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Grooves

The first audio recording was made in the 1850s when Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville used a bristle attached to a diaphragm to trace sound waves on a glass plate coated with lampblack. The result satisfied his scientific curiosity, but there was no way to play it back. Two decades later Edison realized that the shape of the wave could be embossed in a substrate using a vibrating diaphragm and stylus. Later, moving a similar needle along the groove would vibrate the diaphragm mechanically and reproduce the sound. Working from Edison's sketches in November of 1877, Edison's machinist built a phonograph in six days and it worked the first time they tried it.

Edison thought the most important use for the phonograph would be business dictation. No one anticipated the absolutely central place that prerecorded music would occupy in 20th century culture. Recording made music continuously available to a mass market. The ability to collect and own music shaped our identity. Music could reach a wider audience, spanning social boundaries. And the technology shaped music itself, imposing limits on the length of a popular song and inspiring artists to assemble albums of songs around a single concept.

Cylinder Record

I was never so taken back in my life. Everybody was astonished. I was always afraid of things that worked the first time.
—Thomas A. Edison, recalling the first test of the phonograph

Edison's original recordings on tinfoil were fragile and good for only a couple of plays. Edison soon turned his attention to the light bulb and electricity generation, but Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell and Charles Tainter at Bell's Volta Laboratories stepped in to experiment extensively with alternatives, eventually settling on brown wax. Originally intended for dictation, cylinders really took off when Louis Glass and William S. Arnold invented a coin-operated music jukebox. In the late 1880s, phonographs moved into the home and a recording industry began to emerge.

Cylinders had a successful run of several decades, but they had disadvantages that led ultimately to their replacement by discs. Cylinders were bulky and hard to store in quantity. More importantly, their geometry made them difficult to mass produce. In the early days, multiple cylinders were produced simply by having the musicians play the same music over and over. Copies could also be created using a pantograph machine, but efficient manufacturing wasn't achieved until Edison introduced a mold-based process in 1902. By then discs had gained a foothold in the market.

Cylinders did have some advantages. The same machine could be used to both play and record, and wax cylinders could be shaved smooth for reuse, both of which were useful in the dictation machines that became common in the early 20th century—in fact, wax cylinders remained in use for dictation until Dictaphone introduced the Dictabelt in the 1940s. For music, a more technical advantage was that the velocity of the needle relative to the record groove—and thus the sound quality—was constant across the entire recording, something not easy to achieve with discs. Although prized by Edison, this was not enough to slow the adoption of discs. Edison was the last to abandon cylinders in the 1920s.

Tin Foil

The medium for Edison's first phonograph. Sound quality was low and recordings were fragile.

  • Tin Foil

    1877–1887
    An original, unused strip of Edison tin foil

    Tin Foil

    1877–1887
    An original, unused strip of Edison tin foil

    Tin Foil

    1877–1887
    An original, unused strip of Edison tin foil

    Tin Foil

    1877–1887
    An original, unused strip of Edison tin foil

    Tin Foil

    1877–1887
    An original, unused strip of Edison tin foil

Brown Wax

After Edison turned away from the phonograph to focus on the light bulb and electricity generation, Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell and Charles Tainter at Bell's Volta Laboratories stepped in to experiment extensively with alternatives to tinfoil. They eventually settled on a wax-coated cardboard tube. Edison replaced wax with a metallic soap, although it was still referred to as brown wax.

  • Brown Wax

    1888–1906
    The first replacement for tin foil

    Brown Wax

    1888–1906
    The first replacement for tin foil

    Brown Wax

    1888–1906
    The first replacement for tin foil

    Brown Wax

    1888–1906
    The first replacement for tin foil

    Brown Wax

    1888–1906
    The first replacement for tin foil
  • Edison Concert

    1898–1911
    5" (13 cm) diameter allowed higher volume

    Edison Concert

    1898–1911
    5" (13 cm) diameter allowed higher volume

    Edison Concert

    1898–1911
    5" (13 cm) diameter allowed higher volume

    Edison Concert

    1898–1911
    5" (13 cm) diameter allowed higher volume

    Edison Concert

    1898–1911
    5" (13 cm) diameter allowed higher volume
  • Phénix

    1903–1904
    Slightly smaller diameter than Pathé Salon (below) so it could only be played on the manufacturer's phonograph

    Phénix

    1903–1904
    Slightly smaller diameter than Pathé Salon (below) so it could only be played on the manufacturer's phonograph

    Phénix

    1903–1904
    Slightly smaller diameter than Pathé Salon (below) so it could only be played on the manufacturer's phonograph

    Phénix

    1903–1904
    Slightly smaller diameter than Pathé Salon (below) so it could only be played on the manufacturer's phonograph

    Phénix

    1903–1904
    Slightly smaller diameter than Pathé Salon (below) so it could only be played on the manufacturer's phonograph

Black Wax

Brown wax cylinders were either inscribed directly one by one or copied mechanically with a pantograph device. This demanded a relatively soft material and creating large numbers of copies was inefficient. Edison eventually developed a process to cast records in a mold, which allowed the use of a harder, longer lasting material that was given a black color and the name "black wax."

  • Gold Moulded

    1901–1912
    Black wax cylinder mass produced from metal mold

    Gold Moulded

    1901–1912
    Black wax cylinder mass produced from metal mold

    Gold Moulded

    1901–1912
    Black wax cylinder mass produced from metal mold

    Gold Moulded

    1901–1912
    Black wax cylinder mass produced from metal mold

    Gold Moulded

    1901–1912
    Black wax cylinder mass produced from metal mold
  • Pathè Salon

    1902–1910
    3½ (9 cm) diameter allowed higher volume

    Pathè Salon

    1902–1910
    3½ (9 cm) diameter allowed higher volume

    Pathè Salon

    1902–1910
    3½ (9 cm) diameter allowed higher volume

    Pathè Salon

    1902–1910
    3½ (9 cm) diameter allowed higher volume

    Pathè Salon

    1902–1910
    3½ (9 cm) diameter allowed higher volume
  • Columbia Twentieth Century

    1905
    Longer length Increased duration from 2 to 3 min.

    Columbia Twentieth Century

    1905
    Longer length Increased duration from 2 to 3 min.

    Columbia Twentieth Century

    1905
    Longer length Increased duration from 2 to 3 min.

    Columbia Twentieth Century

    1905
    Longer length Increased duration from 2 to 3 min.

    Columbia Twentieth Century

    1905
    Longer length Increased duration from 2 to 3 min.
  • Four Minute Amberol

    1908–1912
    Tighter grooves increased duration from 2 to 4 min.

    Four Minute Amberol

    1908–1912
    Tighter grooves increased duration from 2 to 4 min.

    Four Minute Amberol

    1908–1912
    Tighter grooves increased duration from 2 to 4 min.

    Four Minute Amberol

    1908–1912
    Tighter grooves increased duration from 2 to 4 min.

    Four Minute Amberol

    1908–1912
    Tighter grooves increased duration from 2 to 4 min.
  • Dictaphone

    Early 1900s–1947
    Made of softer wax so it could be easily shaved and reused

    Dictaphone

    Early 1900s–1947
    Made of softer wax so it could be easily shaved and reused

    Dictaphone

    Early 1900s–1947
    Made of softer wax so it could be easily shaved and reused

    Dictaphone

    Early 1900s–1947
    Made of softer wax so it could be easily shaved and reused

    Dictaphone

    Early 1900s–1947
    Made of softer wax so it could be easily shaved and reused
  • Ediphone Voicewriter

    1904–1950s
    Edison dictation cylinder

    Ediphone Voicewriter

    1904–1950s
    Edison dictation cylinder

    Ediphone Voicewriter

    1904–1950s
    Edison dictation cylinder

    Ediphone Voicewriter

    1904–1950s
    Edison dictation cylinder

    Ediphone Voicewriter

    1904–1950s
    Edison dictation cylinder
  • Ewico

    c. 1920s–&1940s
    Dictation cylinder

    Ewico

    c. 1920s–&1940s
    Dictation cylinder

    Ewico

    c. 1920s–&1940s
    Dictation cylinder

    Ewico

    c. 1920s–&1940s
    Dictation cylinder

    Ewico

    c. 1920s–&1940s
    Dictation cylinder

Celluloid

The quest for durability led eventually to celluloid. Celluloid also allowed finer grooves and thus longer recordings. Manufacturers like Lioret and Lambert adopted celluloid early on, but patents forced Edison to wait until 1912. At this point, the transition to disc records was well underway and other manufacturers were no longer making cylinder records.

  • Lioret No. 2

    1893–c. 1900
    Lioret cylinders were the first to be made of celluloid

    Lioret No. 2

    1893–c. 1900
    Lioret cylinders were the first to be made of celluloid

    Lioret No. 2

    1893–c. 1900
    Lioret cylinders were the first to be made of celluloid

    Lioret No. 2

    1893–c. 1900
    Lioret cylinders were the first to be made of celluloid

    Lioret No. 2

    1893–c. 1900
    Lioret cylinders were the first to be made of celluloid
  • Lioret Eureka No. 4

    c. 1898–early 1900s
    Celluloid on brass core

    Lioret Eureka No. 4

    c. 1898–early 1900s
    Celluloid on brass core

    Lioret Eureka No. 4

    c. 1898–early 1900s
    Celluloid on brass core

    Lioret Eureka No. 4

    c. 1898–early 1900s
    Celluloid on brass core

    Lioret Eureka No. 4

    c. 1898–early 1900s
    Celluloid on brass core
  • Pink Lambert

    1900–1906
    First standard cylinder made of celluloid

    Pink Lambert

    1900–1906
    First standard cylinder made of celluloid

    Pink Lambert

    1900–1906
    First standard cylinder made of celluloid

    Pink Lambert

    1900–1906
    First standard cylinder made of celluloid

    Pink Lambert

    1900–1906
    First standard cylinder made of celluloid
  • International Indestructable

    1902–c. 1907
    Reinforced by internal metal ring

    International Indestructable

    1902–c. 1907
    Reinforced by internal metal ring

    International Indestructable

    1902–c. 1907
    Reinforced by internal metal ring

    International Indestructable

    1902–c. 1907
    Reinforced by internal metal ring

    International Indestructable

    1902–c. 1907
    Reinforced by internal metal ring
  • Edison Blue Amberol

    1912–1929
    4 min.

    Edison Blue Amberol

    1912–1929
    4 min.

    Edison Blue Amberol

    1912–1929
    4 min.

    Edison Blue Amberol

    1912–1929
    4 min.

    Edison Blue Amberol

    1912–1929
    4 min.
  • Mae Starr Talking Doll

    1922–1944

    Mae Starr Talking Doll

    1922–1944

    Mae Starr Talking Doll

    1922–1944

    Mae Starr Talking Doll

    1922–1944

    Mae Starr Talking Doll

    1922–1944

Disc Record

Listening to music is an experience, and a full experience includes putting on the record, moving over the needle and sitting back and rocking out.
—Laura of Main Street Records, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, on NPR Talk of the Nation, 2012

Emile Berliner invented the disc record in 1888, calling the player a gramophone. Discs had several advantages over cylinders. They could be stamped out by machine in quantity and were thus less expensive. The gramophone was a simpler machine than the phonograph. The records were easier to store. Although the sound quality was initially not as good, it improved over time. Discs replaced cylinders completely by the late 1920's. Durability, duration and quality improved over the decades, but the vinyl discs produced today aren't fundamentally different from those first Berliner discs.

As with many of the media in this collection, the early years of disc production were marked by pirating, format wars and patent litigation.

Recording Process

The first records were acoustically recorded by directing sound into a horn attached to a diaphragm which vibrated the needle cutting the groove. This purely mechanical process placed severe limitations on performance, constraining the instruments, number of performers and even the type of singing voice that could be recorded. By the 1920s, radio, with its microphones, amplifiers, and loudspeakers, began raising the public's expectations for audio quality. The first commercially released records made using so-called "Electrical Recording" were made by Orlando Marsh in 1922. Electrical recording captured sound using a microphone and amplifier to drive an electromagnetic cutting head. (Electric gramophones using similar components were introduced in 1925.) Along with the increase in quality, electrical recording vastly expanded the scope of recorded music.

The process of manufacturing records also evolved, starting with Emile Berliner's invention of the gramophone record. For much of the 20th century, the performance was cut directly onto a wax or lacquer master disc. Metal copies were created from the master recording and used to stamp an unlimited number of discs by machine. The ability to sell records in mass quantities helped establish the recording industry.

