NOW HEAR THIS: THE BELL TELEPHONE “LOUD SPEAKER” IS AT THE FAIR! — 1921

by Paula Bosse

telephone_sw-bell_dmn_100821_photoYou might want to step back a few thousand feet… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

When was the last time you wondered about the history of the public address system? If you’re like me, the answer to that is probably “never.”

The photo above shows the new technical innovation from the army of Bell Systems engineers that was going to be demonstrated at the 1921 State Fair of Texas: the “Loud Speaker.” The ad (always click images and clippings for larger images):

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Dallas Morning News, Oct. 8, 1921

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BELL TELEPHONE LOUD SPEAKER
A feature of the STATE FAIR will be the free exhibition of the latest advance in the art of telephony.
By means of this instrument a child’s voice may be heard a quarter of a mile.
A violin, a phonograph record, or a vocal solo may be heard practically all over the Fair Park.
It is a novelty never before shown in the Southwest and has been exhibited only a few times in the United States.
This Feature Alone Is Worth a Trip to the Fair.
Southwestern Bell Telephone Company

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My technical expertise is pretty much non-existent, but, basically, this was the introduction of the public address system as developed by Bell Telephone, using their cutting-edge transmitters and amplifying equipment (the articles below contain more information).

An earlier version of this particular set-up had debuted the previous year at the Republican National Convention in Chicago. (Imagine attending a large, noisy political convention with speakers whose voices weren’t amplified.) It had also been used for President Harding’s inauguration speech at the beginning of 1921, a first.

state-fair_loud-speaker_coleman-tx-democrat-voice_100721Coleman Democrat Voice, Oct. 7, 1921

This was before the days of mainstream radio — Dallas’ first commercial broadcasting station, WFAA, didn’t go on the air until June, 1922. The loudspeaker system used at the fair in 1921 allowed entertainment acts and World Series play-by-play to be played loudly overhead, for most of the fairgoers to hear (which sounds a little annoying to me, but it was newfangled novelty and people were quite taken with it).

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DMN, Oct. 11, 1921

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DMN, Oct. 12, 1921

It also came in handy to make announcements and to page parents of lost children.

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DMN, Oct. 15, 1921

The amplification at public events was enthusiastically received and much appreciated, but the real end Bell was working toward was the ability to transmit and broadcast live events happening long distances away (and also to transmit recorded music without any substantial loss of sonic quality — radio, here we come!).

state-fair_loud-speaker_dmn_101621bDMN, Oct. 16, 1921

In fact, the equipment exhibited at the fair was the same equipment used less than a month later when President Harding presented his Armistice Day address to the nation. Not only was his voice amplified to the large crowd listening to him at Arlington National Cemetery, it was also transmitted and then broadcast through “loud speakers” to crowds in New York and San Francisco — another first.

state-fair_loud-speaker_harding_tulsa-daily-world_121121
Tulsa Daily World, Dec. 11, 1921

And Texas got to experience this new technology earlier than most others in the country. Little did those Bell engineers realize in 1921 that 30-some-odd years later the booming voice of a gigantic cowboy could be heard greeting visitors all over Fair Park.

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A few clippings about the vaunted “loud speaker” before it made its way to the State Fair:

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Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 23, 1921

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Winnipeg Tribune, March 8, 1921

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DMN (from wire reports), Oct. 5, 1921

And an article on the exciting prospects of what lay ahead:

loud-speaker_tulsa-daily-world_121121
Tulsa Daily World, Dec. 11, 1921

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Sources of clippings as noted.

Click for larger images!

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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