Duplex Phonograph Company
“An Entirely New Principle in Phonographs”
As nineteenth century Victorian charm gave way to twentieth century modern, the phonograph emerged as a compelling new form of home entertainment. Skeptics refused to take the “talking machine” seriously at first, viewing it more as a toy than a serious musical instrument. Others dismissed records entirely, including John Philip Sousa who made his own disdain for “canned music” known in a 1906 article he called “The Menace of Mechanical Music.” Still, the phonograph continued to gain great popularity, especially after the emergence of Emile Berliner’s flat-disc “gramophone” records around 1900.
Before the appearance of electric phonographs in the 1920s, acoustic sound amplification (and recording, for that matter) was accomplished through the use of large metal (or glass, or even wooden) horns. The unique shapes of these horns soon created instantly recognizable icons for their respective manufacturers. In fact, the archetypal “gramophone” still remains a hallmark of The Recording Academy and the namesake for the industry’s top award, the “Grammy.”
In their heyday, however, “talking machines” could be found in a variety of styles and sizes, with horns ranging from sleek and simple to elaborately ornate. One rather novel approach employed two such horns arranged side-by-side in an attempt to offer “twice the sound” (or at least that was the idea). With just such a model, The Duplex Phonograph Company made a brief yet significant impact on the commercial sound recording industry and helped to bring notoriety to the city of Kalamazoo with its famous dual-horn phonograph.
The Duplex two-horn phonograph was the brainchild of a Canadian immigrant named Charles E. Hill (born May 1862), a self-proclaimed “talking machine expert” from Lincoln, Nebraska—an area, it seems, that played a prominent role in the early days of the phonograph. Leon Douglass, a co-founder of the Victor Talking Machine Company who once displayed an early coin-operated phonograph at the 1893 World’s Fair had roots in Nebraska, as did Erastus Benson, president of the Nebraska Phonograph Company and an affiliate of Thomas Edison. While it’s unclear if Hill was ever involved with either man, he was certainly in the right place.
During the 1890s, the “talking machine” industry was controlled by a tightly-knit group of aggressive competitors, including the National Gramophone Company (Berliner and later, Victor), the Columbia Phonograph Company, and the National Phonograph Company (Edison). From about 1896, Hill worked for phonograph manufacturers and distributors in and around Kansas City, Missouri and reportedly oversaw the opening of several highly successful phonograph stores. It was during this time that Hill developed his own design for a seemingly unique dual-horn system, which attempted to gather and amplify the sound vibrations from both sides of a transducer’s diaphragm, preserving, as Hill described, “sound-waves made at one side of the reproducer-diaphragm and which are ordinarily dissipated, and thereby lost to the audience.”(*)
* (Quotation from C. E. Hill’s patent #773,740, U.S. Patent Office, 1904, lines 22-26). This concept makes for great marketing but is of course fundamentally flawed. Sound waves gathered in this manner are by nature out of phase and actually tend to cancel each other out. An example is discussed in a later section.
Hoping to create a louder, perhaps better sounding phonograph, and gain a foothold in this lucrative but tightly held industry, Hill filed an application for a patent (#773,740) on 20 March 1903 for his “phonograph reproducer attachment,” which was granted 1 November 1904. Soon, Hill’s “attachment” concept evolved into a full-scale prototype for a dual-horn phonograph of his own design.
On or around 15 April 1905, Hill and his associates allegedly* formed the “Duplexophone Company” in Lancaster County, Nebraska with initial capital of $30,000. Hill set up his enterprise in a former lumber mill at 2418-2432 ‘N’ Street in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he planned to manufacture his own recently patented record store display shelving and phonographs. “Uptown” wholesale and retail offices were also planned, with possible addresses of 129 South 11th Street and 1241 ‘O’ Street in Lincoln. Company officers included Charles E. Hill, president and general manager; J. W. Clark, vice-president; M. Leusink, factory superintendent; and J. Y. M. Swigart, secretary and treasurer.
* Nebraska Supreme Court records (13 April 1909) indicate that Hill only “pretended to organize what was known as the ‘Duplexophone Company’” and that articles of incorporation were never actually filed with the Lancaster county clerk. On the other hand, a Nebraska charter for the Duplexophone Manufacturing Co. did seemingly exist, as it was reportedly canceled in 1909 without specific reason (Smythe).
Hill had big plans for his Duplexophone phonograph. Favorable reviews in Talking Machine World (New York) and The Music Trade Review (New York) stirred up a great deal of interest across the United States and abroad. An article published in The Trade Review (Lincoln, NE) on 13 May 1905 stated that the Duplexophone Company had purchased “a good factory building” and was expecting to turn out about 50,000 machines by year’s end. The factory in Lincoln was reportedly equipped with $14,000 worth of new equipment and enough capacity to turn out 300 machines per day. A brand new five-story factory building was to be erected adjacent to the existing building, and “if necessary,” Hill stated, “we have room to equip for a capacity of 500 machines a day.” The first run of Duplexophone phonographs was slated for delivery by June first.
