History of Antique Phonographics 1877-1957

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1877, December 7
John Kruesi, an employee of Thomas A. Edison's, makes the phonograph work for the first time. Edison receives Patent No. 200,521 on the new machine on February 19, 1878.

1886, May 4
Patent No. 341,214 for the Graphophone is granted to Chichester Bell and Charles Tainter. The Graphophone uses wax-coated cylinders.

Emile Berliner patents machine which employs a zinc disc, rather than a cylinder, and works on perfecting the lateral stylus.

American Graphophone and Columbia Phonograph companies merge under the Columbia name and the progenitor of today's Columbia Record Company is born. Berliner's U.S. Gramophone Company (1893) produces one-sided, seven-inch, two-minute discs for 50 cents apiece. Discs run at 70 rpm.

Eldridge Johnson, at one time an employee of Berliner's, given patent for the "Flower" horn attachment on Gramophones. Develops also a spring-driven motor for disc machines, and works on the creation of wax discs.

Johnson forms his own group Victor Talking Machine Company, and Victor Records, on March 1. Absorbs Berliner's group and incorporates Victor on October 3.

1903, April 30
Victor releases its first "Red Seal" record. Johnson signs tenor Enrico Caruso to an exclusive contract. Caruso makes Vesti la giubba (VIC 6001) and it goes on to sell a million copies, the first disc record to do so.

1906, August 22
Victor scoops the industry by announcing the production and sale ($200) of the Victrola, a four-foot high console with enclosed horn. Victor begins to use its "miracle asset," the trademark of the dog "Nipper" (from a painting by Francis Barraud) listening to His Master's Voice coming over a phonograph. By 1912 Victor is spending $1.2 million a year on publicity.

Columbia counters with a stunning development, the two-sided disc record; thereby setting a pattern that persists for 50 years. Columbia also brings out the Grafanola to compete with the Victrola. Victor responds with two-sided popular records in 1909. Red Seal records remain one-sided until 1923.

Dance mania sweeps the nation. Orchestras are formed to service the rising public demand for dance-worthy music. Edison suspends nearly all production of cylinders and begins to manufacture thick discs recorded vertically at 80 rpm Record industry given great boost by the craze for ballroom dancing. The "Golden Age" of discs begins.

The bands of Jim Europe, Tea Lewis, Wilbur Sweatman, Art Hickman, King Oliver, W. C. Handy, Fate Marable, Paul Specht, Noble Sissle, Will Marion Cook, Meyer Davis, Freddie Keppard, and Coon-Sanders are touring new dance emporiums . . . By the end of the year, 46 record companies are in operation.

1917, February 24
The five-piece Original Dixieland Jazz Band makes its first side for Victor in New York. Dixie Jazz Band One-Step (VIC 18255) sells 1.5 million copies and initiates an era of commercial jazz recordings . . . Victor's assets in 1917 reach $33.2 million.

World War I ends . . . Paul Whiteman, Jan Garber, Vincent Lopez, George Olsen, and Leo Reisman form their orchestras. Record industry prepares for postwar boom.

Ben Selvin's orchestra records Dardanella for Victor and it becomes the first pop music record to sell a million copies. Gennett Record Company of Indiana is founded.

1920, August 8
Paul Whiteman makes record (VIC 18690) of "Whispering," which sells two million copies and moves Whiteman to the forefront of pop music for the rest of the Roaring Twenties . . . Okeh and Pathe' record companies begin operations . . . November KDKA (Pittsburgh) is first radio station to be licensed for commercial broadcasting. Record industry fails to see the significance of this at the time.

Harry Pace founds first all-Negro record companies Black Swan (New York) and Sunshine (Los Angeles) . . . "The Old Maestro," Ben Bernie, assembles an orchestra.

By the end of the year there are 200 radio stations and three million radios in American homes . . . More than 100 million records are produced and Americans spend more money on recorded music than on any other mode of entertainment. Banner, Brunswick, Cameo, Paramount, and Perfect record companies are founded . . . The New Orleans Rhythm Kings record for Gennett (GEN 4966) in September . . . Paul Whiteman's Three O'Clock in the Morning (VIC 18940-A) is cut and goes on to sell two million copies by 1925.

Orchestras of Guy Lombardo, Ted Weems, Ted Fio Rito, Duke Ellington, Abe Lyman, Fletcher Henderson, Bennie Moten, Erskine Tate are on the road. Louis Armstrong's first appearance on record is with King Oliver's Jazz Band in March (PAR 12088) . . . Oriole Label commences . . . Severe recession strikes the record business. Columbia goes into receivership in October.

Victor goes into a slump. Bell Laboratories, AT&T, and Western Electric develop a new electrical recording system which will revolutionize the disc industry . . . Vernon Dalhart makes Wreck of the Old 97 (VIC 19427), which becomes the biggest seller (over six million copies) of the acoustical recording era . . . Will Osborne, Art Kassel, and Red Nichols start their bands . . . Whiteman & George Gershwin's concert at Aeolian Hall (Feb. 12) ushers in the "Pop Jazz" movement. There are now 694 radio stations in operation.

Victor, and a revived Columbia, buy into the Western Electric system. Victor's first electrical recording (VIC 19626) goes on sale in April. The replacement of the old acoustical horn with the studio microphone enhances recording process remarkably . . . The industry is rejuvenated and a new phase of disc history begins . . . Orthophonic Victrolas are introduced (Nov. 2) and are a great success . . . Duke Ellington cuts his first record (PER 14314) and Lawrence Welk begins his long career as a bandleader.

RCA initiates the concept of the radio "network" with 19 stations . . . Eldridge Johnson sells his Victor interests to several Wall Street banking firms (Dec. 7) . . . Victor technicians begin perfecting the automatic record changer, which is brought out in March, 1927 . . . Turntable speeds finally stabilize at 78 rpm.

