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 Cylinder Record Shaving Machine Phonograph Unbelievable ConditionGreat Original Antique Victor Type Iii Quarter Sawn Phonograph W/ Outside HornRare Vintage Mickey Mouse Disney Talkie Jecktor Toy Windup Gramophone PhonographRare Columbia Phonograph Graphonola. Two Known In World. Not Edison Or VictrolaColumbia Disc Graphophone PhonographVictor Victrola 3 Talking Machine Tiger Oak HornVery Nice Early Edison Cylinder Phonograph Home Suitcase (h4)Edison Model N-56 Reproducer--fits Many Edison Phonograph Models!Edison Standard Phonograph For RestorationVictor 19" Gold-striped Petal Phonograph HornRare Vintage Record Player Rek-o-kut Variable Speed Cvs-12 Powers Up!Graphophone Cylinder Phonograph Amercan Graphophone Co Type C Columbia Q Phonograph GraphophoneColumbia Bi "sterling" With Nickel Bell Flower Horn PhonographEdison Gem Cylinder Record Player Model B 1905Antique Vintage Victor Standard Talking Machine Model A PhonographVintage 1903 Edison Phonograph With Extras - True No Reserve AuctionCygnet Horn Crane Adjusting Rod, Nut & Spring For Edison Phonograph!Pink Lambert Phonograph Cylinder #516: "old Homestead" - Early And SuperbAntique Edison Home Phonograph True Vintage Phonograph Rca Victor Records Advertising Sign Wood Dealer 20's 30Victor Orthophonic Phonograph Reproducer Brass 7 Teardrops Excellent ShapeRagtime Rastus Dancing Figure For Victrola Phonograph National Toy Co 1915 Brass Victor Orthophonic Phonograph ReproducerEdison Standard 2/4 Min Cylinder Phonograph Record Player + Morning Glory HornAntique Kompact Disc Record Crank Phonograph (cameraphone) In Box Camera StylePhilips Disc Jockey 1950's Vinyl Record Player, Serviced Order & GuaranteedEdison Phonograph Parts - Diamond Disc Reproducer, Tonearm, Rings, Etc.-jpEarly Victor Victrola Vv-iv Tabletop Phonograph Serial #284714 B Working EstateEdison Gem Phonograph,early 1890's Key Wound With Original KeyStandard X Talking Machine Edison Phonograph Amberola Viii Parts Machine , Good Fireside Motor , NrRare Emerson Wondergram Portable Record Player/phonograph Made In EnglandMikiphone Swiss Mini Pocket Phonograph Vadasz Paillard GramophoneVintage Phonograph Gramophone Sortiment Needle Tin Die Stimme Seines HerrnGorgeous Edison Home Cylinder Phonograph Record Player + 14" Witch's Hat HornEdison Home Cylinder Phonograph For Parts Or RestorationOrthophonic Rca Victor Record Player Phonograph 7-hf-45 Plays See Video 4 RepairAntique Victor Victrola Orthophonic Portable Phonograph Player Works!Vintage Rca Victor Model 45-ey-3 Record Player 45 Rpm *for Parts/restore*Vintage Berliner Gramophone Stick Pins * Exc. Original Victor Phonograph MementoAntique Columbia Grafonola Phonograph Record Player, NrVictor Phonograph Tone Arm With Rebuilt Exhiition Reproducer Victor I Ii Vintage Philco 46-1201 Bing Crosby Tube Radio Phonograph Record Player Indestructible 2m Cylinder Phonograph Record #947 "oh You Coon" - Jones & MurrayVictor Victrola Model Hmv 101 PhonographEdison Phonograph Recorder National Phonograph Clean In BoxNice Vintage Antique Portable Windup Phonograph In Working Order- Pack And Play!Stunning! Rppc Talking Machine/player Horns,"guns, Rifles, Shells".phonographVintage Brass Gramophone Phonograph Horn ( Just Horn Spare / Repair ItemHarmony Phonograph Edison Gem Cylinder Phonograph Player One-piece Horn + New Horn Decal-1899~berliner 78rpm Phonograph Record~hands Across Sea~#075~sousa~Victrola Victor 5 Talking Machine1960s Arc A.r.c. Auto Car 45 Rpm Under Dash Record Player Model 2500Rare Size Berliner Gram-o-phone Co Montreal Gramophone Phonograph Needle TinVictor Victrola 4 Portable Talking Machine Vv 1-5 Working Condition 158081922~5-1/2"columbia Bubble Book Phonograph Records~box & 4 Album Sets~Real Nice Complete Set Victor Victrola Record Binders For 78rpm Phonograph VvxivAntique Victor Victrola Orthophonic Reproducer Talking Machine