History of the Phonograph
The phonograph, or gramophone, was the most common device for playing recorded
sound from the 1870s through the 1980s.
Usage of these terms is somewhat
different in American English and British English; see usage note below. In
more modern usage, this device is often called a turntable or record player.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the alternative term talking machine
was sometimes used. The phonograph was the first device for recording and
In more modern usage, this device is called a turntable or record player.
The term phonograph meaning "writing sound", is derived from Greek roots.
Similar related terms gramophone and graphophone have similar root meanings.
Arguably, any device used to record sound or reproduce recorded sound could
be called a type of "phonograph", but in common practice it has come to mean
historic technologies of sound recording.
The earliest known invention of a phonographic recording device was the
phonautograph, invented by Leon Scott and patented on March 25, 1857. It could
transcribe sound to a visible medium, but had no means to play back the sound
after it was recorded. The device consisted of a horn that focused sound waves
onto a membrane to which a hog's bristle was attached, causing the bristle to
move and enabling it to inscribe a visual medium. Initially, the phonautograph
made recordings onto a lamp-blackened glass plate. A later version used a
medium of lamp-blackened paper on a drum or cylinder�an arrangement to which
Thomas Edison's later invention would bear striking resemblance. Other
versions would draw a line representing the sound wave on to a roll of paper.
The phonautograph was a laboratory curiosity for the study of acoustics. It
was used to determine the vibrations per second for a musical pitch and to
study sound and speech; it was not widely understood until after the
development of the phonograph that the waveform recorded by the phonautograph
was a record of the sound wavelength that needed only a playback mechanism to
reproduce the sound.
The First Phonograph
Patent drawing for Edison's phonograph, 05/18/1880.Thomas Alva Edison
announced his invention of the first phonograph, a device for recording and
replaying sound, on November 21, 1877 and he demonstrated the device for the
first time on November 29 (he patented it on February 19, 1878; US Pat. No.
200,521). Edison's early phonographs recorded on a phonograph cylinder using
up-down (vertical) motion of the stylus. Edison's early patents show that he
also considered that sound could also be recorded as a spiral on a disc, but
Edison concentrated his efforts on cylinders, since the groove on the outside
of a rotating cylinder provides a constant velocity to the stylus in the
groove, which Edison considered more "scientifically correct". Edison's patent
specified that the audio recording was embossed, and it was not until 1889
that engraved recordings were patented by Bell and Tainter.
The First Gramophone
Emile Berliner invented what he called the Gramophone, another device for
recording and replaying sound, and patented it in on November 8, 1887 (US Pat.
No 372,786). It recorded on a disk using side-to-side (lateral) motion of the
British and American Language Usage
In British English "gramophone" came to refer to any sound reproducing machine
using disc records, as disc records were popularized in the UK by the
Gramophone Company. The term "phonograph" is usually restricted to devices
playing cylinder records.
In American English, "phonograph" was the most
common generic term for any early sound reproducing machine. Berliner's
Gramophone was considered a type of phonograph. "Gramophone" was a brand name,
and as such in the same category as "Victrola," "Zon-o-phone," and "Graphonola"
referring to specific brands of sound reproducing machines.
The brand "Gramophone" was not used in the USA after 1901, and the word
fell out of use there. In contemporary American usage "phonograph" most
usually refers to disc record machines or turntables, the most common type of
analogue recording from the 1910s on. The word has survived in America based
on its nickname form, "Grammy", in the Grammy Awards.
Disc Versus Cylinder as a Recording Media
Disc recording is inherently neither better nor worse than cylinder recording
in potential audio fidelity.
Recordings made on a cylinder remain at a
constant radial velocity for the entirety of the recording, while those made
on a disc, have a higher radial velocity at the outer portion of the groove,
compared to the inner portion.
Edison's patented recording method recorded with vertical modulations in a
groove, Berliner utilized a lateraly modulated groove.
