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]

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    

78rpm Blues €78rpm Blues €Elvis Presley-78 Rpm-sun 215-milkcow Blues Boogie-you're A Heartbreaker-1955Old Sun 209 Elvis Presley 78rpm That's All Right / Blue Moon Of Kentucky RecordElvis Presley-78 Rpm-sun 209 That's Alright / Blue Moon Of KentuckyElvis Presley-78 Rpm-sun 210 Good Rockin Tonight/i Don't Care If The Sun Rare Eddie Cochran 78 " 20 Flight Rock / Dark Lonely Street" Lon. Hlu 8336 Ex/e-The Drifters Save The Last Dance For Me Rare Indain 78 Rpm RecordElvis Presley Mystery Train Original Sun Records 10" Single 78 Rpm 1955 Wade & Dick Bop Bop Baby Bw Don't Need Your...sun 269 78 Rpm Vg++ RockabillyBlues Country 78, Nap Hayes & Matthew Prater On Okeh 45231, Vg78rpm Blues €'60-elvis Presley Gold Standard-a Touch Of Gold-volume 3-rca Victor-epa-5141Pre-war Blues: Two 78 Rpm Blues -tampa Red Vocalion1251& Sammy Sampson Oriol Bukka White 78 Vocation Records 05526 Stange Place Blues & Special Stream LineMega Rare 1960 #1 Roy Orbison 78 " Only The Lonely " S Africa London Pd 8353 M-The Drifters Sweets For My Sweet Rare Indain 78 Rpm RecordHear - Rare Blues 78 - Otis Rush - My Love Will Never Die - Cobra # 5005Rare Prewar Columbia 14222 78 Barbacue Bob "mississippi Heavy Water Blues "78rpm Blues €Lot Oof 18 Turkish Language 78 Rpm Records - Zeki MurenChubby Checker Popeye Limbo Rock 78 Rpm Record 1963 Columbia Popc.2081* Blues 78, Buddy Moss On Melotone 13443, VgRitchie Valens . Come On, Let's Go . Del-fi . Canadian Pressing On Apex . 78 RpmRitchie Valens . Donna / La Bamba . Del-fi . Canadian Pressing On Apex . 78 RpmPre-war Country Gwen Foster Wilkes County Blues Victor 20934 Near Mint! 78 RpmMontgomery Ward M-4826 Blues 78 Leroy Carr When The Sun Goes Down Ain’t It ShameLot Of (19) Hank Williams Sr. Mgm 78 Rpm/10" Records Country Blues CollectionChubby Checker Loddy Lo Hooka Tooka 78 Rpm Record 1963 Columbia Popc.2095*country 78, Bill Chitwood & Bud Landress On Brunswick 2884, Ex-* Hillbilly 78, Uncle Dave Macon & Sid Harkreader On Vocalion 15100, Ex- To Vg+Johnny Cash On Sun 78 241* Country 78, East Texas Serenaders On Decca 5458, Ex To Vg+Cajun Creole French Vintage Louisiana 78 Record Clemo Breaux / Joseph Falcon Django Reinhardt Hot Club Of France String Jazz 78 Swanee River Uk Issue Nm NrThe Sweet Give Us A Wink 1976-first Uk Press -rca Victor - Ex++Mega Rare 1960 #1 On 78! Bobby Darin - Beyond The Sea S. Africa London Pd 8295 EBud Powell Trio Blue Note Jazz 78 You Go To My Head Near Mint NrCajun Creole French Vintage Louisiana 78 Record Joseph Falcon Boston Don't Look Back Picture Disc Mint Sealed Vinyl Pic Disk Promo Epic '78Rare Prewar Paramount 3088 Country Hillbilly 78 Rpm Wolfe BallardDjango Reinhardt Quintette Hot Club Of France 78 Chasing Shadows Clean Vg+ NrRare 1950's R & R 78 Chuck Berry On Chess "johnny B. Goode" Victor 24700 Ray Noble - Al Bowlly - Midnight The Stars And You - The Shining EBlues Vocalion Pre-war Tampa Red Vintage 78 RecordSavoy New Sounds In Modern Music 4 Disc 78 Rpm Be-bop Box Set Charlie Parker1917 Aeolian-vocalian "tiger Rag" By Original Dixieland "jass" Band 78 RpmRare Classic 1958 Ritchie Valens 78 " La Bamba / Donna " Uk London Hl8803 Ex+The Royal Ballet Gala Performances Ernest Ansermet Rca Victor Lds 6065 Records* Country 78, Theron Hale And Daughters On Victor 40019, Vg+James - Jimone / What's The World / Fire So Close Fac 78 Uk 7" 1stp 1983 FactoryV Rare Cliff Richard 78 Mean Streak / Nevermind 1959 Uk #10 Columbia Db 4290 E+Clyde Stacy - Hoy Hoy / So Young - 78 Candlelight 1015 - 1957 - Rock RockabillyVery Rare Johnny Burnette Trio Rockabilly 78 Rpm Elvis Presley Lpm 1254 Rca Victor VinylRussian Yuri Morfessi Parlophone 78 Rpm 78 ; Buster Johnson W James Cole, Tommie Bradley Varsity Undertaker Blues78 Rpm, Hillbilly, Allen Brothers, Laughin' And Cryin', Bw/ Unlucky ManVogue Picture Record R786: "boogie Woogie Yodel" By The Down Homers 78 RpmBing Crosby Swearing 78 Test Pressing Red Record