But apparently Hill was not completely satisfied with the Duplexophone and/or the arrangements in Nebraska. Instead, he visited Kalamazoo, Michigan, several times in late 1905 and developed a relationship with the Kalamazoo Novelty Company (KNC), formerly known as Michigan Novelty Works.
Kalamazoo Novelty Company was a small but growing specialty manufacturer located at 210-214 North Rose Street (east side of Rose, between Eleanor and Water streets) in Kalamazoo. Established in 1902 as Michigan Novelty Works, the company specialized in patent and model development, custom manufactured mechanisms for slot machines and toys, and specialty equipment for other manufacturing firms, such as C. W. Post.
In October 1905, the business was sold and reestablished as the Kalamazoo Novelty Company with the motto, “Let us act as your factory.” According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, KNC set out to attract the attention of “the poor struggling inventor with a really worthy article... who possessed an ability to sell and not to manufacture”—precisely the sort of inventor that was Charles E. Hill.
“Made for You in Kalamazoo”
With help from Kalamazoo’s Commercial Club (forerunner of today’s Chamber of Commerce), Hill gained enthusiastic local support for his new invention and (especially) for his ambitious marketing plan, which featured the catchphrase, “Made for You in Kalamazoo.” A prototype of the Duplex phonograph was produced by KNC and exhibited in Kalamazoo during November 1905, and a manufacturing deal was inked by year’s end. Kalamazoo Novelty Company would manufacture the mechanical components for the phonograph, while “Silk Finish” horns would be brought in from Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company in Philadelphia, and furniture-grade cabinets would “probably” (Gazette) be made in Grand Rapids. The Duplex company would then assemble the machines in Kalamazoo and ship the finished units directly to customers by mail in response to orders received through “an agressive advertising campaign” (Telegraph).
On December 1st, 1905, Allen T. Dusenbury, a recent graduate of University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, and already Kalamazoo Novelty Company’s treasurer and manager, became the new Duplex Phonograph Company vice president. When Charles Hill arrived in Kalamazoo in late December, he set up shop at 109-111 North Edwards Street, and soon thereafter personally delivered the initial order for five hundred Duplex phonographs to Kalamazoo Novelty Company. And this order, according to reports, was “simply a forerunner of larger ones to follow” (Gazette). The Duplex/KNC operation then employed about sixty workers with initial output of roughly twenty five finished machines per day. After months of planning, the first run of Duplex machines rolled off the line near the end of January.
The Duplex phonograph was a big and uniquely beautiful instrument. The complete package was described in this 1905 advertisement:
“Case or cabinet [is] machine made throughout of solid quartered oak and handsomely decorated with inlaid French Marquetry, set-in columns at corners, hand rubbed and beautifully polished. The largest talking machine case made. It is 18 inches long, 14 inches wide, 10 inches high. The motor has large double springs and runs several records with one winding. It is the strongest and best motor manufactured, and will wear a life time. Reproducer, 4 inches in diameter, the largest ever made. Horn crane, made of brass and nickel plated. All trimmings made of brass and finely nickel plated. Two silk-covered brass horns, 30 inches long with 18 inch bells. These horns alone sell at retail stores for $14. Three hundred best quality needles, and six selected records: making a complete outfit ready to play. This outfit would sell in stores at retail for $125.”
—The Commoner, 8 December 1905, p. 16
Evidence suggests that each duplex phonograph carried a unique serial number, mechanically stamped on the front edge of the case under the cover. It is not yet known if these were stamped sequentially, but one might assume they were. A list of the known numbers (confirmed) follows. (If you own a Duplex phonograph that displays a serial number, please contact the author and we'll add it to our list.)
Documented Serial Numbers (reported by, date)
||David and Amy Frahm for Ms. Elsie Myers, Trenton, OH (September 2013)
||Dan & Linda Mostek, Howard County, NE (November 2012)
||Pete Petersen, Surprise, AZ (January 2013)
||Roger Stambaugh, Rock City, IL (October 2012)
||Mark Lawson, Saratoga Springs, NY (December 2011)
||The Hamiltons (January 2013)
||Raphael Cole, Miami, FL (September 2012)
Advertising “The Greatest of All Musical Inventions”
The first advertisements for the Duplex phonograph appeared in William Jennings Bryan’s Lincoln, Nebraska newspaper, The Commoner, during late 1905, with the advertised price of $29.85. “We manufacture The Duplex Phonograph under our own exclusive patents at our factory in Kalamazoo, Mich.,” the ads stated. “We make the goods and sell direct to the user. We have no jobbers or dealers. We can sell to the user just as cheap as we could to jobbers.” Duplex promoted its product as being equal in value to the competitors’ $100-$125 machines “at factory prices” under $30.
Duplex Phonograph Factory Offices,
June 30, 1906
Mr. Chas. W. Bryan, Publisher
Dear Mr. Bryan;
It may interest you to know that “The Commoner” heads our list as an advertising medium. It has been a close race for first place between “Collier’s Weekly” and “The Commoner.” The cost for each sale made had been less in “The Commoner” than in any of the many publications that we have used. Strange as it may seem, the inquiries from “The Commoner” cost a little more than from “Collier’s Weekly,” but the percentage of sales was considerably greater.
