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 1912, 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 Jackson Blue Boys (bo Carter, Charlie Mccoy) Columbia 14397-d In E- Hear!Elvis Presley Rca Victor Spd-23 Rare Rock Usa 1956 Record Jacket. No RecordsMuddy Waters I Can't Be Satisfied Aristocrat 78 Howard Godfrey (al Bowlly) "time On My Hands" Empire E-9; Very Rare! [78 Rpm]78 Rpm - Eck Robertson - V-40145, Country V+/v++ Rare Rockabilly Pre-war Country Okeh "barrow County Stomp" Theo Gus Clark 78 Barbecue Bob Poor Boy A Long Ways From Home Columbia 7878 Rpm - Jack Kelly And His South Memphis Jug Band, V-v-- Blues, Jug Band78 Rpm - Famous Hokum Boys (big Bill Broonzy) - Romeo 5013, Blues Vv-Peetie's Boy Friar's Point Blues Decca 78 Rare Robert Nighthawk 1st Time On Bay78 Rpm - Coley Jones - Columbia 14288-d, Vv- Blues78 Rpm - "texas" Alexander - Okeh 8771, V- Blues 78 Rpm -- Johnny Dunn & His Band (jelly Roll Morton), Columbia 14306, Ee+ JazzSun Rockabilly 78 Roy Orbison & Teen Kings Ooby Dooby / Go! Go! Go! Sun-242Hear! Blues 78 Rpm Tommy Mcclennan I Love My Baby Bluebird 34-0716Kokomo Arnold I'll Be Up Someday Decca 78 Slide Guitar Alabama Washboard Stompers Corrine Corrina Vocalion 78 Vhtf Ray Noble Al Bowlly Victor 24700 E Midnight, The Stars And You The Shining Slleepy John Estes Mailman Blues Decca 78 Robert NighthawkMuddy Waters Honey Bee Chess 78 Little Walter Jimmy Rogers 78 Rpm Chicago Blues – Robert Nighthawk – Chess 148478rpm Chicago Blues – Nighthawks – Aristocrat 41378 Rpm - East Texas Serenaders - Brunswick 282, E--/v++ CountryMemphis Jug Band 78 Record Victor: Kansas City/state Of Tennessee Blues 21185Blues - Ardell Bragg- Paramount 78 Rpm- Pig Meat Blues / Canebreak Blues- Hear 78 Rpm Willie Jackson As Sonny Porter Columbia 14366-d In E- Hear! (eddie Lang)Elvis Presley Rca 78 Mystery Train / Forgot To Remember To Forget 20-6357Rare 78 Record! Kkk 75003 Why I Am A Klansman (a)& The Cross In The Wildwood (b)Annette Hanshaw: You Wouldn't Fool Me, Would You/lover Come Back To Me 10" 78rpmAnnette Hanshaw As Patsy Young Button Up Your Overcoat/i Want To Be Bad10" 78rpm78 Rpm State Street Boys Vocalion 03002 Don't Tear My Clothes Blues*"schubert Arpeggione /shostakovich Sonata" Shafran Jpn Victor Living StereoAmerican Record Company 78rpm Lot Of 8 - Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott New York78 Rpm Chicago Blues – Robert Nighthawk – United 102Sun 192-78 Rpm Little Junior's Blue Flames "mystery Train" '53 Vg++ Rock-a-billyVery Rare 1898 Cissie Loftus 7" Berliner Gramophone "imitations Ix" 78rpm #3055Rare Blues 78-blind Boy Fuller "untrue Blues" 1937 Conqueror 8919 EMega Rare 1958 Ritchie Valens Rock'n Roll 78 Rpm Record. Come On, Let's Go78 Rpm Papa Charlie Jackson Paramount 12264 Shave "em Dry Blues 1925 *Kiss 7" Single Rock And Roll All Nite / Room Service Victor Jet-2318 JapanHear! Blues 78 Rpm Charlie Spand W/ Blind Blake Hastings Street Columbia E-eMega Rare 1959 The Fleetwoods Doowop 78 Rpm Record. Mr. Blue. Canada OnlyHear! Doo Wop 78 Rpm The Sunbeams Tell Me Why B/w Come Back Baby Herald 451Dooley Wilson - As Time Goes By/knock On Wood - 10" 78 Rare Pre-war Country Allen Brothers 'jake Walk Blues' Victor Rockabilly 78Kokomo Arnold Old Original Kokomo Blues Decca 78 Great Slide GuitarBlues - Bo Carter - Vocalion 78 Rpm- Ram Rod Daddy / Ants In My Pants - Listen 78 Rpm Washboard Sam As Shufflin' Sam Vocalion 03329 In G Hear! (bill Broonzy)Fred Elizalde Music (rollini) "dance Little Lady" 1928 Brunswick; Rare! [78 Rpm]Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues / So Doggone Lonesome (78 Rpm 1955)Ep 7" Stella " Carnet De Balles" Rca Victor 1967 Ex 87015/m Yéyé 60' Girl. RareSun 302-78 Rpm Johnny Cash "you're The Nearest Thing To Heaven " 1958 Vg++/m- Sun Rockabilly 78 Carl Perkins Dixie Fried / I'm Sorry, I'm Not Sorry Sun-249Jesse Lee Turner Shake Baby Shake Rockabilly 78 Rpm78 Rpm Bumble Bee Slim Vocalion 03473 In V+ Hear!Sonny Boy Williamson Elevator Woman Bluebird 78 Harmonica Blues78 Rpm - King Oliver / Duke Ellington - Victor V-38034, V++e-- JazzBillie Holiday - I Only Have Eyes For You / These Foolish Things 78 Disc (a+++)The Arrival Of Victor Feldman Stan Levey Scott La Faro Contemporary Mono 3549Hear! Blues 78 Rpm Sonny Boy Williamson Shake The Boogie Rca Victor 20-2056

