Until the end of the 19th century, families gathered in the evening and celebrated with musicians. Two major revolutions in sound technology —the introduction of the sound reproducer at the beginning of the 20th century and the invention of the radio in the 1920s — changed the daily lives of Canadians.

Edison's Invention: The Cylinder

The cylinder phonograph was invented by American Thomas Edison (1847-1931) and appeared in affluent Canadian homes after 1891, when Edison's company was marketing a series of music recordings on cylinders.

Berliner's Invention: The Flat Disk

After creating the gramophone, Emile Berliner (1851-1929), an American of German origin, invented the flat disk, which played at 78 revolutions per minute (rpm). In 1900, he set up a factory in Montréal. The success of his invention was immediate, and Berliner Gramophone published a catalogue of records that could be ordered by mail.

The three major players in the sound industry, Berliner Gramophone, Edison, and Columbia, captured the market. Department store mail-orde Read More
Until the end of the 19th century, families gathered in the evening and celebrated with musicians. Two major revolutions in sound technology —the introduction of the sound reproducer at the beginning of the 20th century and the invention of the radio in the 1920s — changed the daily lives of Canadians.

Edison's Invention: The Cylinder

The cylinder phonograph was invented by American Thomas Edison (1847-1931) and appeared in affluent Canadian homes after 1891, when Edison's company was marketing a series of music recordings on cylinders.

Berliner's Invention: The Flat Disk

After creating the gramophone, Emile Berliner (1851-1929), an American of German origin, invented the flat disk, which played at 78 revolutions per minute (rpm). In 1900, he set up a factory in Montréal. The success of his invention was immediate, and Berliner Gramophone published a catalogue of records that could be ordered by mail.

The three major players in the sound industry, Berliner Gramophone, Edison, and Columbia, captured the market. Department store mail-order services made the new entertainment machines available throughout Canada. In 1899, the Eaton's catalogue offered apparatus for cylinders for the first time: the Columbia Graphophone and the Eagle Graphophone, similar to Columbia's model B.

Columbia's Graphophone for flat disks first appeared in the Eaton's Catalogue in 1903, competing with Edison's phonograph. The 1904-05 edition of the catalogue offered seven-inch brown records and Berliner Gramophone's Model A gramophone. In 1903, Eaton's published a record catalogue in an effort to take advantage of the rapid market growth. In Berliner Gramophone's first two years in Montréal, the company produced 2000 records. By 1912, the company was manufacturing two million annually.

From 1907 to 1910, Eaton's introduced a record player called the Eatonia. The Berliner gramophones vanished from its catalogue. However, the company did continue to offer the Columbia brand as well as Edison phonographs. Models of the Victor Talking Machine, which were distributed in Canada by Berliner Gramophone, did not appear in the catalogue until 1910. For the first time, Eaton's offered a floor model with an integrated speaker, rather than a horn.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Colour photo of a mechanitcal gramophone

Mechanical gramophone, table model VV-VIII, Victor Talking Machine, Camden, New Jersey, 1913.

Gift of Gaétan Pilon
1913
2002.0001.
© Musée des ondes Emile Berliner


Colour photo of the Columbia Graphophone

Columbia Graphophone, Model B. The BX model, which was very similar to this one, appeared in Eaton's (Toronto) Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1900, p. 174.

Musée des ondes Emile Berliner

© Musée des ondes Emile Berliner


Catalogue page featuring Duke Graphophones

Duke Graphophone, floor model. Eaton's Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1910, p. 173.

Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc.

F-229
© Archives of Ontario, T. Eaton Co. fonds


The brand new Victrola XI was the star of the 1913 Eaton's Catalogue and was sold at the same price as in the 1912 Berliner Gramophone catalogue. In 1913-14, Eaton's offered the popular Victrola VIII and IX. Since consumers preferred records to the cumbersome cylinders because they were easier to store and less fragile, the company stopped selling cylinder phonographs in 1914.

