Most of us, of a certain age that is, are familiar with record players. Growing up in the 1970s, I enjoyed a series of them; each, upon breaking, being gradually replaced with higher quality and more sophisticated versions.
The Johnson Victrola Museum highlights the life and achievements of this businessman, innovator, philanthropist and progressive employer; exhibits include phonographs, recordings, memorabilia, trademarks, objects, and paintings that highlight Mr. Johnson’s successful business enterprises and chronicle the development of the sound-recording industry.
Ironically, this genius inventor was not considered smart enough to go to college. Instead, he was encouraged to learn a trade. Johnson went on to become a machinist, working in Camden, New Jersey. Eventually, Emile Berliner, inventor of the gramophone and disc record, approached him, asking him to turn his talents to inventing a motor that would play discs at a continuous speed, eliminating the need to constantly crank a gramophone by hand. Johnson’s spring motor invention was a success.
By 1901, Johnson founded the Victor Talking Machine Company. The company grew to encompass 10 city blocks in Camden, grossed millions annually, and produced some of the most famous recording artists in the world. Johnson’s invention led to development of Victrolas, the iconic box with a huge horn coming out. The museum details other innovations — early ways to control the volume, and so forth.
|Some of the Victrolas were quite ornate!|
|Nipper salt and pepper shakers.|
Berliner, a genius in his own right, purchased the painting and copyright for use as the trademark for The Gramophone Company in London. The original painting featured Nipper listening to a cylinder phonograph but Berliner insisted it be changed to a Berliner Disc Gramophone as a condition of the purchase.
E.R. Johnson acquired the U.S. rights to the painting from Emile Berliner in 1901, leading to a merger with The Berliner Gramophone Company to form The Victor Talking Machine Company. Johnson, an astute businessman, launched Nipper’s image and company name to world-wide fame by branding everything from Victrolas and recordings to salt and pepper shakers.
You learn all this at the museum, as well as see (and hear) still-working Victrolas and gramaphones. You see what a Victrola store would have looked like in the early 1900s, and learn about the life and achievements of Johnson, who is an American genius. One of the coolest things is that Johnson was well ahead of his time. When a fire broke out at a neighboring factory, he installed fire alarms in his factories. He also brought in child care for working mothers, right onsite of his factories.
Getting there: 375 S New St, Dover, DE 19901
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and most holidays; closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Easter.