The invention of magnetic tape recording led to the use of tape masters, which introduced the possibility of editing and multi-track recording. Post-production ultimately became as much of an art as the original performance, resulting in classics like Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

  • Acoustic Recording

    1891–c. 1925
    Sound captured by metal horn to vibrate diaphragm and needle and inscribe master disc

    Acoustic Recording

    1891–c. 1925
    Sound captured by metal horn to vibrate diaphragm and needle and inscribe master disc

    Acoustic Recording

    1891–c. 1925
    Sound captured by metal horn to vibrate diaphragm and needle and inscribe master disc

    Acoustic Recording

    1891–c. 1925
    Sound captured by metal horn to vibrate diaphragm and needle and inscribe master disc

    Acoustic Recording

    1891–c. 1925
    Sound captured by metal horn to vibrate diaphragm and needle and inscribe master disc
  • Wax Master

    1902–1940's
    Performance recorded to wax-coated disc then stamped onto shellac disc

    Wax Master

    1902–1940's
    Performance recorded to wax-coated disc then stamped onto shellac disc

    Wax Master

    1902–1940's
    Performance recorded to wax-coated disc then stamped onto shellac disc

    Wax Master

    1902–1940's
    Performance recorded to wax-coated disc then stamped onto shellac disc

    Wax Master

    1902–1940's
    Performance recorded to wax-coated disc then stamped onto shellac disc
  • Cylinder Master

    1912–1929
    Performance recorded on wax cylinder, then pantographed onto disc master

    Cylinder Master

    1912–1929
    Performance recorded on wax cylinder, then pantographed onto disc master

    Cylinder Master

    1912–1929
    Performance recorded on wax cylinder, then pantographed onto disc master

    Cylinder Master

    1912–1929
    Performance recorded on wax cylinder, then pantographed onto disc master

    Cylinder Master

    1912–1929
    Performance recorded on wax cylinder, then pantographed onto disc master
  • Electrical Recording

    1922–present
    Sound captured by microphone to drive electromagnetic cutting head

    Electrical Recording

    1922–present
    Sound captured by microphone to drive electromagnetic cutting head

    Electrical Recording

    1922–present
    Sound captured by microphone to drive electromagnetic cutting head

    Electrical Recording

    1922–present
    Sound captured by microphone to drive electromagnetic cutting head

    Electrical Recording

    1922–present
    Sound captured by microphone to drive electromagnetic cutting head
  • Optical Sound Master

    Tri-Ergon
    1928–1932
    Performance captured on film as optical sound

    Optical Sound Master

    Tri-Ergon
    1928–1932
    Performance captured on film as optical sound

    Optical Sound Master

    Tri-Ergon
    1928–1932
    Performance captured on film as optical sound

    Optical Sound Master

    Tri-Ergon
    1928–1932
    Performance captured on film as optical sound

    Optical Sound Master

    Tri-Ergon
    1928–1932
    Performance captured on film as optical sound
  • Magnetic Tape Master

    1947–present
    Performance recorded on magnetic tape, then copied to lacquer-coated disc

    Magnetic Tape Master

    1947–present
    Performance recorded on magnetic tape, then copied to lacquer-coated disc

    Magnetic Tape Master

    1947–present
    Performance recorded on magnetic tape, then copied to lacquer-coated disc

    Magnetic Tape Master

    1947–present
    Performance recorded on magnetic tape, then copied to lacquer-coated disc

    Magnetic Tape Master

    1947–present
    Performance recorded on magnetic tape, then copied to lacquer-coated disc
  • Magnetic Film Master

    1959–1970
    Performance recorded on 35mm movie film fully coated with magnetic oxide

    Magnetic Film Master

    1959–1970
    Performance recorded on 35mm movie film fully coated with magnetic oxide

    Magnetic Film Master

    1959–1970
    Performance recorded on 35mm movie film fully coated with magnetic oxide

    Magnetic Film Master

    1959–1970
    Performance recorded on 35mm movie film fully coated with magnetic oxide

    Magnetic Film Master

    1959–1970
    Performance recorded on 35mm movie film fully coated with magnetic oxide
  • Direct Metal Mastering (DMM)

    Late 1970s–present
    Performance copied from master tape directly onto a copper disc

    Direct Metal Mastering (DMM)

    Late 1970s–present
    Performance copied from master tape directly onto a copper disc

    Direct Metal Mastering (DMM)

    Late 1970s–present
    Performance copied from master tape directly onto a copper disc

    Direct Metal Mastering (DMM)

    Late 1970s–present
    Performance copied from master tape directly onto a copper disc

    Direct Metal Mastering (DMM)

    Late 1970s–present
    Performance copied from master tape directly onto a copper disc

Record Diameter

The diameter of a record has several implications. Obviously, a larger record can hold more music. But it can also hold the same amount of music recorded at a higher speed, which improves sound quality. Or the extra space can be used to increase the spacing between grooves, which allows a greater dynamic range. A smaller diameter means the record is lighter, less expensive and can potentially be played on a cheaper record player. Small records are easier for children to handle. Very small records have been used in talking dolls and other toys.

  • 20 in. (50 cm)

    1909–c. 1913
    Pathé Concert

    20 in. (50 cm)

    1909–c. 1913
    Pathé Concert

    20 in. (50 cm)

    1909–c. 1913
    Pathé Concert

    20 in. (50 cm)

    1909–c. 1913
    Pathé Concert

    20 in. (50 cm)

    1909–c. 1913
    Pathé Concert
  • 16 in. (40 cm)

    1930–1960
    Transcription Disc

    16 in. (40 cm)

    1930–1960
    Transcription Disc

    16 in. (40 cm)

    1930–1960
    Transcription Disc

    16 in. (40 cm)

    1930–1960
    Transcription Disc

    16 in. (40 cm)

    1930–1960
    Transcription Disc
  • 14 in. (35 cm)

    1912–1929
    Pathé Disc

    14 in. (35 cm)

    1912–1929
    Pathé Disc

    14 in. (35 cm)

    1912–1929
    Pathé Disc

    14 in. (35 cm)

    1912–1929
    Pathé Disc

    14 in. (35 cm)

    1912–1929
    Pathé Disc
  • 12 in. (30 cm)

    1903–present
    Columbia LP

    12 in. (30 cm)

    1903–present
    Columbia LP

    12 in. (30 cm)

    1903–present
    Columbia LP

    12 in. (30 cm)

    1903–present
    Columbia LP

    12 in. (30 cm)

    1903–present
    Columbia LP
  • 10 in. (25 cm)

    1901–present
    Edison Diamond Disc

    10 in. (25 cm)

    1901–present
    Edison Diamond Disc

    10 in. (25 cm)

    1901–present
    Edison Diamond Disc

    10 in. (25 cm)

    1901–present
    Edison Diamond Disc

    10 in. (25 cm)

    1901–present
    Edison Diamond Disc
  • 9 in. (23 cm)

    1959–early 1980s
    Seeburg Background Music System

    9 in. (23 cm)

    1959–early 1980s
    Seeburg Background Music System

    9 in. (23 cm)

    1959–early 1980s
    Seeburg Background Music System

    9 in. (23 cm)

    1959–early 1980s
    Seeburg Background Music System

    9 in. (23 cm)

    1959–early 1980s
    Seeburg Background Music System
  • 8 in. (20 cm)

    1916–1918
    Operaphone

    8 in. (20 cm)

    1916–1918
    Operaphone

    8 in. (20 cm)

    1916–1918
    Operaphone

    8 in. (20 cm)

    1916–1918
    Operaphone

    8 in. (20 cm)

    1916–1918
    Operaphone
  • 7 in. (18 cm)

    1894–present
    Berliner

    7 in. (18 cm)

    1894–present
    Berliner

    7 in. (18 cm)

    1894–present
    Berliner

    7 in. (18 cm)

    1894–present
    Berliner

    7 in. (18 cm)

    1894–present
    Berliner
  • 6 in. (15 cm)

    1920–1930s
    Kodisk

    6 in. (15 cm)

    1920–1930s
    Kodisk

    6 in. (15 cm)

    1920–1930s
    Kodisk

    6 in. (15 cm)

    1920–1930s
    Kodisk

    6 in. (15 cm)

    1920–1930s
    Kodisk
  • 5½ in. (14 cm)

    1914–1922
    Little Wonder

    5½ in. (14 cm)

    1914–1922
    Little Wonder

    5½ in. (14 cm)

    1914–1922
    Little Wonder

    5½ in. (14 cm)

    1914–1922
    Little Wonder

    5½ in. (14 cm)

    1914–1922
    Little Wonder
  • 5 in. (13 cm)

    1889–1892
    5 in. Berliner

    5 in. (13 cm)

    1889–1892
    5 in. Berliner

    5 in. (13 cm)

    1889–1892
    5 in. Berliner

    5 in. (13 cm)

    1889–1892
    5 in. Berliner

    5 in. (13 cm)

    1889–1892
    5 in. Berliner
  • 4 in. (10 cm)

    1930–1969
    Durium Junior

    4 in. (10 cm)

    1930–1969
    Durium Junior

    4 in. (10 cm)

    1930–1969
    Durium Junior

    4 in. (10 cm)

    1930–1969
    Durium Junior

    4 in. (10 cm)

    1930–1969
    Durium Junior
  • 3 in. (7.6 cm)

    2004 - 2006
    Triple Inchophone

    3 in. (7.6 cm)

    2004 - 2006
    Triple Inchophone

    3 in. (7.6 cm)

    2004 - 2006
    Triple Inchophone

    3 in. (7.6 cm)

    2004 - 2006
    Triple Inchophone

    3 in. (7.6 cm)

    2004 - 2006
    Triple Inchophone
  • 2 in. (5 cm)

    2014
    Pea Brain

    2 in. (5 cm)

    2014
    Pea Brain

    2 in. (5 cm)

    2014
    Pea Brain

    2 in. (5 cm)

    2014
    Pea Brain

    2 in. (5 cm)

    2014
    Pea Brain
  • 1⅓ in. (34 mm)

    1924
    Queen Mary's Dollhouse

    1⅓ in. (34 mm)

    1924
    Queen Mary's Dollhouse

    1⅓ in. (34 mm)

    1924
    Queen Mary's Dollhouse

    1⅓ in. (34 mm)

    1924
    Queen Mary's Dollhouse

    1⅓ in. (34 mm)

    1924
    Queen Mary's Dollhouse

Recording Speed

The speed at which early records turned wasn't standardized at 78 rpm until the late 1920's. Before then, records might be recorded at anything from 60 to 130 rpm. Wind-up 78 rpm gramophones typically had a speed control that that allowed playing records recorded at 80 rpm. Even when speeds were standardized, there were a number of places in the recording and manufacturing process where differences could creep in, which makes playing early 78s with complete accuracy something of an art. Higher speeds provided better quality, but naturally used more space—hence the 20 inch, 120 rpm Pathe behemoth. Quality was less of an issue for spoken word—audio books were commonly recorded at 16 2⁄3 or even 8 1⁄3 rpm.

  • 8⅓ rpm

    1960s - present
    Sound Sheet

    8⅓ rpm

    1960s - present
    Sound Sheet

    8⅓ rpm

    1960s - present
    Sound Sheet

    8⅓ rpm

    1960s - present
    Sound Sheet

    8⅓ rpm

    1960s - present
    Sound Sheet
  • 16⅓ rpm

    1950s
    Audio Books

    16⅓ rpm

    1950s
    Audio Books

    16⅓ rpm

    1950s
    Audio Books

    16⅓ rpm

    1950s
    Audio Books

    16⅓ rpm

    1950s
    Audio Books
  • 24 rpm

    1935–early 1940s
    Sound Recording Committee

    24 rpm

    1935–early 1940s
    Sound Recording Committee

    24 rpm

    1935–early 1940s
    Sound Recording Committee

    24 rpm

    1935–early 1940s
    Sound Recording Committee

    24 rpm

    1935–early 1940s
    Sound Recording Committee
  • 33⅓ rpm

    1948–present
    Columbia LP

    33⅓ rpm

    1948–present
    Columbia LP

    33⅓ rpm

    1948–present
    Columbia LP

    33⅓ rpm

    1948–present
    Columbia LP

    33⅓ rpm

    1948–present
    Columbia LP
  • 45 rpm

    1949–present
    Single

    45 rpm

    1949–present
    Single

    45 rpm

    1949–present
    Single

    45 rpm

    1949–present
    Single

    45 rpm

    1949–present
    Single
  • 70 rpm

    1894–present
    7 in. Berliner

    70 rpm

    1894–present
    7 in. Berliner

    70 rpm

    1894–present
    7 in. Berliner

    70 rpm

    1894–present
    7 in. Berliner

    70 rpm

    1894–present
    7 in. Berliner
  • 78 rpm

    c. 1898–1960's
    Shellac 78

    78 rpm

    c. 1898–1960's
    Shellac 78

    78 rpm

    c. 1898–1960's
    Shellac 78

    78 rpm

    c. 1898–1960's
    Shellac 78

    78 rpm

    c. 1898–1960's
    Shellac 78
  • 80 rpm

    1912–1929
    Pathé Disc

    80 rpm

    1912–1929
    Pathé Disc

    80 rpm

    1912–1929
    Pathé Disc

    80 rpm

    1912–1929
    Pathé Disc

    80 rpm

    1912–1929
    Pathé Disc
  • Constant Linear Velocity

    1922–1924
    Variable rotation speed kept sound quality constant across disc

    Constant Linear Velocity

    1922–1924
    Variable rotation speed kept sound quality constant across disc

    Constant Linear Velocity

    1922–1924
    Variable rotation speed kept sound quality constant across disc

    Constant Linear Velocity

    1922–1924
    Variable rotation speed kept sound quality constant across disc

    Constant Linear Velocity

    1922–1924
    Variable rotation speed kept sound quality constant across disc
  • 60 rpm

    c. 1910–c. 1913
    Pathé Théatre

    60 rpm

    c. 1910–c. 1913
    Pathé Théatre

    60 rpm

    c. 1910–c. 1913
    Pathé Théatre

    60 rpm

    c. 1910–c. 1913
    Pathé Théatre

    60 rpm

    c. 1910–c. 1913
    Pathé Théatre
  • 120 rpm

    1910 – c. 1913
    Pathé Concert

    120 rpm

    1910 – c. 1913
    Pathé Concert

    120 rpm

    1910 – c. 1913
    Pathé Concert

    120 rpm

    1910 – c. 1913
    Pathé Concert

    120 rpm

    1910 – c. 1913
    Pathé Concert

Grooves

The essence of a phonograph or gramophone record is the groove, which in its contour stores an analog of the recorded sound wave. In a cylinder record, the shape of that wave is represented by a vertical displacement: a variation in the depth of the groove (sometimes referred to as "hill and dale.") Since a vertically cut groove could get quite shallow in places, it was unreliable at guiding the needle across the record during playback and a mechanical feed screw was necessary. When Berliner developed the disc record, he took inspiration from the waves drawn in lampblack by Leon Scott's phonautograph and adopted a lateral or side-to-side displacement. Since the depth was constant, the playback needle could track the groove without the need of an extra mechanism. A deeper groove also allowed the use of a steel needle instead of a jewel stylus. Both lowered the cost of the machine.

Turntables spin with a constant angular velocity, with the result that the linear velocity of the needle relative to the groove is highest at the outer rim, becoming lower towards the center. As a result, recording quality decreases towards the center of the record. Pathé's early records were center start, meaning the needle was placed close to the label to start and traveled to the outer edge. Pathé may have reasoned that the end of a piece tends to be louder and higher pitched, and would be reproduced best on the outside of the record.

Grooves have varied in a number of ways over time, including number: from one to 100 or more; modulation: vertical or lateral; playing direction: inside to outside, outside to inside and locked; density: 70 to 200 or more grooves per inch. Some of these variations were meant to get around patents; others addressed recording quality and duration.

