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Phonola and Its Surprisingly-Early Start

A.B. Pollock [right] and his future brother-in-law Charles Harry Boehmer, "photographed in New York about 1900".
From "Visionary Thinking: The Story of Canada’s Electrohome".

In my last article, which was about the Donalda gramophone marketed by the Hudson’s Bay Company and named for a Canadian opera singer, the following was the opening section (with emphasis added):

"As is often cited, the major equipment patents on phonographs, gramophones and talking machines began to expire near the end of WWI. This enabled others—previously too timid to jump into production, unlike Pollock of Berlin Ontario— to enter the business and compete with Victor/ Berliner, Columbia and Edison. In those days when mass transport of goods was not cheap or convenient, local manufacturers with tangential expertise sprang up to supply their neighbours, and perhaps beyond, with machines of various quality. Thus begat the bewildering number of companies that are currently listed by the Canadian Antique Phonograph Project."

This article will deal with the unusual case of the Pollock Manufacturing Company and its surprisingly-early jump into gramophone manufacturing. Raymond Stanton has covered the overall story of Phonola/Electrohome in a book ("Visionary Thinking: The Story of Canada’s Electrohome") and contributed to at least two articles for Kitchener’s local paper, The Record. The following is the compression of this history which I have put up on the Phonola page of the Canadian Antique Phonograph Project.

Nineteen year-old Arthur Bell Pollock (henceforth A. B.) left his job as book-keeper of a dry goods store in Berlin, Ontario [the city patriotically changed its name to Kitchener in 1916] in 1896 for New York City to seek a better life. There he joined two friends from Berlin High School, one of whom was A.B.’s future brother-in-law, Charles Harry Boehmer [A.B. married Rosie Boehmer, September 2, 1902 in Waterloo, ON]. A.B. became the private secretary of Tennant Putnam, who was treasurer of the New York Yacht Club and president of the Manhattan Club. It is suggested that this allowed A.B. to come into contact with Herman Schroeder [sic], who was trying to market inside-horn gramophone-style machines. Schroeder, we’re told, was finding it difficult and expensive to market his machines in the US and when A.B. told him there were no such machines in Canada, Schroeder allegedly suggested to him that he should begin such a business.

Manitoba Free Press, Jan. 22, 1910.
Vancouver World, Nov. 16, 1911.

In 1906, A.B. returned to Berlin with a supply of parts (motors, tone-arms and reproducers) from Schroeder. Lacking the necessary mechanical skills to make the machines, he turned to Alex Welker who, it’s reported, helped Milton and Nelson Good manufacture the LeRoy automobile in Berlin, Ontario from 1899 to 1904. By 1909, A.B. was able to give up selling insurance to concentrate on gramophone sales and formed the Pollock Manufacturing Company with himself, his brother James [presumably the "J.B." involved in the patent case below], Boehmer, Boehmer’s brother August, and Welker as directors.

Machine found at an antique sale in 2013. Plate on the machine is stamped, "Cabinet Talking Machine Model Crown Prince, PATd June 4.07, Mfd. by Pollock Manufacturing Co. Berlin, Canada".
(Picture courtesy KW)

Assuming the aforementioned patent was key to the founding of the company, I did a search and found Canadian patent CA 105611 under "Hermann Schröder (United States of America)", filed 1907-04-08. This is the same patent date quoted on the plate on a "Cabinet Talking Machine" manufactured by Pollock Manufacturing Co., Berlin, Canada, that I found at an antique dealer in Aberfoyle in 2013. With the correction in the name, I was able to find Schröder’s patent in the US—No. 864,758, application filed December 8, 1906, patented August 27, 1907, with the original assignee being the "Schröder Hornless Phonograph Mfg Company".

As we know, Victor started marketing its first internal-horn machines—the Victrola—in 1906. So, the key portion of the Schröder patent becomes:

"This invention contemplates certain new and useful improvements in that type of talking machine or gramophone in which the megaphone instead of being arranged separately and detachably above the supporting casing of the sound record, is arranged in a permanent position within the casing so as to be more conveniently shipped with the casing, to require no adjustment, and to avoid any damage to a record which is liable to occur with the megaphone detachably supported above it."

This is obviously the description of a direct competitor to the Victrola and the patent drawing clearly shows a machine that looks like a VV-IV or -VI with a rounded front opening.

As we know, a complex legal battle was begun regarding the patents and ownership of records and machines which, in 1899, engaged Emile Berliner’s United States Gramophone Company and by June 1900 would ultimately consume it. Sources suggest that this battle is what prompted Berliner’s move to Canada where his company would hold exclusive rights to gramophones and discs in Canada based on the Canadian patents (patents CA 55078, CA 55079, CA 79836 and CA 87586) granted in 1897 and 1903. The Victor company, under Eldridge Johnson, emerged as the owner of the patents in the US and is well documented for vigorously defending these patents going forward. I had always assumed Berliner did the same in Canada.

