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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Sun Records Discography

Sun Records Discography

John Boija's comprehensive site offers photos of every 45, 78, and LP recorded at Sun Records—from those recorded… [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]



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]

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    

Elvis Presley - Heartbreak Hotel - Uk 1956 Hmv 10" 78rpm *demo* Near MintThat's All Right / Blue Moon Of Kentucky - Elvis Presley Original Sun # 209 78Richard 'rabbit' Brown James Alley / Victor 20578 / E Killer New Orleans BluesJohnny Burnette 'touch Me/eager, Beaver, Baby' Vogue Coral Q.72283 78rpm Vg £10 Pre War - Kokomo Arnold 78 Decca 7163 Starburst - Milk Cow Blues 4 Down And Out Bennie Moten, Oh! Eddie, Washboard Rhythm Kings Pepper Steak Victor 22958 78 RpmElvis Presley Set Of 5 Sun 78 Rpm Repro's From 70's No ReserveJerry Lee Lewis On Sun 78 26778rpm Prewar Country €Blues 78, Charlie Jackson On Paramount 12236, VgElvis Presley On Rca Victor --tryin To Get To You-- Silver Line [47-6641] --nm--Elvis Presley - Loving You No. 1 (rca Victor Original French 7" Ep) Blue LabelRare 1950s Blues 78 Billy Emerson Sun 233 " Little Fine Healthy Thing" ExcellentState Street Ramblers Barrel House Stomp, Kentucky Blues Champion 40007 78 RpmWilliams' Jug Band 78: Organ Grinder/you Ain't Too Old Columbia 2863 Blue Wax78 Rpm Sun Record 239 Warren Smith Original Rock N’ Roll Ruby I’d Rather SorrySun 291 78 Jack Clement Your Lover Boy/ Ten Years Vg++/m- Rare Lot Of 4 78 Rpm Records Chuck Berry, Little Junior Parker, Little RichardVintage Pre-war Victor Scroll 78 Rpm Lot Of (25) Jazz, Fox Trot ShellacLightnin' Hopkins - Sick Feelin' Blues - Clean Herald Promo 78! Hear It! Listen!Jack Huddle Starlight / Believe Me 78 Canada Buddy Holly Rare Rockabilly Ex/exCarl Perkins - Glad All Over - Sun 287 -10" 78 Rpm -unplayed New/old Store StockRare Sun Records 78 Jerry Lee Lewis Whole Lotta Shakin' Going OnThe King's Jesters ~ Vogue R-751 Picture 78 ~ Humphrey, The Sweet Singing Pig78 Rpm Okeh 45083 Frank Hutchison Coney Isle West Virginia RagQrs Records - Rare Record Sleeve For 78's78rpm Prewar Country €Joe Jordan - Morocco Blues - Columbia78 RpmArthur Sims - Soapstick Blues - Okeh 78 RpmJohn Dilleshaw And The String Marvel "spanish Fandango/cotton Patch Rag" 78rpmLot Of 5 Jimmie Rodgers 78's Victor 21531, 23609, 23721, V-40014, Mw 4204Rialto Records - Rare Record Sleeve For 78's78 Rpm Black Label Paramount 3162 Hart Brothers The Miner’s Prayer Lamp Lighting78 Rpm Rca Victor 20-6357 Elvis Presley Scotty & Bill Mystery Train I ForgotDoo-wop : The Spaniels On Vee-jay 78 Vj 107Elvis Presley - 78 Rpm Records - Lot Of 2 - Rca 20-6800 & Rca 20-6643 Too Much Chinese 78rpm - Taiwan Sun Yat Sen Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers On Victor Scroll V-38024 - E- ConditionSouth Georgia Highballers "green River Train/ Mr.johnson Turn Me Aloose78rpm 10"78 Rpm -- Kentucky Blowers, Gennett 5517, EElvis Presley On Rca Victor 78 20-6604Arthur Pryor Victor Monarch Record 727Elvis Presley "my Boy / Thinking About You" 1975 Rca Victor Pb-10191 Ex/exPrewar Blues Guitar 78: Kokomo Arnold Milk Cow Blues/old Original Kokomo Blues78 Rpm Record Broadway 8161 Rare Herman Brothers Devil’s Dream Fiddle & Guitar Red Hot Scroll Victor 22814 Washboard Rhythm Kings-shoot 'em (1931)Clarence Williams Washboard Band "worn Out Blues" 1930 Okeh Records 78 Depression Hot Dance -coon-sanders Or Victor 22972 -scarce! & Clean!! Huge Lot Of 29 Rca Victor 10" Records All Spike Jones No Repeats 78-speed MintRockabilly 78 Rpm Johnny Burnette Train Kept A Rollin Coral 61719Gary Byrd - " Soul Travelin " Pt 1 & 2 " [rca Victor] Funk.....exDuke Ellington & The Cotton Club Orchestra On Victor Scroll V-38079Classic Glenn Miller 78 "moonlight Serenade / American Patrol" Uk Hmv Bd 5942 E+Annette Hanshaw W/ Four Instrumental Stars Perfect 14845 Jazz 78 / V+Fletcher Henderson - Swamp Blues - Instrumental Paramount 78! Hear It! Listen!Girl Group : The Chantels On End 78 E-1005Russian 78 Record "wertinsky / Diewotschka" Columbia # 20351 Very RareJazz Savoy Bearcats Stampede / Hot Notes Victor 20460 E/ee-Chinese 78rpm - Chang Loo "給我一個吻" 35982Chinese 78rpm -zhou Xuan ő