In 1917-18, Eaton's offered His Master's Voice gramophones, and, starting in 1918, devoted a whole page in the catalogue to Victor and Columbia records. In 1919-20, the company sold floor models of gramophones under the brand name of Symphony, which was changed to Eatonola the following year. Portable record players in suitcases were introduced in 1924 and sold for several years.

Until the end of the 1930s, the Eaton's Catalogue featured only mechanical gramophones. The Victor Orthophonic, marketed as a revolution in sound technology, was introduced in 1925 by Victor Talking Machine. By 1929-30, Eaton's was selling the new Model 43 Victor Orthophonic. In its 1939-40 catalogue, Eaton's offered the first electric model record player, under its own brand name, Viking; this model included a Read More
The brand new Victrola XI was the star of the 1913 Eaton's Catalogue and was sold at the same price as in the 1912 Berliner Gramophone catalogue. In 1913-14, Eaton's offered the popular Victrola VIII and IX. Since consumers preferred records to the cumbersome cylinders because they were easier to store and less fragile, the company stopped selling cylinder phonographs in 1914.

In 1917-18, Eaton's offered His Master's Voice gramophones, and, starting in 1918, devoted a whole page in the catalogue to Victor and Columbia records. In 1919-20, the company sold floor models of gramophones under the brand name of Symphony, which was changed to Eatonola the following year. Portable record players in suitcases were introduced in 1924 and sold for several years.

Until the end of the 1930s, the Eaton's Catalogue featured only mechanical gramophones. The Victor Orthophonic, marketed as a revolution in sound technology, was introduced in 1925 by Victor Talking Machine. By 1929-30, Eaton's was selling the new Model 43 Victor Orthophonic. In its 1939-40 catalogue, Eaton's offered the first electric model record player, under its own brand name, Viking; this model included a radio. Table models of Viking record players were released in 1946. The following year, Eaton's offered the Astra, a model that featured a radio and a record player and was very modern in design. In the early 1950s, the company still sold a battery-operated combined model for homes without electricity.

"Battle of the Speeds"

The late 1940s saw the emergence of the "speed war." In 1948, Columbia introduced the long-playing record (33 rpm on vinyl) to replace the 78 rpm. RCA Victor responded the following year by launching the 45 rpm.

In 1952-53, Eaton's offered the popular RCA Victor record player, which was made of plastic and appeared on the market at the same time as the 45 rpm. This model could be connected to a radio or television speaker. At the time, record players had three speeds - 33, 45 and 78 rpm - and Eaton's introduced its first Viking model with that feature.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Black and white catlogue page of Victor Victrola

Victor Victrola IX. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1913-14, p. 270.

Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc., Archives of Ontario, T. Eaton Co. fonds

F-229
© Archives of Ontario, T. Eaton Co. fonds


Colour photo of Viking EMC 3 4167 record player

Viking EMC 3 4167 record player for 78 rpm records, Dominion Electrohome Industries Limited, Canada, ca 1946. This record player was manufactured for Eaton's in Kitchener, Ontario.

Gift of Laval Rhainds

2002.3604
© Musée des ondes Emile Berliner


Colour photo of a RCA Victor plastic record player

Plastic record player for 45 rpm records, Model 9JY, RCA Victor, ca 1950. Eaton's sold this record player for $19; it was very popular among teenagers in the 1950s.

Gift of Claude Côté

1997.0348
© Musée des ondes Emile Berliner


Crystal Radios

Another invention revolutionized the way people listened to music at home. Many amateurs built their own crystal radios to pick up radio waves. The first programs were broadcast from Montréal starting on December 1, 1919, by the Marconi company's experimental station, XWA, which became CFCF in November 1920. Regular programming began on May 21, 1920. CKAC launched its regular French programming on September 27, 1922.

Given the radio craze in Canada, Eaton's featured crystal radios with headphones in its 1922-23 catalogue and devoted a whole page to all the parts needed to build such a radio. In 1924, Eaton's announced the publication of a special parts catalogue.

