Hands Free!

Have you ever experienced the complete confusion of standing next to a stranger and thinking they were talking to you only to find out they were actually speaking on the phone? This uncomfortable experience was brought to you by Nathaniel Baldwin, inventor of the hands-free headset and the headphones. Of course, these inventions have been very useful to many people over the last one hundred years: Navy personnel used the original headset as a way to communicate and listen to messages during World War I; telephone operators use them to talk to a client while directing their call; businesses use them in a similar way, listening to their client while having their hands free to pull up necessary information.

Nathaniel Baldwin was born in 1878 in a small Utah town called Fillmore. He went to secondary school at a private Mormon high school in Provo where he became a professor after studying at Stanford. In 1905 he was let go because of his theological differences with the doctrine the school adhered to. Soon after this he invented a system that allowed sound to be amplified which resulted in his first headset, and in designs for radio speakers. The path to fortune started when the U.S. Navy ordered 100 sets of his headphones during WWI. His headphones remained popular until his company went bankrupt in 1924. He also continued to design radio speakers. His most famous speaker was the “deluxe Master-Baldwin Throatype Clarophone” which was supposedly shaped like Enrico Caruso‘s throat.

Today, headphones and headsets are seen as often as cell phones and mp3 players. They provide us with the ability to make a phone call without holding our phone, and the ability to block out annoying noises. You can use them with almost any form of technology at almost any time. You can use them to quietly watch a movie on your laptop in a crowded area. You can also use them to listen to videos on your smart phone brought up by QR codes or other advertisements. In the President Electric exhibit at the Woodrow Wilson House we have QR codes for your smartphone that bring up pictures, videos, and recordings that allow you to better understand the technology we have on display.

President’s Playlist–An Orchid Lined Voice

In January we posted a president’s playlist about one of my favorite songs, “Over There“. Today, we are going to learn a bit more about one of the artists, Enrico Caruso.

Wilson owned eight recordings of Enrico Caruso, including “Over There”. Caruso was born in 1873 in Naples, Italy and made his operatic debut there in 1895. His performance was not well received and he swore to never perform in Naples again (and he never did.) In 1902 he signed his first recording contract with the Gramophone Company in London. The next year he moved to New York City where he started his career with the Metropolitan Opera in November. He continued to perform there for the next eighteen seasons and became known as the “man with the Orchid-Lined Voice.” After his time in New York he returned to Naples. Enrico Caruso died in 1921 due to complications from pneumonia, but his recordings are still used in the backgrounds of many movies today.

Enrico Caruso’s voice range was of a baritone. However, his voice became lower and richer as he became older. He would often transpose music if he felt that it was out of his range. See if you can spot the differences in these three recordings. The first is from 1910. This ballad is called For You Alone and encompasses a wide range but constantly returns to the top of that range for long notes:

This second piece is called Pimpinella which was recorded in 1913. Notice how Caruso’s voice sits comfortably in the middle of the range.

This last song was recorded in 1919. Many of the phrases in this piece end much lower than in the two previous songs.

Even though Caruso’s voice lowered, his popularity did not. Caruso was one of the first recording stars. An estimated 5 million single-sided Caruso records were sold during his lifetime!

President’s Playlist–Over There

The Woodrow Wilson House is extremely lucky to have many of President Wilson’s personal belongings, including his collection of Victrola Records. These give us an idea of what type of music the Wilson family liked. As I have been looking through them I found a song that I love as well: “Over There” by George M. Cohan.

“Over There” was written during the First World War as a sort of propaganda to gain support for the war. It was used mostly in the United States, but vocalists from other countries adopted it as well and even sang it in their own languages. President Wilson owns a copy of this song sung by Enrico Caruso, a famous Italian tenor. This is the only song of Caruso’s that is not opera in Wilson’s collection. The recording below is from the National Jukebox website. Listen closely to the second verse which is sung in French:

National Jukebox also have a version completely in English by Nora Bayes:

And one in Czech by František A. Pangrác:

My favorite version is by Billy Murray which is featured in the youtube video below. I include this video because at the beginning it has a film clip of Wilson signing the declaration of war. It also has many clips of WWI soldiers and one of Newton D. Baker who was the Secretary of War during most of Wilson’s two terms.

This is my favorite song from the early 1900s. If you have a favorite song from this period tell us what it is and it might make it onto the blog!