Wednesday, August 31, 2011

1945 Voice Letter

This unique recording was made just before the end of World War II at a USO club in Boston, Massachusetts. The voice heard on the record is that of a U.S. Navy seaman serving aboard a destroyer called the USS MacKenzie. According to this article the ship had returned from Mediterranean waters to Boston for a 30 day overhaul in July of 1945. Apparently, it was during this time that Machinist's Mate 3rd class Jorgensen had the opportunity to record this "voice letter" for his wife back home in Philadelphia.

August 9, 1945 postmark on Voice Letter envelope
The MacKenzie left Boston on August 13 (four days after the record's envelope was postmarked) for training near Cuba to prepare for duty in the Pacific. However, the surrender of Japan two days later prompted a change of plans and after two weeks training, the destroyer was ordered back to the U.S. for duty with the aircraft carrier Lake Champlain. Then on November 3, 1945 the MacKenzie headed to Charleston, South Carolina for decommissioning.

Label of 1945 Voice Letter record
 An article printed in the January, 1946 installment of Audio Record—a newsletter/magazine for recording enthusiasts, published by Audio Devices Inc. (a manufacturer of blank discs)—states that some 350 USO clubs in major cities were equipped with voice recording equipment and that the USO Central Purchasing Dept. had sent out 301,059 blank discs over the past two years, all of which were donated to service personnel.

One amusing story in the same article told of a young man who made a record for his family and after his mother wrote back to tell him how his dog "sent up great bays of delight" upon hearing his voice, the man went back and made another entire recording just for the dog. 

The USO still provides a modern day equivalent of this recording service through programs such as United Through Reading, where military parents are videotaped reading a storybook to their child. Also used are special books containing a digital device that records the voice of the parent as they read the story aloud. Volunteers then mail the books and videos to the families back home.

Text printed on flap of 1945 Voice Letter record mailing envelope

1945 Voice Letter record (plays at 78 rpm)
Developed in the 1930s, this particular type of recording disc, sometimes called an "instantaneous disc," is also often referred to as an "acetate" even though they do not actually contain acetate. They usually consist of a coating of nitrocellulose lacquer on a substrate of metal, glass, or cardboard. It appears (and makes the most sense) that this particular record is made with a cardboard core. I can't imagine that fragile glass would ever be used in discs meant for purposes such as this USO voice letter, and at this time in history when everyone was urged to turn in metal for the war effort, I'm guessing metal would not have been used for manufacturing record blanks. In fact, I've read that even thousands of pre-existing metal-based discs containing unique recordings, such as from radio performance archives were unfortunately lost to the U.S. scrap metal drives during World War II.

1945 Voice Letter mailing envelope
 Instantaneous/lacquer recording discs are not exactly known for their great durability and longevity. I would say this record and its packaging has held up very well these past 65 years and must have been kept in a safe place prior to turning up at the thrift store.
It's fun stumbling upon these amateur recordings, never knowing what random voices from the past you will find waiting in the grooves to fill the air with sound once more...

Visit for photos and more information about the USS MacKenzie

A 324 pg. collection of Audio Record magazine is available to view online or download at