conducted the negotiations with the Western Electric Company and the Bell Telephone Laboratories which resulted in the perfection of the Orthophonic Talking Machine, and its production by the Victor Company. He also negotiated with the Radio Corporation of America for the electrical amplifying talking machine being produced by the Victor Company, and the radio equipment being built into the combination Victor instruments. In 1926 he was elected a vice-president of the company, and, as vice-president in charge of sales, is credited with having played an important part in development of the heavy volume of business of the company in that year.
Other officers of the company are: Belford G. Royal, chairman of the Board of Directors; E. R. Fenimore Johnson, vice-president; Alfred Weihnd, vice-president; Elmer C. Grimley, treasurer, and Edward K. MacEwan, secretary. Mr. Royal was one of the early associates of Eldridge R. Johnson and has been a member of the board since 1910. Fenimore Johnson is the son of the founder of the company and has been vice-president since 1925.
The members of the Board of Directors of the Victor Company are: Edward E. Shumaker, Walter J. Staats, Fenimore Johnson, A. W. Atkinson, Galvin G. Child, George E. Cullinan, John C. Jay, Dewitt Millhauser, Belford G. Royal, Levi L. Rue, Albert Strauss and Alfred Clark.