For every dollar that we expend for advertising in “The Commoner” we have received in return $9.03. In other words, it had cost approximately 11% for direct sales. Of course in addition to this we will have nearly as much more from the effect of our follow-up and general publicity. The showing “The Commoner” had made is certainly one of which you have a right to be proud.
DUPLEX PHONOGRAPH CO.,
F. D. Eager, Sec’y and Manager.
In 1906, Duplex began an aggressive $40,000 national print advertising campaign. By mid-January, the distinctive dual-horn phonograph was “being advertised extensively in the leading magazines as a Kalamazoo product” (Gazette). Ads ran throughout the year in several national publications, including Everybody’s, The Theater, The National Magazine, and others. By year’s end, the distinctive ads touting the unique features of the Duplex phonograph—not to mention its low price—were beginning to appear in many additional publications, including The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Literary Digest, Collier’s, Kansas City Star, The New York Tribune, The Washington Times, Farm and Home, Orange Judd Farmer, Popular Mechanics, Argosy, The Delineator, Munsey’s, and a host of others.
The Duplex Phonograph Company Factory
Demand for the new Duplex phonograph grew and by mid-1906, KNC was forced to suspend all other contract work in an effort to supply the necessary Duplex phonograph components. The call went out for “office girls and stenographers,” and “girls who can operate typewriters,” but even with its operation fully devoted to Duplex, the Kalamazoo firm struggled to keep up as orders for the dual-horn phonographs arrived in to the North Rose Street facility. Clearly, the firm needed to expand if it was expected to survive.
On 17 May 1906, Duplex company secretary and general manager Frank D. Eager announced that 2.5 acres of land had been purchased at the northeast corner of Walbridge and Patterson in Kalamazoo where a new manufacturing facility would be built for Duplex.
The new Duplex Phonograph Company factory building, located near the Chicago, Kalamazoo & Saginaw (CK&S) Railway line on East Patterson Street, was to be a 60 x 120 foot two-story brick structure constructed by Andrew D. Loughead of Kalamazoo at a cost of $12,000-$16,000. The new facility included an additional 30 x 40 foot one-story building to the north, plus a second 40 x 100 foot two-story corrugated iron structure for storage. The Quinn Plumbing Supply Company of Kalamazoo was contracted to install the heating plant.
With KNC’s capacity now completely taken up with phonograph work, the Duplex Phonograph Company announced plans on July 1st to purchase the entire stock and equipment of the Kalamazoo Novelty Company, just as the foundations were being laid for the new Duplex factory building. Future contract work and goodwill of KNC would be transferred to the National Tool Company of Three Rivers. By August, the second story of the new Duplex factory was complete and ready for roof work to begin. Plans were afoot to have the new facility ready to occupy in September.
The time like their slogan was—“Made For You in Kalamazoo.” The crowed commenced to come as early as 7:30 o’clock and by the time the orchestra struck up the music at 9 o’clock there were fully 1,200 people on the floor.
Frank Eager was there with his big smile and handshake. Mr. Hill was there and Mr. Dusenbury...
The big ball and reception was held on the second floor of the factory and all around the room chairs were placed for the comfort of those in attendance. One of the big two-horn phonographs, the product of the Duplex company, furnished music until the dancing commenced.
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 September 1906
By the time the new plant was ready to occupy, the firm had invested some $25,000 (more than $650,000 today) in its expansion project, and it was time to celebrate. On Friday evening, September 7th, Duplex company officials hosted a grand ball in the still vacant upper level of its new factory building. The room was specially decorated for the occasion with purple streamers, and a large American flag hung in the center of the room. Seated beneath the flag, George Newell’s Full Orchestra provided popular ragtime pieces and sweet dance music. “A choice programme of selections rendered by a battery of Duplex phonographs” greeted guests as they arrived. In all, some 1,200 business associates, local dignitaries and socialites attended the gala event, enjoying refreshments and dancing across the hard maple floor inside the spacious the new building. “Punch was served in unlimited quantities, and everybody had a most enjoyable time.” (Music Trade Review)
After the grand opening festivities were over, workers immediately began moving equipment from the North Rose Street facility into the new Duplex factory on Patterson. An additional $15,000 worth of new machinery was purchased and installed as it arrived.
On Monday, 17 September 1906, production work began in the new Patterson Street factory with 150 employees and daily output of 150 machines—nearly six times that of the previous facility. As work progressed, a new 40 x 100 foot storage building, built by A. D. Loughead at a cost of $3,000, was added on the north side of the factory to house raw materials. A CK&S railroad side track was added to provide Duplex with direct rail access, and the city approved an extension of its water mains along Patterson Street to reach the new plant for added fire protection.
