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    

Elvis Presley 78 Sun 209 That's All Right&blue Moon Of Kentucky(very Very Rare) Roy Orbison 78 R.p.m. Record Sun Record Company Go Go Go -ooby Dooby Near Mint Blues 78, The Two Poor Boys, Joe Evans On Perfect 181, Vg40 Vintage 78rpm Records, Doris Day, Bing Crosby, Eartha KittRoy Orbison Killer 2 Sided Rockabilly 78 On Sun 265!! Vg But Plays Loud & StrongDixieland Jug Blowers, Victor 21473, E+Jerry Lee Lewis Killer Rockabilly 78 On Sun 288! Breathless!! Vg- But Plays Gr8!Elvis Presley-1955-rca 78 Rpm-i Forgot To Remember To Forget/mystery Train1949 Forest City Joe Sonny Boy Aristocrat 78 Chess Chicago Blues Robert Johnson Johnny Cash - Rare Sun 78 Rpm - "i Walk The Line" / "get Rhythm Poor Jim 78 Rpm - Blue & Worried Woman / Squeaky Work Bench Blues - Perfect 0278Johnny Cash & The Tennessee Two On Sun 78 241Al Bowlly W Lew Stone Band "my Woman" 1932 Decca; Scarce Bowlly Classic [78 Rpm]Carl Perkins On Sun 78 234Rock And Roll 78 Rpm Record Set!! Rare !! Hillbilly Frank Dudgeon Birmingham Jail # 2 Champion 16602 78 RpmJack Hylton "you're The Cream In My Coffee" (e) 1929 Hmv; Classic! [78 Rpm]Angelophone 78 Rpm Phonograph Record Sheets - Pastor Charles Taze RussellChinese 78 Rpm Pathe Record No. 34667 Hear Cinema Made In ChinaErmine Calloway," Do Something", Edison Rare Edison Needle Type Electric Thin 78Chinese 78 Rpm Pathe Regal Record No. 41075 Hear Made In ChinaSam Lanin's Famous Players "the Varsity Drag" 1927 "purple" Parlophone [78 Rpm]Rockabilly : Pico Pete On Jet 78 J-100Al Bowlly W Jack Leon "i'll Keep You In My Heart Always" Piccadilly 788 [78 Rpm]Alberta Hunter - How Long Sweet Daddy Blues Rare Black Swan 78- Odd Label Type!Fred & Adele Astaire "lady Be Good - Swiss Miss" 1926 Columbia; Rare!! [78 Rpm]Fred & Adele Astaire - 'swiss Miss' 1926 Gershwin Original Cast Columbia 78!Chuck Berry - Roll Over Beethoven :london Hlu. 8428: 78rpm :chess RecordingMemphis Minnie: "low Down Man Blues" "bad Outside Friends" 78rpm 10''Rare Bix Beiderbecke & His Gang At The Jazz Band Ball Me Blues Okeh 40923 78 EIda Cox "blue Monday Blues" - Paramount Records 78rpm #12053Rare Old 7" Etched Zonophone 78 Phonograph Record G'bye Dolly Gray Joseph NatusJack Payne Bbc Dance Orchestra "carefree" (ee+) 1928 Columbia 4933 [78 Rpm]Link Wray - Rumble - Rare 78 Rpm - 1958 Apex Records Canada Vg++ Jazz 78, Clarence Williams' Jazz Kings On Columbia 14287, Ex-Dick La Salle And His Society Orchestra Vogue Picture Disc 10" 78 Vinyl R748Columbia Record Catalog 78 Rpm Records Viva-tonal Familiar Tunes Hillbilly 15000William Kent - 'lady Be Good' Gershwin Original Cast 1926 Columbia 78!Roscoe Gordon 78 Rpm On Sun. "the Chicken & Love For You BabyBluebird Race Irish Cajun & Hillbilly Record Catalog 78 Rpm Records 1941Jazz Clarence Williams Band Touch-down Victor 38630Elvis Presley Good Rockin Tonight Sun Don't Shine Rca 20-6381 Rare Canada 7878rpm Greek Columbia Blue Shellac G-7067-f K. Roukouna - Samiotakis, Kassimatis4 78 Bluebird Records Mexico Latino Mexican Music 1930's Martinez Rodriguez EtcHank Williams On Mgm 78 125357 78 Records Bluegrass Dellingers Puckett Bill Boyd Texas Tessie Bluebird EtcMusic In The Air - Rca Victor 1932 Picture Record- 12" 78rpm W/sleeve- Rare78 Rpm Radio Franks Gennett [electrobeam] 6251 Bye Bye Pretty Baby 192778 Rpm-jelly Roll Morton-dixieland Jug Blowers-victor 20415-drjazz-memphis ShakeColumbia Record Catalog 78 Rpm Records Supplement 08/1930 Miss Lee Morse FoldoutLattie Moore - Juke Joint Johnny - 78 Rpm - Speed 101Columbia Record Catalog 78 Rpm Records Viva-tonal May 1927 SupplementFred Hall's Sugar Babies "come On, Baby" 1928 Parlophone; Hot & Rare! [78 Rpm]Chuck Berry Johnny B. Goode / Around & Around 78 Rpm 1958Elvis Presley "anyway You Want Me / Love Me Tender" Pop Cdn 78 Rpm C.1958 RcaTrio Of Trumpets With Django Reinhardt Rare Uk Hmv B.8826 78 Rpm M-/e+Felix Guerrero Eso Es Con Vela 78 Rpm Only / Ultra Rare Colombia Cumbia Jazz ™Enric Magriguera ~ Vogue Picture 78 #r779 ~ Cuban Yodelin' Man/man, Moon, MaidRare Kongo Bina Record Catalog 78 Rpm Records African CongoDicky Doo And The Don'ts Click Click / Did You Cry London Hlu.8589 78 Rpm Record