  • Lateral Cut

    Shellac 78
    1894–present
    Waveform represented by displacement parallel to the surface of the disc

    Lateral Cut

    Shellac 78
    1894–present
    Waveform represented by displacement parallel to the surface of the disc

    Lateral Cut

    Shellac 78
    1894–present
    Waveform represented by displacement parallel to the surface of the disc

    Lateral Cut

    Shellac 78
    1894–present
    Waveform represented by displacement parallel to the surface of the disc

    Lateral Cut

    Shellac 78
    1894–present
    Waveform represented by displacement parallel to the surface of the disc
  • Vertical Cut ("Hill and Dale")

    Pathé 14"
    1899–1920
    Changes to the vertical height of the groove represent the waveform

    Vertical Cut ("Hill and Dale")

    Pathé 14"
    1899–1920
    Changes to the vertical height of the groove represent the waveform

    Vertical Cut ("Hill and Dale")

    Pathé 14"
    1899–1920
    Changes to the vertical height of the groove represent the waveform

    Vertical Cut ("Hill and Dale")

    Pathé 14"
    1899–1920
    Changes to the vertical height of the groove represent the waveform

    Vertical Cut ("Hill and Dale")

    Pathé 14"
    1899–1920
    Changes to the vertical height of the groove represent the waveform
  • Vertical-Lateral Cut

    Operaphone "Universal" Cut
    1919–1921
    Playable on gramophones designed for both vertical and lateral cut grooves

    Vertical-Lateral Cut

    Operaphone "Universal" Cut
    1919–1921
    Playable on gramophones designed for both vertical and lateral cut grooves

    Vertical-Lateral Cut

    Operaphone "Universal" Cut
    1919–1921
    Playable on gramophones designed for both vertical and lateral cut grooves

    Vertical-Lateral Cut

    Operaphone "Universal" Cut
    1919–1921
    Playable on gramophones designed for both vertical and lateral cut grooves

    Vertical-Lateral Cut

    Operaphone "Universal" Cut
    1919–1921
    Playable on gramophones designed for both vertical and lateral cut grooves
  • Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Edison Diamond Disc
    1912–1929
    Vertically-cut grooves could be packed closer together

    Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Edison Diamond Disc
    1912–1929
    Vertically-cut grooves could be packed closer together

    Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Edison Diamond Disc
    1912–1929
    Vertically-cut grooves could be packed closer together

    Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Edison Diamond Disc
    1912–1929
    Vertically-cut grooves could be packed closer together

    Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Edison Diamond Disc
    1912–1929
    Vertically-cut grooves could be packed closer together
  • Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Broadcast Twelve
    1928–1934
    10" record with capacity of a 12" record due to narrow-cut grooves and smaller lable

    Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Broadcast Twelve
    1928–1934
    10" record with capacity of a 12" record due to narrow-cut grooves and smaller lable

    Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Broadcast Twelve
    1928–1934
    10" record with capacity of a 12" record due to narrow-cut grooves and smaller lable

    Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Broadcast Twelve
    1928–1934
    10" record with capacity of a 12" record due to narrow-cut grooves and smaller lable

    Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Broadcast Twelve
    1928–1934
    10" record with capacity of a 12" record due to narrow-cut grooves and smaller lable
  • Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Audiophile
    1947–1976
    Narrow grooves allowed the use of 78 rpm to provide higher fidelity

    Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Audiophile
    1947–1976
    Narrow grooves allowed the use of 78 rpm to provide higher fidelity

    Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Audiophile
    1947–1976
    Narrow grooves allowed the use of 78 rpm to provide higher fidelity

    Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Audiophile
    1947–1976
    Narrow grooves allowed the use of 78 rpm to provide higher fidelity

    Narrow-Cut Grooves

    Audiophile
    1947–1976
    Narrow grooves allowed the use of 78 rpm to provide higher fidelity
  • Microgroove

    Columbia 33⅓ LP
    1948–present
    The first successful long-playing record

    Microgroove

    Columbia 33⅓ LP
    1948–present
    The first successful long-playing record

    Microgroove

    Columbia 33⅓ LP
    1948–present
    The first successful long-playing record

    Microgroove

    Columbia 33⅓ LP
    1948–present
    The first successful long-playing record

    Microgroove

    Columbia 33⅓ LP
    1948–present
    The first successful long-playing record
  • Puzzle Record

    Berliner Puzzle Plate
    1898–present
    Three parallel grooves spiraling into the center

    Puzzle Record

    Berliner Puzzle Plate
    1898–present
    Three parallel grooves spiraling into the center

    Puzzle Record

    Berliner Puzzle Plate
    1898–present
    Three parallel grooves spiraling into the center

    Puzzle Record

    Berliner Puzzle Plate
    1898–present
    Three parallel grooves spiraling into the center

    Puzzle Record

    Berliner Puzzle Plate
    1898–present
    Three parallel grooves spiraling into the center
  • Interleaved Grooves

    Harmony Double Track
    1931
    2 songs per side on interleaved grooves

    Interleaved Grooves

    Harmony Double Track
    1931
    2 songs per side on interleaved grooves

    Interleaved Grooves

    Harmony Double Track
    1931
    2 songs per side on interleaved grooves

    Interleaved Grooves

    Harmony Double Track
    1931
    2 songs per side on interleaved grooves

    Interleaved Grooves

    Harmony Double Track
    1931
    2 songs per side on interleaved grooves
  • Locked Grooves

    c. 1993–present
    Circular "locked" grooves

    Locked Grooves

    c. 1993–present
    Circular "locked" grooves

    Locked Grooves

    c. 1993–present
    Circular "locked" grooves

    Locked Grooves

    c. 1993–present
    Circular "locked" grooves

    Locked Grooves

    c. 1993–present
    Circular "locked" grooves
  • Talking ABC Monday Night Football

    1977
    Six different grooves give results for different defensive plays

    Talking ABC Monday Night Football

    1977
    Six different grooves give results for different defensive plays

    Talking ABC Monday Night Football

    1977
    Six different grooves give results for different defensive plays

    Talking ABC Monday Night Football

    1977
    Six different grooves give results for different defensive plays

    Talking ABC Monday Night Football

    1977
    Six different grooves give results for different defensive plays

Material

The material used to make a record has to satisfy a number of competing conditions. It has to be hard enough to take an impression of the grooves representing the sound wave, whether through stamping, molding or cutting. It needs to be durable enough to be played repeatedly with minimum loss of fidelity. It should be robust enough to survive handling and a certain amount of inevitable mishandling. It should also be inexpensive, since commercial records are typically mass produced. Berliner's first records were hard rubber, though the industry soon settled on shellac. But shellac, though hard enough to hold the groove, was brittle and abrasive. Vinyl, which replaced shellac with the introduction of the long playing record, was less fragile and, most importantly, could hold a much finer groove, which meant grooves could be closer together and the record could hold more music.

Records for self-recording were a different animal and were made out of everything from zinc or aluminum to lacquer-coated cardboard, steel or even glass.

  • Gutta Percha

    1889–1892
    5 in. Berliner

    Gutta Percha

    1889–1892
    5 in. Berliner

    Gutta Percha

    1889–1892
    5 in. Berliner

    Gutta Percha

    1889–1892
    5 in. Berliner

    Gutta Percha

    1889–1892
    5 in. Berliner
  • Shellac (Mixed With Mineral Filler)

    1894–present
    7 in. Berliner

    Shellac (Mixed With Mineral Filler)

    1894–present
    7 in. Berliner

    Shellac (Mixed With Mineral Filler)

    1894–present
    7 in. Berliner

    Shellac (Mixed With Mineral Filler)

    1894–present
    7 in. Berliner

    Shellac (Mixed With Mineral Filler)

    1894–present
    7 in. Berliner
  • Black Wax on Fiber-Cement Core

    1905–1906
    Disque Pathé

    Black Wax on Fiber-Cement Core

    1905–1906
    Disque Pathé

    Black Wax on Fiber-Cement Core

    1905–1906
    Disque Pathé

    Black Wax on Fiber-Cement Core

    1905–1906
    Disque Pathé

    Black Wax on Fiber-Cement Core

    1905–1906
    Disque Pathé
  • Shellac

    1895–c. 1965
    Victor

    Shellac

    1895–c. 1965
    Victor

    Shellac

    1895–c. 1965
    Victor

    Shellac

    1895–c. 1965
    Victor

    Shellac

    1895–c. 1965
    Victor
  • Celluloid on Pasteboard

    1904–1908
    Neophone

    Celluloid on Pasteboard

    1904–1908
    Neophone

    Celluloid on Pasteboard

    1904–1908
    Neophone

    Celluloid on Pasteboard

    1904–1908
    Neophone

    Celluloid on Pasteboard

    1904–1908
    Neophone
  • Condensite Varnish on Wood-Flour Core

    1912–1929
    Edison Diamond Disc

    Condensite Varnish on Wood-Flour Core

    1912–1929
    Edison Diamond Disc

    Condensite Varnish on Wood-Flour Core

    1912–1929
    Edison Diamond Disc

    Condensite Varnish on Wood-Flour Core

    1912–1929
    Edison Diamond Disc

    Condensite Varnish on Wood-Flour Core

    1912–1929
    Edison Diamond Disc
  • Zinc

    1920–c. 1925
    Echo Disc

    Zinc

    1920–c. 1925
    Echo Disc

    Zinc

    1920–c. 1925
    Echo Disc

    Zinc

    1920–c. 1925
    Echo Disc

    Zinc

    1920–c. 1925
    Echo Disc
  • Aluminum

    late 1920s–mid-1930s
    Radio Transcription Disc

    Aluminum

    late 1920s–mid-1930s
    Radio Transcription Disc

    Aluminum

    late 1920s–mid-1930s
    Radio Transcription Disc

    Aluminum

    late 1920s–mid-1930s
    Radio Transcription Disc

    Aluminum

    late 1920s–mid-1930s
    Radio Transcription Disc
  • Rhodoid (Cellulose Acetate)

    1929–1931
    Goodson Record

    Rhodoid (Cellulose Acetate)

    1929–1931
    Goodson Record

    Rhodoid (Cellulose Acetate)

    1929–1931
    Goodson Record

    Rhodoid (Cellulose Acetate)

    1929–1931
    Goodson Record

    Rhodoid (Cellulose Acetate)

    1929–1931
    Goodson Record
  • "Durium" (Synthetic Resin on Cardboard)

    1930–1932
    Durium

    "Durium" (Synthetic Resin on Cardboard)

    1930–1932
    Durium

    "Durium" (Synthetic Resin on Cardboard)

    1930–1932
    Durium

    "Durium" (Synthetic Resin on Cardboard)

    1930–1932
    Durium

    "Durium" (Synthetic Resin on Cardboard)

    1930–1932
    Durium
  • Victrolac (Soft Vinyl)

    1930–late 1930s
    RCA Victor Home Recording

    Victrolac (Soft Vinyl)

    1930–late 1930s
    RCA Victor Home Recording

    Victrolac (Soft Vinyl)

    1930–late 1930s
    RCA Victor Home Recording

    Victrolac (Soft Vinyl)

    1930–late 1930s
    RCA Victor Home Recording

    Victrolac (Soft Vinyl)

    1930–late 1930s
    RCA Victor Home Recording
  • Vinyl

    1930–present
    Columbia

    Vinyl

    1930–present
    Columbia

    Vinyl

    1930–present
    Columbia

    Vinyl

    1930–present
    Columbia

    Vinyl

    1930–present
    Columbia
  • Lacquer on Aluminum Core

    1930s–1970s
    Emidisc

    Lacquer on Aluminum Core

    1930s–1970s
    Emidisc

    Lacquer on Aluminum Core

    1930s–1970s
    Emidisc

    Lacquer on Aluminum Core

    1930s–1970s
    Emidisc

    Lacquer on Aluminum Core

    1930s–1970s
    Emidisc
  • Lacquer on Cardboard

    1939–1963
    Wilcox-Gay Recordio

    Lacquer on Cardboard

    1939–1963
    Wilcox-Gay Recordio

    Lacquer on Cardboard

    1939–1963
    Wilcox-Gay Recordio

    Lacquer on Cardboard

    1939–1963
    Wilcox-Gay Recordio

    Lacquer on Cardboard

    1939–1963
    Wilcox-Gay Recordio
  • Lacquer on Glass Core

    Early 1940's
    Presto

    Lacquer on Glass Core

    Early 1940's
    Presto

    Lacquer on Glass Core

    Early 1940's
    Presto

    Lacquer on Glass Core

    Early 1940's
    Presto

    Lacquer on Glass Core

    Early 1940's
    Presto
  • Bakelite

    Crown
    1935–1937
    Crown

    Bakelite

    Crown
    1935–1937
    Crown

    Bakelite

    Crown
    1935–1937
    Crown

    Bakelite

    Crown
    1935–1937
    Crown

    Bakelite

    Crown
    1935–1937
    Crown
  • Lacquer on steel core

    c. 1939–1950s
    Warner Automatic Voice Studio

    Lacquer on steel core

    c. 1939–1950s
    Warner Automatic Voice Studio

    Lacquer on steel core

    c. 1939–1950s
    Warner Automatic Voice Studio

    Lacquer on steel core

    c. 1939–1950s
    Warner Automatic Voice Studio

    Lacquer on steel core

    c. 1939–1950s
    Warner Automatic Voice Studio
  • Used X-Ray Film

    1950s–1960s
    Ribs

    Used X-Ray Film

    1950s–1960s
    Ribs

    Used X-Ray Film

    1950s–1960s
    Ribs

    Used X-Ray Film

    1950s–1960s
    Ribs

    Used X-Ray Film

    1950s–1960s
    Ribs
  • Styrene

    c. 1951–c. 1991
    Sun Records

    Styrene

    c. 1951–c. 1991
    Sun Records

    Styrene

    c. 1951–c. 1991
    Sun Records

    Styrene

    c. 1951–c. 1991
    Sun Records

    Styrene

    c. 1951–c. 1991
    Sun Records
  • Vinyl Sheet on Cardboard

    Magazine Insert
    1956
    An early form of flexi-disc from Rainbo Records

    Vinyl Sheet on Cardboard

    Magazine Insert
    1956
    An early form of flexi-disc from Rainbo Records

    Vinyl Sheet on Cardboard

    Magazine Insert
    1956
    An early form of flexi-disc from Rainbo Records

    Vinyl Sheet on Cardboard

    Magazine Insert
    1956
    An early form of flexi-disc from Rainbo Records

    Vinyl Sheet on Cardboard

    Magazine Insert
    1956
    An early form of flexi-disc from Rainbo Records
  • Flexible Vinyl

    Flexi-Disc (Sound Sheet)
    1962–2001
    Often bound into magazines, but also mailable on its own

    Flexible Vinyl

    Flexi-Disc (Sound Sheet)
    1962–2001
    Often bound into magazines, but also mailable on its own

    Flexible Vinyl

    Flexi-Disc (Sound Sheet)
    1962–2001
    Often bound into magazines, but also mailable on its own

    Flexible Vinyl

    Flexi-Disc (Sound Sheet)
    1962–2001
    Often bound into magazines, but also mailable on its own

    Flexible Vinyl

    Flexi-Disc (Sound Sheet)
    1962–2001
    Often bound into magazines, but also mailable on its own

Spindle Size

Most 78 rpm and 33⅓ rpm records use roughly the same size spindle hole, eventually standardized at .286 in. by the RIAA. A few companies adopted other sizes so that once you bought their gramophone, you had to buy their records. Most of these formats didn't last long. The exception is the 7 in., 45 rpm record introduced by RCA in 1949. The 45 had a 1½ in. spindle hole that worked better when playing stacks of records automatically. Not coincidentally, it also meant that Columbia's competing LP records couldn't be played on RCA machines.

