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    

Original Elvis Presley Sun 78 Milkcow Blues Boogie / You're A Heartbreaker E-78 Rpm Charles Pierce And His Orchestra, Paramount 12619, Ee+ JazzVictor 38503 Blind Benny Paris Gonna Live So God Can Use Me Slide Guitar 78 Rpm78 Rpm Barbecue Bob, Columbia 14205, E-v+ / V+ BluesBlues 78 Memphis Sun 179 Willie Nix Georgia Tom W. Tampa Red 78 "grievin' Me Blues Bw It's Tight Like That" VocalionTeen Kings Ooby Dooby Roy Orbison Jewel 78 Not Sun Rare Rockabilly78 Rpm Williams' Jug Band / Fletcher Henderson Orch., Okeh 41565, Ee- Jazz78 Rpm Mississippi Jook Band, Melotone 6-11-65, V+ Blues / JazzBlues 78 Chicago Ora Nelle 711 Othum Brown Little Walter J Vera Lynn "the White Cliffs Of Dover" (e) 1942 Decca; Rare Ww11 Classic [78 Rpm]Rare Christmas Rock & Roll 78 Chuck Berry Chess 1714 Run Rudolph RunThe Crickets (buddy Holly) Maybe Baby 78-brunswickRock & Roll 78 Jerry Lee Lewis Sun 288 Breathless And Down The LineVictor 21489 Clifford Hayes Louisville Stompers Bare-foot Stomp E+ 78 Rpm 1928Rare 1959 Buddy Holly 78 " Heartbeat / Well....all Right " Uk Coral Q 72346 Ex+!Ma Rainey & Her Georgia Band 78 "jealous Hearted Blues Bw See See Rider Blues"" Buddy Holly 1957 "peggy Sue"/"everyday" Coral 61885 78rpm E-/eOkeh 41157 Louis Armstrong Hot Five Knee Drops/skip The Gutter E+ 78 Rpm 1928 Rare 1959 Classic Rocker Big Bopper 78 " Chantilly Lace" Uk Mercury Amt 1002 E-Classic Jerry Lee Lewis 78 Great Balls Of Fire / You Win Again Us Sun #281 Ex-Rare R&b 78 Jackie Brenston Chess 1458 Rocket 88Chinese Shanghai Oldies 78rpm Pathe 35866 Lee Xiang Lan 李香蘭 Rare78 Rpm Slim Lamar- I'm Crazy Over Daisy/ My Castle Victor 40005Decca 7899 Blind Boy Fuller Working Man Blues E Copy 78 Rpm 78 Rpm Princeton Triangle-rhythmic Refrain/ Melody Moon Columbia Personal 100-pAlberta Hunter Paramount 12093 Race 78 Rpm Record Blues Jazz BluesMega Rare Patsy Cline 78 Walkin' After Midnight / A Poor Mans Roses Br.05660 E+2 Paramount 78 Rpm 12050 Jelly Roll Morton 12064 Ida Cox Wall Hangers!78 Rpm Fletcher Henderson / Duke Ellington, Romeo 977, E-v+ Jazz78 Rpm Bennie Moten And His Kansas City Orchestra, Victor 38132, V+ Jazz78 Rpm Mckinneys Cotton Pickers / Blanche Calloway Victor 2273678 Rpm Luis Russell--say The Word / Goin' To Town Victor 22789Pre War Hillbilly 78 Rpm Uncle Dave Macon & Sam Mcgee On Vocalion 15324Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds - ‘remorseful Blues’ On Rare Ajax 78!78rpm Record Blind Joe Taggart And James Taggart Vocalion 1070 Mega-rare Buddy Holly & The Crickets 78 It's So Easy / Lonesome Tears Q.72343 ExLot Of 10 78's - Blues / Jump Blues / R & B / Early Rock / Rockabilly - V+78 Rpm Thibodeaux Boys, Bluebird 2051, E- / V+ CajunJunior Wells & His Eagle Rockers - ‘hodo Man’ On ‘states’ 78!Witches' Brew - New Symphony Orchestra / Gibson **rca Victor Lsc-2225 Red Seal**Sam Cooke~twistin' The Night Away~rca-victor~living Stereo~us Orig~'62~nm/shrink78 Rpm Savoy Bearcats--stampede / Hot Notes Victor 20460Edith Piaf~un Refrain Courait Dans La Rue/la Vie En Rose~france~78rpm~10"Victor 19646 Piron's New Orleans Orch Red Man Blues 1925 78 Rpm New OrleansGennett 78 Rpm Electrobeam Record # 6309 - Emil Seidel & His Orch.Elvis Presley "don"t Be Cruel"/"hound Dog" 1956 78rpm Rca Victor 20-6640 V+/e-Elvis Presley "mystery Train/i Forgot To Remember" Sun Label 223l 78 Rpm VgChinese Shanghai Oldies 78rpm Pathe 36194 Lee Xiang Lan 李香蘭 RareRare Pre-war Russian One Sided Columbia 78 Rpm Record, American Pressing, Lot#3Electradisk Bert Lown Orch - Missisippi Basin/ I Cover Waterfront 78 Rpm 1933Elvis Presley All Shook Up / Heartbreak Hotel 78 Single Record Rca1088Country 78, Uncle Dave Macon, Kirk & Sam Mcgee On Decca 5373, Vg+ To Ex-Rare Pre-war Turkish 78 Soultana K. Poulou Kadife Yasdigim Yok Pharos 812 ListenDjango Reinhardt Qhc France String Jazz 78 Oriental Shuffle Vg+ NrOrig Capitol Records 8'' 78 Rare Christmas Promo 1947/48 Picture Disc Mel BlancCaruso Zonofono No X1553 ;" E Lucevan Le Stelle": With Piano Accompaniment 78rpmChinese Shanghai Oldies 78rpm Sun Lw 49106 Lee Xiang Lan 李香蘭 RareGreat Lot Of 16 Atlantic Colored Vinyl 78 Rpm Jukebox Classics RecordsChinese Shanghai Oldies 78rpm Pathe 35994 Lee Xiang Lan 李香蘭 Rare

