Victor Talking Machine Company

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Victor Talking Machine Company
His Master's Voice.jpg
Founded1901;123 years ago (1901)
Founder Eldridge R. Johnson, Emile Berliner
StatusAcquired by RCA in 1929; known today as RCA Records
GenreClassical, blues, popular, jazz, country, bluegrass, folk
Country of originUnited States
Location Camden, New Jersey

The Victor Talking Machine Company was an American recording company and phonograph manufacturer, incorporated in 1901. Victor was an independent enterprise until 1929 when it was purchased by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and became the RCA Victor Division of the Radio Corporation of America until late 1968, when it was renamed RCA Records.


Established in Camden, New Jersey, Victor was the largest and most prestigious firm of its kind in the world, best known for its use of the iconic "His Master's Voice" trademark, the design, production and marketing of the popular "Victrola" line of phonographs and the company's extensive catalog of operatic and classical music recordings by world famous artists on the prestigious Red Seal label. After Victor merged with RCA in 1929, the company maintained its eminence as America's foremost producer of records and phonographs until the 1960s.


In 1896, Emile Berliner, the inventor of the gramophone and disc record, contracted machinist Eldridge R. Johnson to manufacture his inventions. [1]


There are different accounts as to how the "Victor" name came about. RCA historian Fred Barnum [2] gives various possible origins of the name in "His Master's Voice" In America, he writes, "One story claims that Johnson considered his first improved Gramophone to be both a scientific and business 'victory.' A second account is that Johnson emerged as the 'Victor' from the lengthy and costly patent litigations involving Berliner and Frank Seaman's Zonophone. A third story is that Johnson's partner, Leon Douglass, derived the word from his wife's name 'Victoria.' Finally, a fourth story is that Johnson took the name from the popular 'Victor' bicycle, which he had admired for its superior engineering. Of these four accounts, the first two are the most generally accepted." [3] The first use of the Victor name was on a letterhead, dated March 28, 1901. [4]


Victor IV gramophone. Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci, Milan. Grammofono - Victor IV - Museo scienza e tecnologia Milano.jpg
Victor IV gramophone. Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci, Milan.

Herbert Rose Barraud's deceased brother, a London photographer, willed him his estate, including his DC-powered Edison-Bell cylinder phonograph with a case of cylinders and his dog, named Nipper. Barraud's original painting depicts Nipper staring intently into the horn of an Edison-Bell while both sit on a polished wooden surface. The horn on the Edison-Bell machine was black and after a failed attempt at selling the painting to a cylinder record supplier of Edison Phonographs in the UK, a friend of Barraud's suggested that the painting could be brightened up (and possibly made more marketable) by substituting one of the brass-belled horns on display in the window at the new gramophone shop on Maiden Lane. The Gramophone Company in London was founded and managed by an American, William Barry Owen. Barraud paid a visit with a photograph of the painting and asked to borrow a horn. Owen gave Barraud an entire gramophone and asked him to paint it into the picture, offering to buy the result. On close inspection of the painting, the contours of the Edison-Bell phonograph are visible beneath the paint of the gramophone. [1]

In 1915, the "His Master's Voice" logo was rendered in immense circular leaded-glass windows in the tower of the Victrola cabinet building at Victor's headquarters in Camden, New Jersey. The building still stands today with replica windows installed during RCA's ownership of the plant in its later years. Today, one of the original windows is located at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. [5]

Acoustical recording era (1901–1925)

Enrico Caruso with a customized Victrola given to him as a wedding gift by the Victor Company in 1918 Caruso with phonograph2.jpg
Enrico Caruso with a customized Victrola given to him as a wedding gift by the Victor Company in 1918

In the company's early years, Victor issued recordings on the Victor, Monarch and De Luxe labels, with the Victor label on 7-inch records, Monarch on 10-inch records and De Luxe on 12-inch records. De Luxe Special 14-inch records were briefly marketed in 1903–1904. In 1905, all labels and sizes were consolidated into the Victor imprint. [6]

A Victor Talking Machine VictorTalkingMachine2008.jpg
A Victor Talking Machine

Victor recorded the first jazz and blues records ever issued. The Victor Military Band recorded the first recorded blues song, "The Memphis Blues", on July 15, 1914, in Camden, New Jersey. [7] In 1917, The Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded "Livery Stable Blues". [8]

