telephone companies have innovated

AT&T deserves at least some credit for the invention of talkies. The Warner Brothers purchased their pioneering Vitaphone sound movie technology from Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1925. Earlier that year, Western Electric and AT&T had created Bell Telephone Laboratories as a jointly owned but separate entity. The name Vitaphone highlights sound movies’ connection to the telephone.  So too did advertisements.  Warner Brothers’ billboards promoting their path-breaking sound picture Don Juan (1926) declared, “Warner Bros. / by arrangement with / Western Electric Co. and / Bell Telephone Laboratories presents / VITAPHONE.”

Both telephones and talkies exemplified electricity’s progressive promise.  A Warner Brothers flier urging vaudeville exhibitors to switch to sound movies shows a naked, muscular, laurel-crowned male.  The flier uses that classical image to represent intellectual progress. While the ruling Greek god Zeus used thunderbolts to cow his subjects, the classical figure on this flier prominently direct two lightening bolts to Warner Brothers’ Vitaphone product. Electricity was a potent symbol of progress in the 1920s and 1930s:

anything associated with electricity tended to generate awe and respect, as it combined intellectual complexity, the promise of a better future, and the risk of mishandling.[*]

Not surprisingly, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which was formed in 1934, has a seal prominently featuring electricity.  Promoting more awe-inspiring telephone industry innovation will make for a more publicly beneficial communications industry.

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[*] Crafton, Donald (1997) The talkies: American cinema’s transition to sound, 1926-1931. History of the American cinema, v. 4 (New York: Scribner) p. 21.

2 thoughts on “telephone companies have innovated”

  1. I am writing the second edition of a book about professional film dialogue editing: Dialogue Editing for Motion Pictures: A Guide to the Invisible Art.

    In it is a section about the history and development of film dialogue, and I am interested in the poster on your site, “Warner Bros. Vitaphone Short Subjects” with the neoclassical thunderbolt god. This image will be used to illustrate the appearance and promotion of the Vitaphone process.

    I have a strong suspicion that this image is in the public domain, but in case you are the copyright holder, or if you know who is, I’d appreciating knowing so that I can seek permission to include this in my book. Also, if you know that this image it public domain or fair use, kindly let me know.

    Thank you for your help.

    Kind regards,
    John Purcell

    1. I took the above photo of the Warner Bros. flier (thunderbolt god) at a Library of Congress exhibit on Bob Hope and entertainment in America. I hereby renounce any copy rights I have in the above photo. So you or anyone else have no obstacles from me in using in. But I’m not a lawyer, and I won’t give you or anyone else any advice on any other issues of copyright regarding this photo or any other work. Sorry, but I hope you understand.

      I think copyright needs to be liberalized, simplified, and clarified in our new age of new media. Some related thoughts:

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