Part 1: The World's Fair
Welcome to the 1889 Exposition Universelle! Step right up to hear the newest wonder of Paris, the théâtrophone.
Listeners gathered at individual listening stations placed along the walls. The sound was then listened to through two transducteurs that were held up to the listener's ears. While using these apparatuses, listeners were forced to look at the wall, breaking visual contact with their own surroundings.
For a small fee, fair-goers could use a new transmission technology known as the théâtrophone to listen to a few minutes of a live operatic performance at the Opéra-Comique or the Opéra. Thanks to a system of microphones and existing telephone wires, Parisians could eavesdrop on live performances from a distance.
Although the sound quality was reportedly poor, many users were so awed by the new technology that they claimed to be able to hear as well as they could at the opera house—or even better, without the distractions of noisy audience members around them.
The 1889 World's Fair required a great deal of construction. The French Telephone Company constructed a special site for telephone listening.
Originally situated close to the Eiffel Tower, the listening rooms were luxurious, with the walls draped with tapestries to deaden any outside noise.
The exhibit buildings were constructed quickly and many, including this one, were torn down just as quickly once the World’s Fair concluded. The one famous exception, however, is the Eiffel Tower.