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 - My Happiness 10" Vinyl 78rpm Rsd 2015 New Third Man Jack White 78 Vocalion Stripling Brothers Kennedy Rag/new Born Blues 5382 Fiddle & Guitar78 Rpm Seven Foot Dilly, Vocalion 5419, E- Country Sun Rockabilly 78 Roy Orbison "ooby Dooby"/"go Go Go" Nm 1956 Original Pressing78 Rpm Memphis Minnie, Vocalion 1476, Vv+ Blues78 Rpm -- Dial D-2, Be-bop Jazz Vol. Two (3 78 Album), Charlie Parker, Etc.78 Rpm Alabama Washboard Stompers, Vocalion 1684, E- JazzClarence Williams' Jazz Kings, High Society Blues Columbia 14555 78 Rpm 78 Rpm Columbia 14343 Blind Willie Johnson If I Had My Way I’d Tear The BuildingColumbia 15274d Alabama Sacred Harp Singers Rocky Road 1928 78 Rpm E--Rare Blues 78-barbeque Bob On Columbia 14257-brown-skin Gal/deny My Name-listenHot 78 Rpm 1depression Williams Cotton Club Or Victor 24083 Red Blues E+ BeautyJudy Garland Rare "wizard Of Oz" Decca Rec.set Original Issue 78 Rpm 1939 1st EdEdison 78 Disc Red & Miff's Stompers Jazz Black Bottom Stomp 51878 Clean Ex!African 78 Rpm Zimbabwe Violin Guitar Voice Dick Ncube Gallotone 1629 ListenNew Star/bow Down Babylon - Junior Ross & The Spears (78 Reggae Roots 7")rareOkeh 8641 Louis Armstrong Hot Five Squeeze Me/two Deuces 1928 78 Rpm E1940s 78rpm Vogue Picture Disc #708 King's Jesters & Louise "i Surrender Dear" 78 Rpm Record Paramount 12810 Blind Blake78 Rpm -- Bessie Smith, Columbia Race Records Advertising Flyer For 14538 78 Perfect Roland Cauley/lake Howard Darling Nelly Gray Medley Lap Steel Fiddle78 Rpm Blues Willie Harris Brunswick 7092 G+ West End Blues / What Makes A ... Pre War Blues 78 Henry Townsend Columbia 14491 Mistreated Blues E++ ShapeElmo James Trumpet 78 #146 "dust My Broom" / "catfish Blues" ListenAfrican 78 Rpm Ngoma 1961 Congo Leon Bukasa Rumba Clean ListenHot 78 Rpm 1920s Jazz More Bix!! W Tram Okeh 41145 Take Yr Tomorrow Gleaming E++78 Rpm Vocalion Record 1061 Blind Joe Taggart Just Beyond Jordan Buddy Holly 78rpm Doesn't Matter Anymore / Raining In My Heart.rock N Roll,elvisTop Ranking/healing Of The Nation - Jacob Miller (78 Reggae Roots 7")78 Rpm Blues Willie Jackson Columbia 14156 E Bad, Bad Mama / She Keeps It Up..Rare 78 Ethel Waters " There'll Be Some Changee Made " Black Swan 2021 1922African 78 Rpm Ngoma 1965 Congo Beguen Band Affeinta Jazz Mwanga Paul ListenElvis Presley Gotta A Hula Baby 78 Rpm Rca BrzilMuddy Waters On Chess 1680 - Evil - Chicago Blues 78 E- 78 Columbia Charlie Poole & North Carolina Ramblers 15160-d Highwayman FiddleHot 78 Rpm 1920s Jazz Stompin W. The King, Oliver That Is. The World's Hottest!!Hot 78 Rpm 1920s Jazz Whoopie Makers (bg, Teagarden Etc) Baby Ro838 Clean!Hot 78 Rpm 1920s Jazz Mckinney Cotton Pickers Victor 23020 Gleaming E+Beethoven: 'kreutzer' / Bach: Violin Concerto - Heifetz *rca Victor Sb-2146 Ed1*H B Barnum - It Hurts Too Much To Cry - Rca Victor Vg+ Guaranteed OriginalRock & Roll 78 Flamingos End 1046 I Only Have Eyes For You E+ ConditionMuddy Waters On Chess 1571 - Oh! Yeh - Chicago Blues 78 Rare E/v+Los 5 De Oro Cali Boogaloo Guajira Camara Guaguanco Fantastico Ex # 78 ♫♫♫Hot 78 Rpm 1920s Jazz Charleston Chasers Columbia 1335 Near Mint!! A Beauty! 78 Rpm Depression Isham Jones Junk Man/ Victor 24519 Gleaming E+ Muddy Waters On Chess 1630 - Diamonds At Your Feet - Chicago Blues 78 EBeatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely... (mega Rare 7" With Sleeve 78 Ecuadorian Press)Edison 78 Disc Jazz B.a. Rolfe Sluefoot Joe Herlihy Cornfed 52059 Clean Ex Cond.African 78 Rpm Kenya Edward Nandwa Jambo Records 228 Musichana Wa Elimu ListenElvis Presley I Gotta Know 78 Rpm Rca Brzil78 Perfect Carolina Ramblers String Band Johnson City Hop/barnyard Frolic VgVictor Feldman - Latinsville - Contemporary - Mono - Dg - Original - Top! Columbia 14064d Bessie Smith W Louis Armstrong 1924 78 Rpm VgChuck Berry " Chess 78 Rpm " Sweet Little Sixteen & Reelin And Rockin "1958 The Elegants Little Star / Getting Dizzy Apt 78-25005 *doo Wop 78rpm*3 Top V-disc's Gene Krupa, King Cole Trio, Capt. Glenn Miller 78 Rpm E & E+**rare** Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs - 78 Rpm Lot (4 Records) Columbia / MercuryAfrican 78 Rpm Kenya Fundi Konde Ben Nicholas Clarinet Violin ListenAfrican 78 Rpm Voice Guitar Willie Shandavu Zimbabwe Charter Abanye Clean ListenBlue Bells Of Scotland, Trombone Solo, Arthur Pryor Victor Monarch 311, 78 Rpm

