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Edward Easton was the founder of the Columbia Graphophone Company, one of the earliest manufacturers of a cylinder record player that competed with Edison's phonograph. Eventually, Columbia Graphophone became part of today’s Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and CBS Records. Easton was raised in New Jersey and while still a teenager took a job as a stenographer for a New York newspaper. He later earned a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and set up his own law practice. His background as a stenographer would change Easton’s career once he moved to Washington. There, an army of stenographers was employed by the Senate and House of Representatives to take down what was said in debates and hearings. Easton was aware of the phonograph, and latched onto the idea that Edison’s invention could be used to improve the efficiency of government stenography.
With several other investors, Easton helped organize a company in Washington that held the local monopoly on sales and service of both the Edison phonograph and a new competitor called the Graphophone, which was a modified version of the phonograph that used wax cylinders (eventually all cylinder record players would adopt these wax cylinders). They called it the Columbia Graphophone Company because it was located in the District of Columbia, the capitol city of the United States. Unfortunately, sound recorders did not catch on as a substitute for hand stenography, and soon Columbia and all the other phonograph companies around the country were near bankruptcy.
Although Easton did not own the company, he was able to work out a deal with the owners, who wanted to split Columbia into two companies, one to make the records and one to make the players. Easton went with the company that made the players, which was called Columbia Phonograph and which was moved to Connecticut. Columbia Phonograph thrived for a number of years, but when the phonograph market turned down it abandoned its line of entertainment phonographs and concentrated only on office dictation machines—a technology based on Easton’s passion for “mechanical stenography.” The company was renamed the Dictaphone Corporation, and survives to this day.
Easton himself was not so lucky. He became distraught by the stress of running the company and allegedly tried to commit suicide in 1908. He was confined to a mental institution for a few years, but returned to work and kept at the job until he died in 1915.
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