Horace HURM (1880-1958), le kaléidoscope de sa vie

The story of Horace Hurm did not start in France, but in Germany, in Stuttgart in the state of Baden-Württemberg. His paternal grandparents, M. and Mrs. Hurm located there, and wouldn’t even have thought to leave Germany without the threat hanging over their country: Prussia was going to invade their country, and, not to put up with this, the Hurms decided to leave the country where they were born.

In 1846, they immigrated to France and moved in Stotzheim, a charming little village of Alsace. This is where Léon Hurm, Horace’s father, was born. After the move and in order to formalize their exile, the whole family quickly chose the French nationality.

Some years went by and Léon grew up, he became a man. But the conflict from which the family has fled when they left Germany caught them, as in 1870 Alsace and Lorraine were annexed to Germany. Faced with a second choice, they chose the French nationality once again.

This war had terrible consequences for the two countries; the living standards became harsh, more particularly after the siege of Metz in 1875.The Hurms were forced to go into exile, this time to Paris, where they settled as embroiderers.

Horace was born in the capital – well, excuse me! – in Montmartre on the 9th of March of the year 1880, in a little embroidery shop 46, Rue de la Rochefoucauld, near from Pigalle. Moreover, Horace would keep a great interest for his native “village”.

The little boy grew up and at the age of 5 assisted a magic show during the grand bal des enfants in the Elysée-Montmartre, he then decided to be a magician. This is when he started to develop his passion.

Two years later, at the age of 7, Horace’s family moved in an apartment located in Jean-Jacques Rousseau street. What’s amazing is that Horace Hurm would keep this apartment until his death in 1958.

At that time, Horace used to go in the garden of the Palais-Royal with his friends and liked playing with the old woman Morin’s scientific toys. The Pathé brothers, the future inventors of the famous cinema were among Horace’s friends.

Even if he was still a young boy, Horace was already fascinated by sciences and new technologies. The 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris paved his way to this world. The Eiffel Tower was really the main attraction of the Expo, and Horace actually saw it bringing up, nevertheless some new inventions, which were introduced in the “Machine Gallery”, held even more his attention. He was so mesmerized by the “Phonograph” exposed in the Edison salon that he immediately and firmly decided that he would study at the Ecole Centrale and nowhere else, although he was only 9.Nevertheless destiny decided otherwise.

On the 1st of January 1890, at the age of 10, Horace received his first camera, a bellows 13x18 camera, as a gift from his father. This new device developed a new passion that would remain throughout Horace’s entire life, and he made a living of this passion during a certain time.

In 1892, the Hurms left temporarily Paris in order to move in to Lorraine. Indeed, Horace’s mother had serious health problems and had to rest in the countryside. She chose to go back to her family and Horace moved to his maternal grandparents’ place, in Metz. Nevertheless, Horace’s mother didn’t survive and died on the 18th of May 1894.
Horace was then struck down by a Thyroid fever. Because of his fragile health, and of the fact that he grew too fast, he was compelled to stay in bed for several months and to give up his studies. This was a huge disillusion for Horace who decided that from now on, he would “only deal with what he likes”. This would be his philosophy for the rest of his life.

Since Horace didn’t manage to become an engineer, according to his father’s advice he went in for a carrier as a musician. He enrolled in the Conservatory of Nancy at the age of 15 and chose oboe as main instrument.

The same year, on the 22 of March 1895, the “cinematograph” was revealed by the Lumière brothers at the Grand Café, Rue de Rennes. This cinematographic device had been manufactured by M. Tabary, who would then become Horace’s precision engineer in charge of setting the TSF receivers, as well as one of Horace’s faithful friends.

In this new world for the cinematograph, Horace Hurm would remain closely friend with Louis Lumière, as well as with Georges Méliès, owner of the little theater Robert Houdin. He would meet him again in the world of magic.

In October 1896, the Hurms came back in Paris in the apartment in Jean-Jacques Rousseau street. Léon, Horace’s father, worked as the head of the embroidery department in the Grand Magasin of the Louvre again. Horace continued studying music. In 1989, he was introduced to the talented oboe professor Georges Gillet, who enabled him to be qualified for enrollment in the Paris Conservatory. On that occasion, he met the composer Jules Massenet.