Recent News: 78 Records

Source: Google News

Robot Revolution Explores Visionary World through Cutting-edge Robots
Scientific Computing, May 29th

This seven-foot-tall walking machine “spoke” more than 700 words stored on 78-rpm records to simulate conversation. Alan Turing, in a 1950 paper, proposed a test called “The Imitation Game” that proposes a solution to determining machine intelligence...Read more

'Mood' captivated many musicians
Loveland Reporter-Herald, May 29th

As we return to the backstory of "In the Mood," my 45 rpm record was a reissue of the original 78 rpm recording. However, it wasn't the only one. In February 1944 (10 months before his plane was lost over the English Channel), Glenn's Bluebird...Read more

Pokey LaFarge's potent mix of musical styles
Oxford Mail, May 28th

It's a connoisseur's choice. Estes cut a series of stunning 78s throughout the 1930s, accompanied by magnificent mandolin picking by “Yank” Rachell. Pokey has released his own work on a 78rpm record, cut in London in the studio of Lewis Durham from...Read more

Put another dime in
Chico News & Review, May 28th

In 1987, I bought an old Rock-Ola jukebox that played 78 RPM records. It didn't work, so I had to figure out how to repair it. I had been messing around with electronic and mechanical stuff since I was a boy, and the jukebox really intrigued me. Within...Read more

Something Old, Something New
Pacific Northwest Inlander, May 27th

A cast-iron pan or 78-rpm record becomes a clock face. Turquoise-glass insulators become globes on light fixtures. A door salvaged from the 1930s high school near Casey's Kingston, Idaho, home turns into a rustic hall tree with old-school hinge pins...Read more

11 Intriguing Appearances On At.Long.Last.A$AP
Stereogum, May 27th

Fox's pained borderline-falsetto feels like it's crackling off the surface of an old 78 RPM record, as old-soul world-weary as one can sound while still convincingly pulling off a lament about being “still too young” for his situation. He also appears...Read more

The Odyssey of R. Crumb
Wall Street Journal, May 27th

In Milford, I discovered old music could be found on old 78-rpm records. The first one I bought was “Down in the Cemetery” by Billy Bird, a blues singer. I'd never heard anything like that. It was so unslick, so lacking in showbiz professionalism...Read more

Revisiting The Crystal Clarity Created By The 'Decca Sound' Revolution
90.5 WESA, May 26th

And the introduction of magnetic tape not only allowed longer recording takes than the four minutes for each side of an old 78 RPM shellac, but a new ease in editing out bad takes. And fortunately for listeners, Decca, which was known in this country...Read more