Technology Provided Greater Degrees of Individual Freedom

Coincidentally, the rise of all forms of American music during the same period (1870-1916) paralleled the rise in industrialization.

The rise of the railroads may have been a boon for industry, but it also made migration of groups of people easier.  The musical style, called “jazz,” may have started in New Orleans, but it wasn’t long until it migrated up the Mississippi to Memphis and then to Chicago.  By the early 1920’s, Chicago “hot jazz” was king (literally, with “King” Oliver taking over as the top band leader in the city).  But the forces that could move music up from New Orleans to Chicago in the early 1920’s could also move the music east to New York City and west to Kansas City in the late 1920’s.

From Texas to Missouri, another form of music (ragtime piano) moved with the tide of migration, eventually reaching Tin Pan Alley in New York City.

Oldsmobile Curved Dash (1901-1907)

Sheet Music Shows Car and Clothing in 1907

In 1885, gas-fueled vehicles were created and would, over time, replace horse-drawn carriages and stagecoaches.  The level of individual freedom of movement climbed exponentially with this development.

In 1867, the typewriter was invented; and business correspondence went from laborious longhand to typed correspondence, opening up jobs for women stenographers who could take dictation and then transcribe it to the typed page.  The resulting income helped make women independent and able to pay for theatre tickets or sheet music.

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, at first a great luxury to the rich; but eventually, it became the standard medium of communication, replacing the telegraph.  As telephone operators connected one party to another, women replaced men in these positions because of their dexterity, efficiency and courtesy.  As jobs opened up in one city, a telephone call back home made it possible for out-of-state applicants to fill jobs before they could be formally posted.

Barbed wire, created in 1874, made it possible to fence off open range and turn farmers and ranchers into sworn enemies.  Conflicts like this one hastened industrialization.

Urbanization also created more of a mass market for musical entertainment, as the title of a song said so well:  “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?” [1919, Walter Donaldson, composer]

Restored Victor V Phonograph

Picture of Crank Phonograph in 1907

While the phonograph was invented in 1877, it did not see practical application until the 1900’s, when the Victor Talking Machine Company was able to create and distribute 78rpm records to a public that had Victrola record players in their living rooms.

The electric light was invented in 1879 but had to wait until a suitable power source could be developed.  The war between the low-power, direct current school of thought (Thomas Edison) and the high-power, alternating current school of thought (George Westinghouse) was not settled until the late 1880’s, when the efficiency of the AC approach was proven to be superior.  In short order, distribution networks were created, permitting, for the first time, the widespread distribution of electricity to homes and businesses.  Now, the hand-cranked Victrola player could be powered by electrical current.

1923 Portable Radio Receiver

Photo of 1923 Portable Radio Receiver

Still to come would be the radio.  Edwin Armstrong, the inventor of the superheterodyne radio receiver, is shown in this photo with a portable receiver he built for his wife.