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 Oak Victor Talking Machine Model D Phonograph W/exhibition Reproducer1897 Edison Suitcase Home Phonograph W/brass Mandrel & Tagged Crank * ExcellentAntique Vintage C.1900 Victor Talking Machine Type Iii 3 Oak PhonographRare Max Wurker Reproducer For 2min Edison PhonographAntique Victor V Phonograph Gramophone Talking Machine Victrola 1905 Columbia Q Cylinder Phonograph W/10" Nickel Horn & Original Listening TubeRare Vintage Small Toy Size Vanophone Portable Gramophone Phonograph Victrola1906 Zonophone Grand Opera Phonograph W/orig. 24" Blue Iridescent Horn * StunnerVery Nice Edison Standard Cylinder Phonograph Record Player + Witch's Hat HornVintage Edison Home Cylinder Phonograph 1900's Attic Fresh All Original *works*Antique Vintage C..1900 Victor Phonograph Metal Horn ElbowVintage 1908 Edison Home Model B Cylinder Phonograph W/ C Reproducer & HornVictor Talking Machine Co Hand Crank Record Player Phonograph Table ModelVintage Zenith Model 7s633 Short Wave Tube Radio Phonograph Tv Nice!Edison Standard Phonograph (1903) Working Model C - With (9) Cylinders - Plus Edison Cylinder Phonograph Reproducer Model K Combination 2/4 MinuteBarn Find! Edison Standard Phonograph!Early Edison Amberola 30 4-minute Cylinder Phonograph Inside Horn Record Player Vintage Rca Victor Victrola Piano Tin Litho Advertising Sign Nipper Dog EarlyColumbia Type "q" Phonograph !Edison Phonograph Model C Original 2 Min. Cylinder Reproducer Plays WellEdison Home Model A Banner Front Long Case Cabinet Phonograph Bottom Edison Home Model A Long Or Suitcase Phonograph Motor & Bedplate, Quiet & Strong2 Rare Vintage Nos Edison Cylinder Amberola Record Phonograph Gramophone Lube Antique C.1905 Zonophone Phonograph Gramophone Talking Machine Victrola Watchtower Vertical Record Player Phonograph Rutherford Bonus Snare And RacketAntique/vintage Windup Camera PhonographAntique Edison Standard Phonograph Cylinder Case & 35 CylindersVintage Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph Reproducer ~ Excellent Condition !Large Antique Vintage C..1900 Victor Phonograph 28" Brass Bell Metal HornAntique Edison Phonograph ReproducerChoice Lot Of 10 Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph Records Great Titles ArtistsVintage Victor Victrola No. 2 Phonograph Reproducer Antique C.1905 Zonophone Home Phonograph Gramophone Talking Machine Victrola Antique Edison Fireside Phonograph With Cygnet Horn Antique C.1902 Pathe No. 0 Duplex Cylinder Phonograph Edison Standard Phonograph -price Reduced- Model A W/ Brass Horn, No ReserveEdison Model S 2/4 Minute Cylinder Phonograph Reproducer #26415Victor Phonograph Original Back Bracket Screws Victor I, Ii, Iii, Iv, V, M, Ms,Wonderful 1906 "siren" Or "mermaid" Puck Phonograph – No Edison – No ColumbiaAntique Edison Cylinder Phonograph & Oak Case - Works - Restoration ProjectEdison "long" Home Model A Banner Front Long Case Phonograph Lid, Top Edison Cylinder Phonograph Reproducer To Restore Or Parts Antique Oak Edison Amberola Phongraph Cylinder Record Player Works ~ Plays Victor Antique Record Player V V - Ii Needs Tlc Vintage Vogue Picture Record Player Turntable 531ap, 78rpm R784 Sheridan Elect.Edison Phonograph Original Early Standard And Home Slotted Crank Cast IronRare Edison Amberol Phonograph Gramophone Cylinder Record Reference Hardback Antique Phonograph Horn..pat Aug 22,1905..edison Cylinder ?..only 5 3/4" Long !!Original Edison, Columbia Red Flowered Horn, Cylinder Phonograph, GraphophoneLarge Reproduction Victor Phonograph Horn ElbowVictor Iii Phonograph Data I.d. Plate Serial Number 42946 40th Annual Union Phonograph Show Early Admit Ticket June 12, 13, 14Endearing Real Picture Post Card (rppc) Two Boys And A Berliner PhonographAntique Victor Phonograph Sign Logo Metal Steel Nipper EmbossedRepro Edison Phonograph Standard And Home Slotted CrankAntique Weile Special Record Player / Phonograph ~ Rare & Working! ~ German Wind-up Phonograph Collectible 1000 Loud Tone Talking Machine Needle TinRebuilt 4 Minute Edison Phonograph Model H Reproducer , New StylusRare Edison 5" Brown Concert Cylinder Phonograph Record W/box & Lid (cracked)