Johnson, Eldridge Reeves

SUBJECT AREA: Recording
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b. 18 February 1867 Wilmington, Delaware, USA
d. 14 November 1945 Moorestown, New Jersey, USA
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American industrialist, founder and owner of the Victor Talking Machine Company; developer of many basic constructions in mechanical sound recording and the reproduction and manufacture of gramophone records.
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He graduated from the Dover Academy (Delaware) in 1882 and was apprenticed in a machine-repair firm in Philadelphia and studied in evening classes at the Spring Garden Institute. In 1888 he took employment in a small Philadelphia machine shop owned by Andrew Scull, specializing in repair and bookbinding machinery. After travels in the western part of the US, in 1891 he became a partner in Scull \& Johnson, Manufacturing Machinists, and established a further company, the New Jersey Wire Stitching Machine Company. He bought out Andrew Scull's interest in October 1894 (the last instalment being paid in 1897) and became an independent general machinist. In 1896 he had perfected a spring motor for the Berliner flat-disc gramophone, and he started experimenting with a more direct method of recording in a spiral groove: that of cutting in wax. Co-operation with Berliner eventually led to the incorporation of the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901. The innumerable court cases stemming from the fact that so many patents for various elements in sound recording and reproduction were in very many hands were brought to an end in 1903 when Johnson was material in establishing cross-licencing agreements between Victor, Columbia Graphophone and Edison to create what is known as a patent pool. Early on, Johnson had a thorough experience in all matters concerning the development and manufacture of both gramophones and records. He made and patented many major contributions in all these fields, and his approach was very business-like in that the contribution to cost of each part or process was always a decisive factor in his designs. This attitude was material in his consulting work for the sister company, the Gramophone Company, in London before it set up its own factories in 1910. He had quickly learned the advantages of advertising and of providing customers with durable equipment and records. This motivation was so strong that Johnson set up a research programme for determining the cause of wear in records. It turned out to depend on groove profile, and from 1911 one particular profile was adhered to and processes for transforming the grooves of valuable earlier records were developed. Without precise measuring instruments, he used the durability as the determining factor. Johnson withdrew more and more to the role of manager, and the Victor Talking Machine Company gained such a position in the market that the US anti-trust legislation was used against it. However, a generation change in the Board of Directors and certain erroneous decisions as to product line started a decline, and in February 1926 Johnson withdrew on extended sick leave: these changes led to the eventual sale of Victor. However, Victor survived due to the advent of radio and the electrification of replay equipment and became a part of Radio Corporation of America. In retirement Johnson took up various activities in the arts and sciences and financially supported several projects; his private yacht was used in 1933 in work with the Smithsonian Institution on a deep-sea hydrographie and fauna-collecting expedition near Puerto Rico.
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Bibliography
Johnson's patents were many, and some were fundamental to the development of the gramophone, such as: US patent no. 650,843 (in particular a recording lathe); US patent nos. 655,556, 655,556 and 679,896 (soundboxes); US patent no. 681,918 (making the original conductive for electroplating); US patent no. 739,318 (shellac record with paper label).
Further Reading
Mrs E.R.Johnson, 1913, "Eldridge Reeves Johnson (1867–1945): Industrial pioneer", manuscript (an account of his early experience).
E.Hutto, Jr, "Emile Berliner, Eldridge Johnson, and the Victor Talking Machine Company", Journal of AES 25(10/11):666–73 (a good but brief account based on company information).
E.R.Fenimore Johnson, 1974, His Master's Voice was Eldridge R.Johnson, Milford, Del.
(a very personal biography by his only son).
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Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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