Duplex Phonograph Company, Incorporated
Articles of incorporation were filed with the Secretary of State in Lansing on November 1, 1906, and capital stock was increased to $100,000. Though it appears Charles Hill was no longer affiliated with the firm by this time, Frank Dewitt Eager, a former Nebraska politician, managing editor of the Nebraska Independent, and a retired colonel in the First Nebraska Infantry, continued as Duplex secretary and general manager. Allan T. Dusenbury of Kalamazoo remained vice president, while a triad of Nebraska business magnates rounded out the remaining roster of company officers. A. H. Armstrong, a clothing merchant from Lincoln, Nebraska was named the new company president, and A. H. Bickerstaff, also from Lincoln, was appointed treasurer. (Armstrong was president of the Armstrong Clothing Company in Lincoln; Armstrong and Bickerstaff were both principal officers in the Capitol Beach & Milford Railroad Co., a small electric streetcar line near Lincoln.) By year’s end, the future looked bright indeed for the Duplex Phonograph Company.
According to company publications and advertisements, The Duplex Phonograph Company operated in three primary locations; Lincoln, Nebraska; Chicago, Illinois; and Kalamazoo, Michigan. Advertisements typically place the factory and general offices in Kalamazoo, however Chicago offices were mentioned in some ads, and occasionally a “Western Office” in Lincoln. While the actual locations of the Duplex offices are known, the street addresses used by the company in its advertisements vary considerably. As the following list illustrates, dozens of different street addresses were published, perhaps as a means of identifying the publication from which orders originated.
Known Actual Office & Factory Locations
- 109-111 N Edwards Street, Kalamazoo, MI (1905-1906)
- Patterson Street at Walbridge, Kalamazoo, MI (1906-1910)
- 112 S Burdick Street, Kalamazoo, MI (1910-1912)
- 2418-2432 ‘N’ Street, Lincoln, Nebraska (1905-1906)
- Powers Building, 37 S Wabash, Chicago, IL (1906)
Kalamazoo Addresses (advertised)
- 10 Cedar St. (Scott County Kicker, 25 January 1908)
- 223 Edward [sic] St. (The Commoner, 6 July 1906)
- 104 Patterson St. (Everybody’s, July 1906)
- 106 Patterson St. (The Theater, Oct. 1906)
- 107 Patterson St. (Cosmopolitan, June 1907)
- 110 Patterson St. (The Delineator, December 1906)
- 111 Patterson St. (Good Housekeeping, November 1906)
- 126 Patterson St. (Munsey’s Magazine, November 1906)
- 127 Patterson St. (unidentified magazine, 1907)
- 128 Patterson St. (The World To-Day, December 1906)
- 133 Patterson St. (The Commoner, 26 July 1907)
- 138 Patterson St. (unidentified magazine ad, 1908)
- 143 Patterson St. (Saturday Evening Post, 13 October 1906)
- 146 Patterson St. (Munsey’s Magazine, September 1906)
- 147 Patterson St. (McClure’s Magazine, November 1906)
- 148 Patterson St. (New York Tribune, 23 September 1906)
- 149 Patterson St. (unidentified magazine ad, 1907)
- 151 Patterson St. (Success Magazine, October 1906)
- 153 Patterson St. (Watson’s Magazine, October 1906)
- 172 Patterson St. (The Theater, June 1907)
- 173 Patterson St. (The Theater, July 1906)
- 178 Patterson St. (The Michigan Alumnus, October 1906)
- 183 Patterson St. (Farm Journal, November 1906)
- 187 Patterson St. (The National Magazine, September 1906)
- 189 Patterson St. (unidentified magazine ad, 1906)
- 194 Patterson St. (Salesmanship, May 1907)
- 197 Patterson St. (The Boston Cooking School Magazine, December 1906)
- 201 Patterson St. (unidentified magazine ad, 1906)
- 202 Patterson St. (Uncle Remus’s Magazine, October 1907)
- 208 Patterson St. (The Reader, December 1906)
- 214 Patterson St. (The World Almanac, 1906)
- 220 Patterson St. (The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, LA, 6 October 1907)
- 295 Patterson St. (Every Where, March 1908)
- 299 Patterson St. (The Pandex of the Press, July 1907)
- 303 Patterson St. (Industrial Engineering and Engineering Digest, September 1907)
- 304 Patterson St. (The Railway Conductor, December 1907)
- 316 Patterson St. (The Connecticut Magazine, Summer 1907)
- 330 Patterson St. (The Ohio Magazine, January 1908)
- 331 Patterson St. (Popular Mechanics, September 1907)
- 344 Patterson St. (The Nautilus Magazine, August 1907)
- 348 Patterson St. (Technical World, March 1907)
- 357 Patterson St. (Medical Insurance, August 1907)
- 359 Patterson St. (The Philistine, 1907)
- 372 Patterson St. (The Literary Digest, 31 August 1907)
- 374 Patterson St. (Catholic World, July 1907)
- 382 Patterson St. (Santa Fe Employe’s Magazine, January 1908)
- 398 Patterson St. (American Poultry Advocate, December 1907)
- 410 Patterson St. (Camera Craft, 1907)
- 412 Patterson St. (Sunset Magazine, 1907)
- 12 River St. (Hunter, Trader, Trapper, August 1908)
- 702 River St. (unidentified magazine ad, 1907)
- 704 River St. (Popular Mechanics, December 1907)