Recent News: 78 Records

Source: Google News

Nashville Film Festival: Ready To Start Reeling
Cowboys and Indians (blog), April 15th

The 78 Project Movie – And now for something completely different: Documentarian Alex Steyermark and musician-writer Lavinia Jones Wright journey across America to make one-of-a-kind 78 rpm records with musicians in their hometowns, using a vintage ...Read more

Mountain Home Music Announces 2014 Summer Concert Schedule, First ...
High Country Press, April 15th

Hailing from Charleston, S.C., but with roots in the Mt. Airy region, each provide vocals to create distinctive harmonies; it sounds as if every member has just stepped from a dusty old 78 RPM platter, ready to sing again. With many similarities to the...Read more

OPINION: As another hunt prosecution fails, defence solicitor calls for the ...
Western Morning News, April 14th

He managed to get hold of a bluffers guide to hunting published in the 1940s which came with a 78rpm record on which a number of horn calls had been recorded. Armed with this book and record he decided that he was able to interpret the single horn call ...Read more

His Master's Choice
Yorkshire Post, April 12th

He's catering to a thriving, if slightly eccentric, sub-culture which in the digital age insists that the sound of a spinning 78rpm record or wax cylinder provides the truest, purest recorded sound of all, nothwithstanding clicks and hisses. They argue...Read more

Plymouth Township man's radio career spans decades, cultures, April 12th

Narendra Sheth's career in music and radio has taken him from 78-rpm records and reel-to-reel tapes to digital mini discs and computer hard drives. Sheth, of Plymouth Township, is an expert on the popular music of India who last month marked 40 years...Read more

Oakwood academic team heads to nationals
Dayton Daily News, April 11th

Do you know these obscure facts? France's sugar beet output went down 50 percent due to World War I. The Berlin Philharmonic is the orchestra that recorded Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on 78 rpm discs in 1913. And, finally, this quote, “Then after awhile...Read more

Technology saves echoes of past from silence
Boston Globe, April 5th

On a winter afternoon in early 2000, Carl Haber, a bearded man in his mid-40s, may have looked like any other collector as he walked into Down Home, a music store in El Cerrito, Calif., picked out a stack of 78-r.p.m. records, paid for them, and drove...Read more

'78 Project,' Cash and Carter Docs on the Road to Nashville Film Festival
Billboard, April 3rd

"It wasn't so much a fascination with 78 RPM records or retro gear, but the equipment itself was sort of the focal point around which these performances would emerge," Steyermark says. "It is intimate and we approach it as a collaboration. We try to...Read more