“… The New Method of Speech-Making”

August 29, 1908

Edward Windsor Kemble

“… The New Method of Speech-Making”

Presidential Election 1908; Technology, Sound Recording/Phonograph;

Bryan, William Jennings; Jackson, Andrew; Jefferson, Thomas;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

"Stop it, John, stop it! That won't do now--that's a rank record."

In 1908, for the first time in history, Americans could listen to the recorded voices of the presidential candidates, Republican William Howard Taft and Democrat William Jennings Bryan.  In this cartoon, Bryan reacts in horror to his own statements for "government ownership," "initiative and referendum," and "any old ism"; his criticisms of previous Democratic nominees, President Grover Cleveland and Alton Parker; and his contradictory comments for and against imperialism.  Bryan bellows to his vice-presidential running mate, John Kern, who is turning the gramophone, to stop the infernal racket.  Between them the dog of "hard times" wails, while on the shelf (upper-left) a bust of Andrew Jackson, on a base inscribed "Thomas Jefferson," casts a distressed glance at the party's current standard-bearer.

In 1855, Leon Scott invented the first device that successfully recorded sound.  Although his machine could not play the sounds back, it was marketed beginning in 1859 for use in scientifically analyzing sound, and was an important building block for later developments.  In 1877, Thomas Edison drew up plans for a "tinfoil phonograph" from which a prototype was built by his laboratory engineer, John Kruesi.  Unlike Scott's machine, the phonograph not only recorded, but also played back sounds.  It was first tested successfully with a recording of Edison reciting "Mary Had a Little Lamb." The Scientific American reported that "Speech has become ... immortal."

In January 1878, the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company was established, and Edison refined the product over the next few months.  The phonograph caused a sensation at public demonstrations, but interest soon waned, and Edison focused his attention on developing the electric light bulb.  In 1887, under the direction of Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell (a cousin) and Charles Tainter developed the "graphophone," which improved sound quality and allowed longer recordings.  In the late 1880s, Edison resumed tinkering with the phonograph, making improvements and developing an office dictation machine.

In the 1890s, musicians began recording songs on multiple phonographs again and again to produce enough to meet demand.  Then, customers would put a nickel in slot machines at drug stores, cafes, or special "phonograph parlors," allowing them to listen to their favorite tune for two minutes.  The musical recordings were soon accompanied by brief advertisements.  In 1893, Emile Berliner introduced the "gramophone," which replaced the phonograph's cylinder with hard-rubber discs, making manufacture more efficient and less expensive.  Berliner was not able to market the gramophone effectively until he got adequate financial backing in 1896. 

The early recordings were of local musicians because established artists looked down their noses at the notion.  In 1901, Berliner's Gramophone Company recorded four singers from the Russian Imperial Opera, which helped convince Enrico Caruso, the acclaimed tenor, to record his voice.  Over the next two decades, Caruso sold $2 million worth of his operatic records, and his success attracted other recognized and aspiring singers into the recording studio.

In 1908, for the first time in American history, both major party candidates stumped for votes across the country throughout the campaign.  For those who could not attend the partisan rallies, or for those who wanted a repeat performance, Bryan and Taft recorded a few of their campaign speeches, including Bryan's "An Ideal Republic" and Taft's "Our Army and Navy."  Enterprising phonograph retailers drew in customers by staging debates in their stores between mannequins of Taft and Bryan with their dueling recorded appeals to the voters.  Still somewhat of a novelty in 1908, recordings of the presidential candidates became more widespread and important in the election of 1912.

Robert C. Kennedy

“… The New Method of Speech-Making”
August 12, 2022

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