Though Edison's recording technology was better than Berliner's, there were
commercial advantages to a disc system:
The disc could be easily mass produced by molding and stamping, and
required storage space for a collection of recordings. The heavy cast-iron
turntable acted as a flywheel and helped to maintain a consistent rotational
velocity. The cylinder machine, lacking this greater rotational inertia, was
susceptible to musical pitch fluctuations, and required more mechanical
adjustment and maintenance to avoid this impairment. Berliner successfully
argued that his technology was different enough from Edison's that he did not
need to pay royalties on it, which reduced his business expenses.
Through experimentation, in 1892 Berliner began commercial production of
his disc records, and "gramophones" or "talking-machines". His "gramophone
record" was the first disc record to be offered to the public. They were five
inches (12.7 cm) in diameter and recorded on one side only. Seven-inch (17.8
cm) records followed in 1895. By 1901, ten-inch (25.4 cm) records being sold
by the Victor Talking Machine Company, and Berliner had sold his interests. By
1908, double sided disc recorded records became demanded by the public, and
cylinders fell into disfavor. Edison felt the commercial pressure for disc
records, and by 1912, though reluctant at first, his movement to disc records
was in full swing.
From the mid 1890s until the late 1910s both phonograph cylinder and disc
recordings and machines to play them on were widely mass marketed and sold.
The disc system gradually became more popular due to its cheaper price and
better marketing by disc record companies.
From 1900, through the early 1920s, cylinder records, disc records, and
machines to play them, were widely mass marketed and sold, and was considered
the ultimate in fine home entertainment. Edison ceased cylinder manufacture in
the fall of 1929, and the history of disc and cylinder rivalry was concluded;
and engraved to disc.
Dominance of the Disc Phonograph
Berliner's lateral disc record was the ancestor of the 78rpm, 45rpm, 33⅓rpm,
and all other analogue disc records popular for use in sound recording through
the 20th century. See gramophone record and vinyl record.
brought improved radio technology and radio sales, and many phonograph dealers
to financial ruin. With efforts at improved audio fidelity, the big record
companies succeeded in keeping business booming through the end of the decade,
but the record sales plummeted during the Great Depression, with many
companies merging or going out of business. Booms in record sales returned
after World War II.
The "phonograph", "gramophone" or "turntable", remained a common element of
home audio systems well after the introduction of other media such as audio
tape and even the early years of the compact disc. They were not uncommon in
home audio systems into the early 1990s.
Turntable Drive Systems: Direct and Belt
The technology of required for a turntable is simple. Most designs use a belt
drive or direct drive system. Earlier designs also used an indirect drive
system using a rubberized wheel, however, non-linear wear, and decomposition
of the wheel introduced noise, and speed variations into the desired audio.
These systems generally used a synchronous motor which ran at a speed
synchronized to the frequency of the utility supplier. Different speeds were
obtained by bringing differing diameter wheels into position between the drive
and the platter.
The belt drive improved motor and platter isolation, this
noise transfer (usually heard as low frequency rumble) was much reduced. It is
difficult to design comprehensive multiple speed synchronous motors,
consequently, DC motors, with electronics providing speed control, have gained
favor. On the most sophisticated designs, sensors on the platter, are used to
ensure the speed of the platter remains locked and absolutely stable. Many
platters have a continuous series of reflective markings machined around their
edge to provide these pulses. A strobing effect can be observed by the
operator to verify rotational speed. Basic DC motors tend to rotate in steps
rather than smoothly, this is referred to as 'cogging', and can add noise
during playback. Helical armature motors can be used to overcome this.
Direct drive turntables, drive the platter directly, without utilizing
intermediate wheels or belts as part of a drive train. The platter functions
as a motor armature. This requires good engineering, with advanced electronics
for acceleration and speed control. This design and is integrated into some of
the finest systems available.
"Turn Tables" or "Turntablism" is not considered by some as a musical
instrument, as it is a 'technique' of manipulating music as laid down by
artists. However, music may be defined as an 'organized sound', and organized
manipulation of sound (music) is still music.
