This Is What iTunes Would Have Looked Like Back In 1892

This Is What iTunes Would Have Looked Like Back In 1892

If Apple Computers had been founded over a hundred years ago, not by Steve Jobs, but by Sir Digby Chicken Caesar, iTunes might very well have looked like this: the theatrophone, an 1890s invention that allowed you to “download” music into your living room, just fifty centimes per song.

Essentially just a telephone hooked up to a stereo, the theatrophone allowed Victorian era music lovers to dial into the “cloud” of the central station for the Theatrophone Company, which broadcast live music throughout the day.

Like iTunes, it allowed you to “buy” music in song-sized microtransactions: fifty centimes would buy you five minutes of live music back in 1892. Also like iTunes, the Theatrophone would allow you to “subscribe” to new music as a sort of proto-RSS podcast: you could be alerted by mail to be told what times to tune in for certain types of music, or the latest and greatest tracks.

The cutting-edge of tech at the time, the Theatrophone system was actually remarkably intricate:

The theatrophone had 3 cables, 2 used for the transmission of music and the other for an alarm set for 5 minutes, keeping track of the listener’s time and changing theaters at each interval. If a listener happened to catch the live performance as it was ending or during an intermission, he would be wired into a different location for the remainder of time paid for. If all theaters were in an intermission, then the listener would be treated to recorded piano music so his money was not wasted.

There’s just no such thing as a new idea.

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  • bolehillbilly

    Ahh, the continuing adventures of Sir Digby Chicken Caesar…

  • Bob

    “If Apple Computers…”There is no such company as “Apple Computers.”  More Brownlee fail.

  • alex

     Upvote for the Mitchell & Webb reference…

  • Kurtis

     What country was this? Not England, who never had “Centimes,” but if France, why describe as “Victorian Era”? France doesn’t mark their eras by English monarchs. 

  • Kurtis

     I did appreciate the Mitchell & Webb reference! 

  • Kurtis

     I did appreciate the Mitchell & Webb reference! 

  • rockinrors

    But there was, the company was originally called Apple Computers, Inc.
    Typical Bob fail.
    Stop hating on Brownlee.

  • Rileybdarby

    That company isn’t called that though. Brownlee needs to get with the times.

  • cheesy11

    im sure i have seen a few of these still around…

  • rockinrors

    Considering that this article is about back in 1892, I think ‘being with the times’ has been made a little redundant. 

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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