Radio Corporation of America photographs
Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library
PO Box 3630
Wilmington, Delaware, 19807
Finding aid prepared by Lisa Gensel in 2003.,
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In 1887, German-born inventor Emile Berliner received a U.S. patent for the gramophone, the first commercially available flat disk playing phonograph. In 1895, Berliner and a group of investors started the Berliner Gramophone Company to manufacture the gramophone for commercial use. Berliner's design improved on the phonograph invented by Thomas Edison in 1877 as it allowed for ease of duplication from a master recording, but the hand-cranked gramophone could not maintain constant speed and pitch while playing. In 1896, Eldridge Reeves Johnson, a machinist from Camden, New Jersey, developed a spring motor for the Berliner gramophone and began to produce motors, sound boxes and metal parts for Berliner Gramophone. When Emile Berliner underwent legal difficulties, Johnson decided to adopt a brand name and distribute his own gramophones. In 1900, Eldridge Johnson formed the Consolidated Talking Machine Company with Leon F. Douglass, but it would be short lived. In 1901, Johnson combined his patents with those of Emile Berliner, incorporating the Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden, New Jersey and adopting the "His Master's Voice" trademark from Berliner. The Victor Talking Machine Company increased in success continually, signing Enrico Caruso and John Phillips Sousa to recording contracts, introducing the Victrola with its enclosed horn in 1906 and improving recording technology. The company continued to expand into the 1920s, when sales began to flatten with the popularity of radio.
Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was incorporated in 1919, taking over the Marconi Wireless patents in the United States and focusing their efforts on international communications. RCA quickly entered the broadcasting field in July 1921 and shortly thereafter began to sell home broadcasting equipment manufactured by GE and Westinghouse. RCA desired its own manufacturing facilities, however, and purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company on March 15, 1929. The corporation became the RCA Victor Company in 1930. This merger allowed RCA to consolidate the research, engineering, manufacturing and sales of RCA products. RCA continued to diversity its products throughout the 1930s, expanding to include developments such as radar, airborne electronics and television.
The collection consists of photographs and negatives relating to Radio Corporation of America (RCA), the Victor Talking Machine Company, which was purchased by RCA in 1929, and the RCA-Victor Division of Radio Corporation of America. The photographs can be divided into several categories. The majority of the photographs feature sound equipment manufactured by RCA and the Victor Talking Machine Company. These images include phonographs, radios, Talking Machines, Victrolas, Radiolas, radio-phonograph combinations, speakers, amplifiers, facsimile machines and televisions. Most of this equipment was photographed seperately against a light background, although a few images show the equipment in use. Photographs of commerical and educational displays featuring RCA and Victor products are also part of the collection. A few non-RCA or Victor products, such as Emile Berliner's original gramophone, Edison's Standard Phonograph and the Columbia Graphophone, are also pictured.
People involved with or employed by the Victor Talking Machine Company and RCA are also featured in a number of images. Included in the collection are portraits of Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph, Emile Berliner, who pantented the gramophone, the first commerically available flat-disk playing phonograph, and Eldridge R. Johnson, who improved the gramophone and founded the Victor Talking Machine Company. Employees of both the Victor Talking Machine Company and the Berliner company are also featured in the collection, appearing primarily in group portraits. The collection also contains photographs of a number of recording artists who worked with RCA and Victor; these include Enrico Caruso, Arturo Toscanini and the NBC orchestra and assorted other orchestras and singers.
Two smaller groups of images feature buildings used by the Berliner and Victor Talking Machine Company and recording industry advertising. Berliner facilities featured include phonograph factories and labs, shops and the Berliner Building in Philadelphia. Eldridge Johnson's machine shop, where the Victor Talking Machine was first produced, is also featured, as are assorted views of the Victor Talking Machine Company plant in Camden, New Jersey. Advertising images in the collection include photographs of magazine and newspaper advertisements for Victor and RCA products. The Victor logo, taken from the painting "His Master's Voice," is featured in many of the advertisements and on photographs of Eldridge Johnson's original letterhead. Assorted publicity photographs, showing people and animals enjoying phonographs and radios, are also part of the collection.
Box list available in Pictorial Collections.