  • 3 mm (0.12 in.)

    Triple Inchophone
    2004‐2006
    Sold by The White Stripes on tour

    3 mm (0.12 in.)

    Triple Inchophone
    2004‐2006
    Sold by The White Stripes on tour

    3 mm (0.12 in.)

    Triple Inchophone
    2004‐2006
    Sold by The White Stripes on tour

    3 mm (0.12 in.)

    Triple Inchophone
    2004‐2006
    Sold by The White Stripes on tour

    3 mm (0.12 in.)

    Triple Inchophone
    2004‐2006
    Sold by The White Stripes on tour
  • 0.286 in.

    Victor
    c. 1925–present
    Standard spindle hole for 78 and 33⅓ rpm records

    0.286 in.

    Victor
    c. 1925–present
    Standard spindle hole for 78 and 33⅓ rpm records

    0.286 in.

    Victor
    c. 1925–present
    Standard spindle hole for 78 and 33⅓ rpm records

    0.286 in.

    Victor
    c. 1925–present
    Standard spindle hole for 78 and 33⅓ rpm records

    0.286 in.

    Victor
    c. 1925–present
    Standard spindle hole for 78 and 33⅓ rpm records
  • ½ in.

    Standard Disc Record
    1904–1918
    Played only on machines from The Standard Talking Machine Co

    ½ in.

    Standard Disc Record
    1904–1918
    Played only on machines from The Standard Talking Machine Co

    ½ in.

    Standard Disc Record
    1904–1918
    Played only on machines from The Standard Talking Machine Co

    ½ in.

    Standard Disc Record
    1904–1918
    Played only on machines from The Standard Talking Machine Co

    ½ in.

    Standard Disc Record
    1904–1918
    Played only on machines from The Standard Talking Machine Co
  • ⅝ in. (15 mm)

    Record Store Day
    2019–present
    For the RSD3 Mini Turntable

    ⅝ in. (15 mm)

    Record Store Day
    2019–present
    For the RSD3 Mini Turntable

    ⅝ in. (15 mm)

    Record Store Day
    2019–present
    For the RSD3 Mini Turntable

    ⅝ in. (15 mm)

    Record Store Day
    2019–present
    For the RSD3 Mini Turntable

    ⅝ in. (15 mm)

    Record Store Day
    2019–present
    For the RSD3 Mini Turntable
  • ¾ in.

    Harmony Disc Record
    1907–1918
    Could only be played on Harmony machines

    ¾ in.

    Harmony Disc Record
    1907–1918
    Could only be played on Harmony machines

    ¾ in.

    Harmony Disc Record
    1907–1918
    Could only be played on Harmony machines

    ¾ in.

    Harmony Disc Record
    1907–1918
    Could only be played on Harmony machines

    ¾ in.

    Harmony Disc Record
    1907–1918
    Could only be played on Harmony machines
  • 1½ in.

    United Record
    1908–1918
    Could only be played on The Great Northern Manufacturing Co. machines

    1½ in.

    United Record
    1908–1918
    Could only be played on The Great Northern Manufacturing Co. machines

    1½ in.

    United Record
    1908–1918
    Could only be played on The Great Northern Manufacturing Co. machines

    1½ in.

    United Record
    1908–1918
    Could only be played on The Great Northern Manufacturing Co. machines

    1½ in.

    United Record
    1908–1918
    Could only be played on The Great Northern Manufacturing Co. machines
  • 1½ in.

    45 rpm single
    1949–present
    Large hole was more efficient for automatic record changers

    1½ in.

    45 rpm single
    1949–present
    Large hole was more efficient for automatic record changers

    1½ in.

    45 rpm single
    1949–present
    Large hole was more efficient for automatic record changers

    1½ in.

    45 rpm single
    1949–present
    Large hole was more efficient for automatic record changers

    1½ in.

    45 rpm single
    1949–present
    Large hole was more efficient for automatic record changers
  • 2 in.

    Seeburg
    1959–1986
    For the Seeburg 1000 background music system

    2 in.

    Seeburg
    1959–1986
    For the Seeburg 1000 background music system

    2 in.

    Seeburg
    1959–1986
    For the Seeburg 1000 background music system

    2 in.

    Seeburg
    1959–1986
    For the Seeburg 1000 background music system

    2 in.

    Seeburg
    1959–1986
    For the Seeburg 1000 background music system
  • 3 in.

    Aretino
    1907–1916
    Pressed from Columbia masters, with center label cut out

    3 in.

    Aretino
    1907–1916
    Pressed from Columbia masters, with center label cut out

    3 in.

    Aretino
    1907–1916
    Pressed from Columbia masters, with center label cut out

    3 in.

    Aretino
    1907–1916
    Pressed from Columbia masters, with center label cut out

    3 in.

    Aretino
    1907–1916
    Pressed from Columbia masters, with center label cut out
  • 3 in.

    Audio Books
    1952–mid-1950s
    Talking books for the blind

    3 in.

    Audio Books
    1952–mid-1950s
    Talking books for the blind

    3 in.

    Audio Books
    1952–mid-1950s
    Talking books for the blind

    3 in.

    Audio Books
    1952–mid-1950s
    Talking books for the blind

    3 in.

    Audio Books
    1952–mid-1950s
    Talking books for the blind
  • Rectangular Cutout

    Busy Bee
    1906–1910
    Busy Bee phonographs could play only records with a rectangular cutout

    Rectangular Cutout

    Busy Bee
    1906–1910
    Busy Bee phonographs could play only records with a rectangular cutout

    Rectangular Cutout

    Busy Bee
    1906–1910
    Busy Bee phonographs could play only records with a rectangular cutout

    Rectangular Cutout

    Busy Bee
    1906–1910
    Busy Bee phonographs could play only records with a rectangular cutout

    Rectangular Cutout

    Busy Bee
    1906–1910
    Busy Bee phonographs could play only records with a rectangular cutout

Long Playing (LP)

A long-playing record (LP) can hold 10 to 12 songs. When LPs were first released the 10 inch, 78 rpm shellac record was standard, holding about three minutes of music on each side. This was fine for popular music; in fact, it contributed to making three minutes or less the standard length of a pop song (an effect reinforced by the later dominance of 7 in. singles and the needs of AM radio). But classical pieces might fill anywhere from four to ten or more 78s and were often released in albums with multiple record sleeves. Fitting more music on a disc became an ongoing challenge for engineers.

There were several variables to play with: diameter, speed and groove density. 78 rpm records were sometimes released on 12 in. discs, increasing their capacity to six minutes. Transcription discs, which held prerecorded programs for radio broadcast, were 16 in. in diameter, as were the Vitaphone discs that provided soundtracks for early 'talkies'. Transcription and Vitaphone discs were also recorded at 33 1⁄3 rpm. The dynamic range of the recording could be lowered to squeeze in more grooves. A better way of achieving the same thing was to use narrower grooves, which required a substrate able to hold thinner grooves. The solution finally released in 1948 by Columbia—a vinyl, 12 in., 33 1⁄3 rpm, “microgroove” LP—used all three strategies.

An LP could hold ten or twelve pop songs. They were often called albums, based on their similarity to the albums that held multiple 78s. (The term is still used to describe collections of songs released on streaming services.) The ability to collect a number of songs on a single record led to the concept album, in which the collection was built around a larger theme. Examples include The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Who's Tommy.

  • Large Diameter, Slow Speed

    Pathé Theatre
    c. 1913
    20 in. diameter, 60 rpm

    Large Diameter, Slow Speed

    Pathé Theatre
    c. 1913
    20 in. diameter, 60 rpm

    Large Diameter, Slow Speed

    Pathé Theatre
    c. 1913
    20 in. diameter, 60 rpm

    Large Diameter, Slow Speed

    Pathé Theatre
    c. 1913
    20 in. diameter, 60 rpm

    Large Diameter, Slow Speed

    Pathé Theatre
    c. 1913
    20 in. diameter, 60 rpm
  • Narrow-Cut Grooves, Small Label

    Broadcast Twelve
    1928–1934
    Held as much music as a 12 in. record due to narrow-cut grooves and smaller label

    Narrow-Cut Grooves, Small Label

    Broadcast Twelve
    1928–1934
    Held as much music as a 12 in. record due to narrow-cut grooves and smaller label

    Narrow-Cut Grooves, Small Label

    Broadcast Twelve
    1928–1934
    Held as much music as a 12 in. record due to narrow-cut grooves and smaller label

    Narrow-Cut Grooves, Small Label

    Broadcast Twelve
    1928–1934
    Held as much music as a 12 in. record due to narrow-cut grooves and smaller label

    Narrow-Cut Grooves, Small Label

    Broadcast Twelve
    1928–1934
    Held as much music as a 12 in. record due to narrow-cut grooves and smaller label
  • Microgroove, 12 in.

    Audiophile
    1947–1976
    Recorded at 78 rpm to provide higher fidelity and with microgrooves to lengthen playing time

    Microgroove, 12 in.

    Audiophile
    1947–1976
    Recorded at 78 rpm to provide higher fidelity and with microgrooves to lengthen playing time

    Microgroove, 12 in.

    Audiophile
    1947–1976
    Recorded at 78 rpm to provide higher fidelity and with microgrooves to lengthen playing time

    Microgroove, 12 in.

    Audiophile
    1947–1976
    Recorded at 78 rpm to provide higher fidelity and with microgrooves to lengthen playing time

    Microgroove, 12 in.

    Audiophile
    1947–1976
    Recorded at 78 rpm to provide higher fidelity and with microgrooves to lengthen playing time
  • Microgroove, 12 in., 33⅓ rpm

    Columbia
    1948–present
    Slower speed, greater diameter and narrower grooves drastically increased capacity

    Microgroove, 12 in., 33⅓ rpm

    Columbia
    1948–present
    Slower speed, greater diameter and narrower grooves drastically increased capacity

    Microgroove, 12 in., 33⅓ rpm

    Columbia
    1948–present
    Slower speed, greater diameter and narrower grooves drastically increased capacity

    Microgroove, 12 in., 33⅓ rpm

    Columbia
    1948–present
    Slower speed, greater diameter and narrower grooves drastically increased capacity

    Microgroove, 12 in., 33⅓ rpm

    Columbia
    1948–present
    Slower speed, greater diameter and narrower grooves drastically increased capacity
  • Sub-Microgroove

    Trimicron
    c. 1973–1975
    Very narrow grooves allowed up to 1 hour of music per side, at the cost of reduced volume and dynamic range

    Sub-Microgroove

    Trimicron
    c. 1973–1975
    Very narrow grooves allowed up to 1 hour of music per side, at the cost of reduced volume and dynamic range

    Sub-Microgroove

    Trimicron
    c. 1973–1975
    Very narrow grooves allowed up to 1 hour of music per side, at the cost of reduced volume and dynamic range

    Sub-Microgroove

    Trimicron
    c. 1973–1975
    Very narrow grooves allowed up to 1 hour of music per side, at the cost of reduced volume and dynamic range

    Sub-Microgroove

    Trimicron
    c. 1973–1975
    Very narrow grooves allowed up to 1 hour of music per side, at the cost of reduced volume and dynamic range
  • Sub-Microgroove

    Radio Shack
    1976
    A one-off with extremely narrow groove separation allowing 90 min. per side

    Sub-Microgroove

    Radio Shack
    1976
    A one-off with extremely narrow groove separation allowing 90 min. per side

    Sub-Microgroove

    Radio Shack
    1976
    A one-off with extremely narrow groove separation allowing 90 min. per side

    Sub-Microgroove

    Radio Shack
    1976
    A one-off with extremely narrow groove separation allowing 90 min. per side

    Sub-Microgroove

    Radio Shack
    1976
    A one-off with extremely narrow groove separation allowing 90 min. per side

Single

The three-minute pop song is basically an invention of the phonograph.
—Mark Katz, Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, University of California Press, 2010

When Columbia introduced the 12 in., 33 ⅓ rpm long-playing record, RCA responded with a 7 in., 45 rpm disc. An LP could hold 22 minutes a side, a whole album's worth of songs or a large part of a classical piece, while RCA's 45 could hold one song per side—about as much music as the standard 10 in. shellac 78. RCA also produced a new record changer, which allowed a stack of songs to be loaded on the record player's spindle and dropped one by one onto the turntable. Record changers had been around since the 1920s, but they tended to wear out the hole in the record. RCA claimed that the larger hole reduced this wear. The choice of the 45 rpm speed meant a slight increase in quality over 33 1/3 rpm.

A single is a record containing one song on each side, released by an artist separately but in conjunction with the LP that contains the songs. Historically, singles have been 45 rpm records. (78 rpm shellac records are not considered singles.) It's partly a marketing tool—people who buy the single and like it may be more willing to spend more to get the whole album. But a single can take on a momentum of its own, hence the term hit single. Most AM radio stations did not play entire albums (FM stations were a different story). Radio played individual songs from multiple artists, punctuated by frequent advertisements. In 1962, if you liked a song you heard on the radio, you could go out and buy it for under a dollar, at a time when albums cost about three dollars (one 1962 dollar equals about ten dollars in 2023).

