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Elsewhere in 1887 and 1888


In the 1888 US presidential election, Democratic Party incumbent Grover Cleveland wins the popular vote, but loses the Electoral College vote to Republican challenger Benjamin Harrison.

Elsewhere in the USA, Anne Sullivan begins teaching Helen Keller, Susan B. Anthony organizes a Congress for Women’s Rights in Washington, D.C., George Eastman registers the trademark Kodak, and receives a patent for his camera which uses roll film, and in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the first Groundhog Day is observed.

In Germany, Gottlieb Daimler unveils his first automobile and Frederick III becomes German Emperor and King of Prussia.

The British Empire celebrates Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, marking the 50th year of her reign. Elsewhere in the UK, the Whitechapel murders take place, the first 6 Football League matches are played, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is founded.

In France, the construction of the iron structure of the Eiffel Tower starts in Paris, The French Riviera is hit by a large earthquake, killing around 2,000, and Vincent van Gogh cuts off the lower part of his own left ear in a brothel and is removed to the local hospital in Arles.

King Kalākaua of Hawai’i is forced by anti-monarchists to sign the ‘Bayonet Constitution’, stripping the Hawaiian monarchy of much of its authority as well as disfranchising most native Hawaiians, all Asians and the poor.

In Asia, the 1887 Yellow River flood in China kills between 900,000 and 2,000,000 people, and Laos and Cambodia are added to French Indochina.


Max Ritter von Müller, German World War I fighter ace (d. 1918)
Chico Marx, American comedian and actor (d. 1961)
Fatty Arbuckle, American actor (d. 1933)
Shoeless Joe Jackson, baseball player (d. 1951)
Marcel Duchamp, French-born artist (d. 1968)
Rupert Brooke, British war poet (d. 1915)
Erwin Schrödinger, Austrian physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1961)
Marcus Garvey, American publisher, entrepreneur, and Pan Africanist (d. 1940)
Le Corbusier, Swiss architect (d. 1965)
Chiang Kai-shek, 1st–5th President of the Republic of China (d. 1975)
L. S. Lowry, English painter (d. 1976)
Arnold Zweig, German writer (d. 1968)
Georgia O’Keeffe, American painter (d.1986)
Bernard Montgomery, World War II British commander (d. 1976)
Boris Karloff, English actor (d. 1969)
Conrad Hilton, American hotelier (d.1979)
Thomas Sopwith, English aviation pioneer and yachtsman (d. 1989)
Huddie William Ledbetter (Lead Belly), American folk and blues singer (d. 1949)
Otto Stern, German physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1969)
Anita Loos, American writer (d. 1981)
Irving Berlin, American composer (d. 1989)
Raymond Chandler, American-born novelist (d. 1959)
John Logie Baird, Scottish inventor (d. 1946)
T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”), British liaison officer during the Arab Revolt, writer, and academic (d. 1935)
T. S. Eliot, British (American-born) writer, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1965)
Henry A. Wallace, 33rd Vice President of the United States (d. 1965)
Eugene O’Neill, American writer, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1953)
Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., American politician (d. 1969)


Gustav Kirchhoff, German physicist (b. 1824)
Alexander Borodin, Russian composer (b. 1833)
Jenny Lind, Swedish soprano (b. 1820)
Doc Holliday, American gambler and gunfighter (b. 1851)
Emma Lazarus, American poet (b. 1859)
Edward Lear, British artist and writer (b. 1812)
Louisa May Alcott, American novelist (b. 1832)
Wilhelm I, German Emperor and King of Prussia (b. 1797)
Friedrich III, German Emperor and King of Prussia (b. 1831)
Paul Langerhans, German pathologist and biologist (b. 1847)
John Pemberton, American founder of Coca-Cola (b. 1831)
Carl Zeiss, optician and founder of company now known as Carl Zeiss AG (b. 1816)



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The gramophone and phonograph had been experimental toys for a decade, their inventors deciding to tinker with them from time to time in between other, more immediately lucrative projects. In 1887, aside from Edison’s occasional developments, Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Labs had developed significant improvements in both cylinder and disc recording, and Emile Berliner filed his first patent for what he called a “gramophone” – though the invention he launched a few years later would bear little relation to the patent. Most importantly, on March 28th, a group of businessmen from Philadelphia created the American Graphophone Company, in order to produce and sell phonograph machines – this eventually evolved into Columbia Records.

It would be nice at this stage to cite these developments as the birth of the recording industry, but that’s still a couple of steps away. These inventions, whether using cylinders or discs, were merely private prototypes of dictation machines, intended for listening on a stethoscope-like device – interesting in a vague way, but needing a showman to get people excited. This came in the form of civil war veteran (and medal of honor recipient) Colonel George Gouraud, who was employed as Edison’s agent in Europe.

