Before Compact Disks and MP3 Players there were these things called…

… audio cylinders. In honor or World Day for Audiovisual Heritage we have a post about early sound recordings.

Today we listen to music and voice recordings through digital formats. However, the first recorded sounds were captured on cylinders. These cylinder records were the first popular recording and listening format, playing for 2-4 minutes.  The Ohio History Connection’s collection of 315 cylinder records were recently rehoused in boxes better suited to their preservation.  While rehousing these records, an inventory of the songs recorded on each cylinder was created.  The collection is truly varied. It contains few duplicates and includes many areas of early recording – from singers and musicians to orchestras and comedians.

Thomas A. Edison

Thomas A. Edison

Thomas A. Edison, a native of Milan, Ohio, is given credit for making the first sound recording in 1877 with his recitation of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on tinfoil.  Tinfoil was far from a permanent recording medium because these recordings could only be played a few times before they began to deteriorate. After the initial invention Edison chose to focus on the incandescent light bulb rather than improve the recording system.  Into this void jumped Alexander Graham Bell, his cousin, Chichester Bell, and Charles Sumner Tainter, who captured sound by using a stylus to etch the recording into wax instead of Edison’s original tinfoil. The three men debuted their Graphophone in 1887 through the Colombia Phonograph Company. 

After the release of the Graphophone Edison returned to sound recording. Using Bell, Bell, and Tainter’s innovations as a starting point for his own, he produced records through the Edison Phonograph Company.  Wax cylinder records were improved by both companies until they could be played many more times before the grooves deteriorated, after which the wax could be shaved and smoothed so that a new recording could be made.  This allowed families to record their own history as well as listen to popular singers, musicians, and comedians.  These records, though more durable than the first tinfoil records, were still not the permanent records that would eventually come about.  Tinfoil and wax cylinders are relatively rare today, largely due to their inherent impermanent nature.  While we do have some wax cylinders from the turn of the 20th century in the Ohio History Connection collection, a large portion our audio cylinder collection is composed of the next type of cylinder record to enter the market.

Edison Amberol Record

Edison Amberol Record

Frenchman Henri Lioret began using celluloid, an early form of plastic, to make audio cylinders commercially in 1897. Edison began to use this celluloid for his cylinder recordings in 1912.  Celluloid cylinders were vastly more durable than tinfoil and wax cylinder records, in part because they would not automatically break if dropped. Celluloid records are among the most commonly found cylinder records today.  By the time Edison began making celluloid cylinders, his chief competitor, Columbia, had ceased making cylinders and moved on to disc records.  As the disc records gained in popularity, Edison continued to make cylinder records for a loyal, but ever-dwindling market.  In 1929, Edison bowed to the inevitable and ceased production of the cylinder record.

While the majority of our cylinder records are from the Edison Phonograph Company, our collection also holds examples from his competitors – Columbia Phonograph Company and Oxford Indestructible Records.  The companies standardized their records sizes so that consumers could play recordings from all companies on the same player.  However, as the technology advanced, so too did the equipment needed to play it; meaning that consumers did something we are all still familiar with today – purchase new equipment to play new types of recording formats.

The University of California, Santa Barbara began a cylinder digitization project in 2002, with the goal of preserving their cylinder record collections and enabling a wider audience to hear the past.  Their collections happen to contain some of the same records as ours.  You can search for specific recordings to download and listen to here:  Or, you can listen to a podcast or live stream on their Cylinder Radio here:

Interested in learning more about the earliest forms of sound recording?  Click on the links below:

Smithsonian Institute. “Early Sound Recording Collection and Sound Recovery Project.”             Smithsonian Institute. 2011.         recording-collection-and-sound-recovery-project.

The Library of Congress. “The History of the Edison Cylinder Phonograph.” The Library of Congress: American Memory. 1999.  

UC Santa Barbara Library. “Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project.” University    of California, Santa Barbara. 2014.

Caitlin Smith, History Collections Intern

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Victorian Mourning Culture: Women’s Mourning Accessories

Women’s clothing in the Victorian Era extended beyond simple clothing and in mourning, women had special accessories for this period.  When a loved one died, everything from hair pieces to gloves was affected.  In these socially expected ways women could reflect their grief through their appearance.

