The History of Vinyl Discs

On June 21, 1948 Columbia Records puts the needle down on history’s first successful microgroove plastic, 12-inch, 33-1/3 LPs in New York, sparking a music-industry standard so strong that the digital age has yet to kill it.

Vinyl discs were dominated for decades to discothèques of the music lovers and still occupy a prominent place in music libraries, despite its displacement from other media that followed.

The first known device for recording airborne speech, music and other sounds is the phonautograph, patented in 1857 by French typesetter and inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. Twenty years later Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. While other inventors had produced devices that could record sounds, Edison’s phonograph was the first to be able to reproduce the recorded sound. His phonograph originally recorded sound onto a tinfoil sheet wrapped around a rotating cylinder. A stylus responding to sound vibrations produced an up and down or hill-and-dale groove in the foil. Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory made several improvements in the 1880s, including the use of wax-coated cardboard cylinders, and a cutting stylus that moved from side to side in a “zig zag” groove around the record.

In the 1890s, Emile Berliner initiated the transition from phonograph cylinders to flat discs with a spiral groove running from the periphery to near the center. Later improvements through the years included modifications to the turntable and its drive system, the stylus or needle, and the sound and equalization systems.

The disc phonograph record was the dominant audio recording format throughout most of the 20th century. From the mid-1980s on, phonograph use on a standard record player declined sharply because of the rise of the cassette tape, compact disc and other digital recording formats. Records are still a favorite format for some audiophiles and DJs. Vinyl records are still used by some DJs and musicians in their concert performances. Musicians continue to release their recordings on vinyl records. The original recordings of musicians are sometimes re-issued on vinyl.

Berliner with the guidance of an American engineer, created the first gramophone. Together they set up a manufacturer company named “Victor” which was the largest manufacturer of gramophones and discs in the beginning of 20th century.

Meantime, Berliner also set up a new branch of his company in London, which became famous by the label on the records: “His Master’s Voice” and from a doggy named Niper.  The cylinder was gradually replaced by the disc. Berliner with an innovative method allowed the construction of thousands copies of discs from the same original matrix. Even Edison copied the same technique in the manufacture of its own disks.

The three companies Victor, Columbia and Edison started selling millions of albums worldwide. Very soon the music industry would become one of the most important industries in the world.


In 1901, 10-inch disc records were introduced followed in 1903 by 12-inch records. These could play for more than three and four minutes respectively, whereas contemporary cylinders could only play for about two minutes. In an attempt to head off the disc advantage, Edison introduced the Amberol cylinder in 1909, with a maximum playing time of 4½ minutes (at 160 rpm), which in turn were superseded by Blue Amberol Records, which had a playing surface made of celluloid, a plastic, which was far less fragile. Despite these improvements, during the 1910s discs decisively won this early format war, although Edison continued to produce new Blue Amberol cylinders for an ever-dwindling customer base until late in 1929. By 1919 the basic patents for the manufacture of lateral-cut disc records had expired, opening the field for countless companies to produce them. Analog disc records would dominate the home entertainment market until they were outsold by the digital compact disc in the late 1980s (which was in turn supplanted by digital audio recordings distributed via online music stores and Internet file sharing).


The earliest disc records (1889–1894) were made of various materials including hard rubber. Around 1895, a shellac-based compound was introduced and became standard. Exact formulas for this compound varied by manufacturer and over the course of time, but it was typically composed of about one-third shellac and about two-thirds mineral filler, which meant finely pulverized rock, usually slate and limestone, with an admixture of cotton fibers to add tensile strength, carbon black for color (without this, it tended to be a “dirty” gray or brown color that most record companies considered unattractive), and a very small amount of a lubricant to facilitate mold release during manufacture. Some makers, notably Columbia Records, used a laminated construction with a core disc of coarser material or fiber. The production of shellac records continued until the end of the 78 rpm format (i.e., the late 1950s in most developed countries, but well into the 1960s in some other places), but increasingly less abrasive formulations were used during its declining years and very late examples in truly like-new condition can have as low noise levels as vinyl.

It was this period of time where in New York the first Greek songs were recorded.

Later, Decca Records introduced vinyl Deccalite 78s, while other record companies came up with vinyl concoctions such as Metrolite, Merco Plastic and Sav-o-flex, but these were mainly used to produce “unbreakable” children’s records and special thin vinyl DJ pressings for shipment to radio stations.

In the 1890s, the recording formats of the earliest (toy) discs were mainly 12.5 cm (nominally five inches) in diameter; by the mid-1890s, the discs were usually 7 in (nominally 17.5 cm) in diameter. By 1910 the 10-inch (25.4 cm) record was by far the most popular standard, holding about three minutes of music or other entertainment on a side. From 1903 onwards, 12-inch records (30.5 cm) were also sold commercially, mostly of classical music or operatic selections, with four to five minutes of music per side.

Victor, Brunswick and Columbia also issued 12-inch popular medleys, usually spotlighting a Broadway show score. However, other sizes did appear. Eight-inch discs with a 2-inch-diameter (51 mm) label became popular for about a decade in Britain, but they cannot be played in full on most modern record players because the tone arm cannot play far enough in toward the center without modification of the equipment.


A revolutionary explosion of commercial production of vinyl led to millions of sales of vinyl records the years that followed, until their gradual marginalization by the advent of the digital age sound. But in practice the production of vinyl discs had never stopped.

Vinyl discs found a new place next to classical car models and promise an unforgettable celebration for all vinyl maniacs, and exhibitors’.
The “Vinyl is Back”   is the leading event for vinyl records, promises once again lots of surprises  live happenings at the (Hellenic Motor Museum) on the weekend  of Friday the 9th of Saturday the 10th and Sunday the 11th of December  2016  overlooking Athens from the 4th floor !

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1st Vinyl is Back

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