People were "downloading" music from their phones way back in 1892

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There really is no such thing as a new invention. Turns out that even something as quintessentially 21st century as iTunes is just the updated version of what people were doing 109 years ago...well, more or less.

Scientific American went through their archive to the July 2, 1892 supplement for a story about the theatrophone, which had been in use for the previous two years in Paris. (I tried to confirm this story by checking io9's own archives from the 1890s, but for some reason I'm having trouble finding them.) In any event, the theatrophone allowed people to call into a theater and hear music played right over their phone.

They could receive calls from the device in their home or make use of them in various public places - lots of hotels and restaurants had them. And, because the theatrophone was basically the podcast of the 1890s, people could actually subscribe to the service so that they would always know when new music was available.


Writing for Scientific American in the here and now, Mary Karmelek explains how the theatrophone worked:

For 50 centimes, one could listen to five minutes of music. A wicket on the front of the machine displayed the theater from which the music was heard. There was one central station where the Theatrophone Company operated out of, and this was connected to several secondary stations that were placed in the theaters. A series of microphones were set up on the stage and picked up the sound to be transmitted back to the central station.

The theatrophone had 3 cables, 2 used for the transmission of music and the other for an alarm set for 5 minutes, keeping track of the listener's time and changing theaters at each interval. If a listener happened to catch the live performance as it was ending or during an intermission, he would be wired into a different location for the remainder of time paid for. If all theaters were in an intermission, then the listener would be treated to recorded piano music so his money was not wasted.


For more, check out the original article at here.

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