Disturbing music on the streets of St. John’s

In 1903 the new and emerging form of entertainment was the gramophone.

In 1903 the new and emerging form of entertainment was the gramophone.

Archival Moment

July 10, 1903

Shop keepers have tried all manner of gimmicks to attract customers to their establishments, one of the marketing strategies used by the shops in downtown St. John’s in 1903 was loud music.

In the early 1900’s the new and emerging form of entertainment was the gramophone, created in 1887. In 1901, 10-inch disc records were introduced followed in 1903 by 12-inch records. These made the gramophone accessible to most families and businesses for their leisure. These  new records could play for more than three and four minutes respectively.

The St. John’s shop keepers would place their gramophone near the entrance of their stores causing customers to stop and listen, luring them into their shops or to their shop windows to look at their merchandise.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. Water Street, St. John's, A2-34:

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. Water Street, St. John’s, A2-34:

Not all residents of the town appreciated the new marketing ploy; one of the difficulties that it presented was that as customers stood on the sidewalks listening to the music they were blocking the sidewalks. Some residents felt that the police should be called to keep the streets clear!

The Editor of the Evening Telegram was among those who was not amused. He wrote:

“The policy of small shop keepers of using a gramophone to attract customers is becoming a decided nuisance. Crowds throng around the shop doors and the windows rendering the sidewalk impassable.”

The Editor offered a solution:

“If the police cannot keep the street clear, let them remove the cause (the gramaphone’s) which is the only other remedy.

 It is unknown if the curmudgeonly Editor had much sway or if shoppers lost their enthusiasm for the novelty of the new technology, but it appears that no other complaints were made against the use of the gramophone.

Shopkeepers knew however that they were onto something. Over the past number of years there have been academic studies into the effects of background music in shops. The research indicates that music volume, speed and genre can have significant effects on how long consumers spend in shops and restaurants, how much they purchase or consume, and whether they view brands or individual products favorably or unfavorably.

Imagine, it all started with complaints about the gramophone.

Recommended Archival Collection: City and Town Directories held in the archives give incredible insights into the business life of Newfoundland communities. A few of the directories that should be consulted when doing research are Hutchinson’s Directory of Newfoundland (1864); Lovell’s Directory for Newfoundland (1871); McAlpine’s Directory for Newfoundland (1871); and Rochfort’s Directory of Newfoundland (1877).

Recommended Museum Exhibit: At the Rooms: Here, We Made a Home The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4.