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    

Class M Phonograph Player | Man. By Edison 1888 Patent + Original Shipping CrateEdison Class "m" Phonograph1901 Edison Suitcase Home Phonograph W/early B Reproducer & Original Brass Horn1905 Banner Front Edison Standard Cylinder Phonograph Record Player* 14" HornAntique Regina Coin Op Music Savings Bank Box Disk Mechanical Record Player Vtg1904 Talk-o-phone Clarke Disc Phonograph W/ornate Oak Cabinet * Great PlayerW Antique Edison Standard Cylinder Phonograph Model C Reproducer Crank & CaseEdison Standard 2/4 Minute Cylinder Phonograph Record Player W/walnut Wood Horn D Vintage Edison Combination Model K Reproducer Cylinder Phonograph PartDl Vtg 13" Columbia Aluminum Horn For Cylinder Phonograph 7" Bell Pat'd 1905Rare Vintage Childs Toy Metal Windup Baby Phonograph Gramophone Record PlayerVintage Rare Antique Small Toy Pixie Grippa Portable Crank Gramophone PhonographRare Thorens " Britannia " Cylinder Phonograph With Original Horn ( Not Edison )Edison Triumph Model E PhonographRare! Early Disc Record Player Made By Columbia Aj Original Phonograph / VictorVintage Old Antique " Midget " Philco Ford Mini Transistor Radio Phonograph1899 Berliner Gramophone Phonograph Record 068 * Old New Hampshire Home * GaskinVtg Thorens Excelda Gramophone Record Player Phonograph Antique Swiss Music BoxEdison Fireside Cylinder Phonograph Combination Type Model A 2/4 Minute GearingVintage Victrola Vv260 1927 Works Great Victor Talking Machine Record PlayerEdison Gem PhonographAntique Harmony Talking Machine PhonographVictor Victrola Model D Talking Machine With Oak Cabnet 10004Antique Vintage Universal Talking Machine Zonograph Phonograph Record PlayerEdison Home Cylinder Phonograph With Original 14" Horn And 12 CylindersCylinder Record Phonograph Gramophone Thomas Edison George Frow Reference Book Vintage Dual Needle Mono Phonograph Cartridge, Jukebox, SeeburgVtla Victor Victrola Showroom Condition! Tag Vtla Serial Number 5486. 1908Beautiful Edison Cylinder Phonograph Standard Model B Nicest On EbayFine Vintage Horn Speaker 1920 Brunet Paris Radio Phonograph LoudspeakerAntique Vintage Phonograph Part Arm Etc Not Sure Edison Victor Columbia EtcEdison Standard Model B 2/4 Minute Cylynder Phonograph Record Player With Horn1898 Edison Standard Phonograph With Horn Model H 4minute ReporducerEdison Phonograph Horn++a Tin Toy Horn Clean Original Antique Quartered Oak Table Top Victor Vv-1v Victrola NrMagnavox Speaker Vtg Antique Old Horn Goose Neck Metal Phonograph Or Tube RadioRare Vintage Thomas Edison Cylinder Phonograph Gramophone Parts StandardD Vtg Original Edison Crank Handle For Cylinder Phonograph Threaded ShaftOld Portable Kameraphone Phonograph Gramophone Victrola With Oak Case GermanyRca Victor 45-ey2 Victrola 45 Rpm 1950's Record PlayerRare Eldridge R. Johnson Improved Record Label Victor Phonograph RecordEdison Home PhonographAntique Zenith Encore Record Repeater & Orig Box Victrola Phonograph Nice! 75115 Cylinders For Edison Phonograph-old Folks At Home,alex.ragtimeband,caseyjonesColumbia Phonograph Speed TesterAntique Mikiphone Phonograph Works Great 78 Rpm Swiss MadeAntique Regina Music Box In Mahogany Case. Looks Great! Plays! Not A Phonograph1920's Victrola Phonograph Record Artists Advertising Die Cut Puzzle Thorens Portable Hand Crank Record Player Phonograph ~ Switzerland ~7" Uncle Josh Berliner Record #047 Uncle's Josh Arrival In Ny PhonographOld Original"v" Victor Victrola Phonograph Cabinet Skeleton KeyVictor Orthophonic Phonograph Reproducer, Gold Plated, NiceAntique Edison Phonograph Cylinder Record Briefcase Holder. *holds 96 Records*Edison Amberola 30/50/75 Phonograph Reproducer Vintage Ge Vr Photograph Cartridge With Turnover Stylus, Old Record PlayerDl Antique Busy Bee American Graphophone Co Type Q Cylinder Phonograph W/hornVictor Talking Machine Iv 100375b Antique Hand Crank Phonograph ReproducerAntique Victor Victrola Parts: Plate, Crank, And Tone Arm, Etc.Unusual His Masters Voice Fibre Needle Cutter For PhonographVictrola Talking Machine Vvix Antique Vintage Phonograph Victor Record Player Nr