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    

Ramblin Thomas 78 Paramount Good Time Blues 21027 Rare Blues 78 Rpm Sam Collins (as Salty Dog Sam), Perfect 193, E Blues78 Rpm-beale Street Sheiks-frank Stokes-dan Sane-paramount 12552-blues In D-1927Hot Victor 21659 Tiny Parham Musicians-snake Eyes Stomp (chicago 1928) Beauty!Pipo Y La Superior Con Victor Boden: Guaguanco Mambo, Bolero CotiqueClassic Jerry Lee Lewis 78 Great Balls Of Fire / You Win Again Us Sun #281 Ex-1956 Rockabilly/country 78 Rpm - Johnny Cash On Sun Records Vg++Chet Baker Sextet Chet Is Back! On Rca Victor 10307 Italian OriginalGreat Lot Of 16 Atlantic Colored Vinyl 78 Rpm Jukebox Classics RecordsRace Victor V-38527 Jelly Roll Morton-seattle Hunch/freakish (1929) Beauty!Mega Rare 1959 Ritchie Valens Rock'n Roll 78 Rpm Record. Come On, Let's GoBlues 78 : Casey Bill Weldon On Vocalion 031861957 Rockabilly 78 Rpm - Carl Perkins On Sun RecordsJackie Brenston Rocket 88 & Come Back Where You Belong. Chess Records.10" 78s78 Rpm Slim Lamar Memphis Kick Up / Better Than Nothin Victor 4014678 Rpm Cliff Jackson Tuxedo Syncopators Horse Feathers Madison 5098The Rarest Uk Buddy Holly 78 " Blue Days-black Nights / Love Me " Br.05581 E/ex+Original Johnny Cash 78 Next In Line / Don't Make Me Go Us Sun # 266 Ex/ex-Blues 78 : The Hokum Boys With Casey Bill Weldon On Vocalion 031561956 Killer Rockabilly/rock 78 Rpm - Mac Curtis On King Records1956 Rock & Roll/r&b 78 Rpm - Screamin' Jay Hawkins On Okeh Records Rare 1961 Elvis Presley 78 No More / Sentimental Me Brazil Rca Victor 82-1399 Ex78 Rpm -- Dial D-2, Be-bop Jazz Vol. Two (3 78 Album), V+ Charlie Parker, Etc.Marx Toys Record Player Toy 78 Rpm With 23 Vinyl Records And Sleeves WorkingOkeh 8597 Louis Armstrong And His Hot Five, West End Blues, Fireworks 78 Rpm78 Rpm Greek Roza Eskenazi & Kakia Mentri Bolsevika & Gerontaki ♫ Blue Columbia 78 Rpm Cooks Dreamland W/ Keppard Moanful Man / Lonely Little Gennett 5373Antique 78 Rpm Victor Monarch Record 3253 Arthur Pryor With Sousa's Band ForeverBerliner Gramophone 7" 78 Rpm Drill Ye Terriers(casey) Sea Of ? No. 940 Vg++Little Junior's Blue Flames Feelin Good/fussin & Fightin Blues Sun 78 Rpm Vg-78 Rpm Carl Perkins Blue Suede Shoes Sun 234 ExMemphis Jug Band - 78 Rpm Victor 20552 Sun Brimmers Blues / Stingy Woman BluesTommy Mcclennan 78 Rpm "whiskey Head Woman" Nice Vg+ BluesVictor 21554 Johnny Dodds' Trio-blue Clarinet Stomp (1928) E+Rare Patsy Cline Country 78 Rpm Record Walkin' After Midnight/a Poor Man's RosesSix Vinyl Jukebox Re-issue 78 Rpm Records - Mixed Lot, 5 Rock & Roll, 1 Big BandBudgie Impeckable ’78 A&m 4675 Test Pressing ExKing Oliver ~ I Must Have It Victor 38124 78 You’re Just My Type 1930 Listen!!78 Rpm Ross De Luxe Syncopators Mary Bell / Lady Mine Victor 20952Johnny Cash--sun Records--78 Rpm--train Of Love / There You GoV Disc 12" X 5 - 78 Rpm - Count Basie - Fats Waller - Bunk Johnson - Art Tatum1957 Rockabilly 78 Rpm Jack Huddle Buddy Holly Norman Petty On Canada Kapp M-V Rare 1957 Elvis Presley 78 " I Got A Woman / Just Because " Sa Rca 71.248 Ex+Memphis Minnie Good Soppin Black Widow Stinger On Vocalion 04694 Blues 78 RpmDixieland Jug Blowers Victor 20480 78 Carpet Alley Breakdown / Boodle-am ShakeFats Waller And His Rhythm 11 X 78 Rpm - All In Vg+ To Ex+ Condition - Nice SetElvis Presley Too Much/playing For Keeps 78 20-6800 Rca Rockabilly Pop Vg+ Photo Label 78 - Rudolph Valentino - Brunswick Recording 1923 - E-/v+ Elvis Presley Sun 78rpm Mystery Train78 Rpm-barbecue Bob-columbia 14383-cold Wave Blues-beggin'for Love-1928-atlantaRare Elvis Presley 78 Party / Hot Dog / How Do You Think I Feel Sa Rca71.185 E-Two Okeh 78 Rpm Jazz Records, Bix Beiderbecke & His Gang & Tampa Blue Jazz BandΑ.hΑΤΡΙΝΟΣ A. ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΟΣ Κα ΚΟΥΛΑ Μπεράτι Orpheum 2007 Early Rare Greek 78 RpmSun Record 78 Rpm 287 Carl Perkins Lend Me Your Comb/glad All Over78- Sun 186 - Prisonaires - Baby Please / Just Walkin In The Rain -doo WopElvis 10" 78 Rpm 20-6380 Blue Moon Over Kentucky/that's Alright Rca VictorRare Label 78 - Margaret Messer Morris - Nordskog 3024 - Gold Label - 1922 - V/vRuth Brown Rock'n Roll 78 Rpm Record. This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'78 Rpm Tal Henry When Shadows / Little Old Home Victor 4003478rpm Rock-a-billy Ron Allers Caron 8563

