EDISON P-1 PORTABLE - Needle Type

This modest machine marked the end of an era -- the last Edison phonograph, made 51 years after Edison had sold his first phonograph to the public in early 1878 (the 'Demonstration' tinfoil phonograph).

Despite his fame as an inventive genius, Edison was a poor marketer. His stubborn refusal to acquiesce to public tastes meant that Edison was always several steps behind his competition. For example, he clung to cylinder records long after his competitors had abandoned the archaic format. When Edison finally did release his own disc machine, the Diamond Disc phonograph, it used a record incompatible with any other brand. Making matters worse, Edison, who was mostly deaf and decidedly old-fashioned in his tastes, continued to dictate the type of music that would be recorded on Edison records -- mostly bland, boring, and often anonymous fare. Meanwhile Victor and Columbia were feeding the public's demand for jazz and other modern music, on records that could not be played with Edison equipment.

In the mid-1920s, as more and more Americans became automobile owners, portable phonographs became the newest fad. The phonograph was no longer restricted to the Victorian parlor -- portables could be taken on the road to picnics and family outings, bringing music everywhere that newly mobile Americans might want. Edison again resisted the trend, in part because the heavy records and bulky mechanical requirements of the Diamond Disc made it unfeasible, but mostly because Edison was adamantly against them, along with radio and the "needle cut" laterally recorded discs used by his competitors. Eventually, however, under pressure from his son Charles, Edison relented. But by the time he finally decided to jump on the bandwagon, it had passed him by.

The Edison Portables, models P-1 and P-2, were announced in July 1929, six years after Victor inaugurated the portable craze. Edison "Needle Cut" electrically-recorded discs were put on the market a month later. It was a classic case of too little, too late, and on October 29, 1929, Edison announced that he was ending all production of phonographs and records. The Edison Portable was consequently one of the shortest-lived models in Edison history, produced for just over three months.

Although it was a reasonably well-made machine, complete with gold-plated metalwork, the Edison P-1 portable was no better than competing phonographs in the same price range ($35) offered by Victor, Columbia, and myriad small companies. (In fact, Edison portables weren't even made at Edison's factory -- they were contracted from a small Milwaukee company, Prime Manufacturing.) Since the Edison name no longer carried the clout it had at the turn of the century there really wasn't much incentive to buy the P-1, and apparently few people did. The similar model P-2, at $25, fared no better. It was a poignant ending to Edison's involvement with his favorite invention
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Considering that Thomas Edison railed against "needle machines" for over 25 years, it is surprising indeed to see his name and trademarked signature on a reproducer fitted with a conventional steel needle.

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