Phonola and Its Surprisingly-Early Start
A.B. Pollock [right] and his future brother-in-law Charles Harry
Boehmer, "photographed in New York about 1900".
From "Visionary Thinking: The Story of Canada’s Electrohome".
In my last article, which was about the Donalda
gramophone marketed by the Hudson’s Bay
Company and named for a Canadian opera
singer, the following was the opening section
(with emphasis added):
"As is often cited, the major equipment patents on
phonographs, gramophones and talking machines
began to expire near the end of WWI. This
enabled others—previously too timid to jump into
production, unlike Pollock of Berlin Ontario—
to enter the business and compete with Victor/
Berliner, Columbia and Edison. In those days
when mass transport of goods was not cheap or
convenient, local manufacturers with tangential
expertise sprang up to supply their neighbours,
and perhaps beyond, with machines of various
quality. Thus begat the bewildering number
of companies that are currently listed by the
Canadian Antique Phonograph Project
This article will deal with the unusual case
of the Pollock Manufacturing Company and
its surprisingly-early jump into gramophone
manufacturing. Raymond Stanton has covered
the overall story of Phonola/Electrohome in
a book ("Visionary Thinking: The Story of
Canada’s Electrohome") and contributed to at
least two articles for Kitchener’s local paper, The
Record. The following is the compression of this
history which I have put up on the Phonola page
of the Canadian Antique Phonograph Project.
Nineteen year-old Arthur Bell Pollock (henceforth
A. B.) left his job as book-keeper of a dry goods
store in Berlin, Ontario [the city patriotically
changed its name to Kitchener in 1916] in 1896
for New York City to seek a better life. There
he joined two friends from Berlin High School,
one of whom was A.B.’s future brother-in-law,
Charles Harry Boehmer [A.B. married Rosie
Boehmer, September 2, 1902 in Waterloo, ON].
A.B. became the private secretary of Tennant
Putnam, who was treasurer of the New York
Yacht Club and president of the Manhattan
Club. It is suggested that this allowed A.B.
to come into contact with Herman Schroeder
[sic], who was trying to market inside-horn
gramophone-style machines. Schroeder, we’re
told, was finding it difficult and expensive to
market his machines in the US and when A.B.
told him there were no such machines in Canada,
Schroeder allegedly suggested to him that he
should begin such a business.
Manitoba Free Press, Jan. 22, 1910.
Vancouver World, Nov. 16, 1911.
In 1906, A.B.
returned to Berlin with a supply of parts (motors,
tone-arms and reproducers) from Schroeder.
Lacking the necessary mechanical skills to make
the machines, he turned to Alex Welker who,
it’s reported, helped Milton and Nelson Good
manufacture the LeRoy automobile in Berlin,
Ontario from 1899 to 1904. By 1909, A.B. was
able to give up selling insurance to concentrate
on gramophone sales and formed the Pollock
Manufacturing Company with himself, his brother
James [presumably the "J.B." involved in the
patent case below], Boehmer, Boehmer’s brother
August, and Welker as directors.
Machine found at an antique sale in 2013. Plate on the machine
is stamped, "Cabinet Talking Machine Model Crown Prince,
PATd June 4.07, Mfd. by Pollock Manufacturing Co. Berlin, Canada".
(Picture courtesy KW)
Assuming the aforementioned patent was
key to the founding of the company, I did a
search and found Canadian patent CA 105611
under "Hermann Schröder (United States of
America)", filed 1907-04-08. This is the same
patent date quoted on the plate on a "Cabinet
Talking Machine" manufactured by Pollock
Manufacturing Co., Berlin, Canada, that I found
at an antique dealer in Aberfoyle in 2013. With
the correction in the name, I was able to find
Schröder’s patent in the US—No. 864,758,
application filed December 8, 1906, patented
August 27, 1907, with the original assignee
being the "Schröder Hornless Phonograph Mfg
As we know, Victor started marketing its first
internal-horn machines—the Victrola—in
1906. So, the key portion of the Schröder patent
"This invention contemplates certain new and
useful improvements in that type of talking
machine or gramophone in which the megaphone
instead of being arranged separately and
detachably above the supporting casing of the
sound record, is arranged in a permanent position
within the casing so as to be more conveniently
shipped with the casing, to require no adjustment,
and to avoid any damage to a record which is
liable to occur with the megaphone detachably
supported above it."
This is obviously the description of a direct
competitor to the Victrola and the patent drawing
clearly shows a machine that looks like a VV-IV
or -VI with a rounded front opening.
As we know, a complex legal battle was begun
regarding the patents and ownership of records
and machines which, in 1899, engaged Emile
Berliner’s United States Gramophone Company
and by June 1900 would ultimately consume it.
