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    

Sun 78 #209 Elvis/that's All Right/edge Chip 12 Grooves/alan Freed Lot/vg++Champion 15386 Alex Jackson Plantation Orch Missouri Squabble 78 Rpm 1927 Ee+Elvis Presley My Happiness 78rpm Third Man Jack White Record Store Day Rsd 2015Vocalion 1285 Frankie Half-pint Jaxon Let's Knock A Jug Unknown Hot Trumpet 78Charlie Jackson Salt Lake City Blues / Salty Dog Blues Paramount 12236 78 Rpm Elvis Presley My Happiness 78rpm 10" Single Rsd Record Store Day 2015 Third Man78 Rpm Vocalion 5219 Reaves White County Ramblers Arkansas Wagner Rare Elvis Presley My Happiness 78rpm 10" Single Rsd Record Store Day 2015 Third ManVictor 21247 Charlie Johnson Paradise 10 Hot-tempered Blues Jabbo 78 Rpm 1928 E+Blind Blake: He's In The Jailhouse Now (rare Pre-war Blues 78) ParamountSun Record Elvis Presley Mystery Train/i Forgot To Remember 78rpmSonny Rollins - The Bridge - Rca Victor - Deep Groove - Near Mint Blind Lemon Jefferson 78 Record. Black Snake Moan. Paramount 12407Elvis Presley My Happiness 78rpm Third Man Jack White Record Store Day Rsd 2015Elvis Presley My Happiness 78rpm Third Man Jack White Record Store Day Rsd 2015Victor 78 Rpm Frank Stokes - 21672 - Mistreatin Blues - Rare Guitar Blues - EBlind Blake: Steel Mill Blues / South Bound (rare Pre-war Blues 78) ParamountVictor 38125 Jelly-roll Morton Hot Peppers Peppers Fussy Mabel 78 Rpm 1929 E+78 Rpm Paul Whiteman Eat Cake/ Asthousands 12 Inch Long Play Picture Disc VictorElvis Presley My Happiness 78rpm Third Man Jack White Record Store Day Rsd 2015Sun 78 Billy "the Kid" Emerson/no Teasin Around/vg+/alan Freed LotVictor 38068 Paul Howard Quality Serenaders The Ramble 78 Rpm 1929 E HollywoodElvis Presley - My Happiness 78 Rpm Vinyl 10" Rsd 2015 Third Man Records78 Rpm Cannon's Jug Stompers Victor 21351 In V+ Hear!78 Rpm Cannon's Jug Stompers Victor V-38515 In Vv- Hear!78 Rpm Texas Alexander (with King Oliver), Okeh 8658, V Blues / JazzParamount 3131 Jack Penewell ( & His "twin Six" Guitar) Hello Aloha 78 RpmElvis Presley "my Happiness" 78 Rpm Record Store Day 2015 Rsd Third Man RecordsBluebird 78 Rpm Robert Petway - B-9036 - My Baby Left Me - Rare Blues - E/v+3 Irish Columbia's Irish Big Four, Quinn, O'brien 78 Rpm 1920'sLena Hall, What Ya Gona Do, Five Long Years, J-v-b 48 78 Rpm Washboard WillieBennie Moten, Paul Howard 78rpm Victor 22660 New Kinda Blues, As Long As I LoveMemphis Jazzers - ‘in Harlem’s Araby’ Rare And Mega-hot 1929 Van Dyke 78!Elvis Presley My Happiness 78rpm Third Man Jack White Record Store Day Rsd 2015Sun 78 Rpm Jerry Lee Lewis - 281 - Great Balls Of Fire - E-The Last Paramount Original Ma Rainey With Her Georgia Band 78 RpmElvis Presley "my Happiness" Record Store Day 2015 Rsd Third Man New 10" 78rpmBlind Willie Johnson 78 Record Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed Columbia 14276Vocalion 1092 Fletcher Henderson Orch Sensation Rare 1st Issue 78 Rpm 1927 Vg+Kiss 7" Single Paul Stanley Hold Me Touch Me /goodbye Victor Japan Vip-2668Northern Soul-original-peggy March-(if You Loved Me) R.c.a- VictorElvis Presley Rip It Up / Baby Lets Play House His Masters Voice 78rpm Rare Janet Gaynor / Leo Reisman "adorable Waltz " 10" Picture Disc 78 Rpm78 Rpm Dixieland Jug Blowers Victor 20480 In V (johnny Dodds) Hear!78 Rpm Sun Records Jean Chapel I Won't Be Rockin' Tonight- 1956 Vg+Ida Cox: Coffin Blues / Rambling Blues (rare Pre-war Blues 78 Rpm) ParamountElvis Presley My Happiness Rsd Record Store Day 78rpm Third Man RecordsWoody Guthrie Self Titled 78 Rpm Box Set Stinson-asch Records78 Rpm Okeh 8577 Johnson Nelson Porkchop In The Mornin’ Rare G. Burns BluesSam Cooke - My Kind Of Blues - Rca Victor - Deep Groove - Vg++ // 78 - Monarch Victor Test 1710--3 -len Spencer/vess L. Ossman-on Emancipation DayOkeh 78 Rpm Whistler & His Jug Band - 8469 - Vamps Of 28 - V-Georgia Melodians 78 "ev'rybody's Charleston Crazy/rhythm Of The Day" Edison Golden Gate Orchestra 78 "what A Man!/shake" Edison 51737Kiss 7" Single Rock And Roll All Nite / Room Service Victor Japan Jet-2318Elvis Presley My Happiness 78rpm Third Man Jack White Record Store Day Rsd 2015Elvis Presley My Happiness 78rpm Third Man Jack White Record Store Day Rsd 2015Elvis Presley My Happiness 78rpm Third Man Jack White Record Store Day Rsd 2015Elvis Presley My Happiness 78rpm Third Man Jack White Record Store Day Rsd 2015Glenn Miller And His Orcrchestra - In The Mood,78 Record On Old Hmv Label

