Music Streaming Actually Existed Back In 1890

Samuel Reason - November 6th, 2020

Long before the days of the internet, you would have thought that music streaming did not exist at all. However, that is where you would be wrong. In fact, music streaming with a subscription model existed over the telephone for many years. It finds its roots in Pittsburgh, where the Telephone Music Service would stream songs to bars hundreds of years before the internet.

Generations before people created youtube or even dreamed up what a smartphone device was, the Telephone Music Service in Pittsburgh pioneered how music streaming would look. Starting as a service in 1929, there was a whole network of jukeboxes all around the bars of Pittsburgh. These Jukeboxes were all connected to a central studio by telephone lines. It would work by sticking money in the machine and picking up the phone on the side of the jukebox. Then you just requested the song you wanted to hear from the operator.

Just like magic, the jukebox would start blaring out the song you requested! While this type of technology might seem ancient and analog today, at the time streaming audio-on-demand was innovative and revolutionary. Today the history books don’t really mention this device, but back in the day, everyone across Pittsburgh knew about the Telephone Music Service.

What’s more elusive is who actually invented the devices. Many believe it started in 1890 in Paris, called the Theatrophone as it also had a subscription model. At some point, an engineer must have made the trip over to America and ended up in Pittsburgh. By the late 1940s, coin-operated jukeboxes were found nearly everywhere, but the Telephone Music Service kept going.

Mostly it was able to survive by its mystery and the woman who answered the phone. These operators would only give out their first name, and never the location of the central office. As a result, it became a fantasy for their callers and this kept up a steady stream of repeat customers. Furthermore, over the years they built up a massive library of music from all generations. Eventually, the service closed down completely in 1997 after a fire in the office destroyed nearly all of their music. And well because technology had long moved on.

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