Delaware Public Media

Johnson Victrola Museum gears up for special anniversary

Jul 15, 2017

Dover will be celebrating one of its native sons who helped propel the modern music recording industry through the rest of 2017.


Eldridge Reeves Johnson was born in Wilmington, but grew up in Dover during the late 1800s. After graduating high school, he was told he wasn’t smart enough to apply to a university.

“In fact, the quote was, ‘He’s damn dumb to go to college,’” said Nena Todd, the historic site supervisor for the state Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.

Instead, Todd says Johnson went on to study mechanics. That education led him to invent a spring motor allowing gramophones to play without someone powering the turntable with a hand crank.

Johnson then founded the Victor Talking Machine Company, and eventually, became one of the most prolific music publishers in history in spite of his early naysayers.

“Just because you have ideas and you think about things sometimes differently…people don’t really think that your ideas are great or that you’re smart does not mean that you’re not destined to do great things,” Todd said.

The Johnson Victrola Museum in Dover will pay tribute to the 100th anniversary of the first commercially released jazz record, Livery Stable Blues.

The museum itself will be host several lectures starting Friday at 11 a.m., while the Dover Public Library will screen episodes of Delaware native Ken Burns’ documentary on jazz.

Jazz ensemble DonDel Enterprises will perform at the Johnson Victrola Museum Saturday starting at 1 p.m.

All events are free and open to the public.

Future programs at the Johnson Victrola Museum include:

·      “An Inventor’s Tale” Guided tours that explore the origins of recorded music. Aug. 5 and Aug. 19.

·      “A Dog’s Tale” An exploration of one of the most famous dogs in the world – Nipper. Nipper earned his fame as the canine adorning the Victor trademark. Guided tours Sept. 2 and 4.

·      “A Diva’s Tale” An examination of the female vocalists of the Victor Talking Machine Company and how their legacy ripples through to today. Oct. 7.

·      “A Classical Tale” Guided tours exploring some of Victor Records’ earlier recordings of classical music. Nov. 4

·      “A Soldier’s Tale” See music’s influence during World War I, with patriotic music playing all day on Victor Talking Machines. Nov. 11.