The Phonola Story

This piece of Henry’s story is not in the book Henry Sutton The Innovative Man, this story relates to an invention Henry had a vision for in the future. The Phonola story begins in 1907, this was the year new advancements had been made and speakers had been put inside record players instead of protruding on the outside of them like a big trumpet. This was the same year Henry trademarked the word “Phonola” in anticipation of future inventions in the field of music and entertainment. It was to be a culmination of Henry’s work in the evolution of his work in the evolution of television wireless telegraphy/radio coupled with his business of selling record players in the family’s music store Suttons.

Henry’s vision was once again ahead of his time and one day he hoped to bring it to fruition. It was 1907 and Henry knew eventually television would become a reality and radio was in its infancy but not far off. Record players had been around a while and getting more compact now that the speakers were smaller and included in the framework of the record player. At the same time Henry’s brother Fred Sutton had had lodged a patent for an internal speaker to incorporate into a record player. Henry no doubt wanted to improve on this idea. His work with receivers both with the telephones and wireless and soon to announced portable radio was the foundations for his inventions.

It is easy to look back now and see how his vision unfolded but at the time it would have been a great step forward in bringing to life the 3 inventions he had spent his life working with.

To Henry what did the future look like if at age 15 he imagined television, one can only imagine but on this occasion his idea was to combine all three inventions into one unit. You have to remember there was still no television, no radio and record players were considered a relatively new invention. None the less Henry wanted in the future to combine all three when they finally came to be, he had already invented his portable radio so it was only now a matter of time.

Henry’s trademark word ‘Phonola” stood waiting until 1912 when out of the blue a Canadian company called Electrohome contacted Henry with the aim of purchasing his trademarked word. Electrohome were about to start selling record players and wanted the name Phonola for their new player. The word phonola was similar to other names used for new record players and the word was very recognisable and the company was willing to pay for the privilege of using it.

Henry obviously considered the offer he knew he would not have enough time to see his vision through. By 1912 the doctors would have told him he did not have long to live and so with a heavy heart he sold the trademark to Electrohome. It is not known how much Henry sold it for but I am sure it was a good price.

Sadly Henry died 4 months later but his vision did not end there, the Electrohome company grew to be one of Canada’s largest companies and within a few decades the Phonola record player had evolved into first a record player and a radio and then made that final leap into what was Henry’s future vision that being a television was added. The beginnings of Henry’s vision of the future began just over 150 years ago with his concept of television, then came the record player and then radio. These inventions have evolved and today we benefit from them all being in one unit still. Our large screen TV’s, transmit television channels, live stream shows and movies, can traverse the internet and we can listen to the radio and music. We can do all of that too on our mobile phones including making telephone calls. Every invention has a history and Henry had a small part in each of these he would have loved the outcome of it all. Makes you wonder what is ahead for our future in the evolution of these inventions, can you dare to imagine like Henry.