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    

Rare Antique Rca Victor V 3 Phonograph Record Player Gramophone Talking MachineAntique Edison Amberola 50 Cylinder Phonograph Red Mahogany Cabinet Works! YqzVintage Mikiphone Portable Pocket Phonograph BoxedAtwater Kent Model Type L 1925 Radio Phonograph Speaker Horn Working AntiqueVintage 1899 First Version Wax Cylinder Edison Concert Phonograph1912 Parlophon Glass-sided Phonograph * Gorgeous Gramophone Plays Vintage 78sEdison Gem 2 Minute Cylinder Phonograph Record Player W/ Horn Model C ReproduceVictor Smooth Mahogany Wooden Phonograph Horn, Original FinishMuseum Quality 1904 Columbia Q Cylinder Phonograph W/original Paper LabelAntique Edison Amberola 50 Cylinder Phonograph Player Oak Cabinet Works! #2 YqzOld Edison Cylinder Phonograph W/ Model C Reproducer, Cover & Horn Crane WorksVintage Antique Emerson Phonograph Corporation Short Band Tube Radio AntiqueAntique Victor Talking Machine Works! Phonograph Slatless Oak Case Vv-iv A YqzLot 25 Antique C 1900 Edison Gold Moulded Tube Record Cylinder Phonograph Nr Yqz1900's Columbia Type Q Graphophone Cylinder Phonograph Player Model QVintage Edison Reproducer Model C With Box For Model H Genuine Phonograph Antique Oak Cabinet Harmony Model 12 Talking Machine Works! From Collector YqzOriginal Edison Standard Cylinder Phonograph Player W Horn And Lid Works!Tiny 1912 Columbia "marvel" Phonograph, Rebuilt Reproducer, Plays Great!Rare 1906 Antique Thomas Edison 11 Panel Morning Glory Victrola Horn FlowersVictor Talking Machine Horn Made Of MetalColumbia 6" Phonograph Cylinder Record # 85109 "panama Rag-two Step"Rare Edisonic 1920s Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph Reproducer Gold F 35468 NsEdison Standard Cylinder Phonograph Record Player - Motor Works Nothing Moves ?His Master's Voice Gramophone Phonograph With Thorens No. 533 MovementAntique Pathe Pathephone Phonograph Tiger Oak Cabinet Model No. 25 Works! YqzEdison Chippendale C19 Diamond Disc Phonograph Record Player Lab Model Wind UpColumbia Graphophone Cylinder Phonograph Model Q - Needs Service - Low ReserveColumbia 6" Phonograph Cylinder Record # 72510 "curassier-attaque-gallop"Rare Antique C 1903 Wizard Of Oz Song 7" Columbia Disc Record Phonograph Yqz Reproducers & Repair Parts Silvertone Victor Exhibition Victrola No.2 Rca Vintage Mikky Phone Portable Phonograph Rare Edison Phonograph Ba 5334 "i'm Looking Over A 4 Leaf Clover", 5,000 SeriesLarge Lot Of 10 Antique Columbia Edison Tube Record Cylinder Phonograph YqzVintage Zonophone Phonograph- Back Mount Model- For Restoration Or PartsAntique Lot 15 Edison Golden Moulded Tube Records Cylinder Phonograph Boxes YqzAntique Rca Victor His Masters Voice Gramophone Record Player Works!Edison Fireside Model B PhonographVintage C.1910 "many-use" Gun Bicycle Phonograph Motor Oil Wood Can Box SignExtremely Rare Angelophone Hymn Book 7-inch 78rpm Phonograph Record WatchtowerColumbia Antique Phonograph PartsVictrola "his Master's Voice" Gramophone Hand CrankEdison Top Works PhonographEdison Phonograph Cylinders Recording Blanks (total 5 W/3 Case & Lids)Antique Victor Vv1-70 Victrola Working ConditionLot Of 7 Antique Early 1900s Edison Amberol Record Tube Cylinder Phonograph YqzVictrola Spring Box #13 - Never Opened - Fits: Victor Columbia Edison...Quite Rare Edison C-vi Amberola Phonograph! (escaped From The Fire)Edison Standard Cylinder Phonograph In Oak Case With Model CVictor Victrola No 2 Reproducer Lot Of 10 Columbia / U-s Everlasting Phonograph Cylinder Records - EdisonVintage Record Player Rca 7-ey-1jf Record Player!Victor Orthophonic Phonograph Reproducer Unusual Carola Miniture Phonograph Salesman Sample? 23 X 13 X 10Edison Phonograph Horn Back Bracket Crane PartBeautiful 1950's Rca Victor 45-ey-3, 45 Rpm, Record Player.Antique Victor Talking Machine Phonograph Motor Mounted On Board Project Pc YqzNice Antique Victrola Dog? Still Bank! Very Neat PieceAntique 78 Rpm Portable Record Player Phonograph Consolidated Talking MachineRare 1962 Rca Tube Record Player