The Curtiss Aeronola gramophones were manufactured at 163 Dufferin Avenue
in Toronto, Ontario, Canada circa 1919 by the Curtiss Aeroplanes &
Motors LTD: less than a kilometer from where I live.
Mine (serial & motor numbers 5M620 & 170523) is one of four [KW, now
six] known Aeronola’s still in existence, the others
belonging to the Science & Technology Museum in
Ottawa (serial number 3M14), to Merlin Wimmer of
Toronto (serial & motor numbers 4M773 194452i) and
to Rob Gosselin of Kingston (serial & motor
numbers 301173 & 226827) [KW additions: and Wayne
Cowie of Holland Landing Serial number 4M716 (?) Motor # 137612) and Steve
McKendry-Smith of Winnipeg (Serial number 4M527, Motor
#169937]. The original price tag: $180 – approximately $3600 today.
Glenn Curtiss was an aviation pioneer born in upper state New York.
He produced airplanes, motorcycles and engines. He associated himself with the Wright
brothers and formed the Curtiss-Wright Corporation that still exists to this day (NYSE: CW) through no
means of his own.
In an effort to expand his production, Curtiss built a plant in Toronto as well as the city’s first airport in
Long Branch area. His facility was purchased shortly thereafter and taken over by the Canadian government in 1916 during the
First World War.
Curtiss was friends with Alexander Graham Bell who in turn was friends with
Emile Berliner. Berliner helped >Bell in developing the telephone and who is also the inventor of the gramophone. Curtiss had worked with
Bell on aviation projects. Perhaps it’s this indirect relationship that lead Curtiss to develop his own gramophone brand.
After the war ended in the spring of 1919, Curtiss retook possession of his
plant and dedicated a part of it to become the gramophone factory on Dufferin. The factory was meant to produce up to 300
units a day. They were recruiting cabinet makers, rubbers, trimmers and
finishers: rate 50 cents per hour up to 6 dollars a
day. At 50 cents an hour it would have taken 2 months of work to enable
you to buy my Model number 5.
There was a strong ad campaign in the fall of 1919 enticing vendors to
pre-order their aeronola’s for Christmas. I fear that the orders didn’t come in. History leads me to believe
that Curtiss fell on hard times in 1920 (the company was forced into receivership) and the gramophone
production facility became the General (car) Top Company in August of 1920. The
Curtiss Company was then managed by Canadian financier Clement Keys who brought it back to
prosperity sans gramophone production.
My gramophone was brilliantly refurbished and refinished in the fall
of 2006 by Robert Nix “The Gramophone Doctor” of Sarnia ON. Mr. Nix is currently the past-president of the
Canadian Antique Phonograph Society.
According to Larry
Milberry in "Aviation in Canada: The Pioneer Decades" (CANAV Books, Toronto, 2008), "While Canadian
Aeroplanes Ltd. suddenly was out of airplane
manufacturing [after WW I] and selling off equipment,
Toronto might have been surprised to see
advertisements placed in local papers in July 1919 by
Curtiss Aeroplanes & Motors Limited seeking
tradesmen. The company earlier edged out by CAL
[Canadian Aeroplanes Limited] was back in
business. One Curtiss ad read "Wanted
Immediately Cabinet Makers Rubbers, Trimmers,
Finishers for Burning In. Rate 50cents per hour,
and piece work to be started at once to enable men to
earn $6 or more per day. Apply at Company's
Office, 163 Dufferin Street, to Mr. Wright,
Superintendent." In that neighbourhood, it is
likely that Curtiss was using some CAL floor
space. In 1919, however, Curtiss was building no
airplanes. Instead, it was turning out some
general products, but specialized in a new home
entertainment fad--the phonograph. By now, with
a great wave of postwar prosperity, every family
craved a phonograph.(page 164)
Pictures and information from Carl Swanston:
Machine photo and information on
the machine from Rob Gosselin, Kingston, ON
On the motor:
Ser no 301173
Motor no 226827 #16 Pat June 18 '12
Pat Nov 30 '15
MeisselBach Newark N.J. USA.
The Cabinet is also stamped # 73
Made by Curtiss Aeroplanes Motors, Limited, Toronto, Canada.
Distributed by Orme Limited 175 Sparks St. Ottawa, Canada.
Canadian Music Trades Journal
, September, 1919, p. 70-71
, October, 1919.
On page 79, below an advert in the Globe and Mail,
like the ones below, he states "At war's end Curtiss
kept its plant operating at least into 1920 producing
such non-aviation products as high-end "home
entertainment systems". The Aeronola record
player was a big item. In its advertising,
Curtiss made good use of its aeronautical roots,
showing Santa as delivering Aeronolas in his own JN-4
Milberry then goes on to describe
an item in the Globe, October 21, 1919 which reported
that the Columbia Gramophone Company secured the vast
production facility of CAL.
Scans from 'The Canadian Music Trades Journal' courtesy Carl Swanston, July 1919:
October 1919 (two pages):
I believe this is the museum artefact report for the machine
mentioned above from the Science and Technology
Museum--also supplied by Carl Swanston:
Canadian Music Trades Journal
, November, 1919, p. 60-61.
Machine photos from Wayne Cowie. He also sent: "Serial number looks like 4M716 Motor # 137612."
Machine photos from Mike Gignac, 2013 ser# is 30655 and the motor # is 169454:
Jennifer Mueller contributes the following advertisement published in
the Globe and Mail
, Saturday November 29, 1919 (page 18)
KW found this one, Edmonton Journal Sept. 27, 1919 pg 19:
Stephen McKendry-Smith sends the following pictures
regarding a machine he bought from the Winnipeg Art
Gallery in the early to mid '90s.