As large numbers of people leave rural America, small towns are left with only a few things that were once very common. But in Brown County, one of such things that will likely not disappear is its unique history. As time passed by, the relics housed by the Ferguson School and Whistle Stop Depot Museum have become even more culturally significant to the community of Brown County. Each of the artifacts have a story to tell — not only about itself but also of the people from which they came from.
One of the museum’s most underrated relic is the classic Edison Gramophone. And it’s a shame actually, considering that it rivals the Iowa Rock ‘n Roll Music Museum’s collection of old recording studio equipment. Also, it’s more priceless than even the best record player under $100 at Random Life Music. Indeed, it deserves the same attention that the best acoustic guitars get at other rural museums. Almost in pristine condition, it has been taken out from the display so that its beauty could be appreciated more closely.
The machine was given by the late Phyllis Morellion from Mt. Sterling (together with the very popular morning glory horn, nonetheless). Unlike record players though, which use vinyls, the Edison Gramophone plays tunes that are recorded on cylinders of hard wax. It was available from the 1880s until a bit after the beginning of the 20th century, but mostly only affluent homes had one. Now, it’s one of the most coveted record players among vintage music collectors.
Majority of the 1880s machines run on electricity, generally via unwieldy wet cells. At the time, home electricity wasn’t ubiquitously available, and a good spring motor was yet to be developed. And so, they were expensive and more commonly seen in penny arcades (as coin-operated fixtures) instead of homes. They earned good money, much to the regret of Edison, who took long to join the bandwagon of using gramophones for entertainment. The wax formulas that were used were varied, and the best way to listen to records was via tubes (because the sound was faint).
In 1899, Edison introduced The Gem, a low cost gramophone that sold for $7.50. It was reliable and rugged, and it had a loyal customer base in farms and rural towns (which was majority of America back then). Millions were sold, and could have continued to sell, if not for the development of flat discs. The flat discs were louder and sounded more clear, and they had longer playing time. They were produced by Victor and Columbia (Edison’s competitor), who eventually caught up to the cylinders and outsold them. Since then, more developments were made and marketed.