Recent News: 78 Records

Source: Google News

Grammy regulars
Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette, February 1st

Martin and Hennessey started Archeophone Records in 1998, sort of as a hobby, when he was collecting 78-rpm recordings and burning out on his work toward a Ph.D. in English at Indiana University. "We both loved popular music and wondered what ...Read more

Today in Music History - Feb. 1
mysask.com, January 31st

It was designed as a rival to Columbia's 33 1/3 rpm long-playing disc, introduced the previous year. The two systems directly competed with each other to replace 78 rpm records, bewildering consumers and causing a drop in record sales. By the end of...Read more

Neeti Upadhye joins the vinyl revival
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, January 31st

I turned to the all-knowing Google to research the various formats and the pros and cons of each: 10-inch 78 rpm records are made of breakable shellac and can only hold one song per side (these are rare nowadays), 12-inch 331/3s are pressed on vinyl...Read more

Hank Williams recordings get Grammy nomination
WBIR-TV, January 31st

In 1950, the singer recorded "The Garden Spot Programs," a series of radio shows sponsored by Naughton Farms, a mail-order plant nursery in Waxahachie, Texas. The shows were forgotten almost immediately after they aired. If it weren't for collector...Read more

Alan Lomax Archive Celebrates the Folklorist's Centennial With 6-LP Box Set
Broadway World, January 31st

Fans will also get access to rare exclusives including a 78-rpm record from Lomax's own collection, a copy of the Grammy-winning set of Lomax's 1938 Library of Congress recordings with Jelly Roll Morton, and the exclusive Alan Lomax Centennial T-shirt...Read more

This guy turned a Millennium Falcon toy into a turntable
Consequence of Sound, January 28th

In the Star Wars universe, the Millennium Falcon could make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. In the real universe, it can spin a vinyl record at 78 RPM. A few years ago, a Texas-based instrument repairer named Marco Garza bought an original 1977 ...Read more

Go Out This Week: Ricky Skaggs, 'The 78 Project Movie,' Tournées French Film ...
Memphis Commercial Appeal, January 26th

armed with a vintage microphone, an authentic 1930s Presto direct-to-acetate disc recorder, and blank 78-rpm lacquer discs to capture performances of public-domain songs in a single take, replicating the “field recording” style of such...Read more

Briefs: Schools of Choice openings; 78 rpm record appreciation program; Coffee ...
The Daily Tribune, January 8th

Briefs: Schools of Choice openings; 78 rpm record appreciation program; Coffee hours with state rep. State Representative Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak, will hold coffee hours to meet with local citizens. Photo submitted by Jim Townsend. Posted: 01/08/15, ...Read more