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Canadian Antique Phonograph Society


Nov-Dec 2005

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Lord Stanley and Edison’s Perfected Phonograph at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, 1888
Part 2

by Arthur E. Zimmerman

This is the second part of a long article exploring the knowable facts, to determine whether Governor General Lord Stanley made the famous cylinder recording of welcome at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition on September 11, 1888. The first part followed Lord Stanley through his first day in Toronto. Part 2 picks him up again on the morning of his very busy second day, the day he opened the fair.

Lord Stanley’s Itinerary in Toronto (cont’d.)

Rev. Dr. Henry Scadding

The formal reception of delegations began again at 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday at the Queen’s Hotel. At 10:30 the Governor General visited the University, Osgoode Hall at 11:30, the Education Department at 12:30 and just after 2 p.m., his party’s carriages were escorted by a cavalry detachment of the Governor General’s Body Guard from the Queen’s Hotel into the grand stand in the Exhibition grounds for the opening of the fair. President Withrow formally welcomed Lord Stanley, who responded with a brief speech and declared the fair open. Mr. William Lea of the York Pioneers then read an address to the Rev. Dr. Henry Scadding and, after Dr. Scadding’s reply, Lord Stanley presented a life-size oil portrait of the Reverend Doctor to that old gentleman.

The Rossin House, one of Toronto's most fashionable hotels

After the ceremony, His Excellency inspected the guard of honour and the Vice-regal party departed in their carriages to the Main Building, whence Withrow, Clarke, the Reception Committee and a "heavy escort of directors (Ald. G.F. Frankland clocked in at 425 pounds!) took His Excellency in hand and showed every nook and corner in the fair grounds" for over two hours, including the art gallery in the Main Building, the Massey Manufacturing exhibit in Machinery Hall, the Floral Hall and the Zoo. In inspecting the exhibits, he "showed himself to be thoroughly practical" (TG Sept. 12, pp. 1 & 3). At 4:50 p.m. he was driven off to the Public Library, and at 5:30 to receive an address from the Lancashire Lads and Lasses at the residence of Alderman Hallam, Isabella and Huntley Streets. Dinner was at Government House and, on the balcony of Rossin House at midnight, their Excellencies enjoyed a dynamic demonstration by the engines and hosers of the fire brigade. They missed the genuine excitement. At the alarm, the hose-reel and the ladder truck charged out of the Lombard station and down Church Street. The hoser tried a wide sweep to turn onto King, got caught in the car-track and was rammed and flipped by the ladder, the poor horse being thrown onto the sidewalk on its back (TG Sept. 12, p. 8). The Vice-regal Party left Toronto by the Grand Trunk Railway Express for Kingston on Wednesday morning at 9:00, where His Excellency would attend the Provincial Fair that afternoon (TDN Sept. 13, p. 2).

Lord Stanley and Edison’s Phonograph at the T.I.E.

Edison's Perfected Phonograph of June 1888

Of all the Toronto daily newspapers of the time (see Bibliographic Key, below), only the Evening Telegram mentioned Lord Stanley and Edison’s phonograph in the same story, and only once. The ET reported that, at the opening ceremony, after Lord Stanley "had replied briefly and fittingly (to the speech of welcome by T.I.E. President John J. Withrow) and a few remarks by Mr. Erastus Wiman were ground out on the phonograph, the party made a tour of the grounds and buildings accompanied by President Withrow and other officers of the Association. On behalf of the York Pioneers, Lord Stanley presented Dr. Scadding with a portrait in oil....." (ET Sept. 11, p. 4). Reporting the sequence of the ceremony incorrectly likely indicates that the ET’s inserting the playing of a Wiman speech on the phonograph was intended as a sarcasm and was aimed directly at Mayor Clarke. This whole situation of the ET taking pokes at Mayor Clarke becomes clearer when one realizes that a few months before, the ET had supported Alderman Elias Rogers against Clarke in a bitterly fought contest for mayor (ET Dec. 29, p. 2). At the height of the campaign, one of Clarke’s fellow M.P.P.s exposed Rogers as belonging to a local coal cartel, and Rogers and the ET were still smarting from their smashing defeat.

