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.

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Columbia 14343d Blind Willie Johnson If I Had My Way /mother's Children 78 Rpm Niagara Falls Blues Kid Cole Hard Hearted Mama 20s' Vocalion 1187 78 Rpm Record Columbia 14391d Blind Willie Johnson Run To The City Of Refuge Vg+ A1/a2 78 Rpm Savoy Orpheans "charleston" 1925 Hmv; Classic Sound Of The Roaring 20s! [78 Rpm]Blind Lemon Jefferson "jack O'diamonds/chock.." 10" 78rpm Paramount Record 14022Okeh 8352 Arizona Dranes John Said He Saw A Number Sanctified Piano 78 Rpm Papa Charlie Jackson 78 Rpm Paramount Ash Tray Blues / No Need Of Knockin' 12660Vocalion 1228 Tampa Red Hokum Jug Band How Long 78 Rpm 1928 Vg+ Okeh 8184 Bennie Moten Kansascity Orch Goofy Dust/tulsa Blue 78 Rpm 1924 E-hot!!Elvis Presley 78 That's All Right Blue Moon Kentucky 20-6380 Rca 1954 Near MintSkip James "little Cow & Calf Is Gonna Die Blues " 10" 78rpm Sd Record Sd-110Jazz Ray Noble Al Bowlly Midnight, The Stars And You Victor 24700 The ShiningEmmett Miller & His Georgia Crackers "the Lion Tamers" (e+) Okeh 41205 [78 Rpm]Curley Weaver "two Faced Woman/sometime Mama" 10" 78rpm Decca Record 7906 Sun #242, 78 Rpm,roy Orbison.....ooby Dooby/go, Go,go...rockabilly78 Rpm -- George Noble, Melotone 7-06-75, E / V+ BluesVocalion 1415 Jimmie Noone Apex Band S'posin'/true Blue Lou 78 Rpm E+ 1929Rare Blues 78 Rpm Varsity 6056 Cryin’ Ellen Original Blues / Black Dog BluesVocalion 1720 Bumble Bee Slim Queen Bee Blues/b&o Blues 78 Rpm 1932 E--/vg+Ma Rainey "jelly Bean Blues/countin Yhe Blues" 10" 78rpm Paramount Record 14016Junior Wells I Could Cry States 78 Tuff Chicago Blues HarmonicaHarmony 636h Dixie Stompers Feelin' Good 1928 78 Rpm 1929 E+ Hot!!The Howlin' Wolf - Moanin' At Midnight - Chess Blues 78 Rpm - Chess 1479Columbia 15665d Gid Tanner Skillet Lickers Don't Cry My Honey 1930 78 Rpm 78 Elvis Presley "blue Moon & Poor Boy" Elvis Presley (philippines) Rare ListenIke Turner I'm Lonesome Baby Chess 78 Tuff Chicago Blues78 Rpm Okeh 8747 The Hokum Boys Gin Mill Blues The Folks Down StairsCountry Hillbilly 78, Byrd Moore, Hoke Rice On Challlenge 42778 Rpm South Africa Amazeze Zulu Guitars Egoli Mama Tropik 737 Top Shape Listen78 Rpm Bluebird - Bo Carter "banana In Your Fruit Basket"/ "pin In Your Cushion"Blues 78, Tallahassee Tight On Perfect 027278 Rpm Elvis Presley "teddy Bear & Loving You" Harmony (philippines) Rare Listen78 Rpm 8698 Elders Mcintorsh & Edwards Gospel The Latter Rain Is Fall Blind Lemon Jefferson "black Snake Moan/match" 10" 78rpm Jazz Classic Record 511Tommy Mcclennan "new Highway No.51/travelin..." 10" 78rpm Rca Vrecord 20-293178 Rpm1706 -- The Eagle-aires, Ebony 1014, E R&b / Blues / Doo WopVictor 17978 Joseph Moskowitz Panama Pacific Drag 1915 Ragtime E/e- 78 RpmWalter Vincson Every Dog Must Have His Day Bluebird 78 Mississippi SheiksTommy Mcclennan Whiskey Head Woman Bluebird 78 Canned Heat Mint-Howlin' Wolf - The Wolf Is At Your Door - Chess Blues 78 Rpm - Chess 149778 Rpm Leroy Carr Vocalion 1191 How Long How Long Blues 1928*Princeton Triangle Club Jazz Band "pretty Please" Columbia Personal; Rare! [78]78 Rpm Elmore James Trumpet 146 Dust My Broom *Harmony 451h Dixie Stompers Variety Stomp 78 Rpm 1927 E/e- Hot!!78 Rpm Okeh 8683 Sloppy Henry Hobo Blues / The Best Little Cheap Car Is Ford 78 Rpm Elmore James Meteor 5000 I Believe *The Mississippi Mudder "baltimore Blues" 10" 78rpm Decca Record 7009Columbia 15328d Roane County Ramblers Southern No. 111/home Town Blues 78 Rpm Columbia 14110d Sam Manning W Cole Jazz Orch Bungo 78 Rpm 1926 E Jamaican Jazz Leadbelly "all Out And Down/packin Trunk" 10" 78rpm Paramount Record 14006Bing Crosby "merry Christmas" 1945 4 Disc Album Vintage 10" Record 78 Rpm Music78- Decca 30221- Patsy Cline -walkin' After Midnight/ Poor Man's RosesElgar's Creole Orchestra "nightmare / Brotherly Love" Brunswick 3404 [78 Rpm]Kiss 7" Single Rock And Roll All Nite / Room Service Victor Japan Jet-2318 Victor Arabic 78rpm Record # 63059 Turkish Male Song The Dixie Stompers (fletcher Henderson) "dynamite" 1926 Harmony 209-h [78 Rpm]Kokomo Arnold 1934 Blues 78 Milk Cow Blues/old Original Kokomo Bluess (v+) Merry Christmas Bing Crosby With The Andrews Sisters 4 Record Set. A-550 78rpmVocalion 1144 Jim Jackson Kansas City Blues 1927 G+/vg- 78 RpmFabrik Setrak Mechian Carie Arabic 78rpm Record #594 Chamel Kokain

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