Electrical recording era (1925–present)

Victor "scroll" label from 1930, featuring the company's house band directed by Nathaniel Shilkret Victor22529A.jpg
Victor "scroll" label from 1930, featuring the company's house band directed by Nathaniel Shilkret

The advent of radio as a home entertainment medium in the early 1920s presented Victor and the entire record industry with new challenges. Not only was music becoming available over the air free of charge, but a live broadcast made using high-quality microphones and heard over high-quality receivers provided clearer, more realistic sound than a contemporary phonograph record. After plummeting sales and much resistance from Victor's senior executives, the company switched from the acoustical or mechanical method of recording to the new microphone-based electrical system developed by Western Electric in 1925. Victor called its version of the improved fidelity recording process "Orthophonic", and sold a new line of phonographs called "Orthophonic Victrolas", scientifically designed by Western Electric to play these new records. Victor's first electrical recordings, issued in the spring of 1925 were not advertised as such; in order to create an extensive catalog of the new records to satisfy anticipated demand, and to allow dealers time to liquidate their stocks of old-style Victrolas, Victor and its longtime rival, Columbia Records, agreed to keep electrical recording secret until the autumn of 1925. Then, with the company's largest advertising campaign to date, Victor publicly announced the new technology and introduced its new records and the Orthophonic Victrolas on November 2, 1925, dubbed "Victor Day". [1]

The "VE", indicating a Victor electrical recording Victor VE in circle.jpg
The "VE", indicating a Victor electrical recording

Victor's first commercial electrical recording was made at the company's Camden, New Jersey studios on February 26, 1925. A group of eight popular Victor artists, Billy Murray, Frank Banta, Henry Burr, Albert Campbell, Frank Croxton, John Meyer, Monroe Silver, and Rudy Wiedoeft gathered to record "A Miniature Concert". Several takes were recorded by the old acoustical process, then additional takes were recorded electrically for test purposes. The electrical recordings turned out well, and Victor issued the results that summer as the two sides of twelve inch 78 rpm disc, Victor 35753. Victor's first electrical recording to be issued was Victor 19626, a ten-inch record consisting of two numbers recorded on March 16, 1925, from the University of Pennsylvania's thirty-seventh annual production of the Mask and Wig Club, released in April, 1925. On March 21, 1925, Victor recorded its first electrical Red Seal disc, twelve inch 6502 by pianist Alfred Cortot, of works by Chopin and Schubert. [9]

Post-acquisition (1929–present)

In 1926, Johnson sold his controlling (but not holding) interest in the Victor Company to the banking firms of JW Seligman and Speyer & Co., who in turn sold Victor to the Radio Corporation of America in 1929. [10]

List of Victor Records artists


The Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR) is a continuation of the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings (EDVR) project by Ted Fagan and William Moran to make a complete discography of all Victor recordings as well as adding the recordings of Columbia, Brunswick and other historic American labels now controlled by Sony Music Entertainment. [11] The Victor archive files are the main source of information for this project.

In 2011, the Library of Congress and Victor catalog owner Sony Music Entertainment launched the National Jukebox offering streaming audio of more than 10,000 pre-1925 recorded works for listening by the general public; the majority of these recordings have not been widely available for over 100 years. [12] [13]

See also

Further reading

Related Research Articles

The RCA Corporation was a major American electronics company, which was founded in 1919 as the Radio Corporation of America. It was initially a patent trust owned by General Electric (GE), Westinghouse, AT&T Corporation and United Fruit Company. In 1932, RCA became an independent company after the partners were required to divest their ownership as part of the settlement of a government antitrust suit.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">His Master's Voice</span> Painting, British record label, and international trademark