His Master's Voice
His Master's Voice, often abbreviated to HMV, is a famous trademark in the
music business, and for many years was the name of a large record company. The
name was coined in 1899 as the title of a painting of the dog Nipper listening
to a wind-up gramophone.
The famous trademark image came from a painting
originally titled Dog looking at and listening to a Phonograph, and then
retitled His Master's Voice. It was painted by British artist Francis Barraud
in 1898, based on memories of his dog Nipper. The original version of the
painting showed not the disc gramophone familiar in the trademark today, but
rather a cylinder phonograph. The dog and phonograph were perched atop a
coffin. Presumably the dog was listening to the voice of his deceased owner.
(This made more sense with a cylinder phonograph, since at the time they
commonly had attachments to make home recordings, whereas the disc gramophone
only played back prerecorded sound.)
Barraud failed to sell it to any cylinder phonograph company, but in 1899
was able to sell it to the Gramophone Company under the condition that he
modify it to show a disc machine. The Gramophone Company first used the image
on publicity material in 1900. At the request of the gramophone's inventor
Emile Berliner, the American rights to the picture became owned by the Victor
Talking Machine Company.
Victor used the image more aggressively than its U.K. partner, and from
1902 on all Victor records had a simplified drawing of the dog and gramophone
from Barraud's painting on their label. Magazine advertisements urged record
buyers to "Look for the dog".
In Commonwealth countries, the Gramophone Company did not use this design
on its record labels until 1909. The following year the Gramophone Company
replaced the Recording Angel trademark in the upper half of the record labels
by the famous picture painted by Frances Barraud, commonly referred to as
Nipper or The Dog. The Company was never called "HMV" or His Master's Voice,
but was identified by that term because of its use of the trademark. Records
issued by the Company before February 1908 were generally referred to as
"G&Ts", while those after that date are usually called HMV records.
This image continued to be used as a trademark by Victor in the USA, Canada
and Latin America, and then by Victor's successor RCA. In Commonwealth
countries (except Canada) it was used by the associated company HMV Records,
which was later acquired by EMI. The trademark's ownership is divided between
different companies in different countries, reducing its value in the
globalised music market. The name HMV is used by a chain of music shops,
mainly in the UK, Canada and Japan.
In 1921 the His Master's Voice Company opened the first HMV shop in London.
In 1929 RCA bought Victor, and with it a major shareholding in the Gramophone
Company which Victor had owned since 1920. In 1931 RCA was instrumental in the
creation of EMI, which continued to own the "His Master's Voice" name and
image in the UK. In 1935 RCA sold its stake in EMI but continued to own Victor
and the American rights to His Master's Voice. World War II fragmented the
ownership of the name still further, as RCA Victor's Japanese subsidiary The
Victor Company of Japan JVC became independent. Nipper continued to appear on
RCA Victor records in America while EMI owned the His Master's Voice label and
shops in the UK until the 1980s. The globalised market for CDs pushed EMI into
abandoning the HMV label in favor of "EMI Classics", a name they could use
worldwide. Meanwhile RCA went into a financial decline; The RCA Victor label
(complete with the dog and gramophone image) is now licensed by RCA Records
owner BMG-Bertelsmann from trademark owner General Electric, while RCA's
consumer electronics business (still promoted by Nipper the dog) is owned by
Over the years the HMV label for records was abandoned by EMI, only to be
revived in the nineties for Morrissey recordings.
The name HMV is still used by their chain of record shops in the UK, which
continued to expand internationally through the 1990s. In 1998 HMV Media was
created as a separate company and bought the Waterstone's chain of bookshops,
leaving EMI with a 43% stake. In 2002 it floated on the Stock Exchange as HMV
Group plc, leaving EMI with only a token holding.
The Victor Talking Machine Company
The Victor Talking Machine Company (1901 - 1929) was a United States
corporation, the leading American producer of phonographs and phonograph
records and one of the leading phonograph companies in the world at the time.
