Yes, Virginia, there was voice mail back in the Second World War; these photos I snapped at River City Antique Mall prove it.
The voice of your soldiers and other loved ones in the military could be recorded and then mailed back home, thanks to wartime audio recordings, projects typically done in conjunction with the USO. While this envelope announces that Gem Blades (American Safety Razor Corp.) brings you the recorded voice of your soldier, there’s also the handwritten USO identification numbers on the front. The back of the envelope promotes the home front activity of buying U.S. war bonds and stamps.
While I didn’t disturb the seller’s packaging, this is what the records themselves look like:
According to the back of the Gem Razor records, there was a bus of some sort from which “Gem Blade reporters” made “thousands of free Voices Of Victory records throughout the nation.”
Along with the Gem Razor recordings, there were also records, in both 45 and 78 RPM, made for free in kiosks at USO clubs, National Catholic Community Service USO clubs, Pepsi Centers, and radio stations around the country during the war, resulting in many different looking records, labels, and mailers. Also, wives, mothers and other family members went to the USO clubs to record their own audio letters for their beloved service men.
These kiosk recordings are thought to have been made on an early version of Mutoscope’s Voice-O-Graph — which certainly makes sense in terms of Mutoscope’s marketing of the audio booths after the war. Jose Fritz includes the Gem Voices Of Victory recordings in his Voice-O-Graph labelography. But one can’t rule out Wilcox-Gay’s Recordio and other devices for these recordings either. According to the January, 1946 issue of Audio Record (published by Audio Devices Inc., a manufacturer of blank discs), “the USO Central Purchasing Department has sent out 301,059 discs for records in the last two year, and that this figure is exclusive of those purchased locally or through other channels.”
These one-of-a-kind records are considered “home made records” due to the lower quality of the recordings in part based upon the poor quality of the materials the records themselves are made of. The Gem Blade records are mere cardboard covered in a then film of lacquer, making them quite fragile things. It is strongly recommended that the records be played only to record the voices off of them, preferably preserving them in a less fragile medium, such as converting them to MP3 or other digital files. Fellow Collectors Quest columnist Collin is still offering his free service to transfer these recordings into digital files; if interested, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.