When it comes to late 19th- and early 20th-century technological innovations, no individual had a greater impact than Thomas Alva Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park. For example, Edison invented the world’s first machine to record and reproduce sound in 1877. He called his invention a phonograph. In 1878, he patented the device and made about 500 machines before turning his attention to the light bulb. That work would lead to the formation of a little company we know today as General Electric.

Edison’s purely mechanical device consisted of a rotating wax cylinder whose grooved surface transmitted sounds through a stylus and into an amplifying horn. Emile Berliner had a better idea. His gramophone, which he patented 10 years after Edison’s phonograph, played flat shellac records, which were cheaper to produce than Edison’s cylinders and moved from side to side in their groves rather than up and down.

Other late 19th-century luminaries were also interested in the phonograph. In 1885, Alexander Graham Bell’s cousin Chichester Bell and an inventor named Charles Sumner Tainter developed the graphophone, which was basically an improved version of Edison’s cylinder-based machine. That challenge rekindled Edison’s interest in his phonograph. In 1889, he formed the North American Phonograph Company, which became the National Phonograph Company in 1896.

These antique Edison phonographs are highly prized by collectors today. One of the first products offered by National Phonograph was the Edison Home Phonograph, which was a nickel-plated machine in a mahogany case that held wax cylinders, each of which contained about two minutes of music. The Gem was introduced in 1899. Unlike the Home, this model was tiny, with a horn that was bigger than the machine itself.

Meanwhile, the graphophone design had become the basis for the Columbia Phonograph Company, whose leading turn-of-the-century model was the Columbia Eagle. For high rollers, Columbia offered the Graphophone Grand, which cost a whopping $300 in 1898.

Other cylinder manufacturers include Vitaphone, Euphonic, and Ecophone. Also collectible are the cylinders and phonograph attachments made by Gianni Bettini, whose focus was less on the mechanics of coaxing sound from a cylinder than on improving that sound for listeners.

Berliner may have been slower out of the gate than his competitors, but his disc-based machine would prove more enduring, setting the standard for the playback of audio recording...

Berliner eventually lost the right to sell his own invention in the Unites States, so he set up shop in Montreal. In 1900, he registered a painting of a dog listening to "his master’s voice" as his company’s trademark. "Nipper," as he was known, would become one of the most famous images in the world. Naturally, the Berliner gramophone in the painting would become one of the most collected.

Though Berliner continued to make gramophones and records in Montreal until 1924, it was Eldridge Johnson’s Victor Talking Machine Company (1900-1926) that really propelled Berliner’s invention into the mainstream and brought the era of the cylinder to a close. By 1910, cylinder players had all but vanished from the marketplace.

One of Victor’s key innovations was to get rid of the bulky sound horn, which customers found to be an intrusive presence in their homes. In 1906, the first Victrola was introduced. It basically took the player’s sound horn and pointed it toward the floor so that is was hidden within the machine’s cabinet. By opening or closing the cabinet’s doors, sound volume could be increased or decreased.

The first Victrolas had cabinets manufactured by the Pooley Furniture Company of Philadelphia. They had flat tops, which meant the gramophone was set deep into the cabinet, making use of the gramophone itself awkward. Though the Pooley flat tops are now highly collectible, the domed-top models that followed were more practical to early 20th-century consumers.

Lower-priced tabletop Victrolas followed—by 1913, the company was producing 250,000 tabletops per year, including some new Electrolas that did not require hand cranking but did require access to electricity, which most people still lacked. By 1917, Victrola production topped half a million. Though very popular with customers, Victrolas are less popular with collectors of antique phonographs today, in no small part because there were just so many of them made.

The party for Victor, though, would not last. In the 1920s, increased competition, electrically amplified sound, and, above all, radio all conspired to kill the Victrola, which is why in 1929, the Victor Talking Machine Company was sold to RCA and RCA Victor was born.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Victor-Victrola Page

Victor-Victrola Page

Paul Edie's reference site on The Victor Talking Machine Company and its 'Victrola' phonograph ('His Master's Voice… [read review or visit site]

Rene Rondeau's Antique Phonograph Museum

Rene Rondeau's Antique Phonograph Museum

A collector since age 12, René Rondeau's site showcases the early history of recorded sound, with great photos and… [read review or visit site]

Vinyl Divas

Vinyl Divas

Vinyl Divas pays homage to international female opera singers of the LP era. Chronicling more than 800 singers, the… [read review or visit site]

The Vintage Knob

The Vintage Knob

The Vintage Knob is an extensive resource on all types of audio electronics organized by manufacturer, from Aiwa to… [read review or visit site]

317X

317X

Despite its mysterious title, 317X is plain and simple—an online gallery of vintage LPs, with a 1950s vintage fee… [read review or visit site]

Mybeatles.net

Mybeatles.net

Jesse Barron's collection of Beatles 45s, picture sleeves, magazines, books, and memorabilia. Browse singles and al… [read review or visit site]

Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors

Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors

This great site, from the Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors, offers detailed background information an… [read review or visit site]

The Remington Site

The Remington Site

Since 1999, the Remington Site has offered classical music collectors a glimpse into Remington Records, an independ… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Vintage Victor I Victor 1 Talking Machine Phonograph And HornAntique Victor Phonograph Gramaphone "talking Machine" Type Ms Must See!Excellent Edison Home Model B 2/4 Min Cylinder Phonograph Record Player W/hornVintage Crescent 45 Rpm Record Player 453 A Licensed By Rca Green Plaid Case Victor Iii Outside Horn Phonograph With Brass Belled Horn RestoredVtg 32” Philco Radio Lighted Store-front Sign ~ Radio Phonograph Television AdVintage Bth Horn Speaker Bakelite & Aluminium 1925 Radio PhonographEdison " Red Lid Banner" Suitcase Home Model "a" PhonographSmall Vintage Rare German Wind Up Gramophone Record Player Phonograph 78 RpmEdison 1901 Concert 5" Cylinder Phonograph MachineReginaphone Music Box Phonograph Style 240 Gorgeous Lion's Head ModelOak Cygnet Victrola HornLe Menestrel Antique PhonographAntique Jeannette Novelty Phonograph & Reproducer Record Player Hand Wind PhonoVintage Columbia Au Model Talking Machine Phonograph Victrola Original AntiqueRare 1927 Mikiphone Pocket Phonograph Antique Mini Record Player Works PerfectL1068- Victor Victrola Antique Phonograph Portable Vv-50 Talking Machine - WorksVintage 1960s Old 7" Takt " Midget " Japanese Transistor Radio Phonograph L@@kVintage Philips 630 Suitcase Record Player Thames Hospice 107 R Vintage Nirona Drp Patent German Rare Travel Works Phonograph Gramophone NiceVictrola Credenza PhonographRare Edison Standard Model F Cylinder Phonograph Record Player* Pristine HornColumbia 6 Inch Phonograph Cylinder " Not Edison "Phonograph 2-part Crane For A Horn For Cylinder Machine Edison,many Extra PartsVery Uncommon Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph Oil Bottle W/ Paper LabelVintage Crescent 45 Rpm Record Player 453a Licensed By Rca Green Plaid Case Victor Talking Machine "monarch Special" Ms 1937 Rare And Works Must See!Thomas A Edison Gem Cylinder Phonograph G91709 Model C Vtg Large Ceramic Rca Victor Victrola Nipper Dog Advertising Mascot Phonograph Victor Victrola Orthophonic Reproducer (needs Restoration)Rare Vintage Victor Nipper Victrola Phonograph Gramophone Reproducer SetAuthentic Original Edison Automatic Reproducer For Phonograph, Incomplete, As-isVintage Antique Victor Orthophonic Reproducer "talking Machine"Thomas Edison Cylinder Phonograph Record Wood Case Holds + 144 Rolls C1900**watch Tower** Phonograph Needles-still Sealed Pack***medium Tone Jw Victor6 Edison Blue Amberol Record Phonograph Cylinder Original Edison Phonograph 30" Brass Witches Hat Horn , Needs HelpEdison Fireside PhonographOriginal Nickel Floor Crane For Large Edison & Columbia Cylinder Phonograph HornEdison Standard Phonograph 2/4 MinEdison Cylinder Phonograph W/t Horn And Horn Crane Standard Clean RepairRare Vintage Victor Nipper 7" 78 Rpm Phonograph Gramophone Victrola Disc RecordsRare Columbia Disc Graphophone Model "aj" Phonograph. "not Edison"Vintage Rca Orthophonic Record Player Model Shf-8 Tan/blondeBeautiful Edison Home Banner Front Cylinder Phonograph Record Player W/orig Horn5619-edison 5000 Series Blue Amberol Cylinder Phonograph Record* Early HillbillyVintage Edison Disc Phonograph Record Oil Tin Paper Label No. 4830Wwii Us Army Special Services Phonograph/record PlayerRare Vintage Rca Victrola "nipper Listening To His Masters Voice" Plastic StatueLot Of 21 Vtg Edison Phonograph Cylinder Records ~ Blue CylindersVictrola PhonographVictor Victrola Suitcase Portable Phonograph Working 1930-1940'sVintage Rca Victor Phonograph Radio Talking Machine Zippo Old Cigarette Lighter1917 Or 1918 Victor Victrola Talking Machine - Model 11Victrola #4 Victor Talking Machine Reproducer In Box Edison Phonograph Horn Flower-painted 1929 Victrola/ Radio Combo Model 7-11 Man Listens To Phonograph Gramophone Horn Vintage Snapshot PhotoVictor Victrola Antique Crank Windup Talking Machine Phonograph Tone Arm PartTechnics Headshell For Turntable Record Player