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On Exhibit at Robeson Library: His Master’s Voice

May 29, 2018
Exhibit poster

His Master’s Voice: Nipper & the Rise of the Victor Talking Machine Company is on display at the Paul Robeson Library now through August 31, 2018.

Founded in 1894 by inventor Eldridge R. Johnson in a small machine shop on Front Street, the Victor Talking Machine Company would transform the music and recording industries as well as the city of Camden. In 1896, Johnson began experimenting with recording techniques and capturing audio on flat disks made of a wax-like substance. After being issued a patent on March 22, 1898 for his Gramophone, a precursor to the modern record player, Eldridge faced a legal battle from rival inventor Emile Berliner who had patented a similar talking disc machine in 1897.  

The legal dispute and battle over patents were finally resolved a few years later and the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, New Jersey was incorporated on October 3, 1901. That same year Eldridge acquired the U.S. rights to “His Master’s Voice” – the iconic image painted by English artist Francis Barraud of Nipper the dog listening to a Gramophone. Through Eldridge’s marketing acumen and his ability to recruit great talents like operatic tenor Enrico Caruso, the Victor Talking Machine Company underwent years of tremendous growth, which necessitated the expansion of its facilities in Camden.

By 1906, a new, a state-of-the-art cabinet factory was erected and in 1909, the Philadelphia architectural firm of Ballinger and Perot began work on the Victor Building. The Victor Building was heralded as a crowning achievement in architecture and engineering. Comprised of five separate but interconnected units, the six-story-high Victor Building featured a courtyard with train tracks that carried completed Victrola cabinets to awaiting cargo ships on the Delaware River. The most prominent feature of the Victor Building is its 75-foot-high Nipper Tower, which still dominates the Camden skyline today.

On March 15, 1929, RCA acquired the Victor Talking Machine Company and its Camden campus, which by then totaled 2.5 million square feet of floor space spread out over 31 buildings. The campus included a private railroad system, a hospital, a printing plant, a restaurant, and the largest lumberyard in the world. Over the following decades, RCA-Victor would continue as an innovator in the ever-changing landscape of communications by shifting its focus to radio and television, computers and space exploration and finally, defense electronics.

By 1992, production and manufacturing ceased on the Camden Campus and many of the RCA Victor buildings were razed in the following years. In 1997, the Victor Building with its iconic Nipper tower was listed on Preservation New Jersey's Ten Most Endangered sites list. In the early 2000s, the Victor underwent a $65 million dollar restoration and was converted into a mix of 341 loft-style apartments and businesses.