- 709 River St. (unidentified magazine, 1907)
- 716 River St. (Munsey’s Magazine, 1908)
- 722 River St. (McCall’s, January 1908)
- 97 Wall St., C. Q. De France, Mgr. (Hunter, Trader, Trapper, March 1909)
- 900 Wall St., C. Q. De France, Mgr. (The Progressive Woman, March 1909)
- 988 Wall St., C. Q. De France, Mgr. (FRA Magazine, March 1909)
Chicago Addresses (advertised)
- 1226 Powers Building (Munsey’s Magazine, 1906)
- 1227 Powers Building (unidentified magazine ad)
- 1228 Powers Building (The World To-Day, April 1906)
- 1241 Powers Building (Watson’s Magazine, September 1906)
- 1246 Powers Building (Munsey’s Magazine, September 1906)
- 1248 Powers Building (New York Tribune, 23 September 1906)
- 1250 Powers Building (The Review of Reviews, January 1906)
- 1251 Powers Building (unidentified magazine ad, 1906)
- 1253 Powers Building (Watson’s Magazine, October 1906)
- 1277 Powers Building (Cosmopolitan Magazine, June 1906)
- 1287 Powers Building (The National Magazine, September 1906)
- 1289 Powers Building (unidentified magazine ad, 1906)
- 154 Wabash (Duplex letterhead, dated February 1907)
- 156 Wabash (Duplex company literature, undated)
Lincoln Addresses (advertised)
- 1221, 1223, 1225, 1227 ‘O’ St., Lincoln, Neb. (The Commoner, 29 December 1905)
- 1233 ‘O’ St., Lincoln, Neb. (The Commoner, 6 July 1906)
- 1241 ‘O’ St., Lincoln, Neb. (Watson’s Magazine, September 1906)
- 1250 ‘O’ St., Lincoln, Neb. (The Review of Reviews, January 1906)
- 1251 ‘O’ St., Lincoln, Neb. (unidentified magazine ad, 1906)
- 1277 ‘O’ St., Lincoln, Neb. (Cosmopolitan Magazine, June 1906)
Interestingly, advertisements for the new Duplex phonograph did not appear in the local Kalamazoo newspapers until late in the 1906 holiday season, a full year after the company was established. Print ads were first seen in the Kalamazoo Telegraph-Press on Friday, 7 December 1906, and the following day in the Kalamazoo Gazette, with similar ads running in both papers nearly every day throughout the early months of 1907.
A public salesroom for the new Duplex phonograph was set up in December 1906 at the Ihling-Cone Furniture Co., 223-225 East Main in Kalamazoo, where local customers could listen and compare the Duplex against other brands. This salesroom appears to be one of the few locations—if not the only one—where a Duplex phonograph could be purchased in a traditional retail (non-mail order) setting. While display in a furniture store might seem a bit unusual today, “talking machines” were then viewed as novelty items and often associated with fine home furnishings. It is interesting to note, however, that Grinnell Brothers, a prominent local piano, musical instrument, and Victor/Victrola retailer, was located right next door to Ihling-Cone. The Victor Company would later play a key role in the demise of Duplex.
Model Roller Coaster
One rather interesting marketing ploy came during the 1908 Christmas season, when Duplex shop foreman Clell Miller fashioned a miniature working model of a figure-eight roller coaster to help draw attention to the Duplex company and its in-store product display. Constructed of metal and powered by electricity (a unique feature in 1908), Miller’s model was an exact replica of the popular attraction at Oakwood Park, which had just opened the previous year. The model coaster, detailed right down to the ticket seller, the “barker,” and landing platform, took Miller three months to complete and was displayed at Sam Folz’ “Big Corner Store” throughout the holiday shopping season.
In addition to the phonograph machines themselves, the Duplex Phonograph Company issued a significant number of 78 rpm recordings under the “Kalamazoo” label, perhaps releasing upwards of 2,000 titles. It remains unclear whether Kalamazoo records were ever sold commercially, or if they were intended strictly as promotional items to be given away with the purchase of its machines—perhaps both. Either way, it is certain that few—if any—of these were unique recordings. In a statement to the press on 6 February 1907, Frank Eager indicated that Duplex did not manufacture its own recordings, but instead held contracts with Columbia, the International Record Company (IRC), the American Record Company (ARC), and surprisingly even Victor. Current research supports this claim, as many Kalamazoo records have been identified as originating from IRC and ARC masters. Newspaper ads in early 1907 offered “free, six 7-inch records or three 10-inch records” with every Duplex.
Kalamazoo records were produced in variations of at least seven different series:
According to the advertisements, available artists included such conductors and musicians as Ignacy Paderewski, Eugen d’Albert, Raoul Pugno, and Jan Kubelik; vocalists like Adelina Patti, Nellie Melba, Emma Calve, Enrico Caruso, and Francesco Tamagno; plus novelty recordings like Joe Jefferson’s characterization of “Rip Van Winkle.” Later ads offer “records in any language.”
