Vinyl Record

A Short History of Sound Recording

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) was issued with his first patent on 19th February 1878 founding the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company in the same year.  In Edison’s own words “I was singing…to the mouthpiece of a telephone, when the vibrations of the wire sent the fine steel point into my finger.  That set me thinking.  If I could record the actions of the point, and then send that point over the same surface afterwards, I saw no reason why the thing would not talk.  I tried the experiment, first on a strip of telegraph paper, and found that the point made an alphabet.  I shouted the word `halloo! halloo!’ into the mouthpiece, ran the paper back over the steel point and heard a faint `halloo! halloo!’ in return.  I determined to make a machine that would work accurately, and gave my assistants instructions, telling them what I had discovered.  They laughed at me.  I bet fifteen cigars with one of my assistants, Mr. Adams, that the thing would work the first time without a break, and won them.  That’s the whole story.  The discovery came through the pricking of a finger.”

By the following year Edison was producing the tinfoil phonograph and soon superseded this with the introduction of the wax cylinder player.  The next significant step forward in sound carriers was the flat disc.  Emile Berliner first demonstrated disc reproduction on 16th May 1888 before members of the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia.  The first recording studio was opened by Fred Gaisberg in 1897 over a shoe shop on 12th Street, Philadelphia with the first retail record shop being opened in the same year by Berliner, also in Philadelphia.  By 1908 6.2 million discs were being produced yearly by one factory alone in Hanover, Germany.

Although reel to reel tape recording was not widely used until the late 1940’s the first commercially marketed reel to reel tape recorder was the `Magnetophon’ made by AEG/Telefunken in 1937.  Plastic base tape coated with iron oxide had been developed by BASF in 1934 although paper tape and other mediums had been in existence for some time. Soon after the Second World War recording studios moved over to tape for their master recordings.

Shellac records continued to be produced in vast quantities up to the late 1950’s but the first successful format for long playing records was developed by the American Columbia Co. in the late 1940’s.  and the release of long playing vinyl discs was announced by American Columbia on 26th June 1948.  The discs remained 10” and 12” diameter and the machines to play them were built by the Philco Radio and Television Company.  Columbia had announced that licences were available for other companies to manufacture LP’s and within a year many companies were entering the market.

The compact cassette was launched by Philips at the Berlin Radio Show in 1963.  It gave a total of 60 minutes recording time per side and originally only blank cassettes were available but pre-recorded cassettes soon appeared.

Although the announcement of the Compact Disc was made by Philips Industries on 17th May 1978 the first demonstration of `music from a beam of light’ was by British Ozaphone Ltd at the Café Royal, London on 10th February 1937.  Since the launch of the CD in 1978 many other digital formats have been produced such as DAT and minidisc with technologies now moving on to solid state storage.

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