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Extraordinary Times

The Origin of the Sound Recording Industry
ERJ's Innovations

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"It was a great opportunity, and it came to me...Other opportunities may come to other people, but that was the great opportunity, and I was ready for it"

-Eldridge R. Johnson


Eldridge Reeves Johnson was born on February 6, 1867, in Wilmington, Delaware.. His mother, Caroline, died when he was a young boy, and he spent much of his childhood with his Great Aunt Elizabeth in Dover. He eventually moved back in with his father, after he had remarried.

Eldridge graduated from the Dover Academy in 1882 at the age of 15. But after a childhood teacher discouraged the family from sending him on to further education, he was sent to apprentice in a machine shop in Philadelphia, a trade he continued for years, discontent and yearning for a more meaningful, and profitable, existence. Johnson wanted to be a gentleman, and the years of hard labor in the confines of the machine shop undoubtedly fueled his desire.

In 1886, after four hard years as an apprentice, Johnson took a position at the Standard Machine Shop at 108 North Front Street in Camden, New Jersey. By 1894, Johnson had purchased his employer's interest in the machine shop and immediately changed the name to: Eldridge R. Johnson Manufacturing Company. He had become a business owner, but the status afforded him little luxury. Then, in February of 1896, an event occurred that would change his future altogether. Without it, he later insisted, the history of the recording industry would have been entirely different.

 

Berliner sent representatives to the machine shop with a hand-cranked Gramophone in hand. Johnson was transfixed!

"The little instrument was badly designed." Johnson later said, "It sounded much like a partially educated parrot with a sore throat and a cold in the head, but the little wheezy instrument caught my attention and held it fast and hard. I became interested in it as I had never been interested in anything before. It was exactly what I was looking for."

He soon designed a spring-powered motor for the Gramophone that operated at a uniform speed, was affordable and functioned quietly, making the hand-cranked Gramophones obsolete.

Johnson's improvements led to the commercial viability of the disc-playing Gramophone in the United States. It would allow Berliner to compete with such giants as Edison and the Bell/Tainter interests, and set the stage for Berliner and Johnson to merge interests a few years later.


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