06 March, 2020

The Telharmonium Was the Spotify of 1906


Rdio, however, was not the first service to allow American subscribers to stream music from their phones. That honor goes to the telharmonium, the first patent for which was granted in 1897. It was, essentially, a Victorian Spotify.

Invented by lawyer Thaddeus Cahill and initially known as the dynamophone, the telharmonium made use of telephone networks to transmit music from a central hub in midtown Manhattan to restaurants, hotels, and homes around the city. Subscribers could pick up their phone, ask the operator to connect them to the telharmonium, and the wires of their phone line would be linked with the wires emerging from the telharmonium station. The electrically generated tunes would then stream from their phone receiver, which was fitted with a large paper funnel to help pump up the volume. (The electric amplifier had not yet been invented.)