None of Toronto’s five other dailies noted any such phonographic incident at the opening. The World said, "An interesting incident then took place in the presentation of a portrait to Rev. Dr. Scadding, the venerable President of the York Pioneers’ Society", the "incident" probably referring to the presentation itself (TW Sept. 12, p. 1). The Evening News reported an outburst of inappropriately-timed laughter, from a group standing on the pavilion in the horse ring, during Lord Stanley’s thank-you speech (TEN Sept. 12, p. 2). All of the other newspapers which described the opening ceremony ignored any incidents and reported the presentation to Dr. Scadding as immediately following Lord Stanley’s reply to Withrow. Never a mention was made of the phonograph in connection with Lord Stanley. Indeed, the reporters dogged the steps of the Vice-regal party and none made any reference to his seeing the Edison phonograph display.

John Withrow advising "The Wonderful Perfected Phonograph" to be very careful what it says in its speech about Commercial Union (from The Grip Sept. 22, 1888, p. 6).

In fact, the phonograph exhibit had not yet been set up on that opening day of the fair. The "spectral voice of the phonograph" was revealed privately to the press by George H. Dunham only on Wednesday morning, September 12, when His Excellency was already on his way to Kingston. In the afternoon, the small brown building on the west side of the grandstand adjoining the pavilion of the Dominion Piano & Organ Company, and just across the road from the south entrance to the Agricultural Implement Building, was finally thrown open to the public (TEN Sept. 12, pp. 3 & 4; Sept. 13, p. 2). There was no admission charge to observe and hear the phonograph (ET, Sept. 19, p.4), so that people might be astonished for free (TG Sept. 14, p. 2). Incidentally, what the press did not say until later was that the Perfected Phonograph motor was battery-driven (TW Sept. 24, p. 1). That little brown building also housed Ajeeb, the wonderful and astonishing chess- and checker-playing automaton, which had beaten champions in New York, London and Paris, and had been brought to Toronto at enormous expense. The Globe commented, "The phonograph will be in working order to-day and the long-expected speech of Erastus Wiman will be given to the world" (TG Sept. 12, p. 4). Thus, the Wiman recordings had not even been heard in public until Wednesday morning.

When, finally, on Wednesday morning, Wiman’s four recorded speeches were "...ground out. Not only his words but the tones and undulations of his voice were reproduced naturally from the mouth of the long core (i.e. "cone") which runs out from the little machine. Mr. Wiman did record a speech on Commercial Union, after all, but he did not call it by that name" (TDN Sept. 13, p. 2). The Globe reported "That no sooner had this speech been delivered from the phonograph than the wax sheet upon which it was recorded gave up the ghost..... Phonographs, it appears, object to being made to inculcate Commercial Union in any form" (TG Sept. 13, p. 4). The Globe also observed that the phonograph did not "seem to be impressed with the enormity of its offence. No sooner had it discharged Mr. Wiman’s speeches than it began to whistle and play the xylophone, and then proceeded to recite ‘The boy stood on the burning deck’ and the only orthodox version of ‘Mary had a little lamb’" (ibid., p. 5). Whether or not the Commercial Union cylinder came to pieces, all four speeches were published in the Globe (TG Sept. 13, p. 4).

The phonograph exhibit was moved on the 13th from the little building shared with Ajeeb to the Annex of the Main Building (TG Sept. 14, p. 5; E Sept. 14, p. 2). Mr. Dunham had extremely large crowds around the exhibit, and was required to talk without a rest from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. every day (TG Sept. 17, p. 8). Only those few people who were able to reach and don the "sound conductors" were able to hear accurately. The reporter from the Empire had the "pleasure of hearing the duet by two coloured gentlemen which was sung in the South a couple of months ago. The ‘plunk’ ‘plunk’ of the banjo could be heard distinctly....Visitors at the great Exhibition should not miss this opportunity of seeing what, in the superstitious days of our grandfathers, would have scared them nigh unto death" (E Sept. 14, p. 2).

