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    

Edison Gem Phonograph Antique Early Record Player With Horn And Cylinder RecordsZon-o-phone Home 7" Disc Phonograph Record Player -brass Horn Concert ReproducerCirca 1900 Western Union Bergmann Telegraph Key Stock Ticker Edison PhonographRca Model 301 ~ Duo ~ Tombstone Radio With Hidden Phonograph ~ Plays 78's ~ Rare1886, Columbia Phonograph Company, Antique Gramophone, Record PlayerEdison Home Model Cylinder Phonograph 2-4 Minute Lunch Box For Parts Or RepairAntique Victor Talking Machine Horn - 26 1/4"Edison Home Model D Phonograph - No Reserve!!!. 99 Cents Wow!Rare Large Vintage C.1910 Victor Phonograph 48" Porcelain Metal SignHexaphone 101 Coin-op Cylinder Phonograph Changer Cabinet & Horn Domed Lid StyleEdison Standard Talking Machine Phonograph - Oak Case Only Clean Edison Home Model A Cylinder Phonograph Top Works W/shaver Early Front TagAntique C.1916 Oak Edison Amberola 30 4 Minute Cylinder Record Phonograph~worksColumbia Disc Graphophone Type Bn Open Horn Phonograph Talking MachineThomas Edison Signed Phonograph Lab Note - Psa/dna Authentic Historic Signature Antique Edison Phonograph, Model H 4 Min. Reproducer, No ReserveEdison Cygnet No.10 Phonograph Horn - All Original Paint!!! Great Shape !!! Jack & Jill Outside Horn Phonograph In Original Box With 5 Cardboard RecordsColumbia Graphophone Type Be Phonograph With Brass Outside HornAntique Genola Tin Toy Phonograph Made In Usa 1920's With Records Antique Edison Cylinder Phonograph-Victor Phonograph Gold Improved Concert Reproducer- Plays GreatModel O Reproducer For Edison Cylinder Phonograph ( Gramophone ) Needs RestoringVictor Victrola Vv-50 Portable PhonographOriginal Vintage Victor Talking Machine Phonograph I, Ii, Iii,iv,v,vi,horns Book1902 Victor Monarch Front Mount PhonographLarge 30" Antique C.1900 Edison Cylinder Record Phonograph 11 Panel Metal HornUnrestored Vintage Antique Victor 10-50 Orthophonic Phonograph Changer. 1st OneWonderful Antique Victrola Phonograph HornSound Wagon Vw Bus Record Player Boxed Tamco Co. Victor Talking Machine Victrola No2 Vv-ix 343031 Crank Phonograph Mahogany BodyEdison Phonograph LidMax Wurcker Phonograph Gramophone Reproducer 2 Minute For Edison C1910 1930's Talkie Jecktor Childs Outside Horn Phonograph Movie Projector With Reels.Rare! Victor Victrola Iv Early-metal Grill # Vv-iv 3863Edison PhonographClean Edison Model C 2 Minute Reproducer For Cylinder Phonograph Record PlayerPhilips Stella St567 Portable Battery Record Player Phonograph1916 Western Electric Horn Speaker Morning Glory Style Radio PhonographVintage Edison Standard Phonograph Horn (original Finish)Nickel Finish Victor Phonograph #4-a In Original Box -looks And Sounds GreatEarly Edison Model A Home Cylinder Phonograph Motor Working W/mounting HardwareAntique Victor Victrola Vv X Phonograph Record Player Windup Floor Standing NrOriginal 14 "all Brass Phonograph Horn As Used For Coin-upsAntique Oak Victor Talking Machine Vv-iva Table Top Phonograph #3384131916 Western Electric Microphone Horn Morning Glory Style Radio PhonographVintage Rca 1950s Victor Radio Phonograph Nipper Dog Logo Antique Old Sign Victrola Victor Talking Machine Vvx Antique Record Player (8-4Ca 1910 Photograph Girl W Large Nipper Statue Victor Phonograph Co Trade MarkVintage Rca Victrola Radio Record Player & Old 45 , Silvertone & Victor RecordsVintage Rca Victrola Motor Radio Music Player 1944 Marie "the Body" Mcdonald Wild Pin Up Dream Phonograph Record PhotographAntique Phonograph Graphophone Columbia "q" With A Rare Glass Horn Victor Talking Machine Parts Lot Vv-120 Nr! PhonographClean Victor Victrola No. 2 Phonograph Reproducer For Record Player Sounds GreatAntique Edison Phonograph Reproducer Cylinder Machine PartVictrola Victor Phonograph Talking Machine Vv-90 79681 With Discs Cabinet XlntVictor Monarch Phonograph Record Pre-matrix 1230. Myers, J.w.Early Original Horn Reproducer Connector Edison - Columbia Cylinder Phonograph Edison Standard Cylinder Phonograph Machine Model E