Victor Talking Machine Company

The Victor Talking Machine Company (1901 - 1929) was a United States corporation, the leading American producer of phonographs and phonograph records and one of the leading phonograph companies in the world at the time.


The company was incorporated in Camden, New Jersey in October of 1901 by Eldridge R. Johnson. It was created by merger and reorganization of two existing companies: Emile Berliner's Berliner Gramophone Company, which produced disc records, and Johnson's Consolidated Talking Machine Company, which produced machines for playing disc records. The company was named "The Victor" in honor of legal victories by Johnson and Berliner over Zonophone and others concerning their rights to patents on and distribution of their products.

Victor had the rights in the United States and Latin America to use the famous trademark of the dog Nipper listening to an early disc phonograph. (See also His Master's Voice.)

In 1901, the phonograph cylinder still dominated the market for recorded sound. Disc records and phonographs were widely considered to be little more than toys, for they were cheaper, less reliable and usually of lower audio fidelity than the cylinder records. Johnson embarked on efforts to change these perceptions. He built more reliable spring-wound phonographs out of durable materials and hired engineers to research improved sound for the recordings. Within a few years, Victor was producing records with some of the finest audio fidelity of the era.

After increasing the quality of disc records and phonographs, Johnson began an ambitious project to have the most prestigious singers and musicians of the day record for Victor Records, with exclusive agreements where possible. Often these artists demanded fees which the company could not hope to make up from sale of their records. Johnson shrewdly knew that he would get his money's worth in the long run in promotion of the Victor brand name. Many advertisements were printed mentioning by name the greatest names of music in the era, with the statement that they recorded only for Victor Records. As Johnson intended, much of the public assumed from this that Victor Records must be superior to cylinder records.

The Victor recordings by Enrico Caruso were particularly successful. They were often used by retailers to demonstrate Victor phonographs; Caruso's rich powerful low tenor voice highlighted the best range of audio fidelity of the early audio technology while being minimally affected by its defects. Even people who otherwise never listened to opera often owned a record or two of the great voice of Caruso. Caruso and Victor Records did much to boost each other's commercial popularity.

The origins of country music as we know it today can be traced to two seminal influences and a remarkable coincidence. Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family are considered the founders of country music and their songs were first captured at an historic recording session in Bristol, Tennessee on August 1 1927 where Ralph Peer was the talent scout and sound recordist for Victor Records.

1917 Victor Record label

by the Original Dixieland Jass Band

Victor (Japan)

The Japanese Victor Company (JVC), founded in 1922, severed its ties to RCA Victor at the start of World War II, and is still one of the oldest and most successful Japanese record labels as well as an electronics giant.

The Victrola

Missing image

Victrola Model XVI, 1910s

In 1906, Johnson and his engineers designed a new line of phonographs with the turntable and amplifying horn tucked away inside a wooden cabinet. This was not done for reasons of audio fidelity, but for visual aesthetics. The intention was to produce a phonograph that looked less like a piece of machinery and more like a piece of furniture. These internal horn machines, trademarked with the name Victrola, were first marketed to the public in August of that year and were an immediate hit. Soon an extensive line of Victrolas was marketed, ranging from small tabletop models selling for $15, through many sizes and designs of cabinets intended to go with the decor of middle-class homes in the $100 to $250 range, up to $600 Chippendale and Queen Anne-style cabinets of fine wood with gold trim designed to look at home in elegant mansions. Victrolas became by far the most popular brand of home phonograph, and sold in great numbers until the end of the 1920s.

In 1925, Victor switched from the old acoustical or mechanical method of recording sound to the new microphone based electrical system developed by Western Electric. Victor called their version of the improved fidelity recording process "Orthophonic", and sold a line of new designs of phonographs to play these improved records, called "Orthophonic Victrolas". The large top-of- the-line "Credenza" models of Orthophonic Victrolas had a 1.8 m (6 foot) long horn coiled inside the cabinet, and are often considered the high point of the development of the commercial wind-up phonograph, offering audio fidelity seldom matched by most home electric phonographs until some 30 years later.

In 1928, Johnson sold his controlling interest in Victor to the banking firm of Siegelman & Spyer, who in 1929 sold to the Radio Corporation of America, which then became known as the Radio-Victor Division of the Radio Corporation of America later RCA Victor. (See RCA for later history of the Victor brand name.)

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