  • 45

    1949–present
    A 7 in, 45 rpm record was commonly called a "45"

    45

    1949–present
    A 7 in, 45 rpm record was commonly called a "45"

    45

    1949–present
    A 7 in, 45 rpm record was commonly called a "45"

    45

    1949–present
    A 7 in, 45 rpm record was commonly called a "45"

    45

    1949–present
    A 7 in, 45 rpm record was commonly called a "45"
  • One-Sided

    1983
    Cheap, no frills, 45 rpm single with a song recorded on only one side

    One-Sided

    1983
    Cheap, no frills, 45 rpm single with a song recorded on only one side

    One-Sided

    1983
    Cheap, no frills, 45 rpm single with a song recorded on only one side

    One-Sided

    1983
    Cheap, no frills, 45 rpm single with a song recorded on only one side

    One-Sided

    1983
    Cheap, no frills, 45 rpm single with a song recorded on only one side
  • Tri-Center

    1954–1980's
    Allowed a 45 to be placed on either size spindle

    Tri-Center

    1954–1980's
    Allowed a 45 to be placed on either size spindle

    Tri-Center

    1954–1980's
    Allowed a 45 to be placed on either size spindle

    Tri-Center

    1954–1980's
    Allowed a 45 to be placed on either size spindle

    Tri-Center

    1954–1980's
    Allowed a 45 to be placed on either size spindle
  • 12 Inch

    Mid-1970s–present
    A single recorded on 12-inch vinyl with more widely separated grooves, allowing higher dynamic range

    12 Inch

    Mid-1970s–present
    A single recorded on 12-inch vinyl with more widely separated grooves, allowing higher dynamic range

    12 Inch

    Mid-1970s–present
    A single recorded on 12-inch vinyl with more widely separated grooves, allowing higher dynamic range

    12 Inch

    Mid-1970s–present
    A single recorded on 12-inch vinyl with more widely separated grooves, allowing higher dynamic range

    12 Inch

    Mid-1970s–present
    A single recorded on 12-inch vinyl with more widely separated grooves, allowing higher dynamic range
  • Maxi Single

    1969–mid-1970s
    A 45 rpm record with 3 or more songs

    Maxi Single

    1969–mid-1970s
    A 45 rpm record with 3 or more songs

    Maxi Single

    1969–mid-1970s
    A 45 rpm record with 3 or more songs

    Maxi Single

    1969–mid-1970s
    A 45 rpm record with 3 or more songs

    Maxi Single

    1969–mid-1970s
    A 45 rpm record with 3 or more songs

Extended Play (EP)

In the early 1960s, in attempt to increase sales, record companies experimented with putting three or more songs on a 7 in. record. Such records are often collectively called "Little LPs" or "Jukebox EPs", although specific brands existed, like "Compact 6" or "Compact 33". Some were 45 rpm, others were 33⅓ rpm. Although record companies made several attempts, Little LPs never really caught on. 7 inch singles and 12 in. LPs satisfied two different needs: one was cheap and easy to handle, the other held more music. A format in between the two just wasn't distinct enough to be compelling for the mass market. They were successful in jukeboxes for a time in the mid-1960s and again in the early 1970s, but even that didn't last.

EPs never disappeared completely, however. Starting in the 1980s and continuing into the streaming era, they have been used by independent labels to promote new bands before they had enough material for an LP. Established bands use them to release music between full-size albums, which helps maintain market interest. For similar reasons, the concept of an EP as a release of five or so songs continues to exist on streaming services.

Extended play records could also be used to record longer pieces of music, rather than additional songs. A 7 in. 33⅓ rpm record could hold around seven minutes of music, as opposed to five minutes for a 45. That was particularly useful for jazz performances, which could stretch longer than the typical three or four minutes of a pop song.

  • 7 In. 45 rpm EP

    1962–present
    3 songs on one side, 2 on the other

    7 In. 45 rpm EP

    1962–present
    3 songs on one side, 2 on the other

    7 In. 45 rpm EP

    1962–present
    3 songs on one side, 2 on the other

    7 In. 45 rpm EP

    1962–present
    3 songs on one side, 2 on the other

    7 In. 45 rpm EP

    1962–present
    3 songs on one side, 2 on the other
  • Compact 33 Double

    1961
    33⅓ rpm with two songs per side

    Compact 33 Double

    1961
    33⅓ rpm with two songs per side

    Compact 33 Double

    1961
    33⅓ rpm with two songs per side

    Compact 33 Double

    1961
    33⅓ rpm with two songs per side

    Compact 33 Double

    1961
    33⅓ rpm with two songs per side
  • Compact 6

    1961
    33⅓ rpm with three songs per side

    Compact 6

    1961
    33⅓ rpm with three songs per side

    Compact 6

    1961
    33⅓ rpm with three songs per side

    Compact 6

    1961
    33⅓ rpm with three songs per side

    Compact 6

    1961
    33⅓ rpm with three songs per side
  • Jukebox EP

    c. 1962–mid-1970s
    33⅓ rpm with one extended song per side

    Jukebox EP

    c. 1962–mid-1970s
    33⅓ rpm with one extended song per side

    Jukebox EP

    c. 1962–mid-1970s
    33⅓ rpm with one extended song per side

    Jukebox EP

    c. 1962–mid-1970s
    33⅓ rpm with one extended song per side

    Jukebox EP

    c. 1962–mid-1970s
    33⅓ rpm with one extended song per side
  • Maxi Single

    1969–mid-1970s
    A 45 rpm record with 3 or more songs

    Maxi Single

    1969–mid-1970s
    A 45 rpm record with 3 or more songs

    Maxi Single

    1969–mid-1970s
    A 45 rpm record with 3 or more songs

    Maxi Single

    1969–mid-1970s
    A 45 rpm record with 3 or more songs

    Maxi Single

    1969–mid-1970s
    A 45 rpm record with 3 or more songs
  • Nu-Disk

    1979–1981
    A 10 in., 33⅓ rpm record

    Nu-Disk

    1979–1981
    A 10 in., 33⅓ rpm record

    Nu-Disk

    1979–1981
    A 10 in., 33⅓ rpm record

    Nu-Disk

    1979–1981
    A 10 in., 33⅓ rpm record

    Nu-Disk

    1979–1981
    A 10 in., 33⅓ rpm record

Stereo

The first experimental demonstration of the role of binaural hearing in the perception of acoustic "space" occurred in 1881:

Everyone who has been fortunate enough to hear the telephones at the Palais de l'Industrie has remarked that, in listening with both ears at the two telephones, the sound takes a special character of relief and localization which a single receiver cannot produce… This phenomenon is very curious…and has never been applied, we believe, before to produce this remarkable illusion to which may almost be given the name of auditive perspective. ("The Telephone at the Paris Opera," Scientific American, December 31, 1881, pages 422-23, as quoted in Wikipedia.)

The stereoscope had been in common use for 30 years at the time of this description. The analogy between binaural hearing and binocular vision, though imperfect, recognizes that both create a sensation of space. Binaural hearing is also very important in the localization of sound, the lack of which was particularly noticeable once sound was added to movies; it was distracting when a character moved across the screen leaving their voice behind. Allen Blumlein developed stereo recording in the early 1930s specifically to address this problem.

  • Cook Binaural

    1952–1957
    First commercially produced stereo records, with one track recorded on the outer half of the disc and the other track on the inner half.

    Cook Binaural

    1952–1957
    First commercially produced stereo records, with one track recorded on the outer half of the disc and the other track on the inner half.

    Cook Binaural

    1952–1957
    First commercially produced stereo records, with one track recorded on the outer half of the disc and the other track on the inner half.

    Cook Binaural

    1952–1957
    First commercially produced stereo records, with one track recorded on the outer half of the disc and the other track on the inner half.

    Cook Binaural

    1952–1957
    First commercially produced stereo records, with one track recorded on the outer half of the disc and the other track on the inner half.
  • Westrex 45/45

    1958–present
    One of 4 stereo LPs released by Audio Fidelity, the first stereo LPs available to the public.

    Westrex 45/45

    1958–present
    One of 4 stereo LPs released by Audio Fidelity, the first stereo LPs available to the public.

    Westrex 45/45

    1958–present
    One of 4 stereo LPs released by Audio Fidelity, the first stereo LPs available to the public.

    Westrex 45/45

    1958–present
    One of 4 stereo LPs released by Audio Fidelity, the first stereo LPs available to the public.

    Westrex 45/45

    1958–present
    One of 4 stereo LPs released by Audio Fidelity, the first stereo LPs available to the public.

Quadraphonic

  • Stereo 4 (EV-4)

    1970–c. 1973
    The first commercial quadraphonic format for LPs

    Stereo 4 (EV-4)

    1970–c. 1973
    The first commercial quadraphonic format for LPs

    Stereo 4 (EV-4)

    1970–c. 1973
    The first commercial quadraphonic format for LPs

    Stereo 4 (EV-4)

    1970–c. 1973
    The first commercial quadraphonic format for LPs

    Stereo 4 (EV-4)

    1970–c. 1973
    The first commercial quadraphonic format for LPs
  • QS Quadraphonic

    1971–mid-1970s
    Improved matrix encoding, compared to EV-4

    QS Quadraphonic

    1971–mid-1970s
    Improved matrix encoding, compared to EV-4

    QS Quadraphonic

    1971–mid-1970s
    Improved matrix encoding, compared to EV-4

    QS Quadraphonic

    1971–mid-1970s
    Improved matrix encoding, compared to EV-4

    QS Quadraphonic

    1971–mid-1970s
    Improved matrix encoding, compared to EV-4
  • 7 in. SQ Quadraphonic

    early 1970s

    7 in. SQ Quadraphonic

    early 1970s

    7 in. SQ Quadraphonic

    early 1970s

    7 in. SQ Quadraphonic

    early 1970s

    7 in. SQ Quadraphonic

    early 1970s
  • Quadradisc (CD-4)

    1972–1978
    Compatible Discrete 4, the most widely adopted quadraphonic format

    Quadradisc (CD-4)

    1972–1978
    Compatible Discrete 4, the most widely adopted quadraphonic format

    Quadradisc (CD-4)

    1972–1978
    Compatible Discrete 4, the most widely adopted quadraphonic format

    Quadradisc (CD-4)

    1972–1978
    Compatible Discrete 4, the most widely adopted quadraphonic format

    Quadradisc (CD-4)

    1972–1978
    Compatible Discrete 4, the most widely adopted quadraphonic format

Amateur Recording

Although home recording on wax cylinders had been possible from the beginning, amateur recording for gramophone discs only became available in 1905 with a home disc recorder offered by the Neophone company. But amateur recording didn't really get started until the early 1920s when zinc recording blanks were introduced. These were recorded acoustically and the quality was poor. In 1926, Speak-O-Phone improved quality with aluminum discs and electrical recording. Finally, in 1934 Presto introduced lacquer-coated discs, which further increased the quality of recordings. A lacquer coating could be applied to a a variety of materials, including aluminum, steel, glass, fiber and cardboard. Lightweight cardboard discs by Wilcox-Gay and others could be recorded and mailed. The Mutoscope company sold automatic recording booths for cardboard Voice-O-Graph records, which, among other things, were used to send personal messages to servicemen in WWII. The ability to send voice recordings through the mail was evidently such a compelling concept that it reappeared several times using different technologies (see, for example, Mail-A-Voice magnetic discs and Mail Call Letterpack tape cartridges). Disc recorders for the home often included a radio to allow recording programs off the air. Magnetic tape recording ultimately supplanted lacquer discs for amateur recording.

  • Sonorine Phonocarte

    1905–1907
    Recorded directly on treated cardboard using a "Phonopostal" gramophone

    Sonorine Phonocarte

    1905–1907
    Recorded directly on treated cardboard using a "Phonopostal" gramophone

    Sonorine Phonocarte

    1905–1907
    Recorded directly on treated cardboard using a "Phonopostal" gramophone

    Sonorine Phonocarte

    1905–1907
    Recorded directly on treated cardboard using a "Phonopostal" gramophone

    Sonorine Phonocarte

    1905–1907
    Recorded directly on treated cardboard using a "Phonopostal" gramophone
  • Echo Disc

    1920–c. 1925
    Pregrooved zinc disc

    Echo Disc

    1920–c. 1925
    Pregrooved zinc disc

    Echo Disc

    1920–c. 1925
    Pregrooved zinc disc

    Echo Disc

    1920–c. 1925
    Pregrooved zinc disc

    Echo Disc

    1920–c. 1925
    Pregrooved zinc disc
  • Kodisk

    1920–c. 1925
    Pregrooved zinc disc (same company as Echo Disc)

    Kodisk

    1920–c. 1925
    Pregrooved zinc disc (same company as Echo Disc)

    Kodisk

    1920–c. 1925
    Pregrooved zinc disc (same company as Echo Disc)

    Kodisk

    1920–c. 1925
    Pregrooved zinc disc (same company as Echo Disc)

    Kodisk

    1920–c. 1925
    Pregrooved zinc disc (same company as Echo Disc)
  • Speak-O-Phone

