How Edison recorded Teddy Roosevelt

Thursday June 21, 2012

LENOX -- A little black machine that recorded a speech by President Theodore Roose velt a century ago will bring the gilded age of invention to life at Ventfort Hall, in a talk by Wally Stock at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

Stock, a lifelong collector of recorded music and speech, will highlight a Roosevelt oration recorded in Thomas Edison's West Orange, N.J., laboratory, the birthplace of many inventions that paved the way for what has become the great communications highway.

Chiming in with Roosevelt, Stock will offer samples of some of history's great singers, such as Enrico Caruso and Tetra zzini, also recorded by Edison. Most of the records are at least 100 years old.

In his presentation of "Music and Voices of the Gilded Age," Stock will discuss the historic process of making and playing records. He will dwell on the records and their history from 1877 through the first popular recordings in 1890s.

"There will be a little about the artists," he said in a telephone interview from his home-office in a restored 1851 railway station in Brainerd, Rensselaer County, N.Y.

"There is everything from opera to old symphony orchestras. Most important is one of several speeches Roosevelt made in Edison' studio," he explained.

It was a political speech about the Progressive Party's problem of "farmers and little businessman not getting a fair share in the economy," Stock said, and about "not letting big business take it all."

Stock explained that Edison's talking machine recorded sound on celluloid cylinders, which eventually were replaced by flat discs. After Roosevelt privately recorded his speech on Edison cylinders, he mounted platforms to speak live in political campaign appearances.

Copies of his recordings were sent to Edison distributors across the country for sale at 60 cents each. The recording machines were available for $35.

They were operated mechanically, with no electricity, to record opera, classical, popular ad minstrel music, as well as speeches, including some Edison gave, recorded in his studio. Edison spoke in public only a couple of times.

"I have a copy of first time he ever recorded his speech for the public," Sock said. "It was about the successes of WWI."

Stock estimated that he has a collection of at least 40,000 records, cylinders and "old 78" discs, that includes Gorge Gersh win playing the first recording of his "Rhapsody in Blue," and great orchestras in symphony programs.

Born in Albany, Stock grew up in Malvin Bridge, near old Chatham, N.Y. He graduated from Albany State University with a major in U.S. history, which led him to devote his life to the history of the recorded word.

"I started collecting records when I was about 4 or 5 years old," Stock recalled. "We had a Victrola in the house. I used to listen to it all the time. Since then, I've always preferred the older records and the older music.

His first equipment for playing the recordings was an old Edison cylinder machine found n a cellar and bought by his maternal grandmother as a special gift.

"I've collected ever since," Stock said. " I don't sell them. I just collect them."

What: Wally Stock will speak and play historic recordings

When: Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Where: Ventfort Hall, 104 Walker St., Lenox

Admission: $16



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