Diagram from Canadian patent CA 105611 issued to "Hermann Schröder (United States of America)", filed 1907-04-08, issued 1907-06- 04. This patent allowed Pollock to start gramophone production years before their eventual competition, protected from Berliner.
(Courtesy Canadian Intellectual Property Office)

The Music Trades Review of February 5, 1910 has an article describing how "Victor secured another Victory" by winning an injunction against the "Schroeder Hornless Phonograph Co.". The article goes on to describe how more than one manufacturer had attempted to circumvent the Berliner patent by using a "mechanical feed" device in talking machines. The court decided that this "did not relieve the machine from infringement". However, this did not seem to spell the end for Schröder.

The Long Islander, of Huntingon, NY, published on September 20, 1912 that there was great interest in securing new industries for the village including the introduction at Fairground of the H. Schroder Hornless Manufacturing Company. "The company is a New York State corporation with $500,000 capital, and is to employ from 200 to 300 persons". I could find no further reference to see if the company was actually successful.

But what of Pollock and the Schröder patents in Canada? As it is put in the "Gramophone" article on the Collections Canada website:

"According to Canadian law at the time [when Berliner was granted the Canadian patent in 1897], a patent was protected only if the manufacturer established production in Canada, and Berliner was happy to comply. He imported equipment from the American affiliate, set up shop in space rented from the Bell Telephone Co., and opened a retail outlet at 2315-2316 Sainte-Catherine Street in Montreal. The company began an intense promotion of the gramophone, highlighting the volume, endurance, and space-saving size of discs as opposed to cylinders. The advertisements also served to warn Berliner's competitors against infringement of the company's patents, and to caution consumers against purchasing imitation equipment and recordings".

I found a "Notice" put out by Berliner in 1908 that said, "We intend to insist upon our full rights, and herewith warn all persons who infringe our patent rights that we will prosecute them to the full extent of the law". The specific patents cited for defense are from 1897 and 1903. So a year after Pollock started their talking machine business, Berliner sent a shot over their bow.

On the Canadian Antique Phonograph Project website is a scan of a 1902 Berliner catalog showing 4 machines ostensibly built in their factory at 201-203 Fortification Lane, Montreal. So, Berliner did build their own outside-horn machines early on. However, it is stated in "Recording History: The British Record Industry, 1888-1931", that "From 1907, Victor supplied the Berliner Gramophone Company of Canada…" presumably with hornless Victrolas.

Schröder is a typical victim of Victor patent defense in the US.
(The Music Trade Review, Feb. 5, 1910 pg. 40)
Schröder is still going in the US by 1912 and is looking for production facilities.
(The Long Islander, Sept. 20, 1912 pg. 5)

The only reference I have so far uncovered of any Berliner attack on Pollock is from the Toronto World of Nov. 11, 1915. It is a court report describing how Berliner was granted leave to appeal and continue patent action against Pollock. Pollock had apparently defended itself against Berliner by attacking the Berliner patent "on the grounds of illegal importation and non-manufacture". It seems the defense had something to do with the fact that, as noted above, at the start of the Victrola era Berliner was importing Victor Victrolas and not at that point manufacturing their own. We do see a lot of machines in Canada with Victor plates from Camden and an additional plate with the wording "The Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada Ltd. Montreal, sole distributors for Canada". Since Berliner was importing and distributing (and, it was suggested, "illegally") and not manufacturing Victrolas (in fact, the some entire models were built in Camden specifically for the Canadian market), Berliner had no cause to make Pollock stop. Further, the court report suggested it "is doubtful that [the appeal by Berliner] can be entertained by the provincial courts". Since Pollock stayed in business, either Berliner was unsuccessful getting the provincial courts to entertain the appeal, or the appeal itself was unsuccessful.

Berliner warns potential Canadian competitors that they will defend their patents. The listed patents were issued 1897 and 1903 covering gramophones and music boxes—nothing hornless.
(Toronto Daily Star, January 11, 1908, pg. 11)

Berliner did defend itself against others. In this case the Bell Piano and Organ Company Ltd., of Guelph, ON.
(Toronto Daily Star, February 24, 1910, pg. 1)
Berliner won leave to appeal and continue patent action against Pollock’s defense that Berliner illegally imported and did not make their own machines.
(Toronto World, Nov. 11, 1915 pg. 6)

What we do know is that the Pollock family continued to successfully manufacture machines, under the Phonola brand, and grow a substantial business for some time.