His Master's Voice (HMV) was the name of a major British record label created in 1901 by The Gramophone Co. Ltd. The phrase was coined in the late 1890s from the title of a painting by English artist Francis Barraud, which depicted a dog named Nipper listening to a wind-up disc gramophone and tilting his head. In the original, unmodified 1898 painting, the dog was listening to a cylinder phonograph. The painting was also famously used as the trademark and logo of the Victor Talking Machine Company, later known as RCA Victor. The painting was originally offered to James Hough, manager of Edison-Bell in London, but he declined, saying "dogs don't listen to phonographs". Barraud subsequently visited The Gramophone Co. of Maiden Lane in London where the manager William Barry Owen offered to purchase the painting if it were revised to depict their latest Improved Gramophone model. Barraud obliged, and Owen bought the painting from Barraud for £100.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nipper</span> Canine mascot of HMV, RCA, and the Victor Talking Machine Company

Nipper, also known as the RCA Victor dog, was a dog from Bristol, England, who served as the model for a 1898 painting by British painter Francis Barraud titled His Master's Voice. This image became one of the world's best known trademarks, the famous dog-and-gramophone pairing that was used by several record companies and their associated company brands, including Berliner Gramophone and its various affiliates and successors, among them Berliner's German subsidiary Deutsche Grammophon; Berliner's American successor the Victor Talking Machine Co. ; Zonophone; Berliner's British affiliate the Gramophone Co. Ltd. and its successors EMI and HMV Retail Ltd.; the Gramophone Co.'s German subsidiary Electrola; and onetime Victor subsidiary the Japan Victor Company (JVC).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phonograph record</span> Disc-shaped analog sound storage medium

A phonograph record, a vinyl record, or simply a record or vinyl is an analog sound storage medium in the form of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove. The groove usually starts near the outside edge and ends near the center of the disc. The stored sound information is made audible by playing the record on a phonograph.

RCA Records is an American record label owned by Sony Music Entertainment, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Berliner Gramophone</span> First disc record label

Berliner Gramophone – its discs identified with an etched-in "E. Berliner's Gramophone" as the logo – was the first disc record label in the world. Its records were played on Emile Berliner's invention, the Gramophone, which competed with the wax cylinder–playing phonographs that were more common in the 1890s and could record.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Columbia Graphophone Company</span> Record company in the United Kingdom

Columbia Graphophone Co. Ltd. was one of the earliest gramophone companies in the United Kingdom.

The Gramophone Company Limited , based in the United Kingdom and founded by Emil Berliner, was one of the early recording companies, the parent organisation for the His Master's Voice (HMV) label, and the European affiliate of the American Victor Talking Machine Company. Although the company merged with the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1931 to form Electric and Musical Industries Limited (EMI), its name "The Gramophone Company Limited" continued in the UK into the 1970s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edison Disc Record</span> Type of phonograph record produced by Edison Inc. from 1912 to 1929

The Edison Diamond Disc Record is a type of phonograph record marketed by Thomas A. Edison, Inc. on their Edison Record label from 1912 to 1929. They were named Diamond Discs because the matching Edison Disc Phonograph was fitted with a permanent conical diamond stylus for playing them. Diamond Discs were incompatible with lateral-groove disc record players, e.g. the Victor Victrola, the disposable steel needles of which would damage them while extracting hardly any sound. Uniquely, they are just under 14 in thick.

Angel Records was a record label founded by EMI in 1953. It specialised in classical music, but included an occasional operetta or Broadway score. and one Peter Sellers comedy disc. The famous Recording Angel trademark was used by the Gramophone Company, EMI and its affiliated companies from 1898. The label has been inactive since 2006, when it dissolved and reassigned its active artists and catalogue while retaining its recent catalogue to sister labels EMI Classics, Virgin Classics and Manhattan Records and its musical theatre artists and catalogue to other sister label Capitol Records.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eldridge R. Johnson</span> American businessman and engineer

Eldridge Reeves Johnson was an American businessman and engineer who founded the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901 and built it into the leading American producer of phonographs and phonograph records and one of the leading phonograph companies in the world at the time. Victor was the corporate predecessor of RCA Records.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Francis Barraud</span> English painter

Francis James Barraud was an English painter. He is best known for his work His Master's Voice, one of the most famous commercial logos in the world, having inspired a music industry trademark used by corporations including EMI, HMV, RCA Victor and JVC. The image, which depicts a dog named Nipper, ear cocked as he listens to a wind-up disc gramophone helped popularize the nascent field of sound recording and brought Barraud worldwide fame. He subsequently established himself as an artist for corporate clients, spending the rest of his career producing at least two dozen copies of the painting which made his name.