Speakers

A battery-operated receiver with a speaker allowed several people to listen to the radio at the same time. In 1925-26, Eaton's sold a model with five vacuum tubes and a speaker. Radios were so popular that they even made it onto the cover of the company's catalogue. In the winter of 1926-27, the Minerva, a model produced especially for Eaton's, sold for $99 . The cover of the Read More
Crystal Radios

Another invention revolutionized the way people listened to music at home. Many amateurs built their own crystal radios to pick up radio waves. The first programs were broadcast from Montréal starting on December 1, 1919, by the Marconi company's experimental station, XWA, which became CFCF in November 1920. Regular programming began on May 21, 1920. CKAC launched its regular French programming on September 27, 1922.

Given the radio craze in Canada, Eaton's featured crystal radios with headphones in its 1922-23 catalogue and devoted a whole page to all the parts needed to build such a radio. In 1924, Eaton's announced the publication of a special parts catalogue.

Speakers

A battery-operated receiver with a speaker allowed several people to listen to the radio at the same time. In 1925-26, Eaton's sold a model with five vacuum tubes and a speaker. Radios were so popular that they even made it onto the cover of the company's catalogue. In the winter of 1926-27, the Minerva, a model produced especially for Eaton's, sold for $99 . The cover of the Eaton's 1927-28 Radio Catalogue featured a floor model with an incorporated speaker.

Combination Radio and Record Players

Very early on, manufacturers began to offer models combining a radio and record player, which Sonora marketed around 1924. However, these units did not appear in the Eaton's Catalogue until the late 1930s. They became essential pieces of furniture in almost every home and occupied a place of honour in the living room.

In the early 1930s, Eaton's sold floor models of radios that ran on batteries or AC power and were manufactured by Marconi, Eveready, Fada, Brunswick, Westinghouse, Zenith, Philco, Sonora, De Forest, Crosley, and Victor.

Small Units

The size and retail price of radios began to decrease. In 1934, Eaton's offered small table models with wooden cases made by Victor, Philco, and Sparton, as well as its own Viking model. A portable Viking radio and the popular Little Nipper, made by RCA Victor, first appeared in the 1939-40 catalogue.

After the Second World War, manufacturers produced small units with wooden or Bakelite® cases in bright colours, such as Northern Electric's B 4000 and Westinghouse's 501, a unique Canadian design that stood in various positions.

RCA Victor's BP6C, a portable battery-operated radio, gave consumers a taste of the new 1950s design. The 1952 Eaton's Catalogue featured the Nipper, a popular RCA Victor model. In 1955-56, the company offered the Crosley, the first combination radio and alarm clock, which was equipped with an electrical outlet for a coffeemaker. RCA Victor's portable P-233, which ran on batteries or AC power, also became affordable.

Radios for Every Budget

In the mid-1950s, Eaton's offered a wide variety of models for every budget, ranging from General Electric's modest 418 at a cost $23.95 to the sophisticated SX-96 made by Hallicrafters, which sold for $449.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Black and white catalogue page of Radio receivers and speakers

Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1925-26, p. 391.

Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc.

F-229
© Archives of Ontario, T. Eaton Co. fonds


Colour photo of an RCA Victor radio

Radio, Model M45A, RCA Victor, 1946.

Gift of Fernande Rochon
1946
1999.0303
© Musée des ondes Emile Berliner


Black and white catalogue page of radios

Assortment of radios offered in Eaton's (Toronto) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1956-57, p. 414.

Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc.

© Archives of Ontario, T. Eaton Co. fonds


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • observe and identify the characteristics of early 20th century lifestyle;
  • compare the evolution of the Canadian and Quebec society over several decades;
  • explain the similarities and differences between past and present society;
  • discuss the main events of the 20th century (economic crisis, World Wars, unionization, feminist movement) and the impact that they had on Canadian and Quebec societies.

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