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Pawnee Bill Ranch

The Victrola


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This podcast is produced by the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum. All rights are reserved. Please credit the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum Podcast if you use information from the podcast in any research or publication.

<Introduction Music>

[00:06] Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast, brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.  

[00:17] Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast. My name is Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch historical interpreter, and I am Kandace Trujillo, the Pawnee Bill Ranch intern.

[00:24] Anna Davis:
So Kandace, I think we can both agree that one of the best parts of working at the Pawnee Bill Ranch is the interaction that we have with artifacts on a regular basis, whether it’s assessing items, going through mountains of old documents, or even simply giving a tour through the mansion. Pawnee Bill’s things hold a special spot in our hearts.

[00:42] Kandace Trujillo:
That’s right, and some of those items are just a little bit more special than others. As historians, our job is to interpret history in a way that both educates and entertains. This can be done through many different ways, whether it’s seeing the object, holding the object, or smelling the object, it all serves to create a bond with history. Perhaps more rare is being able to hear the object.

[1:02] <Sound of music being played on Victrola>

[01:34] Anna Davis:
What you are hearing now is one of Pawnee Bill’s most unique furnishings, and the sounds recorded over 100 years ago. The mansion’s 1910 Victrola stays silent for many guests, but for the children that visit the Ranch, when it’s played it provides an important glimpse into the past.

[01:49] Kandace Trujillo:
Pawnee Bill’s 1910 Victrola sits today in his dining room. The top is open revealing a simple working mechanism. A pressed record sits on the turntable, and a metal arm is lowered so that a needle can be placed in the grooves on the record that provide the sound. An interpreter cranks the handle, and once the machine is turned on, the melody begins to play. No electricity is required.

[02:10] <Sound of music being played on Victrola>

[02:30] Anna Davis:
The cabinet itself is elegant in shape with curved legs that support the structure and small doors that open to reveal hidden speakers. Underneath the lid, a simple logo is shown, announcing that this machine was produced by the Victor Talking Machine Company. For $200 in 1910, any household could have owned this state-of-the-art machine.

[02:49] Kandace Trujillo:
In 1901, Eldridge R. Johnson founded the Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden, New Jersey. The record machine market at the turn of the century was competitive, and many believed the name Victor came from Johnson’s court victory over his closest rivals, Zonophone and Berliner. Victor was revolutionary in his manufacturing process. The company would become one of the first of their kind to employ artists for their music recordings. At the turn of the century, many record companies were having trouble with the quality of their recordings and the limited quantity that they could produce at a time.

[03:23] Anna Davis:
Full orchestral recordings proved difficult during this time as it was nearly impossible to record the full range of an orchestra. The performers were forced to gather around a recording device and many instruments, especially percussion, were left out because of the issues. Victor addressed the issue without concern, hiring some of the most well-known composers of the day to record for their company.

[03:46] <Sound of music being played on Victrola>

[04:15] Kandace Trujillo:
In 1906, to capitalize on their popularity, Victor released a new line of phonographs with turntables and hidden speakers. The idea was to produce a new phonograph that was more like furniture than the earlier versions had been. Trademarked under the name Victrola, these cabinets became widely popular. The top table version of the Victrola sold for a little more than fifteen dollars. Cabinets, such as the one in Pawnee Bill’s mansion, sold for about $100 to $250. More expensive designs with fine wood and gold guilding were available for $600. Victrola would be the most popular name brand home phonograph.

[04:50] Anna Davis:
In 1926, Johnson sold his interest in the company. Victor sat in the holding of Seligman & Spyer for nearly three years before it was sold to the Radio Corporation of America, which is more widely known today by its initials, RCA. RCA would continue to use the name until 1987 when the last Victrola, now a line of televisions, was produced.

[05:13] Kandace Trujillo:
Today, historians are compiling an online catalog of all the recordings done by both RCA and Victor. Nearly 15,000 logged pages were kept, giving valuable information as to the artists that recorded with the company. As of 2011, the archive goes to the year 1935, but historians working on the project hope to document up until 1958.

[05:36] Anna Davis:
One of the most unique things about the Victrola is something that tourists see on every tour. We probably don’t think about it very much. It has to do with the painted logo just under the Victrola’s cover. What you see is perhaps one of the most well-known corporate logos in the world.

[05:52] Kandace Trujillo:
Surrounded by gold letters, a little white dog is featured listening intently to a gramophone. Painted in 1893, “His Master’s Voice” was done as a tribute to the artist’s brother, who had passed away and left his entire estate to his dog. The painting would go unsold for several years until it was used alongside the Victor machines in an advertising campaign in Great Britain.   

[06:17] Anna Davis:
The little white dog with the black ears was named Nipper. The artist, Francis Barraud, said, “It is difficult to say how the idea came to me beyond the fact that it suddenly occurred to me that to have the little dog listening to the phonograph with an intelligent and rather puzzled expression, and call it “His Master’s Voice,” would make an excellent subject. We had a phonograph, and I often noticed how puzzled he was to make out where the voice came from. It certainly was the happiest thought I ever had.”

[06:48] Kandace Trujillo:
Nipper was used as the logo for RCA until 1986 when the company was purchased by GM and disbanded. The brand RCA is still used today by Sony Entertainment, one of the largest multimedia companies in the world today, and Nipper still makes regular appearances in advertisements all over the world.

[07:03] <Sound of music being played on Victrola>

[07:32] Anna Davis:
So, Kandace, you’ve only been here for a couple of weeks now, right?

[07:35] Kandace Trujillo:

[07:36] Anna Davis:
And you’ve never heard the Victrola play, correct?

[07:38] Kandace Trujillo:
No, I haven’t.

[07:39] Anna Davis:
It’s a very rare treat that we actually play it for many guests, mostly for school groups, but the record that is currently in it is one of Pawnee Bill’s records, and it’s called “God Bless the Prince of Wales,” and next time you come to the mansion for a tour, you might ask the tour guide to point out the Victrola in the dining room, and if you’re very very lucky, the interpreter might actually play it for you, and you can hear the sounds that were also broadcasted in this podcast. Well, that’s about it for this time. My name is Anna Davis...

[08:08] Kandace Trujillo:
...and I’m Kandace Trujillo...

[08:10] Anna Davis:
...and we will see you next time.

<Closing Music>

[08:16] Anna Davis:
The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information, go to www.pawneebillranch.com or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.