The simplicity and colors in accessories mirrored those in female clothing.  Few accessories, other than those that were considered necessary (like gloves and parasols) were worn during the periods of deepest morning. Accessories used were to be black and devoid of decorations.  As the mourning period continued, additional accessories were added to the woman’s wardrobe, with more decorations and colors other than black.

These gloves (H 77210) would have been worn later in the mourning period, as they have minimal black additions.

These gloves (H 77210) would have been worn later in the mourning period, as they have minimal black additions.

Despite the simplicity in mourning’s clothing, the wardrobe was expected to be extensive, completely replacing the mourner’s previous wardrobe in size and scope.  To help grieving widows through their First Mourning, Sylvia’s Home Journal published a complete list of the clothes they would need in 1881.  For the first year of their two-and-a-half year mourning period, widows were expected to have:

“One best dress of Paramatta covered entirely with crape

One dress, either a costume of Cyprus crape, or an old black dress covered with Rainproof crape.

One Paramatta mantle lined with silk, and deeply trimmed with crape.

One warmer jacket of cloth lined and trimmed with crape.

One bonnet of best silk crape, with long veil.

One bonnet of Rainproof crape, with crape veil.

Twelve collars and cuffs of muslin or lawn, with deep hems, several sets must be provided, say six of each kind.

One black stuff petticoat.

Four pairs of black hose, either silk, cashmere, or spun silk.

Twelve handkerchiefs with black borders, for ordinary use, cambric.  Twelve of finer cambric for better occasions.

Caps either of lisse, tulle, or tarlatan, shape depending much upon age; young widows wear chiefly the Marie Stuart shape but all widows’ caps have long streamers.  A good plan is to buy extra streamers and a bow.

Summer parasol of silk, deeply trimmed with crape, almost covered with it but no lace or fringe for the first year.  Afterwards mourning fringe might be put on.

Muff of Paramatta and trimmed with crape.

No ornaments except jet, for the first year.  Furs are not admissible in widow’s First mourning, though very dark sealskin and astrakhan can be worn when the dress is changed.”

This extensive list of mourning attire does not include jewelry, which was to be simple, jet, and largely memorial in nature.

The jet industry boomed during the Victorian Era, as jewelry and accessories like this headband (H 70307) were heavily decorated with jet which, being black, made it appropriate to wear while in mourning.

The jet (a minor gemstone) industry boomed during the Victorian Era, as jewelry and accessories like this headband (H 70307) were heavily decorated with jet which, being black, made it appropriate to wear while in mourning.

Magazines and journals like Sylvia’s Home Journal offer insight into the Victorian mourning culture.  Aside from articles assisting women in how long they were expected to mourn and what was the appropriate wardrobe and accessories, these journals also offer insight into the social customs.  According to the literature from the period, women saved their mourning clothes and reused the pieces during the next death. This was customary until it the thought arose that it was bad luck to keep mourning attire in the house when not in mourning.  Because of concern with bad luck, some women bought a new mourning wardrobe after each death if they could afford it, dye their colored clothing black, or, pragmatically, sell their colored clothing and buy the mourning clothing from a widow who had just finished her mourning period.  This last option was particularly popular with young widows.

The simplicity of the fan (H 75326), in combination with the crepe fabric, would have quickly identified the user as a woman in mourning.

The simplicity of the fan (H 75326), in combination with the crepe fabric, would have quickly identified the user as a woman in mourning.


Check back next time to learn more about mourning jewelry and hair working.

Caitlin Smith, History Collections Intern





National Park Service.  “The Custom of Mourning During the Victorian Era.”  National Park Service (2011): 1-5.

Taylor, Lou.  Mourning Dress: A Costume and Social History. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1983.

Zielke, Melissa. “Forget-Me-Nots: Victorian Women, Mourning, and the Construction of  a Feminine Historical Memory.” Material History Review 58 (2003): 52-66.

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Archives Contest Entry: Paper Boy On a Unicycle

While the “I Found It in the Archives Contest” has concluded for 2014, we want to take this opportunity to share all of the fascinating entries that were submitted to the Ohio History Connection’s local contest. Special thanks to everyone who took time to share their story and show how much archives matter to our daily lives.