RCA Camden was a budget record label of RCA Victor, originally created in 1953 to reissue recordings from earlier 78rpm releases. The label was named "Camden", after Camden, New Jersey where the offices, factories and studios of RCA Victor and its predecessor, the Victor Talking Machine Company had been located since 1901.

RCA Victrola was a budget record label introduced by RCA Victor in the early 1960s to reissue classical recordings originally released on the RCA Victor "Red Seal" label. The name "Victrola" came from the early console phonographs first marketed by the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1906. Many of RCA Victrola's reissues included recordings from the historic RCA Victor "Living Stereo" series first released in 1958, using triple channel stereophonic tapes from as early as 1954.

Orlando R. Marsh was an electrical engineer raised in Wilmette, Illinois. In early 1920s Chicago, Illinois he pioneered electrical recording of phonograph discs with microphones when acoustic recording with horns was commonplace. His firm Marsh Laboratories, Inc., founded in 1922, at one time was located on the seventh floor of the Lyon & Healy Building near the corner of Wabash and Jackson in Chicago. The Marsh firm no longer exists but the building still stands and is part of DePaul University.(1)

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Victor Orthophonic Victrola</span>

The Victor Orthophonic Victrola, first demonstrated publicly in 1925, was the first consumer phonograph designed specifically to play electrically recorded phonograph records. The combination was recognized as a major step forward in sound reproduction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nipper Building</span> United States historic place

The Nipper Building is a colloquial name for The Victor condominiums, and formerly, Building 17, RCA Victor Company, Camden Plant. The structure is a historical building located in Cooper Grant neighborhood of Camden, Camden County, New Jersey, United States. Since 1901, Camden was the headquarters of the Victor Talking Machine Company, later RCA Victor. Originally a Victrola cabinet factory, the building was converted into luxury apartments and retail space in 2004.

RCA Red Seal is a classical music label whose origin dates to 1902 and is currently owned by Sony Music Entertainment.

Edison Bell was an English company that was the first distributor and an early manufacturer of gramophones and gramophone records. The company survived through several incarnations, becoming a top producer of budget records in England through the early 1930s until, after it was absorbed by Decca in 1932, production of various Edison Bell labels ceased.

The Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR) is a database catalog of master recordings made by American record companies during the 78rpm era. The 78rpm era was the time period in which any flat disc records were being played at a speed of 78 revolutions per minute. The DAHR provides some of these original recordings, free of charge, via audio streaming, along with access to the production catalogs of those same companies. DAHR is part of the American Discography Project (ADP), and is funded and operated in partnership by the University of California, Santa Barbara, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Packard Humanities Institute.


  1. 1 2 3 Gelatt, Roland, The Fabulous Phonograph: 1877–1977, MacMillan, New York, 1954. ISBN   0-02-542960-4
  2. "Preserving the History of RCA Victor". Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  3. Barnum, Fred, "'His Master's Voice' In America", General Electric Co, 1991. ISBN   0939766167, ISBN   978-0939766161
  4. The Talking Machine Review International, Ernie Bayly © 1973 The Gramophone Company Limited
  5. Levins, Hoag (January 2013). "RCA Nipper Window on Display at Rutgers". Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  6. "VICTOR 78 RECORDS: Evolution of the Victor Talking Machine Company record labels". Mainspring Press. Archived from the original on January 11, 2018. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  7. "Victor matrix B-15065. The Memphis blues / Victor Military Band". Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  8. "Victor matrix B-19331. Livery stable blues / Original Dixieland Jazz Band". Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  9. Victor Recording Book log, pp. 4761 and 4761A.
  10. Suisman, David (May 31, 2009). Selling Sounds . Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press. pp.  268. ISBN   978-0-674-03337-5. jw seligman victor talking machines.
  11. "Discography of American Historical Recordings". UCSB Library. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  12. Jouvenal, Justin (May 10, 2011). "Library of Congress, Sony launch streaming 'National Jukebox'" . Washington Post. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  13. "About the National Jukebox". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on January 10, 2018. Retrieved January 10, 2018.