    1926
    Aluminum disc

    Speak-O-Phone

    1926
    Aluminum disc

    Speak-O-Phone

    1926
    Aluminum disc

    Speak-O-Phone

    1926
    Aluminum disc

    Speak-O-Phone

    1926
    Aluminum disc
  • RCA Victor Home Recording

    1930–1937
    Pre-grooved soft plastic disc

    RCA Victor Home Recording

    1930–1937
    Pre-grooved soft plastic disc

    RCA Victor Home Recording

    1930–1937
    Pre-grooved soft plastic disc

    RCA Victor Home Recording

    1930–1937
    Pre-grooved soft plastic disc

    RCA Victor Home Recording

    1930–1937
    Pre-grooved soft plastic disc
  • Egovox

    1932 — mid-1930s
    Aluminum disc

    Egovox

    1932 — mid-1930s
    Aluminum disc

    Egovox

    1932 — mid-1930s
    Aluminum disc

    Egovox

    1932 — mid-1930s
    Aluminum disc

    Egovox

    1932 — mid-1930s
    Aluminum disc
  • Phonocard

    1930s?
    Aluminum disc

    Phonocard

    1930s?
    Aluminum disc

    Phonocard

    1930s?
    Aluminum disc

    Phonocard

    1930s?
    Aluminum disc

    Phonocard

    1930s?
    Aluminum disc
  • Warner Automatic Voice Studio

    c. 1939–1950s
    Lacquer on steel core

    Warner Automatic Voice Studio

    c. 1939–1950s
    Lacquer on steel core

    Warner Automatic Voice Studio

    c. 1939–1950s
    Lacquer on steel core

    Warner Automatic Voice Studio

    c. 1939–1950s
    Lacquer on steel core

    Warner Automatic Voice Studio

    c. 1939–1950s
    Lacquer on steel core
  • Voice Reproduction Associates

    1939
    From recording booth at the Golden Gate Exposition

    Voice Reproduction Associates

    1939
    From recording booth at the Golden Gate Exposition

    Voice Reproduction Associates

    1939
    From recording booth at the Golden Gate Exposition

    Voice Reproduction Associates

    1939
    From recording booth at the Golden Gate Exposition

    Voice Reproduction Associates

    1939
    From recording booth at the Golden Gate Exposition
  • Hammermill Home Recording Disc

    c. 1938

    Hammermill Home Recording Disc

    c. 1938

    Hammermill Home Recording Disc

    c. 1938

    Hammermill Home Recording Disc

    c. 1938

    Hammermill Home Recording Disc

    c. 1938
  • Wilcox-Gay Recordio

    1939–1950s
    Lacquer on cardboard discs

    Wilcox-Gay Recordio

    1939–1950s
    Lacquer on cardboard discs

    Wilcox-Gay Recordio

    1939–1950s
    Lacquer on cardboard discs

    Wilcox-Gay Recordio

    1939–1950s
    Lacquer on cardboard discs

    Wilcox-Gay Recordio

    1939–1950s
    Lacquer on cardboard discs
  • Recordio Voice Mail

    1940s–1950s
    Lacquer on cardboard, for voice letters to service members

    Recordio Voice Mail

    1940s–1950s
    Lacquer on cardboard, for voice letters to service members

    Recordio Voice Mail

    1940s–1950s
    Lacquer on cardboard, for voice letters to service members

    Recordio Voice Mail

    1940s–1950s
    Lacquer on cardboard, for voice letters to service members

    Recordio Voice Mail

    1940s–1950s
    Lacquer on cardboard, for voice letters to service members
  • Voice-O-Graph

    1940–1957
    Lacquer on cardboard

    Voice-O-Graph

    1940–1957
    Lacquer on cardboard

    Voice-O-Graph

    1940–1957
    Lacquer on cardboard

    Voice-O-Graph

    1940–1957
    Lacquer on cardboard

    Voice-O-Graph

    1940–1957
    Lacquer on cardboard
  • Voice-O-Graph

    1940–1957

    Voice-O-Graph

    1940–1957

    Voice-O-Graph

    1940–1957

    Voice-O-Graph

    1940–1957

    Voice-O-Graph

    1940–1957
  • Wilcox-Gay Coin Recordio

    1947–1950s
    Lacquer-coated cardboard record for coin operated recording booth

    Wilcox-Gay Coin Recordio

    1947–1950s
    Lacquer-coated cardboard record for coin operated recording booth

    Wilcox-Gay Coin Recordio

    1947–1950s
    Lacquer-coated cardboard record for coin operated recording booth

    Wilcox-Gay Coin Recordio

    1947–1950s
    Lacquer-coated cardboard record for coin operated recording booth

    Wilcox-Gay Coin Recordio

    1947–1950s
    Lacquer-coated cardboard record for coin operated recording booth
  • Recordisc

    1940s–1950s
    Lacquer on aluminum core

    Recordisc

    1940s–1950s
    Lacquer on aluminum core

    Recordisc

    1940s–1950s
    Lacquer on aluminum core

    Recordisc

    1940s–1950s
    Lacquer on aluminum core

    Recordisc

    1940s–1950s
    Lacquer on aluminum core
  • Rainbo Record

    c. 1940's
    Lacquer on metal core

    Rainbo Record

    c. 1940's
    Lacquer on metal core

    Rainbo Record

    c. 1940's
    Lacquer on metal core

    Rainbo Record

    c. 1940's
    Lacquer on metal core

    Rainbo Record

    c. 1940's
    Lacquer on metal core
  • Silvertone Record Disc

    1940s–1950s
    Fiber or aluminum core

    Silvertone Record Disc

    1940s–1950s
    Fiber or aluminum core

    Silvertone Record Disc

    1940s–1950s
    Fiber or aluminum core

    Silvertone Record Disc

    1940s–1950s
    Fiber or aluminum core

    Silvertone Record Disc

    1940s–1950s
    Fiber or aluminum core
  • Packard Bell Phonocord

    1940s
    Lacquer on metal core

    Packard Bell Phonocord

    1940s
    Lacquer on metal core

    Packard Bell Phonocord

    1940s
    Lacquer on metal core

    Packard Bell Phonocord

    1940s
    Lacquer on metal core

    Packard Bell Phonocord

    1940s
    Lacquer on metal core
  • Calibre Auto Recording

    1950s–early 1970s
    For the British Calibre Auto Recording booth

    Calibre Auto Recording

    1950s–early 1970s
    For the British Calibre Auto Recording booth

    Calibre Auto Recording

    1950s–early 1970s
    For the British Calibre Auto Recording booth

    Calibre Auto Recording

    1950s–early 1970s
    For the British Calibre Auto Recording booth

    Calibre Auto Recording

    1950s–early 1970s
    For the British Calibre Auto Recording booth
  • Presto

    early 1940's
    Lacquer on glass core, used during WWII to conserve aluminum

    Presto

    early 1940's
    Lacquer on glass core, used during WWII to conserve aluminum

    Presto

    early 1940's
    Lacquer on glass core, used during WWII to conserve aluminum

    Presto

    early 1940's
    Lacquer on glass core, used during WWII to conserve aluminum

    Presto

    early 1940's
    Lacquer on glass core, used during WWII to conserve aluminum
  • Audiodisc


    Audiodisc


    Audiodisc


    Audiodisc


    Audiodisc


  • Cairns & Morrison

    1930s

    Cairns & Morrison

    1930s

    Cairns & Morrison

    1930s

    Cairns & Morrison

    1930s

    Cairns & Morrison

    1930s

Transcription

Transcription discs, often called electrical transcriptions, were introduced in the mid-1920s to both archive radio shows and to record shows for time-shifting or syndication. The earliest were cut on aluminum discs. Later discs were lacquer or vinyl. A slower speed of 33 1/3 rpm allowed longer programs to be stored, as did a 16 inch diameter.

  • Fairchild Professional Record

    Aluminum
    1933–1938
    One of many companies founded by Sherman Fairchild

    Fairchild Professional Record

    Aluminum
    1933–1938
    One of many companies founded by Sherman Fairchild

    Fairchild Professional Record

    Aluminum
    1933–1938
    One of many companies founded by Sherman Fairchild

    Fairchild Professional Record

    Aluminum
    1933–1938
    One of many companies founded by Sherman Fairchild

    Fairchild Professional Record

    Aluminum
    1933–1938
    One of many companies founded by Sherman Fairchild
  • Remsen-Disc

    Aluminum
    1930s

    Remsen-Disc

    Aluminum
    1930s

    Remsen-Disc

    Aluminum
    1930s

    Remsen-Disc

    Aluminum
    1930s

    Remsen-Disc

    Aluminum
    1930s
  • Presto

    Lacquer on Glass Core
    1940s–1950s
    Glass was used during WWII to conserve aluminum. This one is a recording of the surrender of Japan.

    Presto

    Lacquer on Glass Core
    1940s–1950s
    Glass was used during WWII to conserve aluminum. This one is a recording of the surrender of Japan.

    Presto

    Lacquer on Glass Core
    1940s–1950s
    Glass was used during WWII to conserve aluminum. This one is a recording of the surrender of Japan.

    Presto

    Lacquer on Glass Core
    1940s–1950s
    Glass was used during WWII to conserve aluminum. This one is a recording of the surrender of Japan.

    Presto

    Lacquer on Glass Core
    1940s–1950s
    Glass was used during WWII to conserve aluminum. This one is a recording of the surrender of Japan.
  • World Program Service

    1929–1960s
    Music for radio broadcast

    World Program Service

    1929–1960s
    Music for radio broadcast

    World Program Service

    1929–1960s
    Music for radio broadcast

    World Program Service

    1929–1960s
    Music for radio broadcast

    World Program Service

    1929–1960s
    Music for radio broadcast
  • Muzak

    1935–early 1950s
    Music for radio broadcast

    Muzak

    1935–early 1950s
    Music for radio broadcast

    Muzak

    1935–early 1950s
    Music for radio broadcast

    Muzak

    1935–early 1950s
    Music for radio broadcast

    Muzak

    1935–early 1950s
    Music for radio broadcast

Card

Inventors and marketers were quick to see the potential of attaching audio to printed media. A small record could simply be glued to cardboard or paper to create a talking postcard or childrens' book. Card stock could also be coated with vinyl or lacquer. The card allowed the recording to be augmented with text or graphics, opening up the possibility of talking baseball cards, etc.

  • Gramophone Postcard

    1900s–1930s
    Celluloid 78 rpm disc glued to a postcard

    Gramophone Postcard

    1900s–1930s
    Celluloid 78 rpm disc glued to a postcard

    Gramophone Postcard

    1900s–1930s
    Celluloid 78 rpm disc glued to a postcard

    Gramophone Postcard

    1900s–1930s
    Celluloid 78 rpm disc glued to a postcard

    Gramophone Postcard

    1900s–1930s
    Celluloid 78 rpm disc glued to a postcard
  • Sonorine Phonocarte

    1905–1907
    Recorded directly on cardboard

    Sonorine Phonocarte

    1905–1907
    Recorded directly on cardboard

    Sonorine Phonocarte

    1905–1907
    Recorded directly on cardboard

    Sonorine Phonocarte

    1905–1907
    Recorded directly on cardboard

    Sonorine Phonocarte

    1905–1907
    Recorded directly on cardboard
  • Talking Book

    1917–1922
    First talking book, nursery rhymes in text and audio

    Talking Book

    1917–1922
    First talking book, nursery rhymes in text and audio

    Talking Book

    1917–1922
    First talking book, nursery rhymes in text and audio

    Talking Book

    1917–1922
    First talking book, nursery rhymes in text and audio

    Talking Book

    1917–1922
    First talking book, nursery rhymes in text and audio
  • Talking Story

    1919
    4 in. record on cardboard with a story

    Talking Story

    1919
    4 in. record on cardboard with a story

    Talking Story

    1919
    4 in. record on cardboard with a story

    Talking Story

    1919
    4 in. record on cardboard with a story

    Talking Story

    1919
    4 in. record on cardboard with a story
  • Tuck Gramophone Postcard

    1929–1930s
    Record glued to random card from Tuck's obsolete stock

    Tuck Gramophone Postcard

    1929–1930s
    Record glued to random card from Tuck's obsolete stock

    Tuck Gramophone Postcard

    1929–1930s
    Record glued to random card from Tuck's obsolete stock

    Tuck Gramophone Postcard

    1929–1930s
    Record glued to random card from Tuck's obsolete stock

    Tuck Gramophone Postcard

    1929–1930s
    Record glued to random card from Tuck's obsolete stock
  • Talkie Cigarette Card

    1934
    Cigarette pack premium

    Talkie Cigarette Card

    1934
    Cigarette pack premium

    Talkie Cigarette Card

    1934
    Cigarette pack premium

    Talkie Cigarette Card

    1934
    Cigarette pack premium

    Talkie Cigarette Card

    1934
    Cigarette pack premium
  • Auravision

    1964
    Plastic on cardboard

    Auravision

    1964
    Plastic on cardboard

    Auravision

    1964
    Plastic on cardboard

    Auravision

    1964
    Plastic on cardboard

    Auravision

    1964
    Plastic on cardboard
  • Audible Audubon

    late 1970s
    Picture and info with recorded bird song

    Audible Audubon

    late 1970s
    Picture and info with recorded bird song

    Audible Audubon

    late 1970s
    Picture and info with recorded bird song

    Audible Audubon

    late 1970s
    Picture and info with recorded bird song

    Audible Audubon

    late 1970s
    Picture and info with recorded bird song
  • Talking Baseball Cards

    1979
    Iconic moments in baseball history

    Talking Baseball Cards

    1979
    Iconic moments in baseball history

    Talking Baseball Cards

    1979
    Iconic moments in baseball history

    Talking Baseball Cards

    1979
    Iconic moments in baseball history

    Talking Baseball Cards

    1979
    Iconic moments in baseball history
  • Baseball Talk

    1989
    Talking baseball card

    Baseball Talk

    1989
    Talking baseball card

    Baseball Talk

    1989
    Talking baseball card

    Baseball Talk

    1989
    Talking baseball card

    Baseball Talk

    1989
    Talking baseball card
  • Football Talk

    1989
    Failed footbal card

    Football Talk

    1989
    Failed footbal card

    Football Talk

    1989
    Failed footbal card

    Football Talk

    1989
    Failed footbal card

    Football Talk

    1989
    Failed footbal card

Variants

Beyond the standard form-factors and applications, records inspired numerous variations in both appearance and use.

