Thomas Lambert, Man of Mystery

This photo of Thomas Lambert accompanied his Freemasons obituary

As we mentioned in an earlier post, we are preparing a compilation of the earliest known Yiddish cylinders called Attractive Hebrews. Along with our colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, we’ve been trying to find more information about Thomas Lambert, namesake of the Lambert Record Company, which made the records in the early years of the 20th century.

Everyone who knows anything about the Lambert brand knows about the Yiddish cylinders, although few have seen or heard one. We were hoping to find references to them in newspapers or magazines. No luck yet.

But what we have found sheds new light on the inventor, “Tom” Lambert. The biography we printed in our CD, The Pink Lambert, still appears correct, but now we’ve got some documents that help us understand Lambert’s later career and a good deal about his personality.

After leaving the record company he started, Lambert spent many years as an engineer with the Illinois Bell Telephone company, becoming a figure of authority and influence. We have here a paper Lambert gave in 1921 called “The Engineering of Buildings for Telephone Service,” published in the Journal of the Western Society of Engineers, Sep. 1921.

Another publication from 1921 shows a whimsical side to Lambert’s character. Called “An Autobiography: A Fiction Story,” it appeared in Bell Telephone News. *

Finally, here are two obituaries, one a capsule from Cornell Alumni News (1928),* and the other a full-page appreciation from Proceedings of the Supreme Council of Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the Thirty-third and Last Degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States of America (1928).* Notice that the place of birth differs between the two publications.

You’ll also see that nary a mention of the phonograph appears in any of these documents. Did Lambert leave the business with a bad taste in his mouth, making sure no one knew of his earlier life? Or was early phonography not thought to be serious engineering work in the age of electrical reproduction?

* Thanks to Scott A. Carter, Assistant Director, Mayrent Insitute for Yiddish Culture at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, for these documents.

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