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Novelty "music machines" that do not require a musician to play them have existed since the Middle Ages. In the 19th century music boxes, mechanical orchestras, and player pianos were popular, but these machines did not seriously affect the ability of musicians to earn their livings. With Thomas Edison's production of a voice recording on tin foil in 1877, a revolution began in the way music was heard and sold. By the early 20th century, the recording of everything from vaudeville sketches to the classical repertoire was under way. Unemployment for musicians increased during this period because of the economic effects of World War I and the growing success of commercial recordings.

1910 - The first volume of cowboy songs was published. The word "jass" or "jazz" began to appear in newspapers.

1912 - The union made a donation to the widows and orphans of the musicians on the Titanic.

1913 - The AFM and the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) signed an agreement to support each other during controversies in theaters.

1914 - Approximately eleven thousand members were employed in theater orchestras in the United States and Canada. Frank Carothers was elected AFM President and served for one year.

1915 - Joseph Weber was re-elected AFM President and served until 1940.

1916 - US Congress passed a law prohibiting members of the armed services from competing with civilians. This helped to alleviate a long-term competition between civilian and military bands.

1918 - In the US, the AFM waged a campaign to prevent passage of the 18th Amendment, also known as the "Prohibition Amendment." To support the war effort, Congress adopted a 20% "Cabaret Tax" on admissions to various entertainment establishments. Both prohibition and the cabaret tax decreased employment for musicians.

1919 - The AFM worked to change immigration rules for musicians. It was successful in arranging easier access for musicians traveling between the US and Canada, while curtailing unregulated admission to the US of foreign musicians working for poor wages. The year also brought additional unemployment for theater musicians due to a strike by Actors Equity.

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