Thing #1: Sixty-Second Souvenir

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The 6β€³ disk in question. For an extra five cents, a mailing envelope could be purchased which the Spellman’s did!

I recently returned from my grandfather’s funeral in Massachusetts and despite the sadness associated with that, I found some pretty cool heirlooms at his house. One such item was an envelope that my father found in my grandfather’s bedroom dresser entitled, “Souvenir from Empire State Observatory” which contained a 45mm record.

Dad was curious and did a quick search online to see what was up. And naturally, I wanted to know more.

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(Hine/NYPL Digital Gallery)

The Empire State Building has always been a New York City attraction. With its towering 102-floors and easily recognizable silhouette, tourists have flocked this architectural wonder since its construction in 1929. Visitors have included the Beach Boys, Mel Brooks, New England Patriot tight end Jake Ballard, and even the prime minister of Fiji.

Among many other notables were the lesser known Spellman family, my dad’s parents. After further inquiry, my mother found out that the recording was done during my grandparent’s honeymoon.

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1957 Mutoscope Ad for the Voice-O-Graph. Note the deluxe model referenced below.

Popularized in the 1940s – 1970s, recording booths were often located in arcades and tourist destinations. According to a company ad, users would step into the booth, pick-up the microphone which looked like a telephone, insert the money (twenty-five cents), wait for an indicator light, and make a one-minute long recording onto a cardboard disk. The recording was automatically played back and then vended.

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Article in Billboard Magazine, detailing the installment of the deluxe model at the Empire State Building in 1957.

In 1946, the International Mutoscope Reel Company installed a “Voice-O-Graph” booth on the Empire State Building’s eighty-sixth floor. It stood some 1,055 feet above the Manhattan streets and was hailed by Billboard magazine as the “World’s Highest Coin Machine”. Featured in several front page stories, Leo Weisskopf and Murray Handler of Murlee Enterprises operated this particular machine, strategically locating it next to lines of tourists waiting to ascend the elevators. Weisskopf recalled counting eighty-seven people waiting in line to make recordings on one occasion. Building officials stated that the observatories drew over 6 million patrons that year.

Click on the link below to hear them happily documenting their trip to New York City in 1949 (see transcription):

I would like to think that Papa kept it in his dresser drawer for some fifty years as a souvenir of happier days.

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The newly married couple.

Special thanks to Steve Ashby for transferring this recording and editing its contents.

More:

Sources:

  • “World’s Highest Coin Machine Big N. Y. Attraction.” The Billboard, August 10, 1946, 130.
  • “Intl. Mutoscope Now in Full Production on Voice-O-Graph.” The Billboard, February 23, 1957, 123.
  • http://www.esbnyc.com/
  • http://www.pinrepair.com/
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4 thoughts on “Thing #1: Sixty-Second Souvenir

  1. So glad I found your blog. This is such a sweet story and similar to a recent experience I had. My mother recently passed away and I found a small box of love letters, post cards, etc. she and my father wrote to one another, along with momentos from their honeymoon in NY. Inside the box was a “voice-a-graph” recording. I want to see if it will play but do not want to damage it. Any tips?

    • Well, I took the recording to my neighbor who is a computer technician for our local library. I would recommended finding someone similar (perhaps at a library) or through the phone directory. It is easy to mess these discs up.

  2. I just found one of these recordsin a Lot of a of about 30-40 records. I received them from my Ex Wife’s mom (Ex Mother in law). I am researching and listing some on my ebay store for sale. I found some info on these records that I will post below. I have no idea if it’s even My Ex mother in Law on the recording or whom or where she got the record(s) from. AGAIN< THIS ISN'T the info from the record that I have. πŸ™‚ Good Luck with your record πŸ™‚

    No Artist β€Žβ€“ Voice Record – Souvenir From The Empire State Observatory
    Label:
    Empire State Observatory β€Žβ€“ none
    Format:
    Acetate, 5Β½", 78 RPM, Single Sided, Aluminum
    Country:
    US
    Released:

    Genre:
    Non-Music
    Style:
    Dialogue, Spoken Word
    Tracklist
    A Untitled
    Companies etc
    Recorded At – Empire State Building
    Manufactured By – Voice-O-Graph
    Credits
    Voice – N. F. Pettit
    Notes
    Souvenir record; included an envelope and a wooden needle.

    A personal message was recorded by a young child, who tells of his visit to New York City and the Empire State Building with his family.

    This recording was made at the top of the Empire State Building Observatory at a coin recording booth or Kiosk.

    Each recording was unique; no date is listed or known, but the kiosk was running between 1940's and 1950's.

    Two types of disc materials were use to record your own voice-record. Blank Aluminum and Acetate discs were filled up into a machine that had a diamond head that indented, rather than cut or engraved directly onto the blanks.

    There are no standard grooves on this recording as we commonly know, which move from side to side in a circular motion creating a wave form; instead it was more of an embossed method of creating a low frequency signal which produced a generally inferior sound not suitable for reproducing high or low tones, creating almost a flat sound instead.

    These types of metal records were made of soft aluminum, and were produced for private use only.

    These records needed to be played with a special stylus made of bamboo, or hard wood. A steel needle would cause major damage to the grooves.
    This type of record carried brand names such as Egovox, Kodisc, Speak-O-Phone, Record-Your-Voice, Repeat-a-Voice, Remsen, Voice-O-Graph, or Voice-O-Record

  3. This is wonderful! I was 3 years old (1948) when I recorded a song at the Empire State Building – I’m looking over a “Four Leaf Clover”. Nice memories!!

    bespen

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