Archives On The Air 46: Gramophone Lawsuits—Eldridge Johnson Papers

Aug 23, 2018

The early development of devices that recorded sound was a long and dramatic journey for a group of entrepreneurs and engineers.

Near the end of the 19th century, the Berliner group invented the gramophone and was working with Eldridge Johnson to invent the Victor Talking Machine. By 1899, the gramophone hit the market.

The first song recorded on a Victor Talking Machine was called “I Guess I’ll Have to Telegraph my Baby.”

After Berliner and Johnson’s success, Frank Seaman, now considered the founder of the talking machine, became the machine’s primary distributor.

Seaman soon went behind Berliner and Johnson’s backs to redesign the recording device and make it cheaper. This led to a series of lawsuits that eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In time Seaman, Berliner, and Johnson settled the suits and Johnson went on to record his own records and improve the quality of his machine.

Experience this industrious drama for yourself in the Eldridge Johnson papers at UW’s American Heritage Center.