Sandra Walker

Quest for information:

In Everett, Washington, doing an online search for paperboy photos, I discovered the Joe Munroe Archives in the Ohio History Connection Archives/Library. From one photo, a story expanded.

Jillian Carney and Janice Tallman’s helpful service in November, 2011, made ordering the archived picture easy. And requesting it led me to professional photographer, Joe Munroe, age 94, residing in California. By December, I received the photo, labeled: Paper boy on unicycle, Bellefontaine, Ohio, 1952. This generated a plethora of questions, enriching the story of an American icon.

Writing to the Bellefontaine Examiner, news reporter Reuben Mees emailed me excellent details about the boy and his unicycle. A web of connections spread from Washington and Ohio to California and then Tennessee, for the subject in the photograph, Ed Boblitt.

Paper boy delivering newspapers on a unicycle in Bellefontaine, Ohio, 1952 by Joe Munroe.

Paper boy delivering newspapers on a unicycle in Bellefontaine, Ohio, 195- by Joe Munroe.

Made a difference:

Delivering papers, a monotonous routine, suddenly had a greater message: a unicyclist porching the daily paper represented the epitome of balance. The most common first job for youth held more significance than the simple task displays. Ed balanced physically, and, like other carriers, balanced the social and financial elements of the job. He knew his community and customers, including ones in the Mary Rutan Hospital.

Ed balanced his bottom line in weekly collecting for the three-cent paper. Because he was reliable, folks gave him more jobs. He managed his money, saved for his first car and for college. Time used with school, route, extra jobs, paperboys learned to balance between childhood and young adulthood.

LIFE magazine, June, 1953, with the colorful coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, also has pictures, not grand nor glorious, not pageantry but merely show Ed porching the newspaper. A common subject, the paperboy, holds universal appeal. More so, a unicycle was unique. Ed’s experiences enriched the paperboy story, revealing a theme of balance for the book, Little Merchants, The Golden Era of Youth Delivering Newspapers.

The Ohio Archives offer a smorgasbord of interesting material. Newspapers in the library enhanced the paperboy project, like a Columbus Dispatch photo and story of September, 1949. Paper carrier Station 52 won a tournament, exciting sports news of ordinary kids in their community.

From Ohio Archive searches, reading archived newspapers, a trove of shared information is available. A picture may be worth a 1,000 words. The unicycle photo and stories reach more than a 1,000 people.

By Sandra Walker

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Welcome Becky Preiss Odom

We are very excited to introduce our newest history curator, Becky Preiss Odom. Welcome to the Ohio History Connection!

Becky Preiss Odom

Becky Preiss Odom

My love of history began in the fourth grade when I researched my house for a school project. I went to several local historical societies and the county courthouse, and I conducted a series of oral histories with current and former residents of my home and others on the street that once constituted the independent Town of Stephensburg. I later majored in history at Haverford College, and it was during my tenure there that I worked at Elfreth’s Alley Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I loved giving tours of the historic houses because the museum setting enabled me to engage visitors in discussions of the past in ways that I had not encountered in the classroom, and I was hooked.

After college, I earned a master’s degree in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program and interned at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland, and The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York. After graduation, I worked at the York County Heritage Trust in York, Pennsylvania, first as a Museum Educator and then as Curator of Collections. I loved the institution’s diverse collections, particularly the quilts, the Louis Miller Watercolor Collection, and the Defending America’s Freedom military collection.

In 2008, I returned to school to earn my Ph.D. in American Studies at Saint Louis University. My research focused on American cultural history from the Gilded Age to the Great Depression as well as visual culture, particularly photographs. I also taught classes on material and visual culture and clothing and American society. My dissertation, entitled “Negotiating Hyphenated Identities: Transnational Identity Formation of the German-American Residents of St. Charles, Missouri, during World War I,” examines the German-American city of St. Charles during the war that pitted residents’ political homeland against their cultural fatherland. Although St. Charles German-Americans experienced great pressure to assimilate, they instead shifted their identities between German and American when necessary to both express their loyalty to the U.S. and preserve their German cultural practices. The dynamic wartime relationship between the U.S. and Germany in different places and at different moments shaped the form and expression of German-Americans’ hyphenated identities. Photographs played a crucial role in this process as “safe” spaces in which German-Americans could freely express—and preserve—their identities, and they are an important component of my research. The story of St. Charles during the First World War counters the traditional claim of wide scale assimilation during the conflict and shows the importance of including local histories and individuals in broader narratives about the past.