Recent News: 78 Records

Source: Google News

Blues veteran CeDell Davis in Clarksdale, Holly Springs
Jackson Clarion Ledger, March 4th

Mathus captures the dark, rough-hewn sound of Davis' Fat Possum releases, and the bluesman's life is illustrated through spoken tracks about playing with Tunica's Dr. Ross as a young man and listening to 78 rpm records by Charley Patton. Davis tackles ...Read more

There Are Two New Immersive Plays in L.A. One Is Magical, the Other ... Not So ...
LA Weekly, March 4th

That last item comes from a soundscape (by John Zalewski) that plays through various speakers throughout the room — tinny, scratchy echoes of 78 rpm records that bleed into subliminal, ominous pulses that bleed into a radio broadcast with...Read more

Salina's Acoustic Sounds to rev up vinyl record production, March 4th

They had reportedly been used in the mid-1990s for bootleg 78 RPM albums for export to India, before the operation was shut down by law enforcement. Then the machines were bought in 2003 by a man who wanted to start a pressing plant, but couldn't put ...Read more

Quality Record Pressings prepares to double vinyl LP output
Salina Post, March 4th

They were last used in the mid-1990s for unauthorized or “bootleg” 78 RPM albums for export to the Indian market. They were then sold in 2003 to Joell Hays, who had always intended to renovate them to start his own pressing plant. Financing blocked his ...Read more

The Bill Miller Show | AM 1570 & FM 94.1
Kndy Radio, March 2nd

The foundation for the early Wax Works shows was a collection of old 78 rpm records donated to radio station KSEK. Harbart (the station owner) and Hannes (station program director) found an instant audience for their version of nostalgia radio. The...Read more

Mozart's Attic - Thursday, March 5th at 10:00 pm
wfit, March 2nd

This period encompasses some of the most primitive recording sessions imaginable to the just-pre-high-fidelity era that ended with the 78 RPM record. It also encompasses entirely or in part, the legacy of any number of "Heritage Musicians" who have...Read more

Orrin Keepnews, Record Executive and Producer of Jazz Classics, Dies at 91
New York Times, March 1st

Because the original masters for most Paramount recordings proved impossible to locate, some of Riverside's early output was mastered to magnetic tape from 78 r.p.m. discs borrowed from the collection of the record producer John Hammond. Riverside ...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