The following is from Raymond Stanton’s article "End of an Era" courtesy of The Record, June 2, 2008 [with additions]:

Drawing from Berliner’s Canadian patent CA 103332, clearly shows an outside-horn machine.
(Courtesy Canadian Intellectual Property Office)

1907: A.B. Pollock founds the Pollock Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in Kitchener (then Berlin) to make phonographs [Later, these machines were made under the brand "Phonola" and a woodworking plant in Elmira was acquired for the construction of phonograph cabinets].

[1917: The Phonola Company of Canada Limited was formed to continue the phonograph-assembly and record business.]

1920s: Pollock’s firm begins to market electric and portable phonographs.

[1925: Pollock establishes Grimes Radio Corporation Limited to produce and sell Grimes radios in Canada.]

1933: The company name is changed to Dominion Electrohome Industries Ltd. and the Electrohome brand is introduced for products ranging from fans to food mixers. [An article uploaded to the Waterloo Public Library says that Carl Pollock, born in 1903, persuaded his father, A.B., to amalgamate The Phonola Company of Canada Ltd., Grimes Radio Corporation Ltd. and Pollock-Welker Ltd. under Dominion Electrohome Industries Ltd.—with Carl as president.]

1939: The outbreak of war brings contracts for everything from radio sets to wooden aircraft components.

1949: C.A. Pollock [Carl] launches radio station CFCA-FM, followed in 1954 by the more successful television station CKCO. [Both stations having studios in Kitchener.]

1980s: Electrohome sells off several divisions, including home-comfort products, furniture and motor manufacturing, and focuses on broadcasting and commercial video products.

1997: CKCO and the company’s interest in the CTV television network are sold to Baton Broadcasting [Not quite right as at this time, the company’s Kitchener and Edmonton TV and radio stations were folded into Baton Broadcasting in return for cash and a stake in Baton, which had taken control of the CTV trademark.].

1999: Electrohome sells its digital projection systems business to Christie Digital.

By 1919 Pollock’s success requires two plants, one for hardware and the other for cabinets.
(Toronto Daily Star, February 1, 1919, pg. 12)

2004: Christie Digital buys Electrohome’s last manufacturing plant on Wellington Street in Kitchener.

2007: The Redmond Group of Companies signs a deal to buy the Electrohome trademarks.

There is currently an "Electrohome" website which further adds to the above:

"In 2010 ELECTROHOME was acquired by CWD® a Niagara Falls, Ontario-based consumer electronics manufacturer… Long associated with quality home-entertainment products, the line now includes DVDs, radios with iPod® docks, karaoke systems, and digital photo frames, reflecting modern tastes and utilizing cuttingedge technology. But with the introduction of the Nostalgia line, ELECTROHOME has gone back to its roots."

So, I guess Electrohome becomes a label to be stuck on modern and "retro" "stuff"—it is a Canadian RCA, if you will.

Even at the end, a Pollock was in charge—John Pollock, heir to the company founded by his grandfather in 1907. According to The Record, August 6, 2008:

"[John] Pollack [sic] said he does feel some sadness in shutting down the company for which he has worked since 1962.

"But "there’s a time for everything," he said."


  1. "Visionary Thinking: The Story of Canada's Electrohome", by Raymond Stanton, 1997, Canadian Corporate Histories, Kitchener, Ont.
  2. Toronto World, Nov. 11, 1915 pg 6.
  3. Manitoba Free Press, Jan 22 1910, pg. 5.
  4. Vancouver World, Nov 16 1911, pg. 2.
  5. Toronto Daily Star, January 11, 1908, pg. 11.
  6. Ibid, February 1, 1919, pg 12.
  7. Canadian Intellectual Property Office, Canadian Patents Database
  8. Schröder "gramophone" patent entry at the United States Patent and Trademark Office
  9. Canadian Antique Phonograph Project, Phonola entry
  10. 1902 Price List of Berliner Gram-o-phones and Sundries
  11. The Music Trades Review, February 5, 1910, pg. 40.
  12. The Long Islander, Huntington, N.Y., September 20, 1912, pg. 5.
  13. The Electrohome "heritage" page
  14. "End of an era", by Raymond Stanton, The Record, Kitchener, Ont., June 2, 2008.
  15. "Electrohome could soon be history", Record Staff, The Record, Kitchener, Ont., August 6, 2008.
  16. Collections Canada "Gramophone" article
  17. "Recording History: The British Record Industry, 1888-1931", by Peter Martland, 2013, Scarecrow Press, Inc., Lanham, MD, USA, pg. 153.
  18. Carl Pollock biography uploaded to the Waterloo Public Library
  19. Finding Aid: GA 186, Electohome fonds. List of Electrohome material in the University of Waterloo Library, which also summarizes much of the material.