On 14 August 1888, Gouraud called a press conference to introduce the phonograph to London, including playing a piano and cornet recording of Arthur Sullivan’s “The Lost Chord“. Sullivan (of ‘Gilbert & Sullivan’ fame) was one of the luminaries invited to Gouraud’s residence in South London for dinner parties where the phonograph was introduced to the great and good of English society as a parlour trick par excellence. The guests would listen to phonograph recordings, then record their greetings to Edison, to be shipped back to the USA. And that dinner, for the most part, is our audio record of 1888.

Our mix, then, begins with a recording of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, made by the Edison company for a frankly terrifying talking doll in 1887. Then we move on to arguably the oldest extant musical recording, the duo performing “The Lost Chord”, and Gouraud introducing the after dinner speakers. After an interlude from a white wax cylinder marked as “Piano Solo by Miss Eyre” we have the guests taking their turns to speak; Postmaster General Cecil Raikes, Edmund Yates, Sir Arthur Sullivan and A.M. Broadley – followed by a somewhat inebriated final toast from Colonel Gouraud.

After the party we have a few other surviving recordings from 1888 – first an unnamed performance from Issler’s Parlor Orchestra, a quartet led by Edward Issler who acted as Edison’s in-house band for their first few years of operation. Then we have a brief section of whistling from a Mrs Shaw, and a first sample of Edison himself speaking. Here he is testing out his device by describing a trip he would like to take around the world, obviously ad-libbed as it would make little or no sense to anyone with a map of Europe to hand.

Next we have a fantastic piece of history, if not a great example of sound recording; Gouraud took his phonograph along to record a performance of a choir or thousands singing Handel’s ‘Israel in Egypt‘. Three of these cylinders survive, but this is the only part where the voices manage to come through the wall of white noise.The real thing must have been stunning, but hearing it now takes a bit of imagination.

Finally we have Gouraud’s recording of British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone – a scratchy mess which unfortunately yields little in the way of comprehensible content. A recording of Queen Victoria, made around the same time, is apparently in existence, but is little more than a noise, and whether it is or is not actually Victoria speaking is still debated. This is not in the mix, but can be heard here.

Track list

1. Unknown – Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
2. Unknown Performer & Miss Eyre – The Lost Chord
3. Colonel Gouraud – Introduction & Toast
4. Miss Eyre – Piano Solo
5. Colonel Gouraud – Introducing Messages To Edison
6. Postmaster General Cecil Raikes – Message To Edison
7. Edmund Yates – Message To Edison
8. Sir Arthur Sullivan – Message To Edison
9. A.M. Broadley – Message To Edison
10. Colonel Gouraud – Toast
11. Issler’s Parlor Orchestra – [Title Unknown]
12. Mrs Shaw – Whistling by Mrs Shaw
13. Thomas Edison – Around the World On The Phonograph
14. 4000 Voice Choir Conducted by August Manns – “Moses and the Children of Israel”  from Handel’s “Israel In Egypt”
15. Willam Ewart Gladstone – The Phonograph Salutation


How To Be A Victorian

For the final segment of general Victorian-era background, here’s Ruth Goodman’s book, which is substantially more interesting and informative than the macro-histories of the empire. Of course, most of what we’re coming to was recorded on the other side of the Atlantic, so perhaps I could’ve found something a little more relevant – but plenty of time for that later.

How To Be A Victorian

The History Chicks – Queen Victoria Part Two

An alternative history podcast rundown of the second half of Victoria’s reign, if one isn’t enough.

America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era×600/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/8/5/8535—packaging_flat.1430474473.jpg

A long-ish lecture series, quite good on overall political themes, but a bit lacking in a certain something – obviously I was most interested in popular culture, especially music, and it wasn’t really his area. As we will continue to see, finding worldwide perspectives seems to be difficult.

The Great Courses – America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Rex Factor – Victoria (Part 2 – 1861-1901)

A large part of this project involves immersing myself in the years I’m covering. Later on this will mean I’m able to include audio from films, radio, TV and eventually the internet. For now it means I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries and reading a fair few books. In order to fill some time between main posts (and feel like my time has been spent in some way productively) I’ll be reporting on these here.


A good source of background has been the vast variety of historical podcasts which are around. I first listened to Rex Factor all the way through when I had my second child and was spending a lot of time traveling to and from hospital. The series ranks British monarchs in a top trumps fashion, and has an enjoyable pairing of a very well-informed history buff and an interested friend who is hearing everything for the first time. This is part two of their epic 5-part episode on Queen Victoria, and gives a good rundown of what life was like at the very highest echelon of society during this era.


Rex Factor – 55. Victoria’s Biography (Part 2/5: 1861-1901)



Victorian Farm

A large part of this project involves immersing myself in the years I’m covering. Later on this will mean I’m able to include audio from films, radio, TV and eventually the internet. For now it means I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries and reading a fair few books. In order to fill some time between main posts (and feel like my time has been spent in some way productively) I’ll be reporting on these here.

