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A History of Records

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History of Records Timeline

1806: English physician and naturalist Thomas Young records the vibrations of a tuning fork on a rotating drum covered with wax. He is unfortunately unable to listen to what he's recorded, because there is no way at this time to play back the recording.

1857: Frenchman Leon Scott de Martinville develops the phonoautograph, with which he is able to record sound. The air pressure fluctuations caused by sound are translated into a wavy line on a soot-covered surface using a large horn, a diaphragm and a pig's hair. Once again, though, similar to Thomas Young's invention, there is no way to play back the sounds that are recorded.

1877: Another Frenchman, Charles Cros, actually comes up with an idea for a machine that can record sound and play it black. Unfortunately he was unable to find anyone to finance him so he is unable to try out his plans.

1877: Thomas Edison develops the first working phonograph able to record and play back sound after, earlier in the year, accidentally running tin foil under a stylus while experimenting with a new telegraph device, which enabled him to record his voice.

1881: Charles Tainter makes the first lateral-cut records, produced by a special lathe that cuts a wax master. He electroplates the discs with copper, but has no way to play them back to hear how they sounde.

1885: Chichester Bell and Charles Tainter together develop the "Graphophone" "and utilize a wax-coated cylinder cut with vertical grooves."

1887: Edison updates his phonograph. He uses a solid wax cylinder and a battery-driven motor instead of a hand crank, which he originally used. This improves the sound, ensuring that there is a constant pitch instead of a wavering one.

1888: Emile Berliner, a German Jewish immigrant to the United States, invents a gramophone that plays a 7-inch disc, which one manually turns at 30 RPM. From these discs, unlike with the cylinders, hard rubber copies are able to be mass produced.

1889: The Columbia Phonograph Co. is set up by Edward D. Easton and leases graphophones to businesses. They have more success, though, recording music and leasing the recordings out to be used in nickel "juke boxes."

1890s: Nickel juke boxes become widely popular during the Depression years. These juke boxes utilize the cylinder technology, and many would allow multiple listeners by having more than one listening tube coming out of them.

1894: Emile Berliner's US Gramophone Company makes and sells 1,000 gramophone machines, some electric-powered, most hand-powered. They also sell 25,000 hard rubber 7-inch records.

1895: Edison, in competition with the US Gramophone company, mass produces his phonograph and its cylinders. He updates the original design of his phonograph by adding a horn to it, which increases the volume of the sound output.

1896: Fred Gaisberg discovers that shellac works better than hard rubber for records. 1897: Shellac discs become the standard playback medium.

1900: Similar to records vs. CDs during the 1980s or beta video tapes vs. VHS, competition between disc and cylinder machines occurs as makers of both increase their mass production.

1901: Eldridge Johnson's Consolidated Talking Machine Company merges with Emile Berliner's company to create the Victor Talking Machine Company, which uses the "little nipper" dog as its trademark. 1904: Double-sided discs become available.

1906: The Victor Talking Machine Company introduces its "Victrola" upright enclosed playing machine, which becomes the best selling and most influential record player of its time.

1909: The term album is first used to reference a record because the release of the "Nutcracker Suite" on four double-sided discs reminds people of a photo album.

1913 - Flat discs beat out cylinders in the battle of playback media as Edison finally concedes and begins selling his Diamond-Disc players and recordings.

1916: Theodore Case starts to develop a sound-on-film recording system for motion pictures.

1917: The record with the songs "Livery Stable Blues" and "Dixie Jass Band One Step" becomes the first Jazz record ever released on February 26, 1917, for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Controversy over this first Jazz record still continues today since the Original Dixieland Jass Band's members were all white and many think they stole their sound from black musicians in New Orleans.

1921: The popularity of radio causes the first ever dip in sales of records.

1921: Independent record companies win the right to make lateral cut records, a technique previously owned by Victor.

1926: Recording at 33 1/3 RPM is introduced by the Vitaphone Co. They do it to keep in sync with talking pictures. They use 16-inch acetate-coated shellac discs on players run by electric motors. The disc size and speed allows it to last the same length of time as a reel of film.

1926: A featherweight stylus is produced and sold by Charles Brush. It is called the piezo-electric.

1928: The Jazz Singer is released. It is the first commercial sound film with audible dialogue.

1927: The jukebox is introduced by the Automatic Music Instrument Co.

1928: The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) buys out the Victor Talking Machine Company and RCA Victor is born.

1930: Bing Crosby records his first solo record, "I Remember Dear," and becomes the nation's most popular singer.

