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The Gramophone Company: An Anglo-American Multinational, 1898–1931

  • Geoffrey Jones (a1)


In this article Dr. Jones traces the history of the Gramophone Company—an early British multinational—between 1898 and 1931. Drawing on hitherto untapped archival sources, he provides a detailed narrative of the firm's history while at the same time placing it within the context of British multinational expansion as a whole. Of particular interest is his discussion of the firm's “special relationship” with the American-based Victor Company—a relationship that demonstrates how restrictive international agreements could affect the dynamics of multinational growth.



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1 Fieldhouse, D. K., Unilever Overseas (London, 1978); Jones, Geoffrey, “The Growth and Performance of British Multinational Firms before 1939: The Case of Dunlop,” Economic History Review, 2d ser. 38 (1984); Jones, Geoffrey, “Multinational Chocolate: Cadbury Overseas 1918–1939,” Business History (1984). The multinational investments of several other British manufacturing companies have been examined in the company histories of those firms. Two of the best studies are Coleman, D. C., Courtaulds, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1969, 1980), and Reader, W. J., Imperial Chemical Industries: A History, 2 vols. (London, 1970, 1975).

2 Wilkins, M., The Emergence of Multinational Enterprise (Cambridge, Mass., 1970); The Maturing of Multinational Enterprise (Cambridge, Mass., 1974). Two recent surveys of British multinational growth, which adopt the case study and the aggregate approach respectively, are Jones, Geoffrey, “The Expansion of British Multinational Manufacturing,” in Overseas Business Activity, ed. Okochi, A. and Inoue, T. (Tokyo, 1984), and Nicholas, S., “The Motivation and Direction of UK Direct Investment 1870–1939,” Journal of European Economic History (1982).

3 Jones, “The Expansion of British Multinational Manufacturing.”

4 There is almost no scholarly literature on the gramophone industry, in either the United States or Europe. It is possible, however, to glean some reliable facts from Moore, J. Northrop, Voice in Time. The Gramophone of Fred Gaisberg 1873–1951 (London, 1976), and Read, O. and Welch, W. L., From Tin Foil to Stereo (Indianapolis, 1959), although both studies should be treated with caution.

5 B. L. Aldridge, The Vietor Talking Machine Company (n. d., copy in EMI Music Archives-hereafter EMI).

6 In December 1899 the name of the company was changed to The Gramophone & Typewriter Ltd. following a diversification into selling Lambert typewriters. The typewriter business was not a success, and in November 1907 the company name was changed back to The Gramophone Company Ltd. For the sake of clarity, the firm will be referred to as the Gramophone Company throughout this article.

7 The term matrix is often used in a confusing way in the literature on the industry. A recording was made in soft wax. From the wax recording (which is positive), a (negative) copper master was made, and then a (positive) mother, and a (negative) stamper. The record, which is produced from the stamper, is positive and will play on a gramophone. A matrix can be regarded as the master, the mother, and the stamper, although the term is often used to describe only one of these. There is a useful description of the processes involved in making records in the interwar years in Courtney-Bryson, H., The Gramophone Record (London, 1935).

8 Wilkins, 1:76–77. Fora well-documented account of similar agreements in the contemporary world explosives industry, see Reader, Imperial Chemical Industries vol. 1.

9 B. Owen to E. Johnson, 10 Mav 1899, EMI.

10 B. Owen to A. Clark, 20 June 1899, EMI.

11 Wile, Raymond R. and Jeremy, David J., “Alfred Corning Clark,” in Dictionary of Business Biography, vol. 1, ed. Jeremy, David J. (London, 1984). This brief biography is valuable as it draws on the Eldridge R. Johnson and other relevant papers (including an unpublished memoir by Alfred Clark) de posited at the University of Wyoming.

12 Report on All Branches, Jan. 1909, EMI.

13 Diary of Fred Gaisberg, quoted in L. Petts, ‘The Great Far Eastern Recording Expedition 1902–1903,” paper presented to City of London Phonograph Society, 17 Nov. 1981.

14 Mr. Rodkinson to T. Birnbaum, 27 Nov. 1901, EMI.

15 A. Clark to T. Birnbaum, 8 Sept. 1906, File: Foreign Branch Reports, EMI.

16 Records were made of a plastic material containing a binding agent like shellac, a powdered filler, and some fibrous filler, which needed to be ground up to get “biscuit.” Records were produced from the biscuit.

17 Compagnie Française du Gramophone Past History, 7 Feb. 1921; File: France, Portugal, Switzerland, Algeria, EMI.

18 E. Berliner to Gramophone Company, June 1915, EMI.

19 Gramophone Company Ltd. (Overseas Department), Past History, 12 Feb. 1921, EMI.

20 Jones, “The Growth and Performance of British Multinational Firms.”

21 Cochran, Sherman, Big Business in China: Sino-Foreign Rivalry in the Cigarette Industry 1890–1930 (Cambridge, Mass., 1980), 163–65.

22 Alfred Clark to Walter Clark, 21 May 1926, EMI.

23 Hannah, L., “Visible and Invisible Hands in Great Britain,” in Managerial Hierarchies, ed. Chandler, A. D. and Daems, H. (Cambridge, Mass., 1980), 5758.

24 Report by B. Mittell, July 1930, EMI.

25 Report by B. Mitteil, July 1930, EMI.

26 J. Muir, Report on 1922 Indian Tour, EMI.

27 Leo Curth, paper for branch managers convention, 22 Sept. 1930, File: Germany 1929–31, EMI.

28 Jones, “Multinational Chocolate; Cadbury Overseas 1918–1939.”

29 Leo Curth, paper for branch managers convention, 22 Sept. 1930, EMI.

30 Sales Department to Alfred Clark, 6 Jan. 1925, File: Italy; memorandum by the manager of the Spanish company on the exclusive agency for Catalonia, the Balearic, and Canary Islands; Compagnie Française du Cramophone; Past History, 7 Feb. 1921; all in EMI.

31 Wilkins, M. and Hill, F., American Business Abroad: Ford on Six Continents (Detroit, 1964), 193–97.

32 Wile and Jeremy, “Alfred Corning Clark,’ 673.

33 Jones, “The Growth and Performance of British Multinational Firms,” “Multinational Chocolate; Cadbury Overseas 1918–1939“; Fieldhouse, Unilever Overseas. For an examination of the performance of British banks in Continental Europe in the interwar period see Jones, Geoffrey, “Lombard Street on the Riviera: The British Clearing Banks and Europe,” Business History (1982). There is a general discussion of this issue in Jones, Geoffrey, “The Performance of British Multinational Enterprise,” in Multinationals: Theory and History, ed. Hertner, Peter and Jones, Geoffrey (London, 1985).


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