Put Your Records On

by MCHS Staff
November 15, 2022

By the turn of the 20th century, the Industrial Revolution in Morris County had moved beyond the iron mines and rubber works into middle and upper-class homes. Electric sewing  machines and washing machines, along with other mechanisms that eased the load of housewives and housekeepers throughout the nation became common place in the following decades. With more time to devote to leisure, American families looked for new forms of entertainment. In 1901, the Victor Talking Machine Company opened in Camden, NJ and sought to fill this niche by commercializing the phonograph for home use.

The Nipper Building, RCA Victor Company Camden Plant, where Victrolas were made.

That year, the company introduced its first phonograph, the Victor. Its popularity soared, despite its high price, and the Victor Talking Machine Company started to experiment with ways to improve upon it. By 1906, the Victrola, which had a horn inside a cabinet beneath the turn-table that allowed users to control the volume, was born. By 1929, over seven million were produced. However, as radio became inexpensive enough for widespread use, Victrolas were unable to compete, and the company was forced to sell to the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Manufacture of Victors and Victrolas continued at RCA throughout the 1930s and 1940s, but their popularity was limited in comparison to radio.


Its memory may be all but forgotten, but the iconic image of the Victor Talking Machine Company remains well-known. “His Master’s Voice” was an 1898 painting by Francis Barraud of the dog Nipper, a terrier from Bristol. By the time of the Victor’s introduction, the company’s founder, Eldridge R. Johnson, alongside Emile Berliner, held the copyright for the image in the US and Latin America. Nipper listening to the phonograph became synonymous with  the Victor Talking Machine Company, outliving the products for which it once stood.

Emile Berliner with a Victor Victrola Credenza.