In 1900, a new World’s Fair took place in Paris. This time, the main event is the inauguration of the first Metropolitan line, going from Porte Maillot to Porte de Vincennes. During this second exposition, Horace Hurm was particularly attracted by Asian Art, and especially by the Art coming from Japan. Those simple, small and bare creations would have a great influence on him when he would create his own radio (TSF) sets. The “concept of miniaturization” would then be one of the distinctive elements of the production of radio receivers created by Horace Hurm.

In 1901, Horace Hurm was exempted from military service (but not invalided out) because of his fragile health and his strong myopia combined with astigmatism.

During the same year, in June 1901, Horace Hurm spent his summer holiday at the house of Loiseau-Bailly, a sculptor and friend of the Hurm family.

In 1902, at the age of 22, Horace Hurm became a concert artist playing oboe and entered the Société des Grands Concerts Pister, the one of Victor Charpentier, the Comédie Française (a state theater in Paris) and stood in for oboe musicians at the Odeon orchestra.
Back when, Horace spent his evenings auditioning at Krard, Pleyel, Gaveau and at the Trocadéro. It is during one of those evenings that he personally met the famous pianist Francis Planté and the composer Vincent d’Indy.

From this time on, Horace Hurm used his acquaintances met during concerts to increase his income. He also never stopped liking magic and worked as a magician at private parties, in Music-Halls, Casinos, at the Grévin Museum and at the small theater Robert-Houdin during the summer.

As he was still having a passion for every kind of Art, Horace Hurm got interested in painting from 1904 and learned how to paint with a friend of his father, the painter Albert Bettanier who lived in Montparnasse Street (Paris).

Léon Hurm, Horace’s father, created the Etablissement HURM, Père et Fils (the Hurm Father and Son Company) because he wanted his “artist” son to have another source of income. Horace would keep this significant income and his work at the Louvres shops until 1939.

On the 9th of August 1906, Horace had a quiet wedding with Alice Prévost. In his autobiography, one should notice that Horace did not mention much information about his private life.

Horace Hurm is a regular visitor of the Concours Lépine. He entered it as an active member of the association called Les Petits Fabriquants et Inventeurs Français (French small manufacturers and inventors). In September 1909, he took part to the Concours for the first time and presented his first invention sold under the name of “Libellule Hélicoplane”. Actually, it was only a toy, a gilder.

Still having a passion for magic, Horace Hurm and his brother-in-law, Albert Prévost, bought a factory of items for magic called La Maison de Vère (The House of Vère). Together, they developed and built an airship piloted through a radio-conductor (“cohéreur”). It was the first radio (TSF) air telemecanical construction. The aim of this object was to release from a distance, balloons or confetti from a small airship located in the room of a theater, for example. But as business did not go very well, Horace Hurm and Albert Prévost had to sell the factory only two years after it was purchased.

From this time on, Horace Hurm became a real inventor. First, he created the “Kidonn”, a cards distributor. Then he distanced himself from toys and invented “Ondophone”, a miniature galena receiver that one could hold in one’s hand or in a fob of a jacket. The Ondophone won the gold medal at the Concours Lépine in 1910. This was a great success for Horace Hurm but he still could not live properly out of his inventions. He then became a sales representative for the Robert & Carrière laboratory. This excellent position enabled him to earn an additional substantial income while offering him enough free time to keep working on his other activities such as the TSF.
In 1912, he presented his toy “L’oiseau de France” (The bird of France), a paper gilder named after Albert Bettanier’s painting that was entitled “L’oiseau de France”.

On the 12th of September 1913, Horace Hurm was invited to play oboe at the CGR radio station, located 66 rue des Plantes in Paris, for the first “wireless telephony” experience. That was the first time that, instead of morse code, one could hear music through loudspeakers and earphones. However, the “radiophony” would be officially inaugurated only in November 1921.

In 1914, the declaration of war suddenly changed the way of life of the French people. Horace Hurm, who is exempted from military service, became Manager of a plant located in Bourg la Reine (near Paris) after many employees at Robert & Carrière laboratories were mobilized. The laboratories supplied military pharmacies with catguts and plasters.

That is how Horace Hurm met many military officials including Colonel Ferrié, who was in charge of military telegraphy (MT) and his co-workers Moreau, Pelletier and Perret-Maisonneuve. As the MT building was located very close to a military pharmacy, Horace Hurm never missed an occasion to pay them a visit.

