Victor Talking Machine Company

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Victor Talking Machine Company
His Master's Voice.jpg
Founded1901 (1901)
Founder Eldridge R. Johnson, Emile Berliner
StatusMerged with 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 that operated independently from 1901 until 1929, when it was acquired by the Radio Corporation of America and subsequently operated as a subsidiary called RCA Victor.


Headquartered in Camden, New Jersey, it was the largest and most prestigious firm of its kind in the world, probably best known for its use of the iconic "His Master's Voice" trademark and the production, marketing, and design of the popular "Victrola" line of phonographs. After its merger with RCA in 1929, the company continued to make phonographs, records, radios and other products.


In 1896, Emile Berliner—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 title on a letterhead, on March 28, 1901, [4] nine weeks after the death of British Queen Victoria.


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 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, the original painting still shows the contours of the Edison-Bell phonograph 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

The first jazz and blues records ever issued were recorded by the Victor Talking Machine Company. 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 a high-quality microphone and heard over a high-quality receiver provided clearer, more "natural" sound than a contemporary record. In 1925, Victor switched from the acoustical or mechanical method of recording to the new microphone-based electrical system developed by Western Electric. Victor called its version of the improved fidelity recording process "Orthophonic", and sold a new line of phonographs called "Orthophonic Victrolas", scientifically designed 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, issued 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 Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings (EDVR) is a continuation of a project of Ted Fagan and William Moran to make a complete discography of all Victor recordings. [11] The Victor archive files are a major 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 as the Radio Corporation of America in 1919. 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 Jack Russell Terrier 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.

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

Nipper was a dog from Bristol, England, who served as the model for an 1898 painting by Francis Barraud titled His Master's Voice. This image became one of the world's best known trademarks, the famous dog-and-gramophone that was used by several record companies and their associated company brands, including Berliner Gramophone and its various affiliates and successors, including 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 vinyl analog sound storage medium

A phonograph record, or simply a record, 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 periphery and ends near the center of the disc. At first, the discs were commonly made from shellac, with earlier records having a fine abrasive filler mixed in. Starting in the 1940s polyvinyl chloride became common, hence the name vinyl.

RCA Records is an American record label currently owned by Sony Music Entertainment, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America. It is one of Sony Music's four flagship labels, alongside RCA's former long-time rival Columbia Records; also Arista Records, and Epic Records. The label has released multiple genres of music, including pop, classical, rock, hip hop, afrobeat, electronic, R&B, blues, jazz, and country. Its name is derived from the initials of its defunct parent company, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). RCA Records was fully acquired by Bertelsmann in 1987, making it a part of Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) and became a part of Sony BMG Music Entertainment after the 2004 merger of BMG and Sony; it was acquired by the latter in 2008, after the dissolution of Sony/BMG and the restructuring of Sony Music. RCA Records is the corporate successor of the Victor Talking Machine Company, founded in 1901, making it the second-oldest record label in American history, after sister label Columbia Records, founded in 1889. Most famous artists include Elvis Presley.

<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 classical artists and catalogues to its parent label EMI Classics and merged its musical theatre artists and catalogues into Capitol Records. EMI Classics was sold to the Warner Music Group in 2013.

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

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 HMV, EMI and RCA Victor. The image, which depicts a dog named Nipper listening to a wind-up disc gramophone and tilting his head, 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 two dozen copies of the painting which made his name.

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 instantly as a major step forward in sound reproduction.

Frances Elliott Clark (1860–1958) was an early music-appreciation advocate. As a teacher in twentieth century Ottumwa, Iowa, Clark spent ten minutes in each of her chorus rehearsals telling students about composers or helping them recognize the stylistic features of a work that made it possible to place it in its correct historical context. Shortly thereafter, the phonograph added new opportunities for students to listen to music. Clark, who by 1903 had moved to Milwaukee, told of her introduction to Edison's invention and of its potential. She realized the difference it could make to her students if they could hear professional recordings. Her principal agreed, and approved the purchase of a machine for the schools.

<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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Graham Alexander (musician)</span> American singer-songwriter

Graham Alexander is an American singer-songwriter, entertainer, and entrepreneur known best for his solo music career and for his roles in the Broadway shows Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles and Let It Be and as the entrepreneur who founded a new incarnation of the Victor Talking Machine Co. in Camden, N.J.

The Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR) is a database of master recordings made by American record companies during the 78rpm era. 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. "RCA Nipper Window on Display at Rutgers". Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  6. "VICTOR 78 RECORDS: Evolution of the Victor Talking Machine Company record labels". 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 - Site - Discography of American Historical Recordings". Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  12. "Library of Congress, Sony launch streaming 'National Jukebox'". Washington Post. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  13. "About the National Jukebox - National Jukebox". Retrieved January 10, 2018.