Webster Chicago Electronic Memory
The Webster Chicago Wire Recorder Model #288-1R.
This Wire Recorder Actually Still Works Fairly Well.
Webster Chicago Later Known As WEBCOR Made These In The Late 1940's.


Before there was reel-to-reel magnetic recorders, investigators used what is called wire recorders. That's likely where the term "wiretapping" and/or "he's wearing a wire" came from. Many investigators don't know this today, but wiretapping and bugging was at one time a legal thing in the USA. Today, you can go to jail.

Above is a photo of the actual wire spools used on these recorders

What Was A Wire Recorder
A wire recorder crimped a wire that coiled around a spoil and it was the crimps in the wire that produced the audio. The wire recorder was a magnetic recorder that worked on a similar principle as the more modern analog tape recorder. Instead of a plastic or paper strip coated with ferric particles (i.e. rust) , the wire recorder recorded onto a metal wire that was usually iron. The wire recorder was invented in 1898 by a Danish engineer by the name of Valdimar Poulsen and called the Telegraphone. Poulsen's intention was to sell the wire as a telephone answering machine. It was technology that was way before it's time.

Poulsen had problems marketing the device and had great difficulty explaining the practical use of the wire recorder. A few machines were manufactured under his name just after the turn of the century in Denmark. A decade later, the USA sold units reasonably as an office dictation machines.

Another Webster Chicago Wire Recorder From the 1930's.

Link: Reel-To-Reel has an online movie of a wired recorder playing
a recorded radio show along with some ads.

Poulsen's patents ran out in the 1910's. After the patent expired, US manufacturers started to manufacture recorders that were based on his invention. US versions developed technical improvements such as electronic amplification which allowed for slower recording speeds. The wire recorder got a lot of publicity when it first came out and private-eyes where quick to start using this technology. Real popularity came after the second world war partly due to the effects of the depression and partly due to initial disappointing sound quality which was greatly improved during WWII with the introduction of the AC bias. Just about the time that wire recorders where catching on as mass-market products, reel to reel tape recorder technology was establishing itself.

Webster Chicago wire recorders where a great improvement over alot of the other wire recoders that where on the market in the USA. Webster Chicago was one of the original wartime subcontractors and made wire recorders for the military. Webster Chicago quickly became the biggest manufacturers of them in the USA.

Wire recorders where short lived. Reel to reel was better and cheaper technology. The wire recorders fizzled out in 1950. By that time the technically superior Reel to Reel tape recorder was quickly establishing itself in the marketplace so the wire recorder was only really sold as a lower cost alternative to the open reel machines and fizzled out about 1950.

Recorders in this time period where big, bulky and heavy. It took a lot to set them up. A private-eye of the time could make top dollar spending half a day setting these up and then covertly recording a situation. In the 1940's ownership of a tape recorder was very rare. In a whole town, there might be less than a dozen of them. Smaller detective agencies often worked with larger ones who could actually afford such equipment. It was common practice to rent them.

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