photos and stories from the Powerhouse Museum
This black and white photographic print, labelled ‘FRITZI SCHEFF DEMONSTRATING MAGNAVOX FOR/FIFTH LIBERTY LOAN IN NEW YORK CITY.’ unites two great voices – actress Fritzi Scheff and Magnavox.
The photograph is dated between c1900-1930. However, the photo is unlikely to have been taken until after 1915, as that was when inventors Edwin Pridham and Peter Jenson invented the moving-coil loudspeaker and started the Magnavox company.
The invention of the electro-dynamic loudspeaker, which functioned on the same principles that drive modern loudspeakers, meant that for the first time amplified open-air listening was possible – as demonstrated by Scheff in the photograph. The Powerhouse has a couple of Magnavox Speakers in its collection, including this one from 1924.
Magnavox actually means ‘Great Voice’ in Latin, and the loudspeaker was by no means the end of the company’s innovation. In 1974, Magnavox also created the Odyssey, which was the world’s first home video game console.
The other ‘great voice’ featured in the photograph – Austrian-born Scheff – first came to America’s attention during a three-year turn at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York. According to a 1929 article from Time Magazine, Scheff was a saucy, small-voiced opera star with a distinct style and a reputation for being a prima donna – none of which dissuaded her many fans.
Fritzi Scheff veils, Fritzi Scheff corsets, Fritzi Scheff pictures in all periodicals. . . . Her legend grew like any other and soon the world knew that her waist was just 17 in. around; that she approved agnosticism; that Mrs. William Astor dined her and occasionally the Vanderbilts did too.
Time Magazine, “Music: Old Song”
Monday, Oct. 21, 1929
The small-waisted star died 8 April 1954, aged 74.
No known copyright restrictions
Post by Susan Cairns, Digital services volunteer.