I wrote this piece in 2002 on the behest of a fellow who was doing a book on Diamond Disc Records. The book had very limited sales and was read very little. Therefore I thought I would put the piece I wrote for the book here, so others could enjoy much of what is not talked about when it comes to Edison and his role with the Diamond Disc Record.
When Edison got involved in the “ recording biz” as he used to call it, he was in his early sixties. He was always somewhat involved in the recording industry, but not to the extent he was when he lead the charge onto the battlefield called “disc recording”. Edison had always been involved in this part of the business but by the time the disc record was first commercially developed he devotes nearly all of his energy to this cause.(The rest of his research went toward cement, storage batteries, business machines and motion pictures).
Marginalia would be inscribed on the pages of novels as well as books on history, religion, music, and science. Even encyclopedias and dictionaries were open season for his pencil. His output was incredible and covered every subject imaginable. No subject was taboo to him. He would make these notations for his own reference and pleasure. These were his thoughts and not for the public to see. Here Edison said exactly what he thought and was often very blunt; in many ways the very opposite of how he was perceived by the public. He seemed to always have a pencil in his hand.
The Edison of 1910 was not the Edison of the good old days of Menlo Park either. He had in a sense become a bit of a caricature of himself. In this period of his life he also had the time to write more. We find that a good deal of his documentation dates from the 1910-1930 period, with the bulk of it dating from the mid-1920’s, when he spent a good deal of time at home.
By 1912 Columbia had even given up on the cylinder and announced that the disc was king. Edison was not in a hurry to change from the cylinder format but was unusually agreeable once he discovered that work on a disc record was progressing in secret and, much to the alarm of some, he encouraged and spearheaded the project.
These recordings were often done with Lauder pianos from Newark, New Jersey. The pianos had to be changed often as Edison said they had lost their sound from being pounded by jazz musicians. He often got upset with his private pianist Ernest Stevens for playing jazz on one of the sacred pianos from the studio. At least Stevens didn’t pound on the keys, saving him from further wrath. There was never a release of any orchestral recordings made with the 125’ horn. There were experiments putting things in the horn such as storage batteries and Ice. Edison did this to see if there was a difference in the sound quality. There were no improvements in the recordings. It was also the sad duty of the recording department’s Will Hayes to clean out the horn after the recording experimentation was done.
Of course as he aged his hearing got worse. There were also a few operations performed on his ear that harmed his hearing more than it helped it. His hearing was correctable as proved by his son Theodore. He took his father to Bell Labs and had a curve made of T.A.E.’s hearing. Then he constructed a hearing aid to compensate for the hearing loss. This monstrosity as he called it worked very well. But it was a large box with vacuum tubes, a stethoscope-like headset and a microphone to speak into. He said his father put his head into the headset and someone spoke into the microphone he heard the high-pitched sounds that he had never heard before. In fact, Theodore said his father “heard pretty good through it”. But the thing weighed a lot and was “tremendous” in size. So we can see where Edison’s hearing loss centered. He had very few highs in his hearing and he would often lose the hissing sibilant. He could hear lower tones rather well and I believe this is what led him to push for a very mellow sound with low tones. It was a pleasing and comfortable sound for him.