The History of the Vinyl Record

LIKE SO MUCH OF THE TECHNOLOGY WE LOVE, we can thank Thomas Edison for the vinyl record album (with an assist from Alexander Graham Bell). Edison created the first recording device in 1877, reproducing sound on a tinfoil-wrapped cylinder, which Bell later improved by swapping tinfoil for wax.

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Edison’s original intention for the device was as a dictation machine and for novelty toys. But recognizing that music fans wanted more than just live performances, he created cylindrical records in the 1890s, which were a little smaller than a roll of toilet paper and made of a hardier material containing several waxes, including that from bees. Not long after, inventor Emile Berliner created flat disc records for his new “gramophone” system, which were originally made of vulcanized rubber. Other companies started producing similar discs, but made of heavy shellac, which was easier to store but extremely fragile.

Some thirty years later, recording company RCA Victor introduced a vinyl-like product, which was more flexible and near unbreakable with normal use. It failed commercially but was used by the military to make music recordings for troops during World War II (shellac supplies being limited). They were called V-Discs (“v” for victory). After the War, recording company Columbia’s micro-groove technology made vinyl records more appealing and more widely available; they also contained more music and played at a faster speed (33-1/3 RPM).