Albert K. Keller, 1852-1942

Nickel-in-the-Slot Phonograph Pioneer

Albert Kreitzer Keller was born on the 5th November, 1852, in Greencastle, Franklin County in Pennsylvania. His father was John Henry Keller Jr. (1828-1895),* and his mother was Elisabeth B. Kreitzer Keller (1829-1867). Albert K. Keller was the oldest of six children. Siblings: Katie Keller (1855-1923), Mollie Keller (1859-1931), William Keller (1860-1927), Frank Keller (1864-1923), and Robert Keller (1867).* A half-brother Claude Keller (1877-1937) was born in Hagerstown, Maryland. Albert K. Keller was married in Detroit on the 18th June, 1904, to Amanda L. Stahl, daughter of Thomas Stahl (1853-1929) and Louisa (Ann) Dixon Stahl (1846-1928).


In 1885 Albert K. Keller was employed as a machinist at the Mechanical Department of The American Bell Telephone Co. in Boston, and became a protégé of the superintendent Ezra Torrence Gilliland, and they both went to New York to work for the Edison Electric Illuminating Co. (Edison Electric Light Co.) on Fifth Avenue. Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) and Ezra Torrence Gilliland (1846-1903) were very close friends and colleagues, and in 1887 Gilliland established the new Edison phonograph factory facility on the corner of Liberty Street and Broad Street in Bloomfield (Silver Lake), New Jersey. Albert K. Keller became the superintendent at the factory, and both Keller and Gilliland later stated that a working model of a phonograph with coin attachment was finished at the facilities in Bloomfield in November 1887, and a number of these phonographs were made in the autumn 1889 for public use at the James F. Gilliland Electric Co. in Adrian, Michigan. Albert K. Keller filed three patents related to the coin operated phonographs early in 1891, and his inventions became the basis of the most reliable pay-to-play phonographs on the market, but unfortunately also the basis of patent infringement cases. Some of the other phonograph pioneers involved in the patent cases were George Elliot Tewksbury (1858-1900), Frank Winship Toppan (1855-1922), John Friedrich Ott (1850-1931), and of course Thomas Alva Edison.


Albert K. Keller had at least 17 American and Canadian patents to his name, and he was in his long career connected to several American companies. Among these companies were the Gilliland Telephone Manufacturing Co. in Indianapolis, The American Bell Telephone Co. in Boston, the Edison Phonograph Factory in Bloomfield, The Automatic Phonograph Exhibition Co. in New York, the International Telephone and Switchboard Manufacturing Co. in Plainfield, the International Machine Co. and the Page Woven Wire Fence Co. in Adrian, the Sterling Electric Co. in La Fayette, and the American Cork and Seal Co. in Philadelphia. In March 1889 Albert K. Keller left the employment as superintendent at Edison’s phonograph factory in Bloomfield, New Jersey, but applied again in February 1896 to be employed as an experimenter at the Edison laboratories. In 1897 Albert K. Keller filed two patents related to telephone equipment with contractor George Fiegle Payne in Philadelphia, and his last employment in the 1920s was according to official records as a tool maker at the Daniel K. Miller Lock Co. in Philadelphia.

Albert Kreitzer Keller died on the 23rd July, 1942, in the home of his sister-in-law Sarah A. Matz Custer (1884-1973) at 6 North Main Street, Spring City in Chester County, and the grave of Albert and his wife Amanda (☼ February 10, 1879) († September 4, 1931) could be found at the Oakland Cemetery (plot M-366, an unmarked grave) in Philadelphia County. Unfortunately, the editor has not yet found a photographic portrait of the coin-op phonograph pioneer Albert K. Keller in old newspapers or trade magazines.

Gert J. Almind

* The family grave marker of Albertˈs father (☼ June 2, 1828) († June 11, 1895) can be found at the Rose Hill Cemetery, South Potomac Street in Hagerstown (MD). However, the year 1835 on the marker cannot be correct, since he was the first born son, and also more data of Albertˈs mother born Kreitzer need to be found. The markers of many Keller family members can be found at the Rose Hill Cemetery. Albert’s father, John Henry Jr., was the oldest of nine brothers and two sisters, and the markers of Albertˈs grandparents John Henry Sr. (1800-1854) and Elisabeth (1808-1879) can be found at the Beaver Creek Cemetery, Beaver Creek Road in Hagerstown (MD).

* John Henry Keller Jr. moved from Greencastle/Guilford (PA) via Boalsburg (PA), Shepherdstown (WV), and Forreston in Ogle County (IL) as a businessman to Denver (CO), and became manager for the wholesale dealer Birks Cornforth (Est. 1863) for about 25 years. He died on the 11th June, 1895, in Denver (CO), and was interred on the 20th June at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown (MD). John Henryˈs youngest son Claude Leroy was born in Hagerstown, spent his childhood in Shepherdstown, and came as a young man to reside with his brother-in-law and sister Katie in Hanover (PA). It is interesting to note, that it was stated in Katieˈs obituary (1923) that she was survived by four brothers and one sister. Albert called Andrew in Philadelphia, Mollie in New Castle (IN), William called Doug in New York City, Frank in Ohio, and Claude in Hanover. Also it is interesting to note, that Albert was called Andrew in the Keller-Stahl marriage record (1904), and that it was stated in Claudeˈs obituary (1937) that he was survived by one brother Andrew, not Albert, in Philadelphia.