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  Mechanical gramophone, Victor Talking 
Marchine, 1913.  

Enlarge image.Mechanical gramophone, table model VV-VIII, Victor Talking Machine, Camden, New Jersey, 1913.


Objects that Speak:
A Technological Revolution
by Nicole Cloutier

Until the end of the 19th century, families gathered in the evening and celebrated with musicians. Two major revolutions in sound technology —the introduction of the sound reproducer at the beginning of the 20th century and the invention of the radio in the 1920s — changed the daily lives of Canadians.

The Phonograph and the Gramophone | The Radio

The Phonograph and the Gramophone

Edison's Invention: The Cylinder

The cylinder phonograph was invented by American Thomas Edison (1847-1931) and appeared in affluent Canadian homes after 1891, when Edison's company was marketing a series of music recordings on cylinders.

Berliner's Invention: The Flat Disk

After creating the gramophone, Emile Berliner (1851-1929), an American of German origin, invented the flat disk, which played at 78 revolutions per minute (rpm). In 1900, he set up a factory in Montréal. The success of his invention was immediate, and Berliner Gramophone published a catalogue of records that could be ordered by mail.

Major Players in the Sound Industry
  Eagle graphophone, Eaton's Spring 
Summer 1899, p. 191.  

Enlarge image.Eagle Graphophone. Eaton's, Toronto, Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1899, p. 191.


The three major players in the sound industry, Berliner Gramophone, Edison, and Columbia, captured the market. Department store mail-order services made the new entertainment machines available throughout Canada. In 1899, the Eaton's catalogue offered apparatus for cylinders for the first time: the Columbia Graphophone and the Eagle Graphophone, similar to Columbia's model B.

  Columbia graphophone, model B, Eaton's 
Spring Summer 1900, p. 174.  

Enlarge image.Columbia Graphophone, Model B. The BX model, which was very similar to this one, appeared in Eaton's (Toronto) Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1900, p. 174.


Columbia's Graphophone for flat disks first appeared in the Eaton's Catalogue in 1903, competing with Edison's phonograph. The 1904-05 edition of the catalogue offered seven-inch brown records and Berliner Gramophone's Model A gramophone. In 1903, Eaton's published a record catalogue in an effort to take advantage of the rapid market growth. In Berliner Gramophone's first two years in Montréal, the company produced 2000 records. By 1912, the company was manufacturing two million annually.

  Columbia graphophone and Edison 
phonograph, Eaton's Spring Summer 1903, p. 198.  

Enlarge image.Columbia Graphophone and Edison phonograph, standard model. Eaton's, Toronto Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1903, p. 198.

  Seven-inch record, Berliner 
Gramophone, ca 1902.  

Enlarge image.Seven-inch record, Berliner Gramophone, Montréal, ca 1902.

  Berliner gramophone, model A, Eaton's 
Fall Winter 1904-05, p. 207.  

Enlarge image.Berliner Gramophone, Model A. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1904-05, p. 207.


From 1907 to 1910, Eaton's introduced a record player called the Eatonia. The Berliner gramophones vanished from its catalogue. However, the company did continue to offer the Columbia brand as well as Edison phonographs. Models of the Victor Talking Machine, which were distributed in Canada by Berliner Gramophone, did not appear in the catalogue until 1910. For the first time, Eaton's offered a floor model with an integrated speaker, rather than a horn.

  Eatonia Leader record players, Eaton's 
Fall Winter 1907-08, p. 192.  

Enlarge image.Eatonia Leader record players. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1907-08, p. 192.

  Duke graphophone floor model, Eaton's 
Spring Summer 1910, p. 173.  

Enlarge image.Duke Graphophone, floor model. Eaton's Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1910, p. 173.

The Flat Disk Replaces the Cylinder

The brand new Victrola XI was the star of the 1913 Eaton's Catalogue and was sold at the same price as in the 1912 Berliner Gramophone catalogue. In 1913-14, Eaton's offered the popular Victrola VIII and IX. Since consumers preferred records to the cumbersome cylinders because they were easier to store and less fragile, the company stopped selling cylinder phonographs in 1914.

  Victrola IX, Eaton's Fall Winter 
1913-14, p. 270.  

Enlarge image.Victor Victrola IX. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1913-14, p. 270.

  Mechanical gramophone, Victor Talking 
Marchine, 1913.  

Enlarge image.Mechanical gramophone, table model VV-VIII, Victor Talking Machine, Camden, New Jersey, 1913.

  Victor Victrola XI, Eaton's Spring 
Summer 1913, p. 167.  

Enlarge image.Victor Victrola XI. Eaton's, Toronto, Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1913, p. 167.

  Victrola VV-X mechanical gramophone, 
floor model, Victor Talking Machine, ca 1907.  