  • Cereal Box Record

    1954–1970s
    Cut ouf from the back of a Wheaties box

    Cereal Box Record

    1954–1970s
    Cut ouf from the back of a Wheaties box

    Cereal Box Record

    1954–1970s
    Cut ouf from the back of a Wheaties box

    Cereal Box Record

    1954–1970s
    Cut ouf from the back of a Wheaties box

    Cereal Box Record

    1954–1970s
    Cut ouf from the back of a Wheaties box
  • Ribs

    1950s–1960s
    Soviet bootleg recording on used x-ray film

    Ribs

    1950s–1960s
    Soviet bootleg recording on used x-ray film

    Ribs

    1950s–1960s
    Soviet bootleg recording on used x-ray film

    Ribs

    1950s–1960s
    Soviet bootleg recording on used x-ray film

    Ribs

    1950s–1960s
    Soviet bootleg recording on used x-ray film
  • Highway Hi-Fi

    1956–1959
    For use in an automobile under-dash player

    Highway Hi-Fi

    1956–1959
    For use in an automobile under-dash player

    Highway Hi-Fi

    1956–1959
    For use in an automobile under-dash player

    Highway Hi-Fi

    1956–1959
    For use in an automobile under-dash player

    Highway Hi-Fi

    1956–1959
    For use in an automobile under-dash player
  • Instant Replay

    1970–1971
    2½ in. recording of sports highlights

    Instant Replay

    1970–1971
    2½ in. recording of sports highlights

    Instant Replay

    1970–1971
    2½ in. recording of sports highlights

    Instant Replay

    1970–1971
    2½ in. recording of sports highlights

    Instant Replay

    1970–1971
    2½ in. recording of sports highlights
  • Postage Stamp Records

    1972–1973
    Postage stamps from Bhutan that are playable records

    Postage Stamp Records

    1972–1973
    Postage stamps from Bhutan that are playable records

    Postage Stamp Records

    1972–1973
    Postage stamps from Bhutan that are playable records

    Postage Stamp Records

    1972–1973
    Postage stamps from Bhutan that are playable records

    Postage Stamp Records

    1972–1973
    Postage stamps from Bhutan that are playable records
  • Phenakistoscope Record

    1979–present

    Phenakistoscope Record

    1979–present

    Phenakistoscope Record

    1979–present

    Phenakistoscope Record

    1979–present

    Phenakistoscope Record

    1979–present
  • Easy Play Guitar Tuning

    1977

    Easy Play Guitar Tuning

    1977

    Easy Play Guitar Tuning

    1977

    Easy Play Guitar Tuning

    1977

    Easy Play Guitar Tuning

    1977
  • Vinyl Disc CD

    2007–2010
    Vinyl record on one side, CD on the other

    Vinyl Disc CD

    2007–2010
    Vinyl record on one side, CD on the other

    Vinyl Disc CD

    2007–2010
    Vinyl record on one side, CD on the other

    Vinyl Disc CD

    2007–2010
    Vinyl record on one side, CD on the other

    Vinyl Disc CD

    2007–2010
    Vinyl record on one side, CD on the other
  • Poynter

    1983
    For a working 5 in. high Victrola phonograph

    Poynter

    1983
    For a working 5 in. high Victrola phonograph

    Poynter

    1983
    For a working 5 in. high Victrola phonograph

    Poynter

    1983
    For a working 5 in. high Victrola phonograph

    Poynter

    1983
    For a working 5 in. high Victrola phonograph
  • Disneyland Musical Map

    1955
    Disneyland map with 5 cardboard records

    Disneyland Musical Map

    1955
    Disneyland map with 5 cardboard records

    Disneyland Musical Map

    1955
    Disneyland map with 5 cardboard records

    Disneyland Musical Map

    1955
    Disneyland map with 5 cardboard records

    Disneyland Musical Map

    1955
    Disneyland map with 5 cardboard records
  • Movie Production Disc

    1930s–1950s
    Pre-recorded musical number, to which the actor would lip-snyc during filming

    Movie Production Disc

    1930s–1950s
    Pre-recorded musical number, to which the actor would lip-snyc during filming

    Movie Production Disc

    1930s–1950s
    Pre-recorded musical number, to which the actor would lip-snyc during filming

    Movie Production Disc

    1930s–1950s
    Pre-recorded musical number, to which the actor would lip-snyc during filming

    Movie Production Disc

    1930s–1950s
    Pre-recorded musical number, to which the actor would lip-snyc during filming
  • A 12 inch recording by Florence Foster Jenkins

    Vanity Recording

    1930s–1950s
    A professional recording paid for by the artist, typically for friends and family.
    A 12 inch recording by Florence Foster Jenkins

    Vanity Recording

    1930s–1950s
    A professional recording paid for by the artist, typically for friends and family.

    Vanity Recording

    1930s–1950s
    A professional recording paid for by the artist, typically for friends and family.

    Vanity Recording

    1930s–1950s
    A professional recording paid for by the artist, typically for friends and family.

    Vanity Recording

    1930s–1950s
    A professional recording paid for by the artist, typically for friends and family.
  • Vogue Picture Disc

    1946–1947
    One of 74 picture discs from Sav-Way Industries

    Vogue Picture Disc

    1946–1947
    One of 74 picture discs from Sav-Way Industries

    Vogue Picture Disc

    1946–1947
    One of 74 picture discs from Sav-Way Industries

    Vogue Picture Disc

    1946–1947
    One of 74 picture discs from Sav-Way Industries

    Vogue Picture Disc

    1946–1947
    One of 74 picture discs from Sav-Way Industries
  • Hologram Record

    2014–2016
    A hologram etched into a blank area on the disc

    Hologram Record

    2014–2016
    A hologram etched into a blank area on the disc

    Hologram Record

    2014–2016
    A hologram etched into a blank area on the disc

    Hologram Record

    2014–2016
    A hologram etched into a blank area on the disc

    Hologram Record

    2014–2016
    A hologram etched into a blank area on the disc

Flexible Records

Shellac records were brittle; dropping one reduced it to shards. Flexible records were chiefly promoted for their unbreakability, which Neophone demonstrated by dropping their records off the top of a four-story building. Shellac was also expensive and flexible records were made out of cheaper materials like celluloid, plastic or cardboard. A number of companies released flexible records in the early days of the Great Depression, when many people didn't have the money to buy traditional 78's. Later flexible records like the vinyl Flexi-Disc were developed to allow distribution by mail or in magazines.

  • Neophone "Indestructable"

    1904–1908
    Cellulose on pasteboard core

    Neophone "Indestructable"

    1904–1908
    Cellulose on pasteboard core

    Neophone "Indestructable"

    1904–1908
    Cellulose on pasteboard core

    Neophone "Indestructable"

    1904–1908
    Cellulose on pasteboard core

    Neophone "Indestructable"

    1904–1908
    Cellulose on pasteboard core
  • Pathé Cellodisc

    c. 1930
    Celluloid

    Pathé Cellodisc

    c. 1930
    Celluloid

    Pathé Cellodisc

    c. 1930
    Celluloid

    Pathé Cellodisc

    c. 1930
    Celluloid

    Pathé Cellodisc

    c. 1930
    Celluloid
  • Goodson

    1929–1931
    Celluloid

    Goodson

    1929–1931
    Celluloid

    Goodson

    1929–1931
    Celluloid

    Goodson

    1929–1931
    Celluloid

    Goodson

    1929–1931
    Celluloid
  • Durium

    1930–1933
    Synthetic resin on cardboard core

    Durium

    1930–1933
    Synthetic resin on cardboard core

    Durium

    1930–1933
    Synthetic resin on cardboard core

    Durium

    1930–1933
    Synthetic resin on cardboard core

    Durium

    1930–1933
    Synthetic resin on cardboard core
  • Hit Of The Week

    1930–1932
    "Durium"

    Hit Of The Week

    1930–1932
    "Durium"

    Hit Of The Week

    1930–1932
    "Durium"

    Hit Of The Week

    1930–1932
    "Durium"

    Hit Of The Week

    1930–1932
    "Durium"
  • Filmophone

    1930–1932
    Celulose

    Filmophone

    1930–1932
    Celulose

    Filmophone

    1930–1932
    Celulose

    Filmophone

    1930–1932
    Celulose

    Filmophone

    1930–1932
    Celulose
  • Flexi-Disc (Sound Sheet)

    1962–2001
    Vinyl

    Flexi-Disc (Sound Sheet)

    1962–2001
    Vinyl

    Flexi-Disc (Sound Sheet)

    1962–2001
    Vinyl

    Flexi-Disc (Sound Sheet)

    1962–2001
    Vinyl

    Flexi-Disc (Sound Sheet)

    1962–2001
    Vinyl
  • Flexi Disk

    1962–2001
    Vinyl, braille label

    Flexi Disk

    1962–2001
    Vinyl, braille label

    Flexi Disk

    1962–2001
    Vinyl, braille label

    Flexi Disk

    1962–2001
    Vinyl, braille label

    Flexi Disk

    1962–2001
    Vinyl, braille label
  • Hip Pocket Record

    1967–1969
    Vinyl

    Hip Pocket Record

    1967–1969
    Vinyl

    Hip Pocket Record

    1967–1969
    Vinyl

    Hip Pocket Record

    1967–1969
    Vinyl

    Hip Pocket Record

    1967–1969
    Vinyl
  • Americom Pocket Disc

    1968–1969
    Vinyl

    Americom Pocket Disc

    1968–1969
    Vinyl

    Americom Pocket Disc

    1968–1969
    Vinyl

    Americom Pocket Disc

    1968–1969
    Vinyl

    Americom Pocket Disc

    1968–1969
    Vinyl
  • Evatone Play And Learn

    c. 1963
    Vinyl

    Evatone Play And Learn

    c. 1963
    Vinyl

    Evatone Play And Learn

    c. 1963
    Vinyl

    Evatone Play And Learn

    c. 1963
    Vinyl

    Evatone Play And Learn

    c. 1963
    Vinyl
  • Hollywood Flexo Sound-On-Disc

    1931
    Movie soundtrack on 16 in. flexible disc

    Hollywood Flexo Sound-On-Disc

    1931
    Movie soundtrack on 16 in. flexible disc

    Hollywood Flexo Sound-On-Disc

    1931
    Movie soundtrack on 16 in. flexible disc

    Hollywood Flexo Sound-On-Disc

    1931
    Movie soundtrack on 16 in. flexible disc

    Hollywood Flexo Sound-On-Disc

    1931
    Movie soundtrack on 16 in. flexible disc
  • Phonobox

    1990s
    Vinyl sheets bound into encyclopedia

    Phonobox

    1990s
    Vinyl sheets bound into encyclopedia

    Phonobox

    1990s
    Vinyl sheets bound into encyclopedia

    Phonobox

    1990s
    Vinyl sheets bound into encyclopedia

    Phonobox

    1990s
    Vinyl sheets bound into encyclopedia

Childrens Records

The very first commercial discs produced by Emile Berliner in 1889 were nursery rhymes and songs for children. Over time, there were many variations (most of which aren't included in this collection). Sizes ranged from 3 to 10 in. (not including records for talking dolls.) Speeds were 78 rpm to start with, gradually supplanted by 45 rpm in the 1950s.

  • Harper Bubble Book

    1917–1932
    From illustrated children's book

    Harper Bubble Book

    1917–1932
    From illustrated children's book

    Harper Bubble Book

    1917–1932
    From illustrated children's book

    Harper Bubble Book

    1917–1932
    From illustrated children's book

    Harper Bubble Book

    1917–1932
    From illustrated children's book
  • Talkie Jecktor

    1930s
    Soundtrack for animation on a paper scroll

    Talkie Jecktor

    1930s
    Soundtrack for animation on a paper scroll

    Talkie Jecktor

    1930s
    Soundtrack for animation on a paper scroll

    Talkie Jecktor

    1930s
    Soundtrack for animation on a paper scroll

    Talkie Jecktor

    1930s
    Soundtrack for animation on a paper scroll
  • Red Raven

    c. 1955–mid-1960s
    Animation viewed in faceted mirror placed at center of turntable

    Red Raven

    c. 1955–mid-1960s
    Animation viewed in faceted mirror placed at center of turntable

    Red Raven

    c. 1955–mid-1960s
    Animation viewed in faceted mirror placed at center of turntable

    Red Raven

    c. 1955–mid-1960s
    Animation viewed in faceted mirror placed at center of turntable

    Red Raven

    c. 1955–mid-1960s
    Animation viewed in faceted mirror placed at center of turntable
  • Mighty Tiny

    1970
    Toy phonograph

    Mighty Tiny

    1970
    Toy phonograph

    Mighty Tiny

    1970
    Toy phonograph

    Mighty Tiny

    1970
    Toy phonograph

    Mighty Tiny

    1970
    Toy phonograph
  • Toy

    Unknown
    Unknown French toy

    Toy

    Unknown
    Unknown French toy

    Toy

    Unknown
    Unknown French toy

    Toy

    Unknown
    Unknown French toy

    Toy

    Unknown
    Unknown French toy
  • Phonographic Alphabet

    1972

    Phonographic Alphabet

    1972

    Phonographic Alphabet

    1972

    Phonographic Alphabet

    1972

    Phonographic Alphabet

    1972
  • Talking ABC Monday Night Football

    1977

    Talking ABC Monday Night Football

    1977

    Talking ABC Monday Night Football

    1977

    Talking ABC Monday Night Football

    1977

    Talking ABC Monday Night Football

    1977

Dictation

Edison and others envisioned office dictation as one of the primary uses for the phonograph. Although pre-recorded music turned out to be the killer app for the phonograph, dictation was an important use of grooved media. Wax cyinders were used for many years, having the advantage that they could be "shaved" in a special machine to erase the previous recording. Grooves in thin plastic disks and belts eventually took over. They were lighter, cheaper and in many cases could be mailed in an envelope.

  • Dictaphone Cylinder

    1886ndash;1947
    Reusable by shaving off a layer of wax

    Dictaphone Cylinder

    1886ndash;1947
    Reusable by shaving off a layer of wax

    Dictaphone Cylinder

    1886ndash;1947
    Reusable by shaving off a layer of wax

    Dictaphone Cylinder

    1886ndash;1947
    Reusable by shaving off a layer of wax

    Dictaphone Cylinder

    1886ndash;1947
    Reusable by shaving off a layer of wax
  • Dictaphone Dictabelt

    1947–c. 1980
    12 in. vinyl belt embossed with a groove

    Dictaphone Dictabelt

    1947–c. 1980
    12 in. vinyl belt embossed with a groove

    Dictaphone Dictabelt

    1947–c. 1980
    12 in. vinyl belt embossed with a groove

    Dictaphone Dictabelt

    1947–c. 1980
    12 in. vinyl belt embossed with a groove

    Dictaphone Dictabelt

    1947–c. 1980
    12 in. vinyl belt embossed with a groove
  • Walkie Recordall Sonoband

