Thomas Alva Edison was born on this day in 1847. The man who patented the sound recording and reproducing phonograph in 1878 has several connections with Carnegie Hall. Here, our Archives and Rose Museum Director Gino Francesconi relates two of them.
At the turn of the century—when recordings were just beginning—Edison himself, who had invented the format, really thought it was a toy. There were recordings being made, but it wasn't until superstar tenor Enrico Caruso started making recordings in the early 1900s that all of a sudden Edison woke up to the possibilities and said, "Wow, I invented this!"
Caruso's recordings began selling into the millions, to the point where he was one of the most famous people of his day. The interesting thing is that he started making his first American recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company, which was located at Carnegie Hall for several years. This sketch that Caruso made of himself singing into a cone in the studio can be found at the Library of Congress, Division of Recorded Sound.
Credit: Library of Congress, Division of Recorded Sound
Edison conducted sound experiments on audiences in Carnegie Hall that helped to sell millions of records. He would bring a soprano out onto the stage along with his Edison phonograph machine. The soprano would start singing, and then they would take the lights down in the Hall while the soprano walked off. When the lights came on, the recording was playing.
Somewhere in between when the lights went off and the soprano walked off, the recording went on. People were astonished to find out that the real person was gone and had in fact been replaced by a recording. A wonderful piece we have in the archives is an ad from 1920, showing just that taking place in Carnegie Hall with soprano Anna Case.
Related: Hall History