Recent News: 78 Records

Source: Google News

Yamaha Saluto Price In India Out; Plays Both 'Economical' & 'Practical' Cards
CrazyEngineers, April 18th

The 125 cc engine under the hood is an air-cooled, single-cylinder and the Saluto is said to deliver a whooping mileage of 78 km/litre. The bike ... The engine delivers max power of 8.3 PS at 7,000 rpm and 10.1 Nm of torque at 4,500 rpm. At 112 kg, the...Read more

Kershaw pitches Dodgers past Rockies
ESPN, April 17th

He's a stat-stuffer, not a stat-padder. Furthermore, of the six favorites for MVP, Davis checks in as the best defender of the group, posting a plus-3.7 defensive RPM. 3. Davis is just getting started. All those names I've already mentioned in the...Read more

Plugging into Phoenix Music: Record Store Day 2015, April 16th

The replica will be a 10-inch that plays at 78 rpm. But of course, you knew that. As for in-the flesh pleasures, at 7 p.m., the Record Room will feature live performances by Scorpion vs Tarantula and Freaks of Nature. Revolver Records, 918 N. Second St...Read more

From the archive: Philip Larkin on the voices of poets
New Statesman, April 16th

Had the history of technology meshed a little differently with the history of literature I might now be able to lay reverently on my turntable a thick black 78 rpm with a Globe label reading Will Shaxsper: Sundrie Sonnets (recording supervif'd by my...Read more

A$AP Rocky Reveals His Album Release Date: Morning Mix
Idolator: All About The Music, April 16th

That is pretty cool! According to Rolling Stone, White's Third Man Records label will “reissue the tracks on a facsimile 78 RPM 10-inch vinyl” for this Saturday's (April 18) Record Store Day. [Rolling Stone]. Find out below what music you can catch on...Read more

Jack White Has Elvis Presley's First Recordings Digitally Transferred, April 15th

After White's purchase, and for the first time ever, the one-of-a-kind disc was painstakingly transferred digitally, and White's Third Man Records label plans to reissue the tracks on a facsimile 78 RPM 10-inch vinyl for Record Store Day this Saturday...Read more

Lost Cleveland: Rock 'n' roll landmarks that made music history (vintage photos), April 15th

Record Rendezvous owner Mintz and radio DJ Alan Freed saw white kids buying "race records" -- 78 rpm discs that were marketed to black America -- and decided that there was something to this music. But it needed a name to go mainstream. Long live rock ...Read more

Flashback: AC/DC Refuses To Give Up and Rocks On
Rolling Stone Australia, April 14th

Thirteen years Angus' senior, Scott sang with a lecherous growl that sounded like Tom Waits at 78 rpm, and he was the spitting image of the songs he sang. Onstage, he was usually dressed in nothing but faded jeans that looked like they had been poured...Read more