    1950–mid 1960's
    Plastic loop with inscribed groove

    Walkie Recordall Sonoband

    1950–mid 1960's
    Plastic loop with inscribed groove

    Walkie Recordall Sonoband

    1950–mid 1960's
    Plastic loop with inscribed groove

    Walkie Recordall Sonoband

    1950–mid 1960's
    Plastic loop with inscribed groove

    Walkie Recordall Sonoband

    1950–mid 1960's
    Plastic loop with inscribed groove
  • Soundscriber

    early 1940s–1960s
    Embossed groove on vinyl disc

    Soundscriber

    early 1940s–1960s
    Embossed groove on vinyl disc

    Soundscriber

    early 1940s–1960s
    Embossed groove on vinyl disc

    Soundscriber

    early 1940s–1960s
    Embossed groove on vinyl disc

    Soundscriber

    early 1940s–1960s
    Embossed groove on vinyl disc
  • Gray Audograph

    1945–1976
    Embossed groove on vinyl disc spun at constant linear velocity

    Gray Audograph

    1945–1976
    Embossed groove on vinyl disc spun at constant linear velocity

    Gray Audograph

    1945–1976
    Embossed groove on vinyl disc spun at constant linear velocity

    Gray Audograph

    1945–1976
    Embossed groove on vinyl disc spun at constant linear velocity

    Gray Audograph

    1945–1976
    Embossed groove on vinyl disc spun at constant linear velocity
  • Edison Voicewriter

    c. 1949–mid-1960's
    24 rpm, embossed grooves

    Edison Voicewriter

    c. 1949–mid-1960's
    24 rpm, embossed grooves

    Edison Voicewriter

    c. 1949–mid-1960's
    24 rpm, embossed grooves

    Edison Voicewriter

    c. 1949–mid-1960's
    24 rpm, embossed grooves

    Edison Voicewriter

    c. 1949–mid-1960's
    24 rpm, embossed grooves
  • Memovox

    1940s
    Plastic disc, spun at constant linear velocity

    Memovox

    1940s
    Plastic disc, spun at constant linear velocity

    Memovox

    1940s
    Plastic disc, spun at constant linear velocity

    Memovox

    1940s
    Plastic disc, spun at constant linear velocity

    Memovox

    1940s
    Plastic disc, spun at constant linear velocity
  • CGS Reference Recording

    1940s
    Plastic disc used by radio stations to record broadcasts

    CGS Reference Recording

    1940s
    Plastic disc used by radio stations to record broadcasts

    CGS Reference Recording

    1940s
    Plastic disc used by radio stations to record broadcasts

    CGS Reference Recording

    1940s
    Plastic disc used by radio stations to record broadcasts

    CGS Reference Recording

    1940s
    Plastic disc used by radio stations to record broadcasts

Talking Doll

Edison marketed the first talking dolls in 1890, with an embedded phonograph and cylinders similar to the one below for the later Mae Starr doll. They were a commercial failure, in part due to the extremely low quality of the recording, often described today as "creepy". Edison himself admitted "the voices of the little monsters were exceedingly unpleasant." There was no good way at the time to duplicate cylinders, so Edison employed a small army of women in a room full of cubicals to make the recordings. Although Edison's dolls lasted only a few months on the market, several dolls based on cylinders were sold from the 1920s to World War II. Later dolls used disc records, at first fixed inside the doll, but eventually interchangeable.

  • Mae Starr

    1922–1944
    Used in a number of talking dolls

    Mae Starr

    1922–1944
    Used in a number of talking dolls

    Mae Starr

    1922–1944
    Used in a number of talking dolls

    Mae Starr

    1922–1944
    Used in a number of talking dolls

    Mae Starr

    1922–1944
    Used in a number of talking dolls
  • Charmin' Chatty

    1963–1965
    12 phrases

    Charmin' Chatty

    1963–1965
    12 phrases

    Charmin' Chatty

    1963–1965
    12 phrases

    Charmin' Chatty

    1963–1965
    12 phrases

    Charmin' Chatty

    1963–1965
    12 phrases
  • Sebino Belinda

    1970s
    Eyes blink and tongue moves while she talks and sings

    Sebino Belinda

    1970s
    Eyes blink and tongue moves while she talks and sings

    Sebino Belinda

    1970s
    Eyes blink and tongue moves while she talks and sings

    Sebino Belinda

    1970s
    Eyes blink and tongue moves while she talks and sings

    Sebino Belinda

    1970s
    Eyes blink and tongue moves while she talks and sings

Tape

One problem with disc-based media is their fixed capacity. The same is true for cylinders and belts. Plastic tape could be embossed with a groove, just like a dictation belt, but without a belt's inherently limited length. Plastic tape is also less fragile than discs, making it valuable for portable applications—the Recordgraph tape used to record the D-Day invasion on location is no doubt the most extreme example.

  • Tefifon

    late 1940s–1965
    Prerecorded music embossed on continuous plastic loop

    Tefifon

    late 1940s–1965
    Prerecorded music embossed on continuous plastic loop

    Tefifon

    late 1940s–1965
    Prerecorded music embossed on continuous plastic loop

    Tefifon

    late 1940s–1965
    Prerecorded music embossed on continuous plastic loop

    Tefifon

    late 1940s–1965
    Prerecorded music embossed on continuous plastic loop
  • Teficord

    1937–1939
    Prerecorded music cut on 35 mm film

    Teficord

    1937–1939
    Prerecorded music cut on 35 mm film

    Teficord

    1937–1939
    Prerecorded music cut on 35 mm film

    Teficord

    1937–1939
    Prerecorded music cut on 35 mm film

    Teficord

    1937–1939
    Prerecorded music cut on 35 mm film
  • Filmgraph

    1940s
    Groove embossed on open-reel plastic tape

    Filmgraph

    1940s
    Groove embossed on open-reel plastic tape

    Filmgraph

    1940s
    Groove embossed on open-reel plastic tape

    Filmgraph

    1940s
    Groove embossed on open-reel plastic tape

    Filmgraph

    1940s
    Groove embossed on open-reel plastic tape
  • Recordgraph

    1944–1946
    35 mm film holding up to 3 hours of audio in embossed groove

    Recordgraph

    1944–1946
    35 mm film holding up to 3 hours of audio in embossed groove

    Recordgraph

    1944–1946
    35 mm film holding up to 3 hours of audio in embossed groove

    Recordgraph

    1944–1946
    35 mm film holding up to 3 hours of audio in embossed groove

    Recordgraph

    1944–1946
    35 mm film holding up to 3 hours of audio in embossed groove

Video

An analog video signal carries far more information than an audio signal. In the late 1920s the inventor of the first mechanical television, John Logie Baird, was barely able to record a low resolution video signal onto a gramophone disc. In the late 1970s, Telefunken and Teldec released the TeD video system (not in this collection). The disc was spun at 1500 rpm and playback times were limited to 5 minutes for an 8 inch disc. It couldn't compete with VHS and Betamax, which were released around the same time. RCA developed the CED disc, included below, as a lower cost alternative to VHS. Both TeD and CED were read-only media; consumers couldn't record their own videos like they could with magnetic tape formats.

  • Capacitance Electronic Disc

    1981–1986
    Analog video stored as variations in the depth of the groove

    Capacitance Electronic Disc

    1981–1986
    Analog video stored as variations in the depth of the groove

    Capacitance Electronic Disc

    1981–1986
    Analog video stored as variations in the depth of the groove

    Capacitance Electronic Disc

    1981–1986
    Analog video stored as variations in the depth of the groove

    Capacitance Electronic Disc

    1981–1986
    Analog video stored as variations in the depth of the groove
  • Vinyl Video

    2018–present
    Analog video stored in one stereo channel, audio in the other

    Vinyl Video

    2018–present
    Analog video stored in one stereo channel, audio in the other

    Vinyl Video

    2018–present
    Analog video stored in one stereo channel, audio in the other

    Vinyl Video

    2018–present
    Analog video stored in one stereo channel, audio in the other

    Vinyl Video

    2018–present
    Analog video stored in one stereo channel, audio in the other

Software

In the early years of personal computing, computer magazines were looking for ways to publish software that didn't require the reader to transcribe code manually. 5¼ in. floppy discs were sometimes packaged as inserts and software was even printed as barcodes. Flexi-discs, flexible vinyl records, addressed a similar problem for music. Audio cassettes were already in use for storing software and the same audio encoding could be stored on a flexi-disc. Interface Age made it work in 1977, calling it a Floppy ROM, and, along with other magazines, occasionally distributed software this way through the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, computers didn't come with interfaces for turntables, so the most straightforward way to load a program was to rerecord it to a cassette tape. This had to be done with care so as not to introduce errors and the format never really caught on.

  • Floppy ROM

    1977–mid 1980s
    First "Floppy ROM," Interface Age, May 1977

    Floppy ROM

    1977–mid 1980s
    First "Floppy ROM," Interface Age, May 1977

    Floppy ROM

    1977–mid 1980s
    First "Floppy ROM," Interface Age, May 1977

    Floppy ROM

    1977–mid 1980s
    First "Floppy ROM," Interface Age, May 1977

    Floppy ROM

    1977–mid 1980s
    First "Floppy ROM," Interface Age, May 1977
  • Thompson Twins

    1984
    Game for ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64

    Thompson Twins

    1984
    Game for ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64

    Thompson Twins

    1984
    Game for ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64

    Thompson Twins

    1984
    Game for ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64

    Thompson Twins

    1984
    Game for ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64

Soundtrack

From the beginning, Edison intended motion pictures to be accompanied by sound in the form of cylinder phonograph records. (A clip and soudtrack made in 1894 by W.K.L. Dickson survives.) For a short period in 1895 Edison marketed a machine for arcades called the Kinetophone, which was basically a Kinetoscope with an unsynchronized soundtrack on a cylinder record. The first projected sound film, developed by Clement-Maurice Gratioulet and Henri Lioret and shown in 1900, also used a phonograph cylinder. Gaumont demonstrated a disc-based system in 1902 called the Chronophone that was used in theaters from 1911 to 1917. A number of other inventors and companies experimented with sound-on-disc, but until advent of electronic amplification, gramophones weren't loud enough to fill a theater.

In the 1920s Western Electric developed the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system using Lee de Forest's Audion tube for electronic amplification. Using the Vitaphone system, Warner Brothers released the Vitaphone shorts, a series of short films of musical performances. The soundtracks were recordings of the performance synchronized with the film. There was no spoken dialog. That had to wait for Warner's release of Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer in 1927, which led to dramatic changes in the movie business.

  • Gaumont Chronophone

    1902–mid-1910s
    78 rpm record for Gaumont's Chronophone system

    Gaumont Chronophone

    1902–mid-1910s
    78 rpm record for Gaumont's Chronophone system

    Gaumont Chronophone

    1902–mid-1910s
    78 rpm record for Gaumont's Chronophone system

    Gaumont Chronophone

    1902–mid-1910s
    78 rpm record for Gaumont's Chronophone system

    Gaumont Chronophone

    1902–mid-1910s
    78 rpm record for Gaumont's Chronophone system
  • Vitaphone

    1926–1931
    For a Vitaphone short released in July 1927

    Vitaphone

    1926–1931
    For a Vitaphone short released in July 1927

    Vitaphone

    1926–1931
    For a Vitaphone short released in July 1927

    Vitaphone

    1926–1931
    For a Vitaphone short released in July 1927

    Vitaphone

    1926–1931
    For a Vitaphone short released in July 1927
  • Columbia Victor

    1929–1930
    Walt Disney's The Merry Dwarfs

    Columbia Victor

    1929–1930
    Walt Disney's The Merry Dwarfs

    Columbia Victor

    1929–1930
    Walt Disney's The Merry Dwarfs

    Columbia Victor

    1929–1930
    Walt Disney's The Merry Dwarfs

    Columbia Victor

    1929–1930
    Walt Disney's The Merry Dwarfs
  • Hollywood Flexo

    c. 1931
    The soundtrack for Fighting Caravans on a 16 in. flexible disc

    Hollywood Flexo

    c. 1931
    The soundtrack for Fighting Caravans on a 16 in. flexible disc

    Hollywood Flexo

    c. 1931
    The soundtrack for Fighting Caravans on a 16 in. flexible disc

    Hollywood Flexo

    c. 1931
    The soundtrack for Fighting Caravans on a 16 in. flexible disc

    Hollywood Flexo

    c. 1931
    The soundtrack for Fighting Caravans on a 16 in. flexible disc
  • International 16mm Film Co.

    c. 1931
    Musical soundtrack for a 16 mm film

    International 16mm Film Co.

    c. 1931
    Musical soundtrack for a 16 mm film

    International 16mm Film Co.

    c. 1931
    Musical soundtrack for a 16 mm film

    International 16mm Film Co.

    c. 1931
    Musical soundtrack for a 16 mm film

    International 16mm Film Co.

    c. 1931
    Musical soundtrack for a 16 mm film
  • Movie Sound 8

    1947–1948
    12 in. sound-on-disc for short 8 mm films

    Movie Sound 8

    1947–1948
    12 in. sound-on-disc for short 8 mm films

    Movie Sound 8

    1947–1948
    12 in. sound-on-disc for short 8 mm films

    Movie Sound 8

    1947–1948
    12 in. sound-on-disc for short 8 mm films

    Movie Sound 8

    1947–1948
    12 in. sound-on-disc for short 8 mm films
  • Ameridisc

    1965
    Flexi-disc soundtrack for 8 mm film

    Ameridisc

    1965
    Flexi-disc soundtrack for 8 mm film

    Ameridisc

    1965
    Flexi-disc soundtrack for 8 mm film

    Ameridisc

    1965
    Flexi-disc soundtrack for 8 mm film

    Ameridisc

    1965
    Flexi-disc soundtrack for 8 mm film

Cam

The ability of a groove to apply mechanical force perpendicular to a path makes it useful for more than recording sound. In the form of a cam, a groove can be used to program the actions of a machine. Interchangable cams have often been used in home and industrial sewing machines to switch between types of stitches and to embroider lettering.

  • Linear Cam

    1969–late 1970s
    The initial "F" for the Singer Deluxe Monogrammer attachment

    Linear Cam

    1969–late 1970s
    The initial "F" for the Singer Deluxe Monogrammer attachment

    Linear Cam

    1969–late 1970s
    The initial "F" for the Singer Deluxe Monogrammer attachment

    Linear Cam

    1969–late 1970s
    The initial "F" for the Singer Deluxe Monogrammer attachment

    Linear Cam

    1969–late 1970s
    The initial "F" for the Singer Deluxe Monogrammer attachment
  • Face Cam

    1969–late 1970s
    The initial "F" for the Singer Deluxe Monogrammer

    Face Cam

    1969–late 1970s
    The initial "F" for the Singer Deluxe Monogrammer

    Face Cam

    1969–late 1970s
    The initial "F" for the Singer Deluxe Monogrammer

    Face Cam

    1969–late 1970s
    The initial "F" for the Singer Deluxe Monogrammer

    Face Cam

    1969–late 1970s
    The initial "F" for the Singer Deluxe Monogrammer
  • Face Cam

    1955–1960s
    For the Singer Automatic Zigzagger

    Face Cam

    1955–1960s
    For the Singer Automatic Zigzagger

    Face Cam

    1955–1960s
    For the Singer Automatic Zigzagger

    Face Cam

    1955–1960s
    For the Singer Automatic Zigzagger

    Face Cam

    1955–1960s
    For the Singer Automatic Zigzagger