Recent News: 78 Records

Source: Google News

2015 Mitsubishi Mirage – minor update announced
ASEAN Automotive News, October 1st

No changes to the powertrain either – the 3A92 1.2 litre DOHC three-pot unit continues on with its 78 PS at 6,000 rpm and 100 Nm at 4,000 rpm output. The update consists of technical improvements and new features. Additional sound insulation and a new ...Read more

2015 Ford F-150 tech: Steel joins aluminum in cutting weight
Detroit Free Press, September 30th

• The 2.7-liter Ecoboost V6 engine that will power the most fuel-efficient F-150 will be a $495 option. It will cost $1,100 less than the 5.0-liter V8. • The 2.7-liter V6 produces 375 pound-feet of torque at just 3,000 rpm and can tow 8,500 pounds...Read more

2015 MLB draft: Mock 1.0
Through The Fence Baseball, September 30th

His fastball had a spin rate of 2600 RPM, which is elite at any level. He is still learning how to pitch instead ... He adds a 78-82 mph slider and shows a good feel for a change-up, but his secondary stuff still needs some refining. His raw stuff...Read more

Dissecting the HSB Lineup
SF Weekly, September 30th

He dug deep into his roots (and his 78 RPM vinyl collection) for his first solo album, Folk Singer Vol. 1. We're talking classic tunes like "Midnight Special" and "Stewball," along with way old-school blues from the likes of Memphis Slim and Richard...Read more

News from you local community radio station
Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, September 30th

The turntable would be selected at a speed of either 33 1/3 or 45 revolutions per minute (RPM) – or in Archie's case 78RPM. Sorry Archie I couldn't resist throwing that in! A pick-up arm would be placed on the record and you could hear the song play...Read more

Complete analysis: Dover
Yahoo Sports, September 29th

He led 78 laps in the AAA 400 and his second-place finish gives him an average finish of 3.3 through the first three races of the Chase. As has been the case this season, speed was not an issue for the No. 2 team as Keselowski was the fastest on...Read more

You're On Notice, Dawg! Week 6
Dawg Sports, September 28th

I'm not asking you to drag it out so it sounds like you're playing a 78 LP at 45 RPM, but slowing the tempo down to a manageable singing speed would be much appreciated by this Bulldog fan. Also, God created fermatas for a reason. It's not a crime to...Read more

Unclutter Your Mind: The Power Of Getting Rid Of Things
Forbes, September 26th

It's one thing to play Frank Sinatra tunes as a prelude to romance, but playing a 78 rpm disc of “Someone To Watch Over Me” by 'Ol Blue Eyes on a hand cranked phonograph slayed them every time. Then I got married, had kids and eventually had to move ...Read more