The Gramophone, December, 1929
being first offered to the trade. Until then all the business of "the company had been transacted at Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. In 1902 a move was made to City Road, which for five years was the recording studio, office, and centre for stock.
In January,1889, I came to London, joined the new company, and moved on to start a branch in Paris. I might mention that from i ts earliest days the company made large profits.
I t was in 1907 that I returned from Paris to London to become Managing Director of The Gramophone Company. My first step was to move the headquarters from the City Road to Hayes. The business had so grown that one could hardly move in the old headquarters. Hayes, with i ts numerous acres, offered itself as a spot where we could develop to our heart's content. The foundation stone of the first building there was laid by Madame, now Dame Nellie, Melba.
The Hayes plant is now a miniature village of 58 acres, where between eight and . nine thousand people work, in two shifts, night and day, to supply the incessant demand for H.M.V. records and machines.
In the Museum there are records made in 1885. discs etched on hard rubber. There is also the first t infoil talking machine of 1878, and the first phonograph, built by Stroh in 1879.
When Bernard Shaw visited Albert Coates in Italy he was so impressed with the records Coates played to him that on his return to England he made a special journey to Hayes to have his voice recorded. Incidentally he signed our Golden Autograph Book, which contains the .signatures of all the great artists who have visited the factory.
In early days i t was often a matter of difficulty to get the big singers to record their voices. It was Sir Landon Ronald, an ardent gramophonist from the beginning, who persuaded Ben Davies to record for us. Davies laughed at the idea of singing into a t in trumpet, but he was at length cajoled into recording My Pretty Jane. When he heard i t repeated to him through the horn he was amazed and delighted.
For years Patti was impervious to all our tempting offers to record. In 1905, when she was retiring from the operatic stage, she chanced to hear some of Caruso's remarkable records. The diva was then 62, and l iving in retirement at her Welsh castle, Craig-yNos. She wrote to us asking whether arrangements could be made to record her voice. A special staff was sent to "Vales, and some excellent records were made in her own home.
Caruso was first recorded as long ago as 1902, long before the fame of his wonderful voice had made his a household name. Arrangements to record were made with him whilst he was singing at La Scala, and his first record was made in Milan. For this he received 200 l ira. Not long before his death he was sent a cheque for over £200,000, representing the royalties on the sale of his records for one·year only! Oaruso made some 160 records for us.
Chaliapine commenced to make records for us twenty-six years ago in St. Petersburg. The first of these were eagerly bought up at ten roubles (twenty shillings) each. Chaliapine has always been extremely careful about recording. Once he insisted that his voice was at i ts best at midnight, and he would record at that t ime or not at all !
Eugene Stratton was the first notability to visi.t the studio at Maiden Lane. Dan Leno followed him in 1900.
During the war The Gramophone Company was the first industrial concern not normally .engaged on Government contracts to convert their plant for war needs . . Within ten days of the declaration of war, the manufacture of fuse parts, which required absolute accuracy, was commenced. Only the perfect mechanism at our command rendered this possible. I am glad to say that we were able to turn out very large quantities of munitions for the men at the front.
With modern gramophones, electrical recording, and the perfect records of to-day, the early days of the gramophone now begin to take on the atmosphere of a fairy story to me. Here are some of the things I remember, strange and otherwise :-
vVhen there were only half a dozen male singers whose voices would record at all well.
When i t was impossible to make a record of a female voice or a violin.
When artists were paid two shillings for each t ime they sang for recording.
"Vhen only three records were made each t ime the· artists sang. (If a dealer ordered twelve records of one song, the artist had to sing the song four t imes.)
When a day's sale of a hundred records seemed stupendous. (Now we worry i f they do not reach 100,000 daily.)
When the business so increased that one artist sang one song,over and over again, all day long.
When every single record had to be l istened to through ear tubes, from beginning to end, before i t was sent out.
When we first began to copy cylinder records. (This was done by playing one record and recording from i t on to another. In this way we were able to make as many as fifty copies from one master.)
When I heard a disc record for the first t ime, and realised that from one master record hundreds of thousands of copies could be made.
,vnen disc records were made on zinc plates by an etching process.
When the first gramophone records were recorded on wax instead of zinc. (We thought we had made progress then !)
"Vhen gramophones hai no spring motors, and were turned by hand.