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Dead medium: Phonograph History Part 2
From: SeJ@aol.com (Stefan Jones)

A History of the Phonograph, with Special Emphasis on Dead Phonograph Formats

Compiled by Stefan Jones

Most of this material and all quotes come from *THE FABULOUS PHONOGRAPH* by Roland Gelatt, J.B. Lippincott, NY, 1955. Part 2.

MEANWHILE, German emigre Emile Berliner toiled to perfect his GRAMOPHONE, which used a laterally vibrating needle to etch sound waves in disks of smoked glass. Photoengraving was used to etch the patterns in metal disks. He was awarded a patent in 1887. In 1889 Waltershausen, Germany toy maker Kammerer & Reinhardt licensed the design; they created a tiny toy record player with 5" celluloid or hard rubber disks.

(Gelatt, page 64: "Most of the selections were in German, though a small number were recorded in English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Russian. *The Lord's Prayer* and *Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star* became the big sellers in England. Kammerer & Reinhardt manufactured gramophones for two or three years, then dropped them in favor of more lucrative products.")

Berliner introduced his first "serious" gramophone in America in 1893. The hand-turned turntable and heavy rubber discs did not sound anywhere as good as the cylinders, but the machines were cheap and the discs could be mass produced; the metal engraving produced by photoengraving could be used to stamp out records.

By 1893, both Edison's phonograph and the Graphophone were selling briskly. Hand-cranked models sold for as little as $10. Dozens of small record companies emerged to fill the need for software. The cylinders all had to be recorded from live music; hired bands played the same selection over and over in front of a bank of recording machines. Columbia became the master of marketing cylinders, and its catalog listed hundreds of titles.

Most recordings of the time were folk music ("coon shouters" to use Edison's term) and popular ballads. Italian Gianni Bettini sought to uplift the audience with better fare and created the MICRO-PHONOGRAPH, a derivative but much improved wax cylinder machine. The crystal diaphragm that vibrated the needle was replaced with mica, and the needle itself was mounted on a "spider" that transmitted the force of the vibration more efficiently. The results were critically acclaimed, both for content and technique. Famous instrumentalists and stars from the Metropolitan Opera who shunned contact with the phonograph industry gratefully performed for Bettini's machine. His toney cylinders sold for anywhere from $2.00 to $6.00, versus $.50 for a typical Columbia release.

Bettini closed up shop in 1902, sold his patents to Edison, and moved to France, where he produced machines and recordings for several more years, although never in great number. He left the record player industry for good in 1908. Bettini's collection of original recordings was destroyed in WWII.

Columbia, which marketed a line of graphophones, introduced the GRAPHOPHONE GRAND in 1898s. It used a cylinder 4.5" in diameter instead of the usual 2". The bulky machine, which sold for $150, was touted as playing at many times the usual volume. Edison followed suit with the EDISON CONCERT GRAND PHONOGRAPH. Gelatt: "But despite extensive advertising by both companies, the large- cylinder machines did not find a secure footing in the American market. After a few years they disappeared entirely." (Gelatt briefly notes that Pathe (q.v.) marketed a "larger and louder" "Salon" cylinder in France just after the turn of the century; perhaps this was a derivative of the 4.5" cylinders?)

The cylinder makers took little notice at first of Berliner's gramophone, but by the end of the century they were desperate enough to try challenging Berliner's patents. The result of the 1900 lawsuit by the American Graphophone Company against Frank Seaman == Berliner's chief pitchman and head of distribution == resulted in Seaman making and selling Gramophones for American Graphophone. The maker of Berliner's motors founded Victor Talking Machine. Berliner's patent-holding United States Gramophone Company ended up wondering what had happened.

Eventually Victor and the Berliner interests pooled their patents (Victor's founder, Eldridge Johnson, had created the wax-disc mastering process) and dominated the record business for nearly twenty years.

Cylinder sales dropped off sharply after 1901. Columbia sold cylinders until 1912, but found its true fortune in supplying discs to Victrola owners. By the end of WWI, the gramophone == Berliner's lateral-groove disc record player == was triumphant.

Edison refused to play ball; cylinders still sold in rural markets and he was convinced of the format's superiority. When criticism of the cylinder's two-minute play length began to sting he introduced the "Blue Amberol" four minute plastic cylinder (1912). In 1913 he introduced his VERTICAL GROOVE ("hill and dale") DISC PHONOGRAPH. It was technically superior to anything on the market, but as was his habit Edison did not follow up with quality records that appealed to the high end of the market. A few European producers == Pathe, Okeh, and Vocalian == marketed vertical-cut disks for the American and Continental markets, but as soon as the Gramophone/Victor patents ran out in 1919 they switched to the lateral-groove format.

Edison continued selling cylinders until leaving the phonograph business entirely in 1929. Just before the end he released a series of poorly received long-playing twenty-minute "hill and dale" records, and announced (but presumably did not produce) a conventional lateral cut phonograph.

Stefan Jones (SeJ@aol.com)