Lord Stanley’s schedule for his two days in Toronto was very full and extremely tight. There is no mention in the press of his receiving the Edison agent and only the strange, cryptic one in the ET of his encountering the Perfected Phonograph at the opening ceremony. So, unless Lord Stanley had a secret audience with Mr. Dunham or was somehow allowed by the Toronto Tories to secretly examine the machine in the still-closed little brown building during his walk-about at the T.I.E., it would appear that His Excellency would have had no clear opportunity to make the famous wax cylinder during this visit.

The Perfected Phonograph at the Canadian Institute

Prof. Charles Carpmael, M.A., F.R.S.C., (Surrey, England, 1846 - ?) Director of the Magnetic Observatory, Toronto, and Dominion Meteorological Service, President of the Canadian Institute and of the Science Section of the Royal Society of Canada.

The day before the Exhibition closed, it was announced that the officers of the Canadian Institute (now the Royal Canadian Institute), Richmond Street East, north-west corner of Clare (now Berti Street), had arranged with the exhibitors of the phonograph to show the machine and present a lecture at a special meeting open to the public and to ladies on Saturday, the 22nd (TEN Sept. 20, p. 4). President Charles Carpmael occupied the chair and an unusually large turn-away audience of about 200 was in attendance in the Institute library. Mr. Dunham briefly explained the apparatus, told how the membrane and stylus operated, noted that the wax cylinder normally spun at 100 RPM, and then gave a program of songs, duets, violin solos and other instrumental music, each piece being tolerably heard in every part of the room "when perfect quiet prevailed" (TEN Sept. 24, p. 4; TDM Sept. 24, p. 6). He further explained that "a speech or song or musical instrument performance could be repeated 500 times by the phonograph before its wax specially prepared cylinders wore out. The battery (which maintained constant speed) would run without renewal for 12 consecutive hours" (TW Sept. 24, p. 1).

A previously-made recording of singing and warbling of "a selection from the ‘Carnival of Venice’ and snatches of other musical compositions" by Mrs. Emma Beebe Caldwell of Hamilton, a locally celebrated "bright flexible soprano of unusual compass", was played and then a short, impromptu speech by Mr. Thomas Cowan of Galt rebutting the words of Mr. Wiman on Commercial Union. Mr. Cowan’s voice had been taken at the Exhibition grounds and was received with uproarious laughter and much loud applause, even by some prominent Liberals. Then President Withrow, Messrs. Dunham, Carpmael, Geo. Shaw and others talked and sang into the phonograph and their sounds "were faithfully reproduced to the delight of the audience". The Empire reported, however, that with the funnel attachment in place, the reproduced sounds were far off and some were scarcely distinguishable. Whistling came through loud and clear but "speaking seemed a harder test of the instrument’s capability.....The voices of some of the speakers emanated from the funnel much like the quacking of ducks, and was not resolvable into words except on the part of those in the front seats. Nevertheless, the instrument reproduced with wonderful exactness the slightest variations of tone and the rising and falling inflections of the speaker....." (E Sept. 24, p. 5).

The Canadian Institute

The stylus assembly of machines of this early vintage was tightly constrained in lateral motion and required fine adjustment to keep the stylus squarely in the groove, so that it is possible that on this day the machine was mis-tracking in playback (personal communication from Paul Dodington, Jan. 9, 2005).

Perhaps it is worth observing that the wax cylinder of Lord Stanley’s voice, if indeed it had been taken at the T.I.E. in 1888, was certainly in the possession of Mr. Dunham. That prize recording was neither mentioned nor produced nor played that Saturday night at the Canadian Institute. This fact tells strongly against the recording existing at that time and its being made at the T.I.E.

Other Windows of Opportunity?

If Lord Stanley did not make his recorded speech of welcome at the T.I.E. on September 11, 1888, there certainly had to be other opportunities. His Excellency left the T.I.E. for Kingston on September 12, but there is evidence that there was not another Perfected Phonograph available in Canada at the time, and there was certainly not one at the Kingston fair. As his first official act in Ottawa, Lord Stanley opened the Ottawa Fair on September 25, 1888, but there is no mention of the Edison phonograph in the press, and Lord Stanley entrained for Quebec immediately afterward. Of course, Edison agents might have travelled to Ottawa, Montreal or Quebec later in 1888 to show off the machine and to make the recording.