Enlarge image.Victrola VV-X mechanical gramophone, floor model, Victor Talking Machine, Camden, New Jersey, ca 1907. Victor Talking Machine products were distributed in Canada by Berliner Gramophone of Montréal. The floor model seen here is very similar to the XI, which could be ordered from the Eaton's catalogue.


In 1917-18, Eaton's offered His Master's Voice gramophones, and, starting in 1918, devoted a whole page in the catalogue to Victor and Columbia records. In 1919-20, the company sold floor models of gramophones under the brand name of Symphony, which was changed to Eatonola the following year. Portable record players in suitcases were introduced in 1924 and sold for several years.

  His Master's Voice, five instruments, 
Eaton's Fall Winter 1917-18, p. 321.  

Enlarge image.Five instruments from His Master's Voice. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1917-18, p. 321.

  Symphony gramophone, Eaton's Fall 
Winter 1919-20, p. 588.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's Symphony Phonograph. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1919-20, p. 588.

  Portable record player, Eaton's Fall 
Winter, 1924-25, p. 316.  

Enlarge image.Portable phonograph. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1924-25, p. 316.

  Viking combined radio and record 
players, Eaton's Fall Winter 1939-40, p. 374.  

Enlarge image.Viking combined radio and record players. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1939-40, p. 374.


Until the end of the 1930s, the Eaton's Catalogue featured only mechanical gramophones. The Victor Orthophonic, marketed as a revolution in sound technology, was introduced in 1925 by Victor Talking Machine. By 1929-30, Eaton's was selling the new Model 43 Victor Orthophonic. In its 1939-40 catalogue, Eaton's offered the first electric model record player, under its own brand name, Viking; this model included a radio. Table models of Viking record players were released in 1946. The following year, Eaton's offered the Astra, a model that featured a radio and a record player and was very modern in design. In the early 1950s, the company still sold a battery-operated combined model for homes without electricity.

  Viking table phonographs, Eaton 
Automne hiver 1946-47, p. 383.  

Enlarge image.Viking table phonographs. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1946-47, p. 383.

  Viking EMC 34167 record player, 
Dominion Electrohome Industries Limited, ca 1946.  

Enlarge image.Viking EMC 3 4167 record player for 78 rpm records, Dominion Electrohome Industries Limited, Canada, ca 1946. This record player was manufactured for Eaton's in Kitchener, Ontario.

  Astra combination radio-record player, 
Eaton Printemps été 1947, p. 339.  

Enlarge image.Astra combination radio-record player. Eaton's, Toronto, Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1947, p. 339.

  Astra DR-103 combination radio and 
record player, Brand and Miller Ltd., 1947.  

Enlarge image.Astra DR-103 combination radio and record player, Brand and Miller Ltd., Long Branch, Ontario, 1947.


"Battle of the Speeds"

The late 1940s saw the emergence of the "speed war." In 1948, Columbia introduced the long-playing record (33 rpm on vinyl) to replace the 78 rpm. RCA Victor responded the following year by launching the 45 rpm.

In 1952-53, Eaton's offered the popular RCA Victor record player, which was made of plastic and appeared on the market at the same time as the 45 rpm. This model could be connected to a radio or television speaker. At the time, record players had three speeds - 33, 45 and 78 rpm - and Eaton's introduced its first Viking model with that feature.

   Plastic record player, model 9JY, RCA 
Victor, ca 1950.   

Plastic record player for 45 rpm records, Model 9JY, RCA Victor, ca 1950. Eaton's sold this record player for $19; it was very popular among teenagers in the 1950s.

Enlarge image.

The Radio

Crystal Radios
  Crystal radio receiver and 
accessories, Eaton's Fall Winter 1922-23, p. 401.  

Enlarge image.Crystal radio receiver and accessories. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1922-23, p. 401.


Another invention revolutionized the way people listened to music at home. Many amateurs built their own crystal radios to pick up radio waves. The first programs were broadcast from Montréal starting on December 1, 1919, by the Marconi company's experimental station, XWA, which became CFCF in November 1920. Regular programming began on May 21, 1920. CKAC launched its regular French programming on September 27, 1922.

Given the radio craze in Canada, Eaton's featured crystal radios with headphones in its 1922-23 catalogue and devoted a whole page to all the parts needed to build such a radio. In 1924, Eaton's announced the publication of a special parts catalogue.


A battery-operated receiver with a speaker allowed several people to listen to the radio at the same time. In 1925-26, Eaton's sold a model with five vacuum tubes and a speaker. Radios were so popular that they even made it onto the cover of the company's catalogue. In the winter of 1926-27, the Minerva, a model produced especially for Eaton's, sold for $99 . The cover of the Eaton's 1927-28 Radio Catalogue featured a floor model with an incorporated speaker.

  Radio receiver and speaker, Eaton's 
Fall Winter 1925-26, p. 391.  

Enlarge image.Radio receiver and speaker. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1925-26, p. 391.