Recent News: 78 Records

Source: Google News

Musical connect
The Hindu, February 28th

He released 78 rpm records of his rendition of some well-known Carnatic songs and his version of 'Ramani Samanam Evaru' (Kharaharapriya) is on YouTube. This talented musician died just outside Madras. En route to a southern destination, he felt uneasy ...Read more

ON THE RECORD: Vinyl stays in the groove
Press-Enterprise, February 27th

There are two “hidden” tracks under the labels that play at 45 rpm and 78 rpm; one of the album's sides contrarily tracks the needle from the inside to the outer edge of the record. And did we mention the hologram? “Over the Christmas holiday we had...Read more

Oklahoma City Community College album jacket exhibit shows important part of ..., February 27th

Those who come to the gallery can enter a drawing to win a Bessie Smith poster featuring a 78 rpm of “Downhearted Blue” from 1923. The winner will be announced March 30. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the 12-inch LP record and the 45 rpm were the major ...Read more

'Follow your passion', February 27th

Mr Ranga Rao, the descendant of Royal family of Bobbili, is known for possessing the largest collection of 78 rpm records in the world. Music scholar, dancer, film historian and critic are the other credits he has amassed in a span of seven decades. “Listening ...Read more

Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday: 100 things about the life and times of an ..., February 27th

"The Voice of Frank Sinatra": Sinatra's 1946 debut topped the Billboard charts. It was also one of the first concept albums, with every song about lost love. The packaging was also unique. Released as four 78 rpm discs and, two years later, as the...Read more

Logan County News
News-Democrat & Leader, February 26th

Do you remember candy cigarettes, cafes with tableside juke boxes, home milk delivery in glass bottles, party lines on telephones, newsreels before the movie, only three channels on the TV, peashooters, Howdy Doody, metal ice trays, 45 RPM -78 RPM - 78 ...Read more

Riviera reopens with big band
Lamron, February 26th

The Geneseo Riviera Theater hosted a night of fun for the whole community on Saturday Feb. 21. The historic venue welcomed students and locals of all ages to come enjoy the cozy space and listen to the big band music that Dansville-based group 78 RPM ...Read more

Dave Barry: The Greatest (Party) Generation
Wall Street Journal, February 26th

My mom, like my dad, and millions of other members of the Greatest Generation, had to contend with real adversity: the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, hunger, poverty, disease, World War II, extremely low-fi 78 r.p.m. records and telephones that...Read more