The most rewarding parts of my academic experience were the opportunities I had to share my research with others in public presentations and publications. I am very excited about the depth and diversity of the Ohio History Connection’s collection, and I look forward to working with these objects that can tell us so much about Ohio’s history and culture.

Becky Preiss Odom, History Curator

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Archives Contest Entry: Finding Something that was Missing

While the “I Found It in the Archives Contest” has concluded for 2014, we want to take this opportunity to share all of the fascinating entries that were submitted to the Ohio History Connection’s local contest. Special thanks to everyone who took time to share their story and show how much archives matter to our daily lives.

Theresa Harris

Theresa Harris

Very early in life I learned there was an important figure missing. I had no father present in the way other little girls did. My mother later married a serviceman in the US Air Force stationed at Lockbourne AFB for a short time. Her second husband was a prominent man well known and respected in the Columbus African-American community. He was a wonderful man and I loved him but he was not my biological father. Confusion and suspicion began to overshadow what should have been a happy and productive time in my life. I was missing a vital part of my identity.

Many years later, I was determined to learn the identity of my elusive father. I was well acquainted with the Ohio Historical Society and proceeded to glean the archival resources for a man that had been brought to my attention. His name was Dr. Guilford Bert Hoiston, a 1938 graduate of The Ohio State University Medical School. I found his death certificate which indicated he had died as the result of a home furnace explosion 10 months after my birth. I was so intrigued by this information that after a brief hesitation, I proceeded to access other sources. I found the Hoiston extended family members via an online service. Dr. Hoiston’s sister was living in Cleveland, Ohio and agreed to submit her specimen for autosomal DNA testing to determine a relationship. It proved to be a 97% probability that we were related. I have met members of my paternal family and found the physical resemblance uncanny. I had succeeded in finding my paternal family.

I later visited OHS to search the newspaper microfilm collection of The Ohio State News, a widely read African-American publication. I learned a great deal about my father’s life as well as the controversial aspects of his untimely death. The social structures in communities have a profound effect on the lives of individuals. I learned that without my knowledge, Dr. Hoiston had always been a part of my life.

I am now set on a path to do the research for my maternal ancestry as well. I have learned that my central and southern Ohio ancestors had a very important role in early Ohio history. The Underground Railroad and the War of the Rebellion are prominent in my current research. The OHS is an invaluable resource I am certain to access very often.

By Theresa Harris

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Saving the Stories of Former Slaves

The Works Progress Administration and the Slave Narrative

Today’s Archives Month object is one of the numerous photos from the Ohio Guide Collection.  These photographs were taken and collected by the Federal Writers’ Project, part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), while they were writing the Ohio Guide book during the Great Depression in the 1930s.  This photograph depicts Columbus man Alfred Murphy, a former slave, who learned to read and write at age 105 thanks to the WPA teaching program that taught thousands of Ohioans.  Murphy spent the first 33 years of his life in slavery, the last two years building fortifications for the Confederate Army.  He was in Richmond when General Robert E. Lee commander of the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union Army, in Appomattox Court House, Virginia in April 1865. The end of the Civil War gave Mr. Murphy his freedom.

Former slave Alfred Murphy in WPA literacy class.

Former slave Alfred Murphy in WPA literacy class.

As you can see by Murphy’s advanced age, by the 1930s, people who had been slaves as adults were quickly disappearing.  The Federal Writers’ Project of the WPA began an urgent effort to save the slaves stories.  The writers spent 1936-1938 travelling through seventeen states and speaking to more than 2,000 former slaves, gathering their life stories and experiences. 

The Federal Writers Project in Ohio received instructions to conduct interviews with former slaves living in Ohio in April 1937. Most of the interviews collected were done in 1937 and 1938. After the dissolution of the Federal Writers Project, most narratives were transferred to the Library of Congress. However, an additional twenty-eight narratives were discovered in the holdings of the State Archives Ohio. These narratives are available to researchers on microfilm, roll number GR 1563, in the Archives/Library.