“Home Concert Collection”
By the end of 1907, Duplex had upped its “free records” ante substantially with the introduction of the “Home Concert Collection,” a deluxe package that included a Duplex phonograph, plus a greatly expanded selection of records. Advertisements from October 1907 offered “The Square Deal,” which came complete with “16 of the best ten-inch records that money can buy, all specially selected to give a variety of music so that a dozen people of the most varied tastes can be given two hours’ entertainment.” The package featured “the best band and orchestra pieces, instrumental and vocal solos, vocal duets and quartettes, talking pieces, comic songs, sacred pieces, etc.” “We make the selections because we know how to choose the best pieces,” the ads boldly claimed, “That’s part of our business.” To complete the package, the “Home Concert Collection” incorporated an assortment of eight hundred(!) needles, “a bottle of 3-in-1 oil, a first-class oil can, a can of Monarch metal polish, and a neat needle box.”
During the decades that surrounded the turn of the 20th century, the infant sound recording industry was a hotbed of innovation, but it was also a tangled mess of underhanded “handshake” agreements, patent ruses, and contradictory court rulings. The sudden popularity of the phonograph and its resulting commercial success spawned a great number of technical innovations, and a seemingly endless stream of new competitors. Major companies like the Victor Talking Machine Company, Edison, Columbia, and the United States Gramophone Company held numerous patents (Edison alone held more than 1,000) which they aggressively fought to protect through the use of high powered (and high priced) patent attorneys, lengthy court battles, and costly litigation. Thanks to the high visibility afforded by its aggressive national advertising campaign, the Duplex Phonograph Company soon landed itself squarely in the sights of industry’s “big guns.”
Victor Cites Patent Infringement
Operations had barely gotten underway in the new factory building when the first legal suit was brought against Duplex by the Victor Talking Machine Company and the United States Gramophone Company. On 6 February 1907, a Kalamazoo Gazette article stated that preliminary injunction papers had been filed in circuit court by Victor’s team of attorneys, claiming that the Duplex machine infringed on the Victor-owned Berliner patent (#534,543). (Victor acquired the licensing rights to Emile Berliner’s 1887 patent for a “sound reproducing apparatus” in 1900.) Duplex company officials, along with their attorneys Samuel Edmonds and Dallas Boudeman, countered by stating that Duplex patents (Hill, #773,740) were properly registered, and no infringement had occurred. “I am a little surprised at the suit being brought,” said F. D. Eager in a statement to the Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, “and have taken the matter up with Dallas Boudeman of Kalamazoo and our counsel in New York and both say that nothing of a serious nature can come out of the dispute and that there is little danger of an injunction, either temporary or permanent being issued.”
An injunction was indeed issued, however, and on March 21st, 1907, the Kalamazoo plant was forced to cease manufacturing operations, although assembly, shipping, and office operations were allowed to continue as normal. A skeleton crew of twenty five workers (13 male, 12 female) was retained to keep assembly and shipments rolling at the rate of about 30 machines per day. Duplex company manager F. D. Eager stated that production delays were exacerbated by “the non-arrival of a carload of horns which [were] manufactured in Philadelphia,” and that the firm had “at least $30,000 worth” (Gazette) of inventory on hand in Kalamazoo to work with, “parts of over 1,000 machines... sufficient to supply the normal trade for 30 to 40 days” (Telegraph).
“Duplex Wins; No Injunction”
In May, this initial injunction was denied by a federal court judge, and manufacturing operations were allowed to resume, although the court battle between Victor and Duplex was far from over. “Duplex Wins” read the headlines as company officials tried to downplay the situation by stating that Victor had simply been trying to block the company’s tremendous growth (which was true) and that the Duplex Phonograph Company was now free to expand. As Victor and Duplex lawyers continued to argue over possible patent infringement, Duplex advertised locally for more help—stenographers, typewriter operators, folders, card filers, machinists, buffers and polishers—in an effort to move forward with production of its dual-horn phonograph.
“‘The Duplex Phonograph’ which I ordered from the Duplex Phonograph Company, 410 Patterson Street, Kalamazoo, Michigan, through seeing their advertisement in ‘Camera Craft,’ has been most thoroughly tested during the past two weeks, and has fully justified the high claims made by the manufacturers. It has a tone that is powerful, exact, and not metallic or mechanical; in fact it surpasses the higher priced machines by the possession of what might be termed ‘a human element’ in the rendition of vocal selections. E. E. Roberts, Almeda, Cal.” —Camera Craft, July 1908
Charles Q. De France
During the early months of 1907, Duplex hired a new advertising manager from Nebraska named Charles Q. De France. Once an editor for the Lincoln (NE) Independent, De France was an active political figure in Nebraska and served as circulation manager for Watson’s Magazine, a monthly literary magazine and political sounding board published in New York. By the end of 1906, De France had become the associate editor and business manager of the magazine, and undoubtedly became aware of the Duplex Phonograph Company through the many advertisements that appeared in its pages. When Watson’s Magazine was sold in late 1906, De France is said to have “carried off a copy” of its mailing list “to Kalamazoo, Mich., where,” much to the editor Thomas Watson’s chagrin, “he used it in circulation for the Duplex Phonograph people.” (Thomas Watson, 1908)
“Two Diaphragms; Two Horns”
Faced with impending legal challenges, Duplex altered the design of its phonograph slightly in an attempt to circumvent the patent infringement allegations. The reproducer was modified to include two diaphragms instead of one, thus setting it apart from its competitors, or so the claim was made. Advertisements proudly called attention to “all the latest improvements,” including “the two vibrating diaphragms of the DUPLEX,” claiming that “they double the volume of sound, and the two horns give it amplified expression.” Despite the company’s attempts to modify its product, the court allowed the lawsuits against Duplex to proceed.
