Sunday, January 1, 2012

1940s Voice Letter to Uncle Bob

Here is another one-of-a-kind amateur recording from the 1940s. This one was made in a recording booth at Woodside Park in Philadelphia. It was recorded on July 12 for "Uncle Bob" (and family) by a nervous, somewhat befuddled woman named Betty and her coolheaded sidekick, Dorothy (who brings to mind Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith show every time I hear this record).

Woodside Park was open for visitors from 1897 until 1955. Here is a photo of the park's entrance, along with an autobiographical story written by a man who once performed a sideshow routine there.

Voice-O-Graph record mailing envelope
Voice-O-Graph "automatic recording studio" booths were made by International Mutoscope Corporation and as far as I can tell, were fairly common from about the early forties to the late sixties in amusement parks, arcades, and many other popular destinations such as New York's Times Square. To see some cool Voice-O-Graph advertisements and photos, visit I like the first ad, which shows a woman using the machine who doesn't look quite sure if she's anxious, astonished, or annoyed and the text reads: "Like talking on the phone ... but a thousand times more thrilling!"

1940s Voice-O-Graph record label
and text from envelope flap

A very handy "labelography" at the TenWatts blog compiles a good number of Voice-O-Graph label designs that were used over the years. With this guide, I could determine that our "Uncle Bob" record was most likely from the 1940s, but the exact period associated with this particular label variant is still in question. If you have a Voice-O-Graph record with a label that is not listed in the timeline you might want to consider contacting that blog's owner and contributing to the project.

I really like playing these little mystery time capsule records for the first time. It's fun not knowing, and anticipating, what you are going to hear. Using clues found on the packaging and in the audio itself, they can also lead you to some interesting historical details you might otherwise never have uncovered. Check out the video clip below if you would like to hear this one for yourself.