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Listening in on the presidential candidates: 1908

- October 11, 2008

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I’m not making a commission on this, but anyway…

It turns out that in 1908, Thomas Edison recorded a series of two-minute mini-speeches by the competing presidential candidates, William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan. These recordings were marketed on cylinders for 35 cents apiece and are said — here I’m quoting Terry Teachout in today’s Wall Street Journal — “to have sold in huge quantities at a time when it was still a novelty for presidential candidates to make any sort of personal appearances.”

I haven’t listened to the speeches yet myself, but if Teachout is right then today’s listeners will probably find them interesting not so much for their substance as their style:

bq. I expect that the recorded speeches of Bryan and Taft would strike most listeners as being a trifle on the dull side. No punch lines, no poll-tested sound bites, no dear-sir-you-cur sideswipes at the other way — just two sober-sided, middle-aged gents talking seriously about serious matters. Such was the way in which presidential candidates used to conduct themselves, and in 1908 the phonograph, the newest of new media, was enlisted to help them do it in the manner to which they were accustomed, only more efficiently. What a difference a century makes.

Archephone Records has just released the recordings of all 22 of these speeches. To order ($18.99 for the CD plus a 79-page booklet), click here, where you can also sneak a quick listen.