The Victorian Farm was the first of the recent series of all-in historical re-enactments, and was a nice, entertaining way to get an idea of what life in this time was like. It also introduced Ruth Goodman, who seems to be in most of these things, and for good reason – her commitment to the concept is so total that I’m tempted to follow her example. All the episodes are on Youtube, but seem to be blocked in certain countries.



The Complete Victorian Farm [DVD]


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Nearly two decades have passed, and Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s experiments with recording sound have so far not resulted in anything replayable. On the other side of the Atlantic, however, development are taking place which will eventually turn these ideas into commercial recordings. On on November 21st, 1877, Thomas Edison announced that he had invented a device which would be able to play back recorded telegraph messages. The next few years saw frantic experimentation with various media – single-use tinfoil sheets wrapped around cylinders (nearly all of which have unfortunately not survived) and discs of different materials, some of which have proved to be readable (if not particularly listenable) by the people at

The first sound you will be able to hear is the vibrations from the Metropolitan Elevated Railroad in Manhatten, the result of an experiment by Charles Batchelor to adapt a phonograph to trace waves on lamp-blacked paper so they could be examined visually. If you can make anything out of this aside from a spooky wind then you’ve done better than I have. Next we have the only substantial bit of tinfoil to be recovered, a brief musical performance of some sort, a recitation of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” (probably not by Edison), some laughter and indistinct speech sounds. Then there’s an oddity, an ambitious attempt to create a talking clock by French-American inventor Frank Lambert, the oldest sound recording replayable on its own device. You should be able to make out “twelve o’ clock, five o’clock” and a few other hours.

After these early experiments Edison moved his energies to developing the electric light, and the project was put on the backburner. The second half of this mix has some of the experimental Volta labs disc recordings of the early 1880s, all recorded by Charles Summer Tainter and Chichester Bell, two engineers employed by Alexander Graham Bell. The first of these is little more than a noise, the second a recitation of Hamlet’s soliloquy, the third a man repeatedly saying ‘barometer’. The glass plate recording after is slightly more interesting as it contains the following monologue;

It’s the eleventh day of March, eighteen hundred and eighty five.  [Trilled R] How is this for high!  Mary had a little lamb, and its fleece was […] as […], and everywhere that Mary went — oh, fuck.

The machine breaks, and the first recorded obscenity of history is etched into a glass disc. The final two Volta Labs recordings apparently contain dull descriptions of business, the target market for this invention being rich businessmen who wanted to save time in dictating notes.

I won’t spend a moment pretending that this mix is even halfway listenable, but it’s only four minutes long (too short for mixcloud) and it sets us up nicely for next time, when we’ll start to shift focus to things being recorded and not just artifacts of the process.


Most of the sounds here were recovered by the brilliant people here at
A video of Edison operating his original tinfoil cylinder machine
In-depth research into Frank Lambert’s talking clock
An article on the birth of sound recording


1. Charles Batchelor – Metropolitan Elevated Railroad from 40 feet away
2. Thomas Edison – Schenectady Museum – 22 June 1878 in St Louis, Missouri
3. Frank Lambert – Recording for an experimental talking clock
4. Charls Sumner Tainter – Lateral Electroplated Disc
5. Unknown artist – Green wax disc – Hamlet’s Soliloquy
6. Volta lab – November 17 1884 “Barometer”
7. Tainter / Rogers – Photographic glass plate recording
8. Chichester Bell – Disc on Japan wax, April 1885
9. Chichester Bell – Wax disc, summer 1885

Elsewhere in 1860

1859-1860Abraham Lincoln wins the presidential election, setting the scene for the outbreak of the American Civil War at the start of 1861

German chemist Albert Niemann makes a detailed analysis of the coca leaf, isolating and purifying the alkaloid which he calls cocaine.

Japanese Chief Minister Ii Naosuke is assassinated by samurai outside the Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle.

The Nightingale Training School and Home for Nurses, the first nursing school based on the ideas of Florence Nightingale, is opened at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

Charles Dickens publishes the first installment of Great Expectations in his magazine All the Year Round.

In China, the Taiping rebels are successful in taking Hangzhou and Suzhou, but fail to take Shanghai

The first British Open is played at Prestwick Golf Club in Ayrshire, Scotland, and is won by Willie Park Sr

Southern Italy joins a union with Piedmont-Sardinia, leading to the creation of the Kingdom of Italy the following year

Beijing’s Old Summer Palace is burned to the ground by orders of British general Lord Elgin in retaliation for mistreatment of several prisoners of war during the Second Opium War.

Anton Chekhov, William Jennings Bryan,  Will Keith Kellog, Lizzie Borden, Gustav Mahler, Annie Oakley and J.M. Barrie are born

Charles Goodyear and Arthur Schopenhauer die

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