During 1907 and 1908, sales evidently slumped with the adverse publicity as the legal battles continued. Production delays and mounting debt were taking their toll on the young firm and not surprisingly, there was a significant change in management around this time. Armstrong and Bickerstaff both left the firm; Frank Eager became president, and Charles S. Bush assumed the role of secretary and treasurer. As advertising manager, C. Q. De France continued to solicit new business with distinctive Duplex ads in a variety of national magazines, including bold new offers like “easy payments” and “seven days’ free trial.” Despite the downturn, 1908 financial statements still reveal a firm of significant size and worth, with assets of $111,000 (roughly $2.69 million today) and liabilities in excess of $51,000 (nearly $1.23 million today).
“Judge Knappen’s courtroom resembled a 5-cent phonograph parlor yesterday when the arguments in the case of the Victor Talking Machine company against the Duplex Phonograph company were begun. The case is brought for the recovery of damages of an alleged infringement of patent covering the manufacture of talking machines. The arguments will consume several days. Several talking machines of both makes are on exhibit in the courtroom as evidence in the case and will be demonstrated by experts form the factories of the rival companies.”
—Grand Rapids Press, 9 June 1908
In May 1908, an additional $50,000 mortgage was taken out to cover a past due bond, as the announcement was made that another firm was already making plans to take over the Duplex building. An inspection of the Duplex factory in Kalamazoo on 14 October 1908 as reported by the Michigan Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statistics revealed that just nine workers were employed by the firm at that time; seven male and two female, a far cry from the one hundred fifty-member workforce just two years earlier. Clearly the company’s days were numbered.
Victor Sues Again
Although Duplex continued limited production for the next few months, the lawsuits were piling up. A second suit was filed by the Victor Talking Machine Company in January 1908 citing additional patent violations (Charles G. Conn, #624,301), which forced Duplex to suspend its advertising campaign—the very lifeblood of its mail order business model. And in April, the Phillips Publishing Company sued and won a small settlement against Duplex over an unpaid advertising contract.
Management Changes Again
Management at Duplex changed a final time in early 1909, when Eager, Bush and Dusenbury all exited the firm. Charles Q. De France became company president and manager, Hilda Hoover Bangs took over as secretary, and former shop foreman, Clell D. Miller, assumed the role of vice president and factory superintendent. An inspection on 6 August 1909 by the Michigan Department of Labor confirms that just three workers were employed by Duplex at that time.
Finally, on 27 May 1909, the Grand Rapids Evening Press reported that U.S. Circuit Court Judge Frank E. Knappen had granted a second injunction against Duplex on behalf of the Victor Talking Machine Company with its partner, the United States Gramophone Company of Philadelphia, which immediately brought production of the dual-horn phonograph to a grinding halt. Duplex attorney Dallas Boudeman stated that an appeal was being considering, but the attempt failed and Duplex went out of the manufacturing business shortly thereafter.
Trustee Edwin J. Phelps brought a foreclosure suit against Duplex in November. According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, a new manufacturing firm (Bevier Gas Engine Company) had by then already “chosen as a factory site the plant of the defunct Duplex Phonograph Company, at the junction of Patterson Street and the Lake Shore Railroad.”
A foreclosure sale announcement followed and the remaining Duplex company property went up for auction on 3 March 1910. “Choice location; new building; going cheap” cited an ad in the Detroit Free Press. Real estate was valued at $1,400; total debt (bonds and accumulated interest) owed by the firm exceeded $47,000 (approx. $1,186,000 today). Frank D. Eager (former Duplex president and general manager), Charles S. Bush (former Duplex secretary, treasurer, and a principal Duplex stockholder) and Charles A. Dewing (a prominent Kalamazoo businessman) jointly entered the winning bid of $12,500. A list of remaining miscellaneous items was advertised later in the month.
In a desperate final attempt, Duplex lawyers appealed Judge Knappen’s decision in the Conn patent (#624,301) suit, citing that a “double sound box” with “two separate diaphragms” and “the employment of a double bell (horn), as distinguished from a single bell” differentiated the Duplex from previous inventions and thus did not infringe. In a circuit court of appeals on 15 October 1910, judges Severens, Warrington and Cochran upheld Judge Knappen’s earlier ruling. Duplex was indeed finished.
With the judges’ final ruling, the end became official on 21 October 1910. “The Duplex Phonograph company, for several years a dangerous rival of all similar concerns, has formally passed out of existence as the result of an order issued by Judge F. E. Knappen upon request of the receiver, Charles Q. De France, and Trustee E. J. Phelps” (Grand Rapids Press).
