Cylinder of the Month

See also the  Cylinders of the Month Archive.

A rare recording by the Polyphone Symphony Orchestra of Chicago performing, from 1898, The Night Alarm.

The Night Alarm

Company The Talking Machine Company
Cylinder # 1074
Category Orchestra (descriptive)
Title The Night Alarm
Performed by The Polyphone Symphony Orchestra
Circa 1898-1899
Announcement "Polyphone record, the Night Alarm, played by the Polyphone Symphony Orchestra."

A very popular descriptive selection, The Night Alarm appeared in most record companies' catalogs of the 1890s – in some, as early as 1889.   The selection almost always included the same features: an introduction, "fire!", a block number being telegraphed, "block 32!", rousing fire-trucks-racing-to-the-scene music with bells clanging, (quickly) extinguishing the fire, and concluding with a rag-tag fireman chorus.   Great fun.

The odd groan sound at the end of the recording is heard on most "Polyphone" records from the Talking Machine Company (see "The Polyphone Groan" below).

To hear The Night Alarm   —

To hear an excerpt   —  
For help playing these sounds, click here.

The Polyphone Attachment

The Talking Machine Company (TTM), which changed their name at least two times –
	The North American Phonograph Co., Chicago   1890-1892
	The Chicago Talking Machine Co.              1893-1897
	The Talking Machine Co.                      1898-1902 ff
– began marketing around 1898 a phonograph attachment with two reproducers: The Polyphone.   When working properly, the stylus in each reproducer would track the same portion of the recording separated by an inch or two, providing a near doubling of typical volume, plus a reverberation effect (and, as an added bonus, your wax records would wear down twice as fast).   Although the attachment should work with any standard record, TTM, not missing an opportunity to advertise their products, proudly announced their records as "Polyphone Records".

The Talking Machine Company 1899 catalog describing the Polyphone attachment.
— The Talking Machine Company catalog ca. 1899

The Polyphone Groan

Even more unusual from the early sound recordings preservation viewpoint, is the presence of a strange-sounding groan heard at the end of most, and apparently unique to, Polyphone records.   Although the groan may be simply an artifact of the process used to make copies (for example, perhaps the sound of a brake being applied on the master phonograph), it is heard in sufficiently different ways that gives it a certain comic appeal.

An analysis of 5 Polyphone groans (best heard through headphones):
  1. TTM 1075 – Typical
  2. TTM 3047 – Typical - faint
  3. TTM 4078 – 'Digestive' - short
  4. TTM 8324 – 'Digestive' - long
  5. TTM 9052 – 'Nasal' - short

To hear the Polyphone groans   —  

— This cylinder of the month is from the collection of  Tyrone Settlemier —


To hear other examples of wax cylinders, see the

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