The WPA Slave Narratives were compiled into several books during the 1940s, including the Virginia Writers’ Project’s The Negro In Virginia, the Georgia Writers’ Project’s Drums and Shadows, and Benjamin A. Botkin’s Lay My Burden Down.  Bodkin was the second Folklore Editor of the Federal Writers’ Project.  In 1941, all of the narratives were bound and presented to the Library of Congress. The Library has made the slave narratives and accompanying photographs available online with the digital collection Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer’s Project, 1936-1938

Caitlin Smith, History Collections Intern

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Victorian Mourning Culture: Women as the True Mourners

For Victorian women, mourning was an emotional outlet, an acceptable public display in a strict social sphere. Women had power in their mourning; they had the responsibility to show grief and love of the deceased. While men were expected to quietly grieve continuing their everyday customs as though nothing was wrong, the women’s role was compose themselves in the opposite way. This practice may be viewed today as prohibitive and unfair, in the 19th century, these actions allowed power beyond a woman’s sphere of influence in the home.

Black crepe mourning veil made in Columbus, Ohio, around 1900 (H 20920).

Black crepe mourning veil made in Columbus, Ohio, around 1900 (H 20920).

The mourning period for men and women was the same – a first cousin would be mourned for as little as six weeks, while a widow was expected to mourn her husband for two and a half years. However, women had many social protocols to be followed. After her husband passed, a widow would immediately fall into Deep Mourning for one year. During this period, the widow was to maintain strict social isolation, only accepting formal invitations from close relatives and avoiding public spaces and pleasurable occasions. After a year and a day, although it was advised to put off the change for the sake of good taste, a widow was to follow into Second Mourning, which allowed more social freedom and a change in clothing. After nine months, Third Mourning began, which resulted in more freedom and another change in clothing. This third period lasted until the end of the second year. These first three mourning periods were considered Full Mourning. After two years, a widow entered into Half Mourning, which would last from an additional six months to the rest of their lives with an additional change in clothing. While some women never came out of half-mourning – including Queen Victoria – the Grand Maison de Noir, a mourning warehouse in Paris, advised its customers that “everyone is free to prolong this period of wearing mourning but it is in good taste to effect any exaggeration in this as over other circumstances.” While it was important to properly grieve, mourning placed a social and cultural burden both on the mourner and on those around them.

Formal cape worn during the later stages of mourning  between 1880 and 1900 (H 75360).

Formal cape worn during the later stages of mourning between 1880 and 1900 (H 75360).

One distinct difference did exist between widows and widowers. Unlike widows, widowers were allowed to remarry as soon as they desired. A man did not even have to wait until he was out of mourning for his first wife in order to marry his second. “The Grand Maison de Noir declared that such a man should leave off his mourning for the ceremony but take it up the next day. Furthermore, ‘his new wife should equally associate herself with his mourning’, wearing only black or shades of half-mourning in memory of her predecessor.”

Colors, styles, and decorations differed in women’s clothing for each stage of mourning. A woman in Deep Mourning would wear a dull, black, crape-covered dress with a single flounce at the waist. Her head was to be covered at all times, a black hat and veil when she emerged from her home, and a white indoor cap when she was at home. With the exception of the indoor cap and handkerchief, the widow’s entire wardrobe was black. During Second Mourning, less crape was worn; the material was applied to her wardrobe in a more elaborate way. Throughout this mourning period, women were slowly allowed to add more decorations and trim to their clothing. In Third Mourning, crape was discarded and black trimmed with black ribbon, lace, embroidery, and jet was allowed. It was not until Half Mourning began that a woman was allowed to discard the black dress and wear the special half mourning colors – a range of soft purples. After the period of Half Mourning was over, a woman could resume wearing any style and color of clothing and fully re-enter society.

Textiles associated with female mourning went far beyond just the dress. Check back next week to learn about a mourner’s accessories.

Caitlin Smith, History Collections Intern

National Park Service. “The Custom of Mourning During the Victorian Era.” National Park Service (2011): 1-5.
Taylor, Lou. Mourning Dress: A Costume and Social History. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1983.
Zielke, Melissa. “Forget-Me-Nots: Victorian Women, Mourning, and the Construction of a Feminine Historical Memory.” Material History Review 58 (2003): 52-66.

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