Sources suggest that this battle is what prompted
Berliner’s move to Canada where his company
would hold exclusive rights to gramophones and
discs in Canada based on the Canadian patents
(patents CA 55078, CA 55079, CA 79836 and
CA 87586) granted in 1897 and 1903. The Victor
company, under Eldridge Johnson, emerged as
the owner of the patents in the US and is well
documented for vigorously defending these
patents going forward. I had always assumed
Berliner did the same in Canada.
Diagram from Canadian patent CA 105611 issued to "Hermann
Schröder (United States of America)", filed 1907-04-08, issued 1907-06-
04. This patent allowed Pollock to start gramophone production years
before their eventual competition, protected from Berliner.
(Courtesy Canadian Intellectual Property Office)
The Music Trades Review of February 5, 1910
has an article describing how "Victor secured
another Victory" by winning an injunction against
the "Schroeder Hornless Phonograph Co.". The
article goes on to describe how more than one
manufacturer had attempted to circumvent the
Berliner patent by using a "mechanical feed"
device in talking machines. The court decided
that this "did not relieve the machine from
infringement". However, this did not seem to
spell the end for Schröder.
The Long Islander, of Huntingon, NY, published
on September 20, 1912 that there was great
interest in securing new industries for the village
including the introduction at Fairground of the
H. Schroder Hornless Manufacturing Company.
"The company is a New York State corporation
with $500,000 capital, and is to employ from 200
to 300 persons". I could find no further reference
to see if the company was actually successful.
But what of Pollock and the Schröder patents in
Canada? As it is put in the "Gramophone" article
on the Collections Canada website:
"According to Canadian law at the time [when
Berliner was granted the Canadian patent
in 1897], a patent was protected only if the
manufacturer established production in Canada,
and Berliner was happy to comply. He imported
equipment from the American affiliate, set up
shop in space rented from the Bell Telephone
Co., and opened a retail outlet at 2315-2316
Sainte-Catherine Street in Montreal. The
company began an intense promotion of the
gramophone, highlighting the volume, endurance,
and space-saving size of discs as opposed to
cylinders. The advertisements also served to warn
Berliner's competitors against infringement of
the company's patents, and to caution consumers
against purchasing imitation equipment and
I found a "Notice" put out by Berliner in 1908
that said, "We intend to insist upon our full rights,
and herewith warn all persons who infringe our
patent rights that we will prosecute them to the
full extent of the law". The specific patents
cited for defense are from 1897 and 1903. So a
year after Pollock started their talking machine
business, Berliner sent a shot over their bow.
On the Canadian Antique Phonograph Project
website is a scan of a 1902 Berliner catalog
showing 4 machines ostensibly built in their
factory at 201-203 Fortification Lane, Montreal.
So, Berliner did build their own outside-horn
machines early on. However, it is stated in
"Recording History: The British Record Industry,
1888-1931", that "From 1907, Victor supplied the
Berliner Gramophone Company of Canada…"
presumably with hornless Victrolas.
Schröder is a typical victim of Victor patent defense in the US.
(The Music Trade Review, Feb. 5, 1910 pg. 40)
Schröder is still going in the US by 1912 and is looking for production
(The Long Islander, Sept. 20, 1912 pg. 5)
The only reference I have so far uncovered
of any Berliner attack on Pollock is from the
Toronto World of Nov. 11, 1915. It is a court
report describing how Berliner was granted leave
to appeal and continue patent action against
Pollock. Pollock had apparently defended
itself against Berliner by attacking the Berliner
patent "on the grounds of illegal importation
and non-manufacture". It seems the defense
had something to do with the fact that, as noted
above, at the start of the Victrola era Berliner
was importing Victor Victrolas and not at that
point manufacturing their own.
We do see a lot
of machines in Canada with Victor plates from
Camden and an additional plate with the wording
"The Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada
Ltd. Montreal, sole distributors for Canada".
Since Berliner was importing and distributing
(and, it was suggested, "illegally") and not
manufacturing Victrolas (in fact, the some entire
models were built in Camden specifically for the
Canadian market), Berliner had no cause to make
Pollock stop. Further, the court report suggested
it "is doubtful that [the appeal by Berliner] can
be entertained by the provincial courts". Since
Pollock stayed in business, either Berliner was
unsuccessful getting the provincial courts to
entertain the appeal, or the appeal itself was unsuccessful.
Berliner warns potential Canadian competitors that they will defend
their patents. The listed patents were issued 1897 and 1903 covering
gramophones and music boxes—nothing hornless.
(Toronto Daily Star, January 11, 1908, pg. 11)
Berliner did defend itself against others.
In this case the Bell Piano and Organ Company Ltd., of Guelph, ON.
(Toronto Daily Star, February 24, 1910, pg. 1)
Berliner won leave to appeal and continue patent action against
Pollock’s defense that Berliner illegally imported and did not make their
(Toronto World, Nov. 11, 1915 pg. 6)
What we do know is that the Pollock family
continued to successfully manufacture machines,
under the Phonola brand, and grow a substantial
business for some time.
