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    

Blues 78, Mississippi John Hurt On Okeh 8560, Vg+ To VgMambo For Cats Rca Victor Lpm - 1063 Rare Jim Flora Cover78rpm Tn Rockabilly Jess Hooper Meteor 5025 All Messed Up Sleepy Time Blues Mp3Beatles - Michelle/you Won't See Me Impos'ly Rare India Prs. 1966 78 Rpm See!Blind Willie Johnson 14425 On Columbia 78 RecordPaul Howard's Quality Serenaders, Victor 38070, E-v+Memphis Minnie Bumble Bee Vocalion 1476 Pre-war Blues 78The Drifters Save The Last Dance For Me Rare Indain 78 Rpm RecordCountry 78, Monroe County Bottle Tippers On Gennett 6585, Vg+1899~berliner 78rpm Gramophone Record~cal Stewart~#050~hcr.78 Rpm Show Boat Brunswick 12 Inch Album Rare, Beautiful GraphicsRare 1936 Memphis Minnie 78 Vocalion 03222 Hoodoo Lady And Ice Man Mp3Elvis Presley Sun 209 78 Rpm That's All Right B/w Blue Moon Of Kentucky - VideoJelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers, Victor 20252, Ee+1895~early/berliner 78rpm Gramophone Record~bye Bye My Lovey~#727~billy Golden~Berliner 7-inch Single-sided 78 Rpm RecordElvis Presley "jailhouse Rock" Rock N Roll Rca Victor 78 Rpm, Ex+ No Reserve!!The Drifters Sweets For My Sweet Rare Indain 78 Rpm Record78rpm Prewar Jazz €78 Rpm Chess Record 1497 Howlin’ Wolf The Wolf Is At Your Door BoogieDjango Reinhardt Quintette Hot Club Of France 78 Confessin' Clean Vg+ NrChubby Checker Popeye Limbo Rock 78 Rpm Record 1963 Columbia Popc.2081Rhino Records Rnjb 78000 Jukebox Classics 78 Rpm SetBlind Jeremiah Taylor 93027 On Herwin Mothers Love 78 RecordBix Orch. - New Orleans Luck Seven - Okeh 8544 -78rpm JazzRca Victor Elvis Presley 78rpm, Record "hound Dog" Ex Condition No Reserve!!!The Jazz Scene (1949) Norman Granz- Rare 6x12" 78 Set Signed #'d 30 Photos #3530Lillian Armstrong - Race Columbia 14678-d - Howard Joyner 78 Rpm Jazz1902~victor-monarch Gramophone Record~#1193 Sousa's Band~liberty Bell March~1901~7"victor Pre Dog 78 Record~#a432~d'almaine"gems From Faust"violin~announced78rpm R&b Howlin' Wolf Chess 1528 Oh Red !! / My Last Affair / Sun Recording Mp378 Leroy Carr Scrapper Blackwell Black Wagon Blues Shinin Pistol Vocalion Mp31897~berliner 78rpm Gramophone Record~nelly Bly/cornet~#237x~paris Chambers78rpm Jazz €1897-?~berliner 78rpm Gramophone Record~old Black Joe~#3263z~chas.p.lowe~78rpm Jazz €Glenn Miller 1930's - 40's Lot Of 12 Big Band Swing Dance 78's Super Clean NrElvis Presley Lot Of 3 78 Rpm Records Hound Dog Teddy Bear Shake Rattle Roll Rca78 Rpm Rev. E.d. Campbell 12" Victor 35824 In E- (black Gospel)78rpm Jazz €78rpm Jazz €1901~7"victor Early Dog 78rpm Gramophone Record~#338~sousa Band"crack Regiment"Enrico Caruso Victor Red Vinyl One Sided Test Pressing Etched Amor Ti Vieta Vg+Carolina Tar Heels Roll On Boys Victor 40024 Jazz 78Chinese 78rpm -"保家鄉" ƖChinese 78rpm - ƖLeroy Carr Scrapper Blackwell Blues Before Sunrise Vocalion 2657 Blues 781900~7"victor Pre Dog Gramophone Record~#a103~lyric Trio"when I Was A Lad"anoucdRecord 78 Rpm Columbia 1999 Harry C. Browne Nigger Love A Watermelon Ha Ha 78 Rpm Anson Weeks Brunswick 6391 In V+e- (one Of His Best)1901~7"victor Early Dog 78 Gramophone Record~#485~v.ossman~"mosquito Parade"ancd78 Rpm Billie Holiday Columbia Album Sets Lot Of 2, Set C135 & 1944 Album Set -1Rare Arabic Indian 78 Rpm Record Alamphon Columbia Pasta Heyjan Diarbekir JamiliDestroy All Monsters - Destroy Am + 3 Ep Circa 1977/78 Detroit Punk Stooges Mc5Jim Jackson Kansas City Blues Vocalion 1144 Pre-war Blues 781899~berliner 78rpm Gramophone Record~vess Ossman~#083~"yankee Doodle"cracks~78 Rpm Lee Morse Columbia 2530-d In E (blue Wax)Ted Lewis Vintage 1920's-30's Popular Band Lot 4 Original 78's Vg & Vg+ Ps Vg+1902~victor-pre Dog Monarch Gramophone Record~#1178~sousa's Band~"espada March"eSweet Fanny Adams Rca Victor Lpl1 5038 Brian Connolly Prog Glam Rare Album Vinyl

Recent News: 78 Records

Source: Google News

Time to beat winter blues at Louth's Riverhead
Louth Leader, January 25th

Join the 78RPM Jazz Band for a musical tonic to dispel those winter blues as they present their 'Musical Flu Jab (or Winter Sunshine Part Two)' in Louth. The performance will take place at 7.30pm on Sunday February 1 at the Riverhead Theatre. The band ...Read more

The 78 Project Movie
blueridgemuse, January 25th

A new partnership emerged Saturday night with the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Parkway joining forces with The Floyd Country Store to screen The 78 Project Movie. Country Store owner Dylan Locke said the store co-sponsored the screening as part of a ...Read more

A Review of Noël Coward's 'Private Lives' in Hartford
New York Times, January 23rd

The oft-cited line “Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs” is spoken by Elyot after a scene in which he has done just that, but then his ex-wife has also kneed his groin forcefully and broken a 78-r.p.m. record over his head. Darko...Read more

Roy Forbes on a quest for fire
Vancouver Sun, January 23rd

For Forbes, there is only one way to listen to classics like Billie Holliday and Hank Williams: Straight back to 78 RPM shellac records, a metal needle and one of those old RCA Victor phonographs. Yes, Roy Forbes is the real deal: A true records purist...Read more

A whole lotta Dixie rock
South Wales Evening Post, January 23rd

And after playing them on an old Edison 78rpm Victrola, they agreed the songs were in fact fine country music, and the Lost Highway of Hank Williams and AC/DC's Highway To Hell were the exact same road. The band took a name which plays on that of the ...Read more

Turning the tables on technology with '78 Project' recordings, January 14th

(Sarah Law/for The 78 Project). Those familiar with records will probably know that they are made of vinyl and spin at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, or at 45 for a single. A 78 spins more than twice as fast – 78 rpm -- and is made of acetate, a far...Read more

Elvis Presley's first record, 'My Happiness', auctions for $300000
Economic Times, January 9th

The 78 rpm record, with its tattered yellow label, sold for $240,000. But the total buyer's price includes a premium of 25 per cent, or $60,000, that goes to the auction house, Graceland Auctions. Bidding for the record started at $50,000. Other items...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