His Excellency also visited the T.I.E. on a semiprivate, non-ceremonial occasion on the last days of the 13th annual fair, September 17 and 18, 1891, when Edison’s phonograph was also on exhibit. His Excellency wished to really see the fair this time (TG Sept. 16, 1891, p. 10) and "was one of the most observant of the visitors who attended the exhibition yesterday" (TG Sept. 18, 1891, p. 2). He was escorted around the grounds by President Withrow and Capt. McMaster on Thursday the 17th (E Sept. 18, 1891, p. 6), but reporters did not follow him closely. On Friday he was certainly in the Main Building because he visited the exhibit of R.S. Williams & Son, and admired the quality of their pianos (TDM Sept. 19, 1891, p. 3). That year, the Edison phonograph was also in the Main Building, at the stand of Messrs. Horton and Emerson, the Toronto agents for the phonograph, and under the control of Mr. K. Berlowitz and Mr. Emerson (TG Sept. 12, 1891, p. 16). Interestingly, the first of Lord Stanley’s two days at the T.I.E. in 1891 was "American Visitors’ Day", which might have been a far more appropriate time, politically, for His Excellency to have issued a recorded welcome to the President and the people of the United States. If the Stanley cylinder were made in 1891, the Edison agents would likely have been recording on brown wax, which they were not using in 1888.

Discussion and Tentative Conclusions

The Provenance of the "Lord Stanley" Recording

Leo Laclaré of the National Archives of Canada, cited above, went to the archives at the Edison Laboratory National Monument at West Orange, New Jersey, around 1970, where he discovered a catalogue card that read "Lord (Henry M.) Stanley. Greetings from Canada to the United States, 1888? Probably 1890 as it was then that he made his trip to this country." Laclaré also heard from the then curator of the National Voice Library at Michigan State University, G. Robert Vincent, that he and Walter Miller (former Director of the Edison Recording Division) had dubbed the original brown wax cylinder to disc in 1935. It seems that the only information originally on the wax cylinder or on its box was "Lord Stanley, 1888". The notation "Henry M"(for Henry Morton Stanley) was added by an Edison curator who thought that the voice was of the famous journalist and explorer. The cylinder, which was possibly the property of the Edison organization, subsequently disappeared (Laclaré, op. cit.).

The recording date of September 11, 1888, was the conclusion of Leo Laclaré, based upon his discovery that Lord Stanley had opened the T.I.E. on that date and that Edison’s Perfected Phonograph was introduced into Canada at the fair that September. He was unable to find any Canadian documentation proving that Stanley had encountered the phonograph at the T.I.E. or any that he had made a recording in 1888. He pointed to a very weak parallel between a speech that Stanley had delivered on September 10th (NYT, Sept. 11, p. 1) and the text of the recording. The name and date on the card at the Edison Archives is all the evidence there is pointing to Lord Stanley’s having made the cylinder in 1888. Certainly, no one can now tell when "Lord Stanley, 1888" was inscribed on the missing box or cylinder or who wrote it.

Leo Laclaré compared this recording with one of H.M. Stanley, held by the B.B.C., and found the voices quite different. Sir Henry Morton Stanley may have visited the United States in 1890 and is supposed to have then made a recording for Edison. It is not clear whether Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley, Baron of Preston, ever visited the U.S.A. or the Edison laboratory in his Vice-regal capacity.

Other Considerations

The Plan of the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, 1888. The approximate position of the little brown building housing Edison’s Perfected Phonograph and Ajeeb, the astonishing automaton, is indicated by an arrow. The large Main Building, the Crystal Palace, is to its immediate left and the Annex is a parallelogram, a short block south and slightly to the left. (courtesy C.N.E. Archives).

