History Moment By William “Doc” Halliday

45s Are Not Just Pistols!

45 recordI have owned 45s and still do, but let’s talk about sound that is not normally explosive.  The sound I have in mind is music of all genres.  In 1876 if you wanted to listen to music you went to where one or more people were playing one or more instruments.  Multiple people playing multiple instruments was and still is referred to as a band or an orchestra.  That changed the following year (1877), when Thomas Edison invented the phonograph.

The original process used a diaphragm which had an embossing point that was held against rapidly-moving paraffin paper.  The speaking vibrations made indentations in the paper.  The paper was later changed to a metal cylinder with tin foil wrapped around it as this was more durable.

Edison presented these possible future uses for the phonograph in the June 1878 edition of North American Review:

  1. Letter writing and all kinds of dictation without the aid of a stenographer;
  2. Phonographic books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part;
  3. The teaching of elocution;
  4. Reproduction of music;
  5. The “Family Record”–a registry of sayings, reminiscences, etc., by members of a family in their own voices, and of the last words of dying persons;
  6. Music-boxes and toys;
  7. Clocks that should announce in articulate speech the time for going home, going to meals, etc.;
  8. The preservation of languages by exact reproduction of the manner of pronouncing;
  9. Educational purposes such as preserving the explanations made by a teacher, so that the pupil can refer to them at any moment, and spelling or other lessons placed upon the phonograph for convenience in committing to memory; and,
  10. Connection with the telephone, so as to make that instrument an auxiliary in the transmission of permanent and invaluable records, instead of being the recipient of momentary and fleeting communication.

Alexander Bell improved the idea by using wax instead of tin foil and a floating stylus instead of a rigid needle which would incise, rather than indent, the cylinder.  The original cylinders typically played at 120 rpm and would only last for two minutes.  Improvements brought this to four minutes.

In the 1890s Emile Berliner began selling disc recording for his gramophone.  The original gramophone records were five inches in diameter which was later changed to seven inches.  In 1901, ten-inch records were marketed by Johnson and Berliner’s Victor Talking Machine Company.  These were made from a rubber compound that was sealed with shellac.  These records were played at a speed of 78 rpm.  The records were referred to as 78s.  78 rpm records were usually sold separately, in brown paper or cardboard sleeves that were sometimes plain and sometimes printed to show the producer or the retailer’s name.

In the 1920s radio almost brought an end to the phonograph or record player.  In 1931, RCA marketed new records that played at a speed of 33 1/3 rpm.  These revolutionary records could play for ten minutes on each side.

Sixty-nine years ago, on February 1, 1949, RCA released the first 45 ever.  The 45 rpm spindle adapter was marketed to allow the smaller records to be played on 78 record players or turntables.

Today, we have compact discs (cds) and digital recordings.  Few of our newest generation know what sounding like a broken record means.  A broken record “skips” from one grove to another because of a defect.  The result is a section of the record is heard over and over and over again.

Image of 45 record is from styrous.blogspot.com

Mr. Halliday can be reached at doc@william-halliday.com

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