Emile Berliner Musée des Ondes

Emile Berliner Museum
Emile Berliner Museum

I go to Montreal regularly and just recently learned of the Emile Berliner Musée des Ondes.  The museum was founded in 1992 as a private non-profit organization. As their web site states, ” The aim is to educate and inspire the public interested in audio and recording.”

Emile Berliner was born May 20, 1851 in Hanover and migrated to Washington, DC in 1870 in order to avoid being drafted into the Franco-Persian war. While he had apprenticed as a merchant and worked as an accountant, his passion was invention. He studied physics at Cooper Union Institute and soon became deeply interested in the telephone and phonograph. He was even involved in a patent battle with Edison over telephone transmission technology. Edison eventually won that battle, but Berliner continued with his research and inventions.

Berliner was granted his first patent for the “Gramophone” in 1887. The patent was for a method of recording sound using horizontally modulating stylus that traced a line on a rotating cylinder. Berliner later changed the design to use a disc rather than a cylinder. In many ways, this is the technology of the vinyl record used today.

Berliner founded a number of companies in the United States (United States Gramophone Company), London (The Gramophone Company), Hanover Germany (Deutsche Grammophon), and the Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada in Montreal in 1899.

Berliner’s first venture was with the toy manufacturer Kammer & Reinhardt. These machines used 5-inch hard rubber discs.  Following a failed attempt to form his first American company in the early 1890s, Berliner moved to Washington, D.C., where he formed the United States Gramophone Company and began to manufacture machines and 7-inch hard rubber discs in 1894. The hard rubber discs were replaced by a shellac compound, which in various formulations remained the standard disc record material until the first vinyl records.

The Emile Berliner Musée des Ondes is located in the original Victor building in Saint-Henri, Montreal, Quebec. Because this is a non-profit organization, opening hours are limited to Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 2 pm to 5 pm. Visits by groups and appointment are available on request.

The current major exhibit at the museum is DESIGN MONTREAL RCA, THE SIXTIES AND THE SEVENTIES.