Another interesting strand emerging from my archival research in the last couple of weeks are the various factories of phonographs, gramophones, cylinders and discs that were established in Europe from the late 19th century onward to satisfy increasing demand. Local and international recording labels printed photographs of these factories in their catalogues and other documents, which leads to some interesting questions – first of all, there’s obviously the desire to connect recording technologies with state-of-the-art scientific discoveries. But we can also observe a certain anxiety to establish whose labor was behind cylinders and discs, which had by now became prized commodities. Businessmen were keen to emphasize how much effort they, and secondarily their engineers and manual workers, had put into developing their products. The labor of musicians was sometimes forgotten here.
Here’s a photograph of the factory of the Edison Bell Company (I haven’t been able to establish whether it’s the London or the Huntington plant), showing several women workers. The photograph, as well as the paragraph below, were printed in a history of Edison Bell published by the company itself in 1924:
“In its production the Moulded Record passes through many processes, requiring the services of Chemists, Moulders, Borers, Polishers and Trimmers, after which it passes to the Department, a section of which is shown above. The Records are here carefully examined, tested, sorted and boxed. For these duties we find female labour is the most suitable, and we are enabled to provide employment for a large number of women and girls.”