Now, those early technological innovations are the focus of a proposed Camden waterfront sculpture – in aluminum – depicting a 40-foot-tall 78-r.p.m. record.
It would stand vertically and gracefully bend into a horizontal base with a timeline of the recording industry in the city.
The artwork – envisioned by sculptor and Camden native Carl LeVotch – would include holographic images of great artists who came to the city to record their music.
Called Rhapsody, it also would likely have audio features – accessed by cellphones close to the site – allowing visitors to hear the early recordings that put Camden on the map.
"I see the sculpture as a kind of sanctuary where people can reflect on music and the history of the industry in Camden," said LeVotch, 65, of Haddon Township, who is seeking funding for the project. "The city was a mecca for music and known all over the world."
"There are people with RCA Victor records with the name of Camden on the label," he said. "This is the positive history of the city."
LeVotch, who has created several bronze sculptures across the region, including one of Walt Whitman in Camden City Hall and boxer Joey Giardello in South Philadelphia, shared his latest proposal with Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr., who says he "would like to see the concept further explored."
"Government entities are not in a position to help purchase land or build the project," Cappelli said. "The best way to fund it is to seek private donors and corporate and foundation sponsors."
Officials from the City of Camden and the Cooper's Ferry Partnership, a nonprofit real estate development corporation based in the city, did not return calls.
As proposed, the sculpture would be on a three-quarter-acre lot near the waterfront, somewhere near the Nipper tower.
"It would be an icon in the city," said Sam Sarin, owner of Victor's Pub in the Victor building at 1 Market St. "This is where music recordings started. This is where they built Victrolas," phonographs with the turntable and amplifying horn inside a cabinet.
"Maybe Camden should be looking at its past to find its future," Sarin said.
The idea for the project came to LeVotch while taking an opera appreciation class, said the sculptor, who grew up at 35th and Federal Streets in Camden.
His teacher, Ennio Brugnolo, an Italian immigrant who teaches Italian at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and also sings with the Philadelphia Opera Company, had long wondered why Camden's achievements were not marked in some significant way.
"When I first came to the country in 1970, I was all excited," Brugnolo said. "I wanted to go to Philadelphia, then Camden to see RCA Victor."
"But [in Camden] there's nothing there to celebrate the history of the great singers that went through there," he said. "You wouldn't know the history that was made there. I was disappointed."