A Brief History of the Vinyl Record

In 1878 Thomas Edison patented a machine that recorded sound onto discs and cylinders using a stylus that cut grooves into metal foil. It was the forerunner of the modern record disc.

Eleven years later, Emile Berliner, a German born American inventor, patented the first record player, the Gramophone. The player was manually rotated at 70-RPM and played a seven-inch rubber vulcanite disc with lateral grooves cut into one side. Berliner was also the first to mass produce copies made from zinc master discs.

Records went through a number of format and manufacturing material changes until 1901 when the ten-inch 78-RPM record made its commercial debut with the Victor Company release of its "Red Seal" line. The quality of records and record players improved over the next 47 years but the 78 remained the dominant recorded music format.

In 1948 Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) introduced inventor Peter Goldmark's "longer-playing" 12-inch 33 1/3-RPM record. With a capacity of 23 minutes per side, record companies could finally create an album of songs on a single record. This longer playing record became known as the long play record, "LP", or record "album". Not to be outdone, RCA Victor introduced the seven-inch 45-RPM record in 1949. Compared to the 78 it was smaller, but at its slower speed it could hold more material. The "45" spawned two formats. One, the extended play record, or "EP", generally contained two songs per side. The other, the single play record, "SP", or "single" contained one song per side (called the A side and B side). Both CBS and RCA Victor began using each other's formats and gradually, the vinyl LP, EP, and SP became the industry standard in recorded music. The 78 format slowly faded away in the early 1960s.

Beatle LP and EP records were always packaged in a cardboard sleeve. Singles in the United States were typically packaged in a paper "picture" sleeve while this was true for only two original Parlophone Beatle singles.

Sales of singles greatly exceeded those of the LP and EP not only because the format was the least expensive of the three, but also because consumers could cheaply purchase only those songs they liked. The EP format was produced extensively in Britain but never caught on in the United States.

The first binaural (stereo) records were released in 1958 but it wasn't until the mid-1960s that they dominated the market.

Audiocassette sales gradually overtook those of the vinyl record and record production all but disappeared shortly after the introduction of the compact disc in 1983.


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