Sounding the Call, for Sounds

The following is a guest post by Hanna Soltys, Reference Librarian, Prints & Photographs Division.

A good research quest often leads you to unexpected finds and drops you right at the edge of a rabbit hole. While working through the topic of listening (the subject of a previous blog post), two World War I posters caught my eye, and my curiosity demanded to know more.

I had known of book drives to keep soldiers entertained, though had no knowledge of record drives, often known as “slacker record drives.” Here we see one of the posters calling for records, and another showing the need to raise funds to purchase equipment and records:

Now for some music. Poster by Charles Buckles Falls, 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g10035

Now for some music. Poster by Charles Buckles Falls, 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g10035

War-zone home for our boys "over there"… Poster by John F. Butler: Globe Lithographing Company, New York, 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g08377

War-zone home for our boys “over there”… Poster by John F. Butler: Globe Lithographing Company, New York, 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g08377

Posters helped drum up interest and support for collecting and distributing listening materials (records, needles, phonographs) to soldiers. Browsing through historic newspaper articles in Chronicling America provided insight on how individual states and towns advertised local participation. This 1918 article from The Bismarck Tribune discusses an event after a flu outbreak canceled previous plans:

Recruiting of Slacker Record Army has Begun. Detail from The Bismarck Tribune, November 18, 1918, p. 5 //chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042243/1918-11-18/ed-1/seq-5/

Recruiting of Slacker Record Army has Begun. Detail from The Bismarck Tribune, November 18, 1918, p. 5 //chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042243/1918-11-18/ed-1/seq-5/

Did these advertisements and town events pay off? The American Red Cross Collection helped me connect some dots to determine how popular and available phonographs were during the Great War.

American Red Cross Rest House at Milan. Soldiers listening to phonograph. Photo, 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.07722

American Red Cross Rest House at Milan. Soldiers listening to phonograph, 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.07722

Two nurses of the Via Giusti Home for Refugees of the American Red Cross holding two of the tiny refugees… Photo, 1919. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.02835

Two nurses of the Via Giusti Home for Refugees of the American Red Cross holding two of the tiny refugees. The busy phonograph in the American Red Cross Via Giusti Home. Milan does its best to wipe the sound of German Guns from the little ears. For he was the place of refuge for hundreds of Italian Mothers and children who fled from ruined homes along the Isonzo …, 1919. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.02835

The Red Cross’s caption for this photo really spelled out the need for records and equipment, seen here at a canteen in Italy.

At an ARC "Posto di Conforio." The gramaphone is in great demand. Photo, 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01968

At an ARC “Posto di Conforio.” The gramaphone is in great demand, 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01968

A research topic discovering a poster with a phonograph quickly led to a deeper understanding (and knowledge) of slacker record drives, thanks to Library of Congress resources. Now that’s quite a harmonious find.

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3 Comments

  1. Sarah Johnston
    April 25, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    Fascinating to read about this Hanna – thanks for the big.
    A question – why “slacker” ?
    You might also enjoy this great collection of advertisements for the Decca brand of “trench” gramophones https://www.flickr.com/photos/nigelbewley/6310232728/in/photostream

  2. Nigel Bewley
    May 2, 2019 at 6:13 pm

    This is a better link to the album (33 images) of adverts for Decca trench model gramophones on my Flickr site. All of the adverts are from the time of the Great War (1914 – 1918). https://www.flickr.com/photos/nigelbewley/albums/72157626666110681

  3. Hanna Soltys
    May 3, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Sarah- Thanks for your note. “Slacker” appears to have been used colloquially to describe items that were idle, not in use, and just sitting around collecting dust. Appreciate the Decca ad link you shared as it’s interesting to see a company manufacture specifically for the trenches.

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