Army Archives

Adjutant Sully and his “Converted Talking Machine”

"The crowds were intrigued that these sermons and songs were coming from the 'brass throat of this huge horn' and into the ears of the people." by Captain Charles Smith

It was Erich Fromm who said, “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties,” and this paints an accurate picture of the majority of Salvation Army soldiers who stormed the forts of darkness in their day and time. One example is Adjutant Sully of Philadelphia. In charge of the social department in 1903, the adjutant figured out how to place a phonograph on his horse-drawn wagon.

He called it a “converted talking machine,” and he had recordings of prayers, talks and hymns—such as “Where is My Wandering Boy Tonight?”, “Stand Up for Jesus” and others—in the talking machine’s repertoire. The crowds were intrigued that these sermons and songs were coming from the “brass throat of this huge horn” and into the ears of the people.  

He would stop his wagon, start the “mechanism” and encounter crowds, humming the hymns and listening to the prayers and talks that were given. The adjutant believed he was on to something using this device around City Hall for several weeks. He believed that this device could equally be used for a group of Salvationists leading an open-air service with their instruments and red-hot sermons. He believed that to improve on extending his operations, he would need to visit public squares and parks during the summer and meet in halls and churches in the winter. I wonder what we can do with individual and team ingenuity to be a force for the Lord in our modern day. Maybe it is using social media, or even keeping the mission going through open-airs in areas where people gather. What tools would you use for the Lord if you knew you would not fail?  

Photo Credits: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-det-4a24581 (digital file from original); phonograph via Getty Images

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