On This Day: Warner Bros.’ Vitaphone Ushers In The Era Of Talkies

It’s Thursday night, Aug 6, 1926, and you’re standing in line at Warners’ Theatre in New York City waiting to see the premier of the highly hyped film Don Jaun starring John Barrymore and Warner Bros.’ new star, the Vitaphone sound film system.

Vitaphone, developed by Western Electric in the 1920s and acquired by Warner Bros. in 1926, would be used for feature films and short subjects from 1926 to 1961.  Vitaphone would become the last analog sound-on-disc system widely used and commercially successful. 

Unlike sound-on-film systems, the Vitaphone system recorded sound on shellac discs.  To improve sound quality, film equipment was placed in sound proof booths with microphones placed in strategic areas on the sound stage.  Sound recording equipment was often stationed in a separate room to prevent unwanted interruption from sound-stage production.  

Synchronization of film and sound was accomplished with synchronous electric motors in cameras and recorders. Just as in production of the film, the viewing of a Vitaphone recorded film would require a synchronized projector and phonograph sound system.

Vitaphone Projection System 1926

Although the film Don Jaun was limited to recorded music via the Vitaphone System, future films, such as the Jazz Singer (1927) would launch the “Talkie” revolution and open the door for the way we enjoy films today.


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