Bryan Spreading the Word


 “Trying on the New Method of Speech-Making”
  Cartoonist:  Edward Windsor Kemble
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   August 29, 1908, pp. 18-19

Click to see a large version of this cartoon...

Click to see a large version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
In 1908, for the first time in history, Americans could listen to the recorded voices of the presidential candidates, Republican William Howard Taft and Democrat William Jennings Bryan. In this Harper’s Weekly cartoon, Bryan reacts in horror to his own statements for “government ownership,” “initiative and referendum,” and “any old ism”; his criticisms of previous Democratic nominees, President Grover Cleveland and Alton B. Parker; and his contradictory comments for and against imperialism. Bryan bellows to his vice-presidential running mate, John Kern, who is turning the gramophone, to stop the infernal racket. Between them the dog of economic “Hard Times” howls. On the shelf (upper-left) a bust of Andrew Jackson sitting on a base inscribed “Thomas Jefferson” casts a distressed glance at the party’s current standard-bearer.

In 1855, Leon Scott invented the first device that successfully recorded sound. In 1877, Thomas Edison drew up plans for a “tinfoil phonograph” from which a prototype was built by his laboratory engineer, John Kruesi. Unlike Scott’s machine, the phonograph not only recorded, but also played back sounds. The phonograph caused a sensation at public demonstrations, but interest soon waned, and Edison focused his attention on developing the electric light bulb. In 1887, under the direction of Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell (a cousin) and Charles Tainter developed the “graphophone,” which improved sound quality and allowed longer recordings. In the late 1880s, Edison resumed tinkering with the phonograph, creating improvements and developing an office dictation machine. In 1893, Emile Berliner introduced the “gramophone,” which replaced the phonograph’s cylinder with hard-rubber discs, allowing the product to be manufactured more efficiently and less expensively.

In 1908, for the first time in American history, both major party candidates engaged in campaign speaking tours. For those who could not attend the partisan rallies, or for those who wanted a repeat performance, Bryan and Taft recorded a few of their campaign speeches, including Bryan’s “An Ideal Republic” and Taft’s “Our Army and Navy.” Enterprising phonograph retailers drew in customers by staging debates in their stores between mannequins of Taft and Bryan with their dueling recorded appeals to the voters. Still somewhat of a novelty in 1908, recordings of the presidential candidates became more widespread and important in the election of 1912. Selections from the vintage recordings of both elections may be heard by visiting the Edison, New Jersey website.













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