  Listening to the radio, Eaton's Fall 
Winter 1926-27, cover.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1926-27, cover.

  Minerva radio, Eaton's Fall Winter 
1926-27, p. 306.  

Enlarge image.Minerva radio. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1926-27, p. 306.

  Minerva radio, Eaton's Spring Summer 
1927-28, cover.  

Enlarge image.Minerva radio. Eaton's, Winnipeg, Radio Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1927-28, cover.

Combination Radio and Record Players

Very early on, manufacturers began to offer models combining a radio and record player, which Sonora marketed around 1924. However, these units did not appear in the Eaton's Catalogue until the late 1930s. They became essential pieces of furniture in almost every home and occupied a place of honour in the living room.

In the early 1930s, Eaton's sold floor models of radios that ran on batteries or AC power and were manufactured by Marconi, Eveready, Fada, Brunswick, Westinghouse, Zenith, Philco, Sonora, De Forest, Crosley, and Victor.

  Viking combined radio and record 
players, Eaton's Fall Winter 1939-40, p. 374.  

Enlarge image.Viking combined radio and record players. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1939-40, p. 374.

  Various radios, Eaton's Fall Winter 
1931-32, p. 149.  

Enlarge image.Various radios offered in Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1931-32, p. 149.

Small Units

The size and retail price of radios began to decrease. In 1934, Eaton's offered small table models with wooden cases made by Victor, Philco, and Sparton, as well as its own Viking model. A portable Viking radio and the popular Little Nipper, made by RCA Victor, first appeared in the 1939-40 catalogue.

  Table radios, Eaton's Fall Winter 
1934-35, p. 252.  

Enlarge image.Table radios. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1934-35, p. 252.

  Viking portable radio, Eaton's Fall 
Winter 1939-40, p. 373.  

Enlarge image.Viking portable radio. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1939-40, p. 373.


After the Second World War, manufacturers produced small units with wooden or Bakelite® cases in bright colours, such as Northern Electric's B 4000 and Westinghouse's 501, a unique Canadian design that stood in various positions.

  Northern Electric radio receiver, 
model 4000, Eaton Printemps été, 1946, p. 367.  

Enlarge image.Northern Electric radio receiver, model 4000. Eaton's, Toronto, Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1946, p. 367.

  Radio model M45A, RCA Victor, 1946.  

Enlarge image.Radio, Model M45A, RCA Victor, 1946.

  Bakelite radio, model B 4000, 
Northern Electric, ca 1946.  

Enlarge image.Bakelite® radio, Model B 4000,Northern Electric, Canada, ca 1946. Similar to the B 5000, this model appeared in Eaton's Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1946, p. 367. This design was nicknamed Rainbow.

  Assorted radios, Eaton Automne hiver 
1948-49, p. 468.  

Enlarge image.Assorted radios. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1948-49, p. 468.

  Plastic radio, model 501, 
Westinghouse, 1948.  

Enlarge image.Plastic radio, Model 501, Westinghouse, Canada, 1948.

  Metal and plastic portable radio, 
model BP6C, RCA Victor.  

Enlarge image.Metal and plastic portable battery-operated superheterodyne radio, Model BP6C, RCA Victor, Montréal.


RCA Victor's BP6C, a portable battery-operated radio, gave consumers a taste of the new 1950s design. The 1952 Eaton's Catalogue featured the Nipper, a popular RCA Victor model. In 1955-56, the company offered the Crosley, the first combination radio and alarm clock, which was equipped with an electrical outlet for a coffeemaker. RCA Victor's portable P-233, which ran on batteries or AC power, also became affordable.

  Assortment of radios, Eaton's Spring 
Summer 1952, p. 309.  

Enlarge image.Assortment of radios. Eaton's, Toronto, Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1952, p. 309.

  Crosley clock radio, Eaton's Fall 
Winter 1955-56, p. 439.  

Enlarge image.Crosley clock radio. Eaton's, Toronto, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1955-56, p. 439.

  Bakelite clock radio, model D-25, 
Crosley, ca 1954.  

Enlarge image.Bakelite® clock radio, Model D-25, Crosley, Toronto, ca 1954. This model was available in various colours.

  Plastic radio, Nipper model, RCA 
Victor, ca 1952.  

Enlarge image.Plastic radio, Nipper model, RCA Victor, Montréal, ca 1952.

  Plastic portable radio, model P-233, 
RCA Victor, 1956.  

Enlarge image.Plastic portable radio, Model P-233, RCA Victor, Montréal, 1956.

Radios for Every Budget

In the mid-1950s, Eaton's offered a wide variety of models for every budget, ranging from General Electric's modest 418 at a cost $23.95 to the sophisticated SX-96 made by Hallicrafters, which sold for $449.

   Assortment of radios, Eaton's Fall 
Winter 1956-57, p. 414.   

Assortment of radios offered in Eaton's (Toronto) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1956-57, p. 414.

Enlarge image.



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