Radio sales hit $800 million. There are nearly 10 million radio sets in the U.S . . . CBS Radio Network celebrates its second birthday . . . Earl Hines makes his first record with his nine-man orchestra (Feb. 13), Sweet Ella May (VIC 22842) The Big Crash: Cameo and Edison cease record production.

Record industry in a deep slump due to the Depression. Sales drop to an all-time low gross of $2.5 million for the year. Crown, Gennett, Harmony, Pathe', and Paramount labels no longer producing discs . . . RCA Victor fails to follow through on the idea of a 33 1/3 rpm record devised by its engineers in 1930-31 . . . By January, 1933 the record business is virtually defunct.

A decided upturn in the record industry is noticeable. The Decca company is formed by Jack Kapp and sells discs for 35 cents . . . Jukeboxes make their presences felt across the country Rock-Ola begins production, one year after Wurlitzer American Record Company buys out Columbia. RCA Victor introduces inexpensive turntable attachment for radios, and publicizes its "High Fidelity" Red Seal line as a superior product . . . RCA's Bluebird Records release first discs.

Benny Goodman becomes the Pied Piper of the Big Band era. "Swing" storms in on the wings of his record of King Porter Stomp (VIC 25090) and his sensational reception on the West Coast in August and September . . . Bob Crosby, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller form their own bands and begin to record for DEC, VIC, and COL respectively . . . Downbeat magazine starts publication. "Your Hit Parade" debuts (Apr. 20) and a new alliance between records and radio is underway . . . Annual record sales gross rises to $8.8 million.

CBS, which bought up the American Record Company for $700,000 in 1938, brings out the new Columbia label and signs Benny Goodman, Horace Heidt, Kay Kyser, and Orrin Tucker to contracts . . . RCA Victor and Decca account for nearly 75% of all records sold (over 35 million total in 1939). Downbeat polls place Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Bob Crosby, and Glen Gray at the top of the heap. There are now 300,000 jukeboxes in full operation in the U.S. The typical big band of the swing era has settled in at 14 sidemen plus the leader . . . Glenn Miller is on his way to grossing $800,000 per annum, twice Goodman's income for 1937 . . . RCA Victor's 0-10 record player (hand-operated) is priced at $9.95, with $2.25 worth of VIC and BLB records thrown in free.

The U.S.A. is at war and the record industry begins to hurt Bob Crosby, Dick Jurgens, Eddy Duchin, Glenn Miller are among the leaders who don uniforms . . . War Production Board cuts use of shellac by 70% in Arpil . . . Production of phonographs suspended . . . James C. Petrillo's American Federation of Musicians, (AFM) goes on strike. Recording ban lasts until October, 1943, for DEC and CAP; to November, 1944 for VIC and COL.

Expected postwar boom materializes. Over 400 million records sold (up from 275 million in 1946) and 34 million radio-phonographs . . . Record companies formed since 1945 (King, MGM, Mercury, and Imperial) flourishing . . . Rise of vocalists such as Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Jo Stafford beginning to undermine Big Bands' monopoly on public attention 78 rpm record threatened from several directions: Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing, (3-M) brings out magnetic tape that can record sounds at 15,000 cycles at a speed of 7.5 inches per second; CBS-COL completes three years of work on a low-speed microgroove "LP" record in September.

1948, June 21
Columbia officially introduces the vinylite, 33 1/3 LP disc. RCA, which had rejected Columbia's offer to share in the discovery, counters in February, 1949 with the 45 rpm record. A fascinated populace stood by while the two old foes struggled for supremacy in the marketplace. For the 78 rpm it was the Twilight of the Gods.

Epilogue (1948-1957)

By the summer of 1949 it was clear that the 33 1/3 rpm disc was winning the battle. Companies who were holding back until then bought LP rights from Columbia and hastened to produce their own microgroove records. Decca moved to LP in November, 1949. Capitol manufactured both 33 1/3 and 45 rpm discs that Fall. RCA Victor finally gave in in January, 1950. By the end of the year gross sales reached $172.2 million (almost double the intake for 1945). For a year or so it appeared that the 45 rpm disc would abort, leaving RCA Victor and Capitol worse for the wear. But 45's began to develop a following at the "pop" music level in 1950-51 and other companies began to add 45's to their lines. It was Columbia's turn to capitulate. By 1954 more than 200 million 45's had been sold. RCA Victor claimed that 45's constituted over 50% of the "singles" market that year.

And what of the 78 rpm record? It was languishing, receding, and expiring. It simply could not compete with the convenience and the quality of the microgroove disc. Any doubt as to its fate was ended in 1954 when 45's passed 78's in total sales in the "pop" field. Companies were sending 45's to disc jockeys more frequently than 78's and getting positive response. Radio stations wanted discs that were durable, easily stored, and of high fidelity. Suddenly 78's seemed archaic and cumbersome.

By 1957 the 78 rpm disc had been replaced and began to fade into the recesses of public memory. The Big Bands were gone, and so was the medium that brought them into our homes for 30 years.

Adapted from
"78 RPM Records & Prices"
by Peter A. Soderbergh, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1977 - ISBN: 0-87069-169-4
Wallace-Homestead Book Company
Des Moines, Iowa 50304

WAMS NOTE: A brief spark of life happens in the early 1970's when Robert Crumb, underground cartoonist, 78 record collector and string-band leader releases two ten-inch and one twelve-inch 78 rpm vinyl singles. The latter being an "adult" party record, pressed in red. He also has produced three LPs of standard 1920/30s pop tunes with his Band, "The Cheap Suit Serenaders."

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