In 1915, Horace Hurm had to leave temporary his activities, which gave him the opportunity to discover himself a new passion by reading the books written by Fabre, an entomologist. Beetles, moths, mygalomorphae, dragonflies would become its main subjects for study and collections.

Horace Hurm quickly made a link between his passions – he voiced that insects can communicate through their antennas just like TSF transmitters and receivers with very short waves (this could enable you to communicate on very long distance with very low intensity. Like for Japanese Art, Horace Hurm would draw his inspiration from insects to create his radio sets. After the miniaturization to an extreme degree, insects became the second distinctive of the radio sets created by Horace Hurm.

In 1916, he invented the “Polycontact”, a foolproof galena detector which had a great sensibility. Very keen on this idea, Colonel Ferrié even placed a large order on behalf of the Military Telegraphy. (patented on the 21st of March 1916 at the French Patent Office INPI).

A few months later, Horace Hurm who was exempted from military service but not invalided out, was mobilized. But thanks to his relations with Colonel Ferrié, he succeeded to enter the second armored regiment and be part of the CGR.

Horace Hurm’s health was still fragile and the very cold winter 1917-1918 was harmful to him. Because of bronchitis, flus, a general deficiency and serious visual problems, Horace Hurm went to the reform council in April 1918. He went then back to civil life.

The war over, Horace Hurm resumed his activities at the Robert & Carrière laboratories as his position remained unoccupied since his enrolment and could thus continue the fabrication of his Ondophones, now equipped with Polycontact.

In 1920, Horace Hurm leaves the Robert & Carrière laboratories to devote himself to TSF and resume his activities as a musician, prestidigitator, photographer and inventor.

In 1921 he invents the “Microdion”, miniature monolamp TSF receptor. The TSF exposition of October 1922 secures him a few orders of this model. During the following years, between 1921 and 1924, he develops and commercializes the foldable Microdions series types MP1, MP2 and MP3 (the number indicates the number of lamps). Then from 1924 to 1926 the series of foldable pocket Microposts.

From 1923 and despite a furnished catalogue, Horace Hurm complained about the unfair competition of “small manufacturers” who wouldn’t pay the patent royalties. The Hurm company was then in an insecure financial position.

Miniaturized, extremely refined, without wood works, these black skeletal “big insects” that Horace Hurm designed were too forward-looking, too avant-garde to obtain the approval of the majority of potential clients. His clientele was mainly aristocratic, like the prince of Boromée, industrials like Louis Lumière, politic figures such as the French president Gaston Doumergue, surgeons and artists such as Vincent d’Indy and Gustave Charpentier and even the cabaret singer and dancer Joséphine Baker.

During the same year, Horace Hurm was designated “expert” for the assessment of movable and immovable for the “Petit Théatre Robert Houdin” for the expropriation of his friend Georges Méliès who was the owner before going bankrupt in 1910. In 1924 he created a company to commercialize the Charmophone and associates with M. Brunet, another TSF manufacturer. The Charmophone and the Super-Voxia were high quality phonographs, as Horace Hurm; more than being an inventor was a musician. He was thus very much concerned about the sound quality of his products and will deposit several patents in this domain. In 1925, the Charmophone Company wasn’t able to face the high production and patent costs and therefore filed for bankruptcy only a year after its creation.

However, the same year, Horace Hurm was awarded the “Grand Prix” for his Microdion TSF receptor during the Decorative and Industrial Arts World’s Fair. He also developed a “sound purifier” for the “Théâtrophone”, a device allowing listening at home through telephone wires concerts and plays live.

In 1926 Horace Hurm had to take a step and went from reaction direct amplification to Superheterodyne for his TSF receptors. He then developed the Microdion-Moduladyne and the Microdion-Modulators MM4 and MM6.

Apart from Microdion-Modulators Horace Hurm commercialized a series of foldable antennas called “Busc” “Dislo” and “Svelt”. This same year a severe heel arthritis crisis obliged Hurm to remain bedridden. He went to the Lavandou in front of Port-Cros, at his friend and orientalist painter Emile Delahogue and stopped once again his Parisian activities temporarily. Taking advantage of his forced vacations Horace Hurm indulged in painting, reading and poetry and grows also a passion for the island of Port-Cros.