It is most curious that Lord Stanley, sworn in as Governor General just the previous June, and on his first visit to Toronto and its great fair, should have recorded a welcome to the President and people of the United States. From the text, it’s not clear that this little speech is a welcome to any place or occasion in particular. Secondly, the Tory establishment in Toronto was thoroughly upset that Erastus Wiman had sent political promotions for Commercial Union with the phonograph, as demonstration items, and they surely would have contrived and have done their best to keep the Vice-regal representative far away from partisan political conniving, especially in matters of which they did not approve. Thirdly, Stanley’s entire schedule was so very tight that he would have had little chance to receive the Edison agent - more especially as Mr. Dunham was the carrier of the infectious advertisement for Commercial Union - without the press’ being aware of it, and the press did not report the making of any recording by Lord Stanley. If the recording year was indeed 1888, it was likely not made at the T.I.E. Lord Stanley spent only a few hours at the T.I.E. after opening the fair that afternoon of September 11, left Toronto at 9 a.m. the next day and did not return that year.

The original cylinder and box may no longer exist and the record of the provenance, if it ever existed, seems to be lost as well. G. Robert Vincent, who in 1935 helped dub the original to a soft-cut disc, told Leo Laclaré that the original was of brown wax. The "Lord Stanley" item in the current ENHS catalogue, however, reads:

    A Hearty Welcome
    Spoken by Sir Frederick A. Stanley of Preston,
    Governor General of Canada.
    Recorded c. September 11, 1888, opening the
    Toronto Industrial Exhibition,
    Toronto, Canada. Edison "yellow paraffine"
    cylinder (?), unissued. Original
    source recording not in ENHS collection.
    Re-recording from Reeves Sound
    Studio disc, matrix 1175, catalog #E-797-07
(from Gerald Fabris, Curator, Edison National Historic Site, West Orange, N.J., Sept. 29, 2004). The bracketed question mark after "‘yellow paraffine’ cylinder" is most significant.

When the cylinder was dubbed in 1935, neither the speaker’s identity nor the recording date, September 11, 1888, was realized. Both were later deduced by Laclaré, based upon "Lord Stanley, 1888" inscribed thereon. The colour of the wax is critical for deciding upon the recording year. Edison replaced the white/yellow paraffine wax around March 1889 by the harder metallic-salt brown wax. Therefore, a white/yellow cylinder might post-date March 1889, but a brown wax one could not ante-date it.

In conclusion:

1) There is almost no firm proof that the voice recovered from a now-missing ancient Edison cylinder is actually that of Lord Stanley.
2) The speech of welcome is not to any place or occasion in particular.
3) There seems to be no documented evidence at all - aside from the unique, uncorroborated, cryptic, asequential comment by the ET - that Lord Stanley encountered the Perfected Phonograph in Toronto or at the TIE, September 10 - 12, 1888.
4) Since the Wiman phonograms had upset the Tory old boys, it seems unlikely that they would have allowed Lord Stanley to examine the "master wonder of Edison’s" or to hear Wiman’s demonstration records.
5) Given the virulent crossborder political contentions in that very week, this was a singularly inappropriate time for the new Governor General to record for freetrader Grover Cleveland any sort of warm sentiment toward the people and President of the United States.
6) As a newly appointed Governor General, on his first visit to Toronto and in his first encounter with Toronto’s great fair, Lord Stanley would far more likely have recorded his impressions of Toronto and of the fair for Edison.
7) The recording is not mentioned in the press nor at the Canadian Institute demonstration.
8) Finally, there is the crucial and unsettled question of whether the original was of white/yellow paraffine or of brown wax. If of brown wax, the recording must post-date March 1889, unless a brown wax was a later dubbed copy of an original white wax cylinder.

It is therefore highly unlikely that Baron Stanley of Preston would have recorded this hearty welcome to the U.S. President at the T.I.E. in September, 1888. Some have decided that the speaker was addressing John J. Withrow, President of the T.I.E. This seems an odd conclusion, that His Excellency would be welcoming President Withrow, and "our friends from the United States", to Withrow’s own city.
Erastus Wiman’s recorded message about the phonograph, circa. September 6, 1888:

