National Jukebox

recording session
Early 1900s orchestra recording session
Courtesy of Library of Congress

Library of Congress opens trove of rare historic recordings

Where can you find legendary opera stars such as Enrico Caruso, iconic composers such as George Gershwin, jazz giants such as Fletcher Henderson, and great orators such as Theodore Roosevelt?

They are on the National Jukebox, a free website project of the Library of Congress (LOC). The site features more than 10,000 recordings produced between 1901 and 1925 by Columbia Records, OKeh, and Victor Talking Machine Co. among other labels.

The digitally remastered recordings—ranging from popular music, blues, and opera to poetry recitations, famous speeches, and sound effects—represent the largest collection of such historical recordings ever made publicly available. It hasn’t gone unnoticed—National Jukebox had more than two million page views in its first two days.

In addition to listening to the recordings on a streaming-only basis, National Jukebox users can look through thousands of label images, record-catalog illustrations, and artist and performer bios. Also available are special interactive features such as a digital facsimile of the 1919 edition of the famous opera guide "Victrola Book of the Opera," which describes more than 110 operas, including illustrations, plot synopses and lists of recordings offered in that year.

“Looking at the Twitter responses, there are a lot of teachers commenting,” said Gene DeAnna, head of the LOC’s Recorded Sound Section. “I’m curious to see how it gets used in classrooms for cultural history, talking about immigration, urban America at the turn of the century, and other topics.”

Not sure where to start? Browse the collection, listen to playlists curated by LOC staff. Then, you may want to create your own playlists and share them via a personal webpage, social networking site, or the National Jukebox site. You can also explore links to more historical digital recordings and related information.

In coming months and years, the LOC plans to expand the National Jukebox into “the most comprehensive website of historic sound recordings and related interpretive content," according to DeAnna.