Before iTunes, CDs, 8-tracks, LPs, or even seven-inch EPs, 78s were the main medium for recorded music, so-called because they were played at 78 rotations per minute (rpm). Produced primarily by Victor, Columbia, Brunswick, and Capitol, 78s were first invented by Emile Berliner in the late 19th century.
At first, Berliner made the “plates,” as the records were called, out of celluloid and rubber-based materials, but in 1894 he switched to shellac, inspired by its transformative impact on the telephone industry. Early shellac 78s measured seven inches across, but by 1900 they were generally 10 or 12 inches in diameter.
For years, early radio stations in both the U.S. and Britain did everything they could to drive 78s out of the market. At the time, most radio stations provided listeners with live music—recorded music represented a threat to their business model. Thus, they discouraged their listeners from spending money on “canned” music. In England, the Musicians Union went so far as to require radio stations to pay the Union for every minute they played records instead of live music.
Thanks to these policies and the poor sound quality of 78s, records took a while to catch on. In the 1920s, Thomas Edison released a competitor to the 78, the Edison disc, which was much thicker (a full quarter-inch!) and featured better audio quality. But the Edison disc required its own expensive phonograph, and it was discontinued in 1929, the same year opera star Arturo Toscanini declared that he would never record anything because a record could not fully capture the beauty of his voice.
Even so, record companies released a wide variety of genres on 78s, from classical to pop to recorded animal noises. In fact, classical releases spawned the origin of the term “album”: because each side of a 78 could only hold about five minutes of music, hour-long symphonies had to be divided into six discs, which were bound together in something resembling a photo album. Seventy-eights were better suited to short pop songs, but this length limitation would prove to be the format’s biggest weakness in the decades to come.
Still, 78s gradually gained acceptance, helped along by the popularity of jukeboxes after the Depression. Then, in 1942, the American Federation of Musicians declared that it would not record anything that did not directly help the American war effort—shellac was scarce, and it was an important material during wartime. The moratorium on record manufacturing lasted until 1944. When production got back on track, though, much of the shellac used for new records was recycled, which resulted in lower-quality discs.
Even so, shellac was on its way out anyway. In 1948, Columbia released the 10-inch LP; when Victor responded with the 45 in 1949, the “War of the Speeds” was on, and the industry soon switched from shellac to vinyl, which was much more durable and allowed for thinner grooves and, thus, longer playing times per side...
In the mid-1950s, seven-inch vinyl singles began cutting into the popularity of 78s even more. Indeed, 1958 was the last year the 78 was the best-selling format in the United States; within five years, 78s were no longer produced in any Western countries, though foreign labels like EMI’s Indian division kept producing them for a bit longer.
Since then, the 78 rpm speed and format have been revived a few times as a promotional gimmick, but these records are generally pressed on vinyl rather than shellac. One example was the Sundown Playboys’ “Saturday Nite Special” in 1971.
The most collectible 78s today are those from the late ’50s, when 78s were less common and releases were often pressed on multiple formats. In the U.K., for example, Elvis Presley’s “A Mess of Blues” is highly collectible as a 78 because it is much easier to find as a seven-inch vinyl single.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Sun Records Discography
Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors
The Remington Site
Clubs & Associations
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: 78 Records
Source: Google News
Yamaha Saluto Price In India Out; Plays Both 'Economical' & 'Practical' CardsCrazyEngineers, April 18th
The 125 cc engine under the hood is an air-cooled, single-cylinder and the Saluto is said to deliver a whooping mileage of 78 km/litre. The bike ... The engine delivers max power of 8.3 PS at 7,000 rpm and 10.1 Nm of torque at 4,500 rpm. At 112 kg, the...Read more
Kershaw pitches Dodgers past RockiesESPN, April 17th
He's a stat-stuffer, not a stat-padder. Furthermore, of the six favorites for MVP, Davis checks in as the best defender of the group, posting a plus-3.7 defensive RPM. 3. Davis is just getting started. All those names I've already mentioned in the...Read more
Plugging into Phoenix Music: Record Store Day 2015azcentral.com, April 16th
The replica will be a 10-inch that plays at 78 rpm. But of course, you knew that. As for in-the flesh pleasures, at 7 p.m., the Record Room will feature live performances by Scorpion vs Tarantula and Freaks of Nature. Revolver Records, 918 N. Second St...Read more
From the archive: Philip Larkin on the voices of poetsNew Statesman, April 16th
Had the history of technology meshed a little differently with the history of literature I might now be able to lay reverently on my turntable a thick black 78 rpm with a Globe label reading Will Shaxsper: Sundrie Sonnets (recording supervif'd by my...Read more
A$AP Rocky Reveals His Album Release Date: Morning MixIdolator: All About The Music, April 16th
That is pretty cool! According to Rolling Stone, White's Third Man Records label will “reissue the tracks on a facsimile 78 RPM 10-inch vinyl” for this Saturday's (April 18) Record Store Day. [Rolling Stone]. Find out below what music you can catch on...Read more
Jack White Has Elvis Presley's First Recordings Digitally TransferredRollingStone.com, April 15th
After White's purchase, and for the first time ever, the one-of-a-kind disc was painstakingly transferred digitally, and White's Third Man Records label plans to reissue the tracks on a facsimile 78 RPM 10-inch vinyl for Record Store Day this Saturday...Read more
Lost Cleveland: Rock 'n' roll landmarks that made music history (vintage photos)cleveland.com, April 15th
Record Rendezvous owner Mintz and radio DJ Alan Freed saw white kids buying "race records" -- 78 rpm discs that were marketed to black America -- and decided that there was something to this music. But it needed a name to go mainstream. Long live rock ...Read more
Flashback: AC/DC Refuses To Give Up and Rocks OnRolling Stone Australia, April 14th
Thirteen years Angus' senior, Scott sang with a lecherous growl that sounded like Tom Waits at 78 rpm, and he was the spitting image of the songs he sang. Onstage, he was usually dressed in nothing but faded jeans that looked like they had been poured...Read more