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    

78 Rpm Electrobeam Gennett 6619 Justin Winfield Old Time Country New River Train78 Rpm Okeh 45155 South Georgia Highballers Bibb County Grind E+ Blue Grass TwisPre War Blues 78 Rpm Memphis Jug Band Kansas City Blues, State Of Tennessee 12" Hillbilly 78, Fiddlin' John Carson On Okeh 7004, Memphis Jug Band, Victor 21185, Vv+ Blues 78rpm Muddy Waters On Aristocrat 1310 E ConditionJohn Lee Hooker Highway Blues / Miss Rosie Mae Rare 78 Rpm Staff 704 1949Chuck Berry School Day / Deep Feeling Rock R&b 78 Rpm Chess Record 165378rpm Prewar Country €78 Rpm Okeh 45156 Earl Johnson And His Clodhoppers Arkansas Traveler E+ 78 Rpm Electrobeam Gennett 6350 Roy Harvey & Bob Hoke Walking On The Streets Billy Goat Stomp Original Victor Scroll Pressing #20772 Jelly-roll Morton Jazz 78 Jazz Thelonious Monk Straight No Chaser / Four In One 1951 Blue Note 1589Howlin' Wolf 78 Rpm Chess 1668 E Somebody In My Home, NatureBlues 78, Memphis Minnie On Vocalion 03651, Vg+Screamin' Jay Hawkins "i Put A Spell On You/ Little Demon" 1956 Okeh 10" 78 Jacket Brenston 78 On Chess "rocket 88"Near Mint 78 295 Sun Johnny Cash Guess Things Happen That Way / Come In Stranger78 Be-bop Bud P0well's Modernists Dance Of The Infidels Blue Note 1568 RollinsJazz 78, Original Indiana Five On Clover 1755, Ex To Ex+Chuck Berry 78 Rpm Chess 1635 E- 78 Jazz Horace Silver Day In Day Out / Opus De Funk 1953 Blue Note 1625Mart Britt And His Orchestra, Victor 21760, V+Rare 78 The Missourians On Victor V-38120 Hot 1929 JazzTexas Slim 78 - John Lee Hooker "nightmare Blues"Victor Monarch Single Sided "pre-dog" Eldridge Johnson "little Tommy Murphy"Joe Hill Louis 78 Rpm Checker 763 E-/vg + When I'm Gone, Dorothy MaeSavoy Dance Orchestra - 'you’d Be Surprised' 1920 Columbia 78 - Bechet Or Not?Cab Calloway - The Viper's Drag - Perfect 78 RpmThe Growler W/ John "buddy" Williams - Rare Kiskedee 5002 Calypso 78 78rpm Prewar Jazz €Columbia 1812-d Annette Hanshaw Big City Blues / That's You Baby Novelty 78 RpmKanui & Lula Oua Oua Tomi Tomi Walter Kaluma Hawaiian 78 Rpm Records No Reserve Walt Disney 78x3 Set Silly Symphony Songs Rare! Bluebird Sleeve!Boris Baykalov Oh! My Boy / Where Is My Heart Hear Bellaccord Russian 78 3769Four Hawaiian Duces Should I? Van Dyke 84306 Rare 78 Rpm / V++Collection Of 5 X Hmv 78 Rpm Needle TinBobby Darin Queen Of The Hop 78 RpmEdith Piaf La Vie En Rose 78 RpmGene Vincent 78 Rpm "b-i-bickey-bi, Bo-bo-go" M-Love Me Tender / Anyway You Want Me Elvis Presley Rca Victor 1956 78 !!Gene Vincent 78 On Capitol "crazy Legs"78rpm Prewar Country €Elvis Presley 78 "blue Suede Shoes - Tutti Frutti" 1956 No 9Russian Gypsy Songs 78 Rpm Early 1900s Zonophone Record. Anastasia Vyaltseva # 2Lot Of 16 Vintage Assorted Blues, Big Band, Jazz, 78 Rpm 10" Records Albums78 Victrola Laudamus Te Trio & Choir Sistine Chapel Rome Moreschi 893 Vg+Songs From Walt Disney Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs Victor Records 3pc SetNina Fedora Bubliczki / Nu-eszczo Raz Hear Scarce Okeh Russian 78 15093 1928Problems / Love Of My Life The Everly Brothers Cadence 1958 78 !!Beatles Magical Mystery Tour U.k. Yellow Vinyl 78 Pressing Parlophone ExcellentVintage 78rpm Record Johnny Cash I Walk The Line - Get Rhythm Sun Records 78 Rpm- V Disc- Ww2- Jazz- Glenn Miller- MintElvis Presley With Scotty & Bill Mystery Train 78 Rpm 1956Russian Alexander Wertinsky On Columbia. 78 Rpm 1920sRussian Peter Lescenco On Austrian Columbia. 78 Rpm 1930sThe Five Satins 78rpmDavid Medoff Krutitsia - Vertitsia Hear Folk Columbia Russian 78 20078-f 1926Rare, 1927 Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2, Brunswick Hall Of Fame Series, 78 RpmChinese 78 Rpm Pathe Regal 41650 *rare*

Recent News: 78 Records

Source: Google News

Today's world has no use for what used to be
The Philadelphia Tribune, September 21st

For those of you who now listen to music on compact disks or CDs, there were 45, 78 and 33 1/3 RPM records my generation enjoyed. Watching television or listening to a radio, back then, often occurred in your living room where you sat on furniture...Read more

Monterey Jazz Festival stage time 'surreal' for Davina Sowers
Monterey County Herald, September 20th

Her mother's fourth husband, a much-older man (born in 1902), adopted her and gave her his collection of 78-rpm records, which she still plays regularly on two ancient Victrola phonographs and an Edison. "My music was influenced by everybody from ...Read more

A taste of Bengal
The News on Sunday, September 20th

It was recorded by the HMV in 78 rpm disk format. With the years rolling by, 12 LPs, 4 EPs, 6 CDs and more than 20 audio cassette records were released. Her sensitivity in conveying deep feeling helped to revive the genre and made her a household name...Read more

Starting lineup breakdown for Chase race at Loudon, September 19th

21. ARIC ALMIROLA, Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford — His engine failure last week was his first since he joined RPM in 2012. ... 78 Chevrolet — His 14th last week was his best finish in the last five races. 33. Clay Rogers, BK Racing No. 93...Read more

Trash and treasure: Rome columnist ponders garage sales
Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, September 19th

So it was that I dusted off my grandfather's old Victrola from the 1920s, a machine on which he listened to 78-RPM heavy-duty records of classical music until the day he died in his 90s, back in the '80s. My intention has always been to resurrect that...Read more

What's On: Music, week of September 19
Rutland and Stamford Mercury, September 18th

BBC RADIO TWO'S '78 RPM BIG BAND - 7.30pm St Peter's Church, Empingham. Tickets £8 in advance from 01780 460354; 460502; 07747 697681 or £10 on the door. EASY SUNDAY MUSIC - 3-4pm, Fotheringhay Church. Vox Mondiale - a capella group...Read more

JACK'S MUSIC: 78s had much better sound quality
Keyser Mineral Daily News Tribune (blog), September 17th

It was mainly for juke boxes. The last 78 rpm juke box was made in 1952 and although the boxes could be converted to 45, many companies kept on producing 78s, and there was also a market for them as well..They were still selling reasonably well into...Read more

Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78 ...
Under the Radar Mag, August 19th

Amanda Petrusich's Do Not Sell at Any Price examines the esoteric nature of 78 rpm record collecting. In doing so, she travels across America to discuss collecting with the foremost collectors of the format and meets all manner of interesting...Read more