The company was incorporated in Camden, New Jersey in October of 1901 by
Eldridge R. Johnson. It was created by merger and reorganization of two
existing companies: Emile Berliner's Berliner Gramophone Company, which
produced disc records, and Johnson's Consolidated Talking Machine Company,
which produced machines for playing disc records. The company was named "The
Victor" in honor of legal victories by Johnson and Berliner over Zonophone and
others concerning their rights to patents on and distribution of their
Victor had the rights in the United States and Latin America to use the
famous trademark of the dog Nipper listening to an early disc phonograph. (See
also His Master's Voice.)
In 1901, the phonograph cylinder still dominated the market for recorded
sound. Disc records and phonographs were widely considered to be little more
than toys, for they were cheaper, less reliable and usually of lower audio
fidelity than the cylinder records. Johnson embarked on efforts to change
these perceptions. He built more reliable spring-wound phonographs out of
durable materials and hired engineers to research improved sound for the
recordings. Within a few years, Victor was producing records with some of the
finest audio fidelity of the era.
After increasing the quality of disc records and phonographs, Johnson began
an ambitious project to have the most prestigious singers and musicians of the
day record for Victor Records, with exclusive agreements where possible. Often
these artists demanded fees which the company could not hope to make up from
sale of their records. Johnson shrewdly knew that he would get his money's
worth in the long run in promotion of the Victor brand name. Many
advertisements were printed mentioning by name the greatest names of music in
the era, with the statement that they recorded only for Victor Records. As
Johnson intended, much of the public assumed from this that Victor Records
must be superior to cylinder records.
The Victor recordings by Enrico Caruso were particularly successful. They
were often used by retailers to demonstrate Victor phonographs; Caruso's rich
powerful low tenor voice highlighted the best range of audio fidelity of the
early audio technology while being minimally affected by its defects. Even
people who otherwise never listened to opera often owned a record or two of
the great voice of Caruso. Caruso and Victor Records did much to boost each
other's commercial popularity.
The origins of country music as we know it today can be traced to two
seminal influences and a remarkable coincidence. Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter
Family are considered the founders of country music and their songs were first
captured at an historic recording session in Bristol, Tennessee on August 1,
1927 where Ralph Peer was the talent scout and sound recordist for Victor
Victrola Model XVI, 1910sIn 1906, Johnson and his engineers designed a new
line of phonographs with the turntable and amplifying horn tucked away inside
a wooden cabinet. This was not done for reasons of audio fidelity, but for
visual aesthetics. The intention was to produce a phonograph that looked less
like a piece of machinery and more like a piece of furniture. These internal
horn machines, trademarked with the name Victrola, were first marketed to the
public in August of that year and were an immediate hit. Soon an extensive
line of Victrolas was marketed, ranging from small tabletop models selling for
$15, through many sizes and designs of cabinets intended to go with the decor
of middle-class homes in the $100 to $250 range, up to $600 Chippendale and
Queen Anne-style cabinets of fine wood with gold trim designed to look at home
in elegant mansions. Victrolas became by far the most popular brand of home
phonograph, and sold in great numbers until the end of the 1920s.
Victor switched from the old acoustical or mechanical method of recording
sound to the new microphone based electrical system developed by Western
Electric. Victor called their version of the improved fidelity recording
process "Orthophonic", and sold a line of new designs of phonographs to play
these improved records, called "Orthophonic Victrolas". The large top-of-
the-line "Credenza" models of Orthophonic Victrolas had a 6 foot long horn
coiled inside the cabinet, and are often considered the high point of the
development of the commercial wind-up phonograph, offering audio fidelity
seldom matched by most home electric phonographs until some 30 years later.
In 1928, Johnson sold his controlling interest in Victor to the banking
firm of Siegelman & Spyer, who in 1929 sold to the Radio Corporation of
America, which then became known as the Radio-Victor Division of the Radio
Corporation of America later RCA Victor.
These articles are licensed under the "GNU Free Documentation License".
They use material from the Wikipedia articles; "Phonograph",
"His Master's Voice"
and "Victor Talking Machine Company".