Osoyoos Museum brings back the music from 130 years ago on wax...

Osoyoos Museum brings back the music from 130 years ago on wax cylinders

Kara Burton, executive director of Osoyoos Museum, shows two old phonographs that were restored by Allan Gaudreault and are now in the museum's collection. (Richard McGuire photo)

When Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, the first recordings he made were on cylinders covered in tinfoil.

Over the next decade, when they were commercialized, the cylinders were made with cardboard coated in a hard wax.

Now, thanks to Alberta snowbird Allan Gaudreault, the Osoyoos and District Museum and Archives has a couple of restored phonographs that can play the old wax cylinders, along with a collection of music from almost 130 years ago.

Last year, Gaudreault restored two more recent disc-playing phonographs for the museum and they’ve become a popular part of the museum’s early music collection. (See Okanagan Sun, July 2016).

But the museum had in its collection an old machine that played two-minute cylinders (bottom photo) which wasn’t working. So Gaudeault, who is passionate about restoring the music machines of the past, took up the challenge.

Also, the museum’s cylinders were the four-minute type that wouldn’t play on this machine anyway.

“Allan was kind enough to not only fix our two-minute machine, but he got us some two-minute cylinders,” said Kara Burton, museum executive director and curator. “And he brought us back a machine for our four-minute cylinders.”

The two-minute cylinders are black and the four-minute cylinders are dark blue. A diamond stylus floats on the grooves and it’s driven by a threaded rod underneath that moves it along the cylinder in synchonization.

The amplification is through an acoustic horn.

The cylinders enjoyed a brief period of popularity between the mid-1880s and around the turn of the last century. Then they were replaced by discs, the same way that 8-track tapes were eclipsed by cassettes and CDs a century later.

Burton says she’s thinking about whether to build an exhibit just around the phonographs or around all the music machines in the museum’s collection, which also include a couple of organs, a player piano and other items.

Children and adults love the disc phonographs already in the collection.

“I play them whenever we have elementary kids come in,” said Burton. “We had some Christmas records, so at a Christmas party we were playing Christmas music.

Gaudreault and Burton demonstrated one of the cylinders for the OK Sun: Farrington and Chorus singing It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary, a song that was popular during World War I.

It’s a bit scratchy, but the old machine brings it back to life.

Hear recording:

By Richard McGuire

This old Edison phonograph plays wax cylinders up to four minutes long. It was donated by Allan Gaudreault, who restored it as well as other phonographs in the Osoyoos Museum’s collection. (Richard McGuire photo)
This old Edison phonograph plays wax cylinders up to two minutes long. The horn, which amplifies the sound, is directly connected to the diamond stylus that rides on the grooves of the cylinders to play music. It was restored by snowbird Allan Gaudreault and it had already been in the museum’s collection. (Richard McGuire photo)