Charles Q. De France, final owner of Duplex as a manufacturing firm, continued to operate a phonograph repair shop called the Duplex Phonograph Company out of a third floor office above Frank Doyen’s saloon at 112 South Burdick Street until about 1912, perhaps as a venue for liquidating the remaining Duplex inventory. Company letterhead touts “The New Model 1911” as being “manufactured and sold by C. Q. De France, successor to Duplex Phonograph Co., Kalamazoo, Mich.” (no street address given) with “talking machine records, supplies and repairs a specialty.” Kalamazoo city directories listed De France as advertising manager for Duplex through 1908, then company president and general manager thereafter. Business listings for the Duplex Phonograph Company ceased after 1912. De France remained in Kalamazoo as a writer until 1914, when he rejoined Col. Frank Eager in Lincoln, Nebraska, to help with a political campaign.
Legalities aside, it should be noted that one of the primary selling points of the Duplex phonograph, its “Double Volume of Sound,” was somewhat of a misnomer. A physics textbook published in 1910 by a University of Michigan professor actually uses the Duplex phonograph itself as an example to demonstrate the principal of sound interference and the fundamentally flawed notion that sound waves gathered from both sides of a vibrating diaphragm will result in increased volume. Indeed, that is not necessarily true.
“Interference between waves from the same source of sound may be demonstrated by means of the so-called ‘duplex phonograph.” In this instrument the diaphragm used to reproduce the vibrations of sound recorded on the record plate has a ‘horn’ connected with each side (Fig. 139). When this diaphragm vibrates, it produces simultaneously a condensation on one side and a rarefaction on the other. Hence the sound waves reaching the medial line ef between the two horns a and b are always in opposite phase. As a fact of observation, when the ear of the listener is on the medial line near the horns, the intensity is noticeably less than at other points. The demonstration is made more complete by inserting rubber tubes in the small ends of the horns by means of tight-fitting corks, and bringing the two tubes of equal length together to a T-tube fitting the ear. The other ear should be closed. The two wave systems do not completely annul each other, but if the listener cuts off one system by pinching either tube, the intensity of the sound is increased to a surprising degree.”
—College Physics, Henry Smith Carhart*, ©1910, p. 208
* On 11 June 1908, Professor H. S. Carhart was called upon to give “expert testimony” in the courtroom “on the points involved” in the Duplex case.
Patent infringement is no small matter, but was the Duplex Phonograph Company actually in the wrong? At very least, it was the wrong place at the wrong time. After the Victor Talking Machine Company was established in 1901, a grueling series of legal battles ensued in an effort to defend the more than two hundred patents held by Victor in association with the manufacture of flat disc records and players. Victor’s significant financial resources ensured its powerful team of patent lawyers would successfully put numerous upstart phonograph manufacturers out of business—including Duplex—in an all-out attempt to monopolize the market. By the time the Duplex case was finalized in 1910, the recording industry was controlled by a trio of giants; the American Graphophone Company (Columbia), Edison and, of course, Victor.
But as the phonograph industry continued to change and grow, seemingly contradictory rulings cast considerable doubt over many of the precedent patent cases that had once favored Victor. Emile Berliner’s basic patent that was used against Duplex (#534,543) expired in February 1912, which set the stage for new competition. After refusing to pay licensing fees to Victor in 1919, the Starr Piano Company of Richmond, Indiana—parent company of Gennett Records—joined forces with other phonograph manufacturers (Aeolian-Vocalion, General Phonograph (OKeh), Canadian Compo Company, et al.) and took on the seemingly inexorable giant in a monumental court battle. After months of litigation, the Starr Piano Company successfully defeated Victor in February 1921 with Judge Learned Hand’s historic ruling, which rendered several of Victor’s patents invalid. This landmark decision opened the flood gates and paved the way for the phonograph boom of the 1920s. Had a ruling such as this been handed down a decade or so earlier, indeed the future might have been different for the Kalamazoo firm.
Still, a century later, Duplex phonographs are highly prized for their unique appearance and extreme scarcity. What few machines do exist often change hands at prices well into the thousands of dollars. “Kalamazoo” records are exceedingly rare, as well, and highly prized among collectors.
Like many of our Local History essays, this article is by no means a definitive study; rather it should be viewed as a work-in-progress. If you have new information, corrections, or items to share, please contact the author or the Local History Room.
A earlier version of this article appeared in the May 2010 issue of In the Groove, a publication of The Michigan Antique Phonograph Society (MAPS). An edited version was published in the March/April 2012 issue of Michigan History Magazine.
Special thanks to the following readers for sharing their photos and information:
- Kurt Nauck, Nauck’s Vintage Records, Spring, TX
- phonomike, Cobweb Secrets, Fargo, ND
- Raphael Cole, Musical Treasures of Miami, Miami, FL
- Grant Kornberg, Chapel Hill, NC
- Mark Lawson Antiques, Inc., Saratoga Springs, NY
- Pete Petersen, Surprise, AZ
- Roger Stambaugh, Rock City, IL
- Dan & Linda Mostek, Howard County, NE
- Andrea Allenberg