Making the Perfect Record: From Inscription to Impression in Early Magnetic Recording

The Mechanical Arts

Quite tellingly, appeals to the telegraphone’s aesthetic are most vibrant in publications associated with the Franklin Institute, founded in 1824 as a space for fostering expertise in the mechanical arts. As Bruce Sinclair notes, the Institute was ultimately part of a larger national program to not only give citizens (mostly, if not entirely, men) access to a practical education but also blend technical training with the democratizing values of science and technology. Sinclair (1990, 65) writes: “This new approach to technical education . . . depended on literacy and an open cooperative style of work, unlike the secrecy that had dominated the craft activity for so long.” In 1826, Thomas P. Jones started a journal for the Institute, merging it with American Mechanics’ Magazine and calling it Franklin Journal and American Mechanics’ Magazine. Serving as the journal’s editor between 1828 and 1848, he considered the publication a reflection of the Institute’s ethos: open instruction, cooperative education, plain writing, and an integration of theory with practice. According to Sinclair, Jones believed that “working people ignorant of first principles wasted time and money on things that would not work. Worse yet, they were misled by mechanical chimeras” (65). Consequently, the journal—later known simply as the Journal of the Franklin Institute—condensed the principles of technical education into an efficient form, with articles rarely exceeding eight pages. Jones thought anything beyond that length would most certainly lose the intended audience’s attention (69). Although he died in 1848, traces of his framework for the journal lasted far beyond the mid-nineteenth century. Yet the chimeras are certainly there, too. As but one example, consider Charles K. Fankhauser’s work in the early 1900s.

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