A Brief History of the Talking Machine

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The first talking machine was invented by Thomas A. Edison in 1877. This crude machine was hand operated and was named the Phonograph (meaning Voice-writer). To record sound the operator spoke loudly into the mouth piece. The sound waves were embossed by a stylus on a sheet of soft tin foil wrapped around a revolving cylinder. To replay the sound a second stylus was run along the groove, picking up the embossed vibrations and transmitting them to a diaphragm from which a copy of the original sound could be heard.

Edison had previously experimented with a variety of moving surfaces including tape, disc and cylinder. He chose to use a cylinder because of the technical superiority of its constant groove speed.

Between 1877 and 1886 Edison did little to improve the Phonograph, devoting much of this period to the perfection of the electric light globe and a system for the distribution of electricity.

Thomas Edison invents tin foil Phonograph.

Reproduction tin foil phonograph
In 1881 Charles Sumner Tainter made the next improvement to the talking machine. He found that if he coated the cylinder of an Edison Phonograph with wax and incised the grooves (rather than embossing) he could achieve better reproduction.

In 1886 Sumner Tainter applied for patents on a new talking machine, called the Graphophone, which used wax covered cardboard cylinders for records.

At this time the talking machine was mainly considered as an office dictating machine. It was to be many years before the first home entertainment talking machines were designed.

Charles Sumner Tainter uses wax recording surface.
Edison, perturbed by the appearance of a rival talking machine, began to work again on the Phonograph in 1886. Within a year he had produced a new design for the Phonograph. Like the Graphophone it too used wax cylinders, but its performance was vastly superior. It was driven by an electric motor.

By 1892 musical cylinders were being manufactured and sold. The coin-in-the-slot Phonograph, rather than the home entertainment machines were the biggest source of revenue for the record makers.

The Graphophone proved to be both a technical and financial failure and in 1894 the American Graphophone Company was reorganised as the Columbia Graphophone Company, and a new Graphophone was placed on the market.

The Columbia Graphophone used many of the features of the improved Phonograph. It actually used records of the same dimensions as the Edison records. However the Graphophone was driven by a small spring motor. Also the Columbia Graphophone was aimed at the home entertainment market. To counter this, in 1896 Edison introduced a new range of spring motor Phonographs for the home market. Sales of both the Graphophone and the Phonograph steadily increased.

Edison perfects Phonograph.
In 1893 a new talking machine of totally different design to the cylinder machines was put on the market. Emile Berliner had devised a machine which he called the Gramophone. Compared with the cylinder machines it was very crude, being hand cranked. It used disc records seven inches in diameter. It was however louder than the cylinder machines, and the records were cheaper and easier to store.

The biggest difference was that whereas the cylinder records used hill and dale (up and down) vibration of the grooves, the Gramophone records used lateral (side to side) vibrations. Also the Phonograph could be used for making oneâs own records; the gramophone had no such facility.

By 1897 spring motor driven Gramophones were on the market and sales began to soar. Other disc talking machines, such as the Zonophone and the disc Graphophone, soon appeared.

When 10 and 12 inch disc records were placed on the market, the extra playing time gave them a distinct advantage over the cylinders which only played for about two minutes. Edison was to counter this by producing in 1908 a new cylinder record called the Amberol record which played for four minutes. This he achieved by using finer grooves rather than larger records.

The first decade of the twentieth century saw a number of other types of records and talking machines being placed on the market. Many of these were withdrawn after a short existence due to their infringement of basic patents. One that survived for about twenty five years was the Pathéphone. Pathé discs had hill and dale grooves and used a sapphire stylus. For a large part of their existence Pathé produced disc records that started in the centre and finished on the outer edge.

Berliner invents and markets the Gramophone.
In 1906 internal horn machines, where the horn was built inside a cabinet, appeared in the shops. There was the Victrola, followed by the Graphonola, the Amberola and many others. Within six year the external horn machine had all but vanished from the market.
The next major improvement to the cylinder records came in 1912 with the introduction by Edison of the Blue Amberol record. These were made from celluloid, were unbreakable and gave excellent reproduction.
Internal horn machines put on market.
In 1913 the Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph was introduced. These used quarter inch thick records with hill and dale grooves and a diamond stylus. Although they gave superior reproduction, their weight and their cost made it difficult for them to compete with the thin shellac 78âs. 1913
Edison introduces Diamond Disc Records.
By the early 1920âs most of the basic patents had expired, and many other companies began to produce talking machines; now generically known in Australia and the United Kingdom as gramophones, but known in America as phonographs. As well as His Masters Voice and Columbia, some of the new brands included Sonora, Decca and Brunswick. Australian brands included Tonophone and Rexonola, and the Edmac which is Western Australian made. There were many other brands.

By the mid twenties the introduction of radio broadcasting cause a drop in record sales. In response the record companies introduced electrical recordings and a new range of technically advanced machines (such as the HMV Orthophonic Gramophone) to play them. The increased loudness and improved tonal qualities revived the sales of both records and talking machines.

Record sales decline due to introduction of the wireless.

Wireless with horn speaker
Edison, now the sole surviving cylinder record manufacturer, introduced Long Playing Diamond Disc records in 1927 to combat the increasing popularity of the wireless. They had 450 grooves to the inch and each side of a 12 inch record could play for 20 minutes. However they were lacking in tone and loudness. In 1929, with the depression approaching, Edison closed down his phonograph business and the market was left to the shellac 78âs.

Apart from a steady improvement in fidelity, there was little development of the talking machine during the 1930âs. Various electric gramophones with electric pick-ups that could be connected to a wireless were manufactured, but the number of gramophones and records sold was relatively low. Portable acoustic gramophones however sold well, even into the 1950âs.

Last Phonographs and cylinder records produced.
The demise of the 78 record began with the introduction of the unbreakable, Long Playing microgroove record. In 1948 Columbia introduced the 33 1/3 rpm LP records, followed soon after by the 45 rpm records from RCA Victor.

In the 1950's in Germany, a rival for the LP record player was the Tefifon. This device used cartridges of endless plastic tape on which the microgrooves were recorded. The small cartridges played for an hour, with larger cartridges playing substantially longer. Tefifons, including stereo versions, were marketed until the mid 1960's.

Microgroove records (LP) and the Tefifon introduced.

Tefifon with cartridge loaded for playing
Magnetic recording was developed during the war years. By the late 1940's magnetic wire recorders became widely available. Sound was recorded as patches of magnetism on a very fine steel wire threads moving at 20 inches per second. However by 1950, plastic based magnetic tapes and tape recorders, which were more convenient than wire recorders, were available.
In the mid-1960's the Compact Cassette, originally developed in 1962 by Philips as a dictation machine, became available as a domestic recorder, and along with its pre-recorded music tapes, it became the dominant form of magnetic recording for the next twenty years.
The 8 Track stereo cartridge was introduced in 1966. It was originally designed for use in Lear Jets and luxury cars. Its convenience and robustness made it a successful accessory for cars, but it was difficult for the user to access music selections on the tapes, and they soon disappeared.
1940's - 1960's
Magnetic recording on tapes on reels, cartridges or cassettes was developed.
The continued development of high fidelity and stereophonic records had maintained interest in the LP discs, only for them and the Compact Cassettes to be displaced by digital recordings on the Compact Discs in the 1980's. 1982
Compact Discs introduced.
From "Care and Conservation of Talking machines" by Richard Rennie - Copyright

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