A Prolific Week in Tech and Entertainment History

Three momentous occasions in the history of technology and entertainment occurred this week, one dating all the way back to 1877.

1969 – “3 Days of Peace & Music” at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair

Forty-eight year ago, more than 400,000 people descended upon a 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York, a hundred miles north of New York City, to attend the largest music festival of the time and a pivotal moment in the history of pop music. The event was officially scheduled Friday through Sunday, August 15-17 but spilled over to August 18. In all, 32 acts performed during the rain-soaked weekend. Among the many iconic performances was Joe Cocker’s rendition of “With A Little Help From My Friends” and Jimi Hendrix’s searingly raw take on “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The History Channel recalls Woodstock:

On this day in 1969, the grooviest event in music history — the Woodstock Music Festival — draws to a close after three days of peace, love and rock ‘n’ roll in upstate New York.

Conceived as “Three Days of Peace and Music,” Woodstock was a product of a partnership between John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfield and Michael Lang. Their idea was to make enough money from the event to build a recording studio near the arty New York town of Woodstock. When they couldn’t find an appropriate venue in the town itself, the promoters decided to hold the festival on a 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York — some 50 miles from Woodstock — owned by Max Yasgur.

By the time the weekend of the festival arrived, the group had sold a total of 186,000 tickets and expected no more than 200,000 people to show up. By Friday night, however, thousands of eager early arrivals were pushing against the entrance gates. Fearing they could not control the crowds, the promoters made the decision to open the concert to everyone, free of charge. Close to half a million people attended Woodstock, jamming the roads around Bethel with eight miles of traffic.

Soaked by rain and wallowing in the muddy mess of Yasgur’s fields, young fans best described as “hippies” euphorically took in the performances of acts like Janis Joplin, Arlo Guthrie, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The Who performed in the early morning hours of August 17, with Roger Daltrey belting out “See Me, Feel Me,” from the now-classic album Tommy just as the sun began to rise. The most memorable moment of the concert for many fans was the closing performance by Jimi Hendrix, who gave a rambling, rocking solo guitar performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
1939 – ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Premieres in Hollywood

Widely considered to be one of the most beloved film of all time, Oz premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles 78 years ago this week. It was the most expensive movie Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had produced to date and it made an international star of Judy Garland

From the magazine History Today:

Premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, The Wizard of Oz was one of the best-loved Hollywood films ever made. It was the most expensive movie Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had produced to date and it made an international star of Judy Garland, who had begun life with the not wildly glamorous name of Frances Gumm, but endowed with a compelling singing voice. MGM signed her aged 13 in 1935 and did its utmost to pretend that she was still a young teenager when she played the role of the film’s 12-year-old heroine, Dorothy Gale, who with her dog Toto is blown away by a whirlwind to Oz in Munchkin Land.
Following the yellow brick road to find the Wizard of Oz, who she hopes will use his magic to send her home, she falls in with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion (played by Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr, respectively), who also need the Wizard’s help. The travellers are welcomed to Munchkin Land by its inhabitants, the Munchkins, played by an assortment of dwarfs. The Wizard turns out to be a fake and Dorothy eventually returns home by clapping her hands three times and saying “There’s no place like home.”

Work on the film started in 1938. The producer was Mervyn LeRoy and the principal director Victor Fleming. The script, by many different writers, was based on a novel written for children years before by Frank Baum. The songs had music by Harold Arlen and words by E.Y. Harburg. Besides “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, which won an Academy Award and which Judy Garland would have to sing to audiences on demand for years, the songs included “We’re Off to See the Wizard” and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”

1877 – Thomas Edison Makes His First Audio Recording

The famous recording in which Edison uttered the words “Mary had a little lamb” was made on sheets of tinfoil at his lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey 140 years ago this week. A decade later in West Orange, New Jersey he developed a solid wax cylinder record and formed the National Phonograph Company in 1896 to mass-produce cylinder recordings of music and entertainment. Edison merged the National Phonograph Company with several of his other companies in 1911 to form Thomas A. Edison, Incorporated. The following year the company introduced the Edison Diamond Disc record.

From the Library of Congress archives:

Of all his inventions, Thomas A. Edison was most fond of the phonograph. As a result of his work on two other inventions, the telegraph and the telephone, Edison happened upon a way to record sound on tinfoil-coated cylinders in 1877. Edison set aside this invention in 1878 to work on the incandescent light bulb, and others moved forward to improve on his invention, including Chichester A. Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter, who developed a wax cylinder for the phonograph.

In 1887, Edison resumed work on his phonograph, using wax cylinders. Although initially used as a dictating machine for offices, the phonograph proved to be a popular form of entertainment, and Edison eventually offered a variety of recording selections to the public through his National Phonograph Company. Edison introduced improved phonograph models and cylinders over the years, ending with the Blue Amberol Record, an unbreakable cylinder with superior sound.

In 1910, the company was reorganized into Thomas A. Edison, Inc. The Edison Disc Phonograph was developed in 1912 with the aim of competing in the popular disc market. The Edison Diamond Discs offered excellent sound, but were not compatible with other disc players. The advent of radio caused business to sour in the 1920's. Edison gave in to the popular trend and offered lateral-cut records and accompanying portable players in the summer of 1929, before recording production at Edison ceased forever in October 1929.


Tales of Woodstock Untold in 5.1: The Eddie Kramer Interview

Woodstock at 45: A Soundtrack for the Ages

The Wizard in 3D: IMAX and Chinese and Oz, Oh My!

The Wizard of Oz – 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition (Blu-ray)

History, Re-Recorded – An etched-paper recording that predates the famous Edison recording by 17 year is found.

Audio History

Vintage Vinyl: The World's Oldest Recording, Revealed

In The Groove