This has the feel of an overheard barbershop boast, with enthusiastic Mr. Apostolides proclaiming that he has a respected doctor as his “good Greek student,” along with the loan of a fantastic machine that records his voice.

The graphophone was the first major advancement over Edison’s primitive phonograph, invented and developed in the 1880s by Charles Sumner Tainter, an associate of Alexander Graham Bell. (The name “graphophone” was coined as a joke transposition of the word “phonograph,” according to Bell family lore.) The investors in their company, however, thought the future of sound recording lay in recording business correspondence, not music, and research concentrated on making a portable machine that recorded on wax cylinders. With improvements, the same technology would continue to be used by Dictaphone until the 1940s. The full history of Tainter’s graphophone — including the precautions taken to prevent his technology from being stolen by Edison’s spies — is told here.

Although the sound quality was lousy and the volume barely audible, wax cylinder recordings by musical performers such as John Philip Sousa’s Marine Band and “artistic whistler” John Yorke Atlee were favorites; an 1891 survey found one out of three phonographs and graphophones were being used for entertainment. In 1889, entrepeneur Louis T. Glass invented the jukebox using a modified graphophone that would only play after a nickel was inserted (and yes, the slug was apparently invented shortly thereafter). Only a single cylinder was available to be played, and patrons had to stand close to the machine, listening through one of four attached stethoscope-like hearing devices. The nickel-in-the-slot graphophone players continued to be popular through the turn of the century; a jukebox model was available as late as 1898, cost $20.00.*

*Jukeboxes: An American Social History by Kerry Segrave, 2002, pp. 5-8


Em P. Apostolides, the Mendocino street restaurant man, is an ingenious fellow and is never more pleased than when he finds any one who desires to be a Greek student. There is a certain learned medico in Santa Rosa who speaks English, German, French, Spanish, and other languages fluently and is also a good Greek student. The doctor has a graphophone and being desirous of getting the correct pronounciation of some Greek phrases got Mr. Apostolides to make him some records for the graphophone on Thursday so that in his home at night he could master his lessons. The restaurant man has promised to prepare other records for the man of medicine. It is no effort at all for him to talk Greek.

– Press Democrat, February 25, 1905

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