When Were Vinyl Records Invented?

black and gray vinyl player

For the last several years, many young people (maybe even you!) have discovered the pleasure of listening to music on a format their parents once enjoyed: the vinyl record. Have you ever wondered, “when were vinyl records invented?”. After you learn about the history of what audiophiles consider the ultimate music player, you will understand how listening to vinyl gives you an experience that connects you with music lovers of the past.

When Were Vinyl Records Invented?

black and blue turntable

The first vinyl records were played on a machine called the Red Seal, which was invented in 1901 by the Victor Company; however, at the time, shellac was the material most commonly used to produce discs onto which music was recorded. In 1948, during World War II, vinyl records found a stable place in the market when more manufacturers began producing them in response to a resin shortage. Many troops abroad received vinyl records, and it became clear that the material allowed for the most precise cuts (and therefore the best sound quality). Vinyl records remained the most popular format for listening to music until 1988, when CDs outsold them.

To really understand the origins of the vinyl record, we must go back in time to when people first began recording sound. The material, size, revolving speed, and recording time of our