The following is from Raymond Stanton’s article
"End of an Era" courtesy of The Record, June 2,
2008 [with additions]:
Drawing from Berliner’s Canadian patent CA 103332, clearly shows an
(Courtesy Canadian Intellectual Property Office)
1907: A.B. Pollock founds the Pollock
Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in Kitchener (then Berlin)
to make phonographs [Later, these machines
were made under the brand "Phonola" and a
woodworking plant in Elmira was acquired for
the construction of phonograph cabinets].
[1917: The Phonola Company of Canada Limited
was formed to continue the phonograph-assembly
and record business.]
1920s: Pollock’s firm begins to market electric
and portable phonographs.
[1925: Pollock establishes Grimes Radio
Corporation Limited to produce and sell Grimes
radios in Canada.]
1933: The company name is changed to
Dominion Electrohome Industries Ltd. and the
Electrohome brand is introduced for products
ranging from fans to food mixers. [An article
uploaded to the Waterloo Public Library says that
Carl Pollock, born in 1903, persuaded his father,
A.B., to amalgamate The Phonola Company of
Canada Ltd., Grimes Radio Corporation Ltd. and
Pollock-Welker Ltd. under Dominion Electrohome
Industries Ltd.—with Carl as president.]
1939: The outbreak of war brings contracts for
everything from radio sets to wooden aircraft
1949: C.A. Pollock [Carl] launches radio station
CFCA-FM, followed in 1954 by the more
successful television station CKCO. [Both
stations having studios in Kitchener.]
1980s: Electrohome sells off several divisions,
including home-comfort products, furniture
and motor manufacturing, and focuses on
broadcasting and commercial video products.
1997: CKCO and the company’s interest in
the CTV television network are sold to Baton
Broadcasting [Not quite right as at this time, the
company’s Kitchener and Edmonton TV and radio
stations were folded into Baton Broadcasting in
return for cash and a stake in Baton, which had
taken control of the CTV trademark.].
1999: Electrohome sells its digital projection
systems business to Christie Digital.
By 1919 Pollock’s success requires two plants, one for hardware and
the other for cabinets.
(Toronto Daily Star, February 1, 1919, pg. 12)
2004: Christie Digital buys Electrohome’s last
manufacturing plant on Wellington Street in
2007: The Redmond Group of Companies signs a
deal to buy the Electrohome trademarks.
There is currently an "Electrohome" website
which further adds to the above:
"In 2010 ELECTROHOME was acquired by
CWD® a Niagara Falls, Ontario-based consumer
electronics manufacturer… Long associated
with quality home-entertainment products, the
line now includes DVDs, radios with iPod®
docks, karaoke systems, and digital photo frames,
reflecting modern tastes and utilizing cuttingedge
technology. But with the introduction of the
Nostalgia line, ELECTROHOME has gone back
to its roots."
So, I guess Electrohome becomes a label to be
stuck on modern and "retro" "stuff"—it is a
Canadian RCA, if you will.
Even at the end, a Pollock was in charge—John
Pollock, heir to the company founded by his
grandfather in 1907. According to The Record,
August 6, 2008:
"[John] Pollack [sic] said he does feel some
sadness in shutting down the company for which
he has worked since 1962.
"But "there’s a time for everything," he said."
- "Visionary Thinking: The Story of Canada's Electrohome", by Raymond Stanton, 1997, Canadian Corporate Histories, Kitchener, Ont.
- Toronto World, Nov. 11, 1915 pg 6.
- Manitoba Free Press, Jan 22 1910, pg. 5.
- Vancouver World, Nov 16 1911, pg. 2.
- Toronto Daily Star, January 11, 1908, pg. 11.
- Ibid, February 1, 1919, pg 12.
- Canadian Intellectual Property Office, Canadian Patents Database
Schröder "gramophone" patent entry at the United States Patent and Trademark Office
- Canadian Antique Phonograph Project, Phonola entry
- 1902 Price List of Berliner Gram-o-phones and Sundries
- The Music Trades Review, February 5, 1910, pg. 40.
- The Long Islander, Huntington, N.Y., September 20, 1912, pg. 5.
- The Electrohome "heritage" page
- "End of an era", by Raymond Stanton, The Record, Kitchener, Ont., June 2, 2008.
- "Electrohome could soon be history", Record Staff, The Record, Kitchener, Ont., August 6, 2008.
- Collections Canada "Gramophone" article
- "Recording History: The British Record Industry, 1888-1931", by Peter Martland, 2013, Scarecrow Press, Inc., Lanham, MD, USA, pg. 153.
- Carl Pollock biography uploaded to the Waterloo Public Library
- Finding Aid: GA 186, Electohome fonds. List of Electrohome material in the University of Waterloo Library, which also summarizes much of the material.