"I said the other night at the dinner of the Telephone Combination that we sought to reach the end of things; that nothing could be more rapid and instantaneous than communication by the telephone. The telephone is instantaneous and nothing can compete with it. I did not then know the uses of the phonograph and the marvellous perfection which it has reached. Here-after one is unsafe to say that the end of things has been reached, in the 19th century, when the voice, expression and emphasis, and the precise modulation of each tone, can be transmitted for thousands of miles. Surely one is unsafe to say that the end of things has been reached. I look upon the uses of the phonograph as almost unlimited. For my own purpose I shall want one in my own house, so that in a sleepless night, when I cannot rest, I may get up and speak a word or two to some friend, to whom I shall transmit it perhaps thousands of miles away. Some neglected duty, some unperformed service that should have been rendered during the day can be supplemented by a memorandum of precise directions, and better than all, a good letter may be delivered in the silent hours of the night. In the morning, when one is dressing, and thinking of what has transpired the day before, he can speak into the telephone (sic.) and issue directions to those under him. The children can delight the old grandfather hundreds of miles away, and thousands of other uses will develop as the machine gets into common and everyday use. It seemsto have a dazzling future, and I wish it every success."

(This and the three other recorded messages can be seen in the TG Sept. 13, p. 4.)

The final settling of the authenticity and date of the Stanley recording must await searches of Lord Stanley’s papers and correspondence at the Parker Library, Cambridge University, at the Hampshire Record Office, at the Liverpool Record Office and in the British Library Manuscript Collection.

It has to be stated here that the Stanley recording is not the oldest surviving recording in the world, as has often been claimed in print. Aside from very rare lead cylinders made for the Ansonia speaking clock, circa 1878-79, and brass cylinders for the Stroh Automatic Phonograph, there are in the Edison Archive several unique white or yellow wax cylinders, sent from England by Col. Gouraud. Three of these contain choruses recorded at a public performance of "Israel in Egypt" at the Handel Festival in the Crystal Palace, London, on June 29, 1888.

Some Interesting Addenda

It is possible that the cylinders of the voices of Wiman, Mrs. Caldwell, Thomas Cowan and others may have been taken to Edison by Mr. Dunham and may still be preserved at the Edison National Historic Site. The advent of the obliging and well-mannered phonograph into the world provoked some radical thoughts. The editors of the Globe thought that if one could catch a speech by Mr. Hesson, M.P., and oblige him to listen to the playback, he would talk no more and "what a relief that would be to Parliament" (TG Sept. 13, p. 5). Another editorial figured that civilization had had much experience of the phonograph ever since the beginnings of man: "A lot of our politicians are phonographs. They never make their own speeches and do very little of their own thinking. Some of our preachers are phonographs too...." (TG Sept. 11, p. 2).

Bibliographic Key: All newspapers cited are from 1888, unless otherwise noted.

E = The Empire, Toronto
ET = Toronto Evening Telegram
FTFTS = "From Tin Foil to Stereo" - Oliver Read and Walter L. Welch, H.W. Sams & Co., Indianapolis, 2nd edition, 1976
HS = Hamilton Spectator
LT = The Times, London
NYT = New York Times
OC = Ottawa Citizen
RUEP = Rutgers University Edison Papers
TDM = Toronto Daily/Evening Mail
TDN / TEN = Toronto Daily/Evening News
TG = Toronto Globe
TW = The World, Toronto

Thanks to Bill Pratt and to Paul Dodington of CAPS for discussion, to Paul Israel of the Edison Archives at Rutgers University, to Sally Gibson and John Huzil at Metro Toronto Archives, to Linda Cobon of the C.N.E. Archives, to Prof. Robert Craig Brown, University of Toronto, to the Royal Canadian Institute and to Gerald Fabris, Curator, Edison National Historic Site, West Orange, N.J.

Arthur E. Zimmerman is a member of CAPS, committed to researching into the history of sound recording and into the earliest days of radio broadcasting in Canada. He has written "In the Shadow of the Shield", a fully documented history of wireless and radio broadcasting at Queen’s University and in Kingston, Ontario, 1902-57. His current project is a book on the earliest days of the Montreal and Toronto Marconi radio stations, XWA/CFCF and CHCB, respectively. He is dismayed that some publisher will get government money to publish his book, but there are no grants for research expenses.