1931: Alan Blumlein develops stereo recording, which he calls "binaural" at Bell Telephone laboratories.

1931: EMI studio asks Alan Blumlein to install his stereo recording system in its Abbey Road studios in London, which is the largest sound recording studio in the world at this time.

1934: Wurlitzer introduces multiple-selection juke boxes

1939: Magnetic tape on which sounds can be recorded is invented.

1940: Vinyl to be used as a material to make records is introduced as a replacement for shellac, which is in short supply due to the invasion of South East Asia by the Japanese. Production of records was practically halted until this solution comes about.

1940s: Enter the DJ: Persons with the essential equipment of a turntable, a pile of records, and a basic amplifier become very popular as they entertain troops in mess halls across Europe and Asia during WWII, "spinning" Glen Miller, the Andrews Sisters, and Benny Goodman.

1948: Columbia introduces the 12-inch 33 1/3 RPM microgroove Long Play (LP) vinylite record and compatible turntable. The record has 23 minutes of play time on each side .

1949: RCA Victor introduces the 7-inch 45 rpm microgroove vinyl single and compatible turntable.

1949: Capitol becomes the first major label to support all three recording speeds of 78, 45, 33-1/3 RPM.

1949: The Top 40 is started by Todd Storz from the KOWH radio station.

1950: The decline of the 78 RPM shellac disc begins as the new vinyl records become more popular. This is because they sound better and are now cheaper to make.

1950: RCA Victor releases records in the Columbia 12-inch LP format.

1951: Columbia releases records in the RCA 7-inch 45 rpm format.

1951: The first Jukebox that can play 7-inch 45 rpm records is introduced.

1953-1954: Bill Haley releases his first national rock hit "Crazy Man Crazy" on the Essex label. He follows that the next year with his hits "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "Rock Around the Clock."

1954: Record companies begin delivering 7-inch 45 rpm record singles to radio stations instead of 78s. This and the rising popularity of the 33 1/3 format for full albums results in the beginning of the end for the 78 RPM format.

1956: An in-car turntable is introduced by Chrysler for its Imperial model. The special record plays 7-inches that have "ultramicrogrooves" at 16-2/3 RPM. The player was developed by Peter Goldmark, the same person who invented the 33-1/3 RPM LP record format. 1957: The Recording Industry Association of America chooses the Westrex standard for stereo records, basically setting the world standard for stereo records.

1958: RCA introduces its first stereo LPs.

1963: Philips introduces the first compact audio cassette. Compact audio cassettes would affect the sales of records as the battle between records and cassettes would ensue.

1966: Brian Wilson produces "Pet Sounds."

1966: "River Deep Mountain High" by Ike and Tina Turner and produced by Phil Spector with his trademark "Wall of Sound" is released.

1967: "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" produced by George Martin and the Beatles is released.

1969: Kool Herc, considered by many to be the first hip-hop DJ, develops "Cutting Breaks," in which he would chant over instrumental or percussion sections of songs he was spinning at clubs. He would extend the breaks indefinitely by using an audio mixer to switch between two identical records on two different turntables.

1975: Grand Wizard Theodore invents the scratch.

Late 70s: Technics adds pitch control to its SL-1200 model, a direct result of the DJ influence.

1979: Grandmaster Flash develops the "breakbeat," a looping of the instrumental sections on House records.

1980: The compact disc is developed by Philips Electronics N.V. and Sony Corporation as a digital means of storing audio recordings and data.

1980s: 12" disco records that included long percussion breaks (ideal for mixing) contribute to the emergence of House Music.

1981: Grandmaster Flash's 1981 single "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" is released. It is the first record to demonstrate hip-hop deejaying skills.

1982: The first digital audio 5-inch CD discs are marketed.

1983: Hip-hop DJs in New York begin to use the spinback capabilities of the Technics 1200 turntable for "scratching," and to extend grooves and "breaks" by cutting back and forth between two copies of the same record as first done by Grandmaster Flash.

1987: The Disco Mix Club holds its first annual DJ Competition.

1988: For the first time ever, CD sales surpass record sales, and CDs and cassette tapes become the two dominant consumer audio listening formats.

2001: The National Association of Music Merchandisers (NAMM) officially recognizes the turntable as an instrument. It outsells guitars at a 2-1 ratio.

Present: Despite the digital revolution, vinyl records are kept alive and still produced on a small scale primarily due to Turntablism and to a lesser extent by those devoted to collecting records.


BBC: A History of Vinyl

Steve Schoenherr: Recording Technology History

The History of Turntablism

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