On the 14th of April 1931, Horace Hurm witnessed the first public demonstration of French Radiovision at the “Ecole Supérieure d’Electricité of Montrouge”. The amphitheatre was packed full for the occasion. He met, among others, René Barthélemy, M. Strelkoff his assistant as well as Joseph Brami another avant-gardist in the television domain. The last mentioned built an extraordinary 30 lines miniature television named “The Visiola” maybe the fruit of collaboration between the two men! Of this day, in the number 6 of October 1945 of the “Radiovision Française”, was published a photograph of René Barthélemy giving explanations to Horace Hurm.

In November 1931, Horace Hurm lost his father and with him one of his best supporters. During the same month he separated from his wife Alice. Their divorce was pronounced on the 29th of June 1932 something very rare at that time.

Horace Hurm’s businesses weren’t good and in 1932 he was forced to accept the proposition of the company “Point-Bleu” which wanted to use his patent in France. He joins the board of the newly created “Société française Point-Bleu”. But it is in Berlin at the Blau-Punkt company’s headquarters that the decisions are made.

In 1934, he broke his contract with the “Société française Point Bleu” and went back to his activities in Jean-Jacques Rousseau Street. He changed the corporate name of his company, which became Les Etablissements radioélectriques Hurm & Duprat (Hurm and Duprat Radio Electric Company). The same year, he purchased a new photographic device, the Cent vues (Hundred views) from Krauss.

In 1935, he presented his “Voxia” recorder to the TSF Fair, this year Horace Hurm mentioned that he owned a collection of more than two thousand phonograph records.

On the advice of the composer Gustave Charpentier, Horace Hurm entered the Société archéologique, artistique et historique du “Vieux Montmartre” (the “Old Montmartre” historic, artistic and archaeological Company). It was Paul Yaki, the president, who backed his membership and Horace Hurm was officially declared Montmartrois (the name of people living in Montmartre).

In 1936, the French Company of Photography put at Horace Hurm’s disposal its “salons” in Clichy Street for an exhibition about Montmartre. Horace Hurm indeed became passionate about his “native village” that he was forever photographing from new angles. Ms Laure Albin-Guillot, who was head of the photographic archives department in Beaux-Arts (French school of Art), even chose some of his snapshots in order to illustrate the catalogue of the 31st International Photographic Art Fair. Among the chosen pictures, there was the one of “Frédé”, Frédéric Girard owner of the Lapin Agile (the Agile Rabbit).

In 1937, he took part to his third International Fair in Paris, at the Palais de Chaillot and presented splendid “Radio Phono Recorder”. A year later, he presented to the TSF Fair the “Voxia” recorder, in the nave of the Grand Palais.

In 1939, during the first days of September, the first exodus of Parisians and the call-up of his business partner Mr. Duprat, forced Horace Hurm to stop once again his activities. He took advantage of this situation to settle in Norvins Street on the “Butte”, leaving temporarily his apartment in Jean-Jacques Rousseau Street. He took part to the monthly magazine Montmartre H.A.D (hier, aujourd’hui, demain, i.e. yesterday, today, tomorrow) as a photographer and freelance. He was also appointed Official Photographer of the Butte. In 1940, his poem “En passant sur le Pont de Caulaincourt” (Walking by the Caulaincourt Bridge) was published.

The Hurm & Duprat Company was dissolved and Horace Hurm focused on manufacturing and exploiting the “Voxia” recording device and the “Super-Voxia” needles made of bamboo. So, in 1941 during the Invention Contest Fair in Paris, he presented cases of bamboo needles and the recording device “Voxia”.

In May 1943, he published a book entitled “La passionnante histoire du Phonograph” (the fascinating story of Phonograph). Horace Hurm had many friends and acquaintances in the “Butte”, however he regretted that he didn’t came back earlier because he could then have met Roland Dorgeles, Pablo Picasso, Mac Orlan, Utrillo and many other artists who frequented the “Lapin Agile” cabaret.

In August 1945, the atomic bomb left its mark on Horace Hurm. “Human beings just won a great victory over the unfathomable forces of nature, a force of massive destruction”.

On the 3rd of March 1946, Horace Hurm finished writing an impressive manuscript “The kaleidoscope of my life”, which was never published. He remained an active member of the “Vieux Montmartre” association until his death. His impressive collection of insects was scattered at the Drouot saleroom.

Horace Hurm died on the 16th of August 1958, when he was 78 years old. He was buried at the Pantin cemetery where he is registered as an “artisan”.