The history of the record player, also called a gramophone or phonograph, begins in the 1870s. The phonograph as we know it was first invented by Thomas Edison in 1877. However, the phonograph owes its origin to research by Edouard Leon Scott de Martinville, who created a device called a phonautograph in 1857. Edison’s invention was further improved by Alexander Graham Bell (the inventor of the telephone), which in turn led to the creation of Emile Berliner’s first own phonograph.
There were thousands of improvements from the 1880s to the 1980s, a whole century of innovations. By the end of the 19th century, the phonograph or gramophone had become widely accepted commercially. This invention completely changed the way sound and music were perceived. Previously, music was limited to live performances that were not universally accessible. With a turntable, one could listen to their favorite piece of music, anytime, anywhere. It really sparked a democratic revolution in the creation and appreciation of music.
Colloquially, record players are often referred to by different names, from ‘decks’ and ‘record players’ to ‘record players’ and ‘record changers’. The original word, phonograph, was created by inventor FB Fenby in 1863. In the early 1900s, there were several terms that were commonly used for the record player, each of which was a trademark of its manufacturer. Chief among them were the ‘Granophone’, ‘Gramophone’ and the ‘Zonophone’.
The oldest phonograph invented by Thomas Alva Edison engraved on a sheet of aluminum foil wrapped around a cylinder by an up and down movement of the stylus. But it was Emile Berliner’s gramophone, invented in 1889, that established the template for the record player as we know it. It used a zinc disc coated with a compound of beeswax and benzene to record the sound by means of a spiral movement of the stylus. This design was more efficient than Edison’s and eventually became prevalent.
The popularity of the record player can be measured by the fact that in the late 1800s, virtually every major city in the United States had “phonograph rooms.” They were little shops where you could order a selection of music / sound of your choice, kind of like today’s jukebox. The invention of a process to make duplicate, mass-produced copies of a phonograph record in 1890 further increased the popularity of the device.
Innovations, improvements and gradual obscurity
The turntable saw constant improvements over the years. A couple of decades after its invention, it quickly established itself as one of the most important entertainment devices in a home. The first models used a crank mechanism to extract energy, a method that was eventually replaced by electricity.
It was in 1940 that vinyl was introduced as a recording material. This provided more space for recording. A full-length vinyl record could contain an entire symphony, a fact that further accelerated adoption of the device. In the late 1950s, it was a permanent fixture in most American homes.
The turntable was widely used until the 1970s, when accurate and expensive hi-fi players became widespread. However, the introduction of the eight-track player and the much cheaper cassette player in the 1980s dealt a fatal blow. The introduction and widespread adoption of CDs as a medium for recording music was the final nail in the coffin of this device.
However, the history of the record player is still being written. Despite the popularity of digital music, turntables are still used and even gaining popularity. Offering higher fidelity and sound quality, these players have become the de facto choice of music connoisseurs.