Recent News: 78 Records

Source: Google News

Track of the Day: 'Hot and Bothered'
The Atlantic, April 29th

Hearing scratchy old transfers from 78-rpm discs, it's hard to tell what's really happening, or why fans and fellow musicians were so bowled over at the time. Some instruments don't cut through, nuance is lost, harmonies are clouded. Recently, however...Read more

Preserving Our National Pastime in Sound
Radio World, April 29th

microcassettes and DATs,” said David Schwartz, co-owner with wife Donna, of DDS Enterprises-Information Alchemy in Newburgh, N.Y., the company handling the restoration. “We have 78, 45 and 33 rpm records, aluminum discs and cylinder recordings...Read more

Hathcock History: The Padre Island Story
Valley morning Star, April 29th

The song was released as a 78 and a 45 on the Erin label by Circle Records of San Francisco, while the sheet music was released by Hammitt Music Company of Sacramento. Later, a novelty postcard featuring a 33 rpm recording of the song on a specially ...Read more

Knoxville Stomp: Dom Flemons keeps coming back to the sounds of Knoxville in ...
Knoxville News Sentinel, April 29th

Flemons remains a collector, which will figure in to his concert and presentation. "I'm gonna bring some of my 78s and talk about some of them. I just bought a vinyl 78 of Sam Morgan's Jazz Band." Most 78-rpm discs were made of shellac. Vinyl 78s are a...Read more

Chester Martin Remembers Jay Craven, Musician
The Chattanoogan, April 29th

Roy had arranged a small home studio where he could work on his theatrical sets and other artwork while playing 78 RPM records of his favorite music. On one of those records, the famous Tchaikovsky Opus called "Francesca da Rimini" had a part where a ...Read more

The king of the rumba
The Economist, April 28th

It was fuelled by enthusiasm for the new Congolese rumba, a sound the first generation of stars had repurposed from the Cuban songs they discovered on a budget range of ten-inch, 78rpm records put out by a British label, “His Master's Voice”. Wemba ...Read more

Bye and Bye: Luther Dickinson Talks Blind Willie Johnson Tribute Album
Guitar World Magazine, April 27th

Blind Willie was one of the first guitar heroes, one of the kings of the 78 [rpm record]. He spread the lyrics and melodies of gospel music and the slide guitar not only throughout his generation but to all the following generations. His repertoire...Read more

?????- James
AM730, April 26th

?????1964????78RPM Mono????????Intro?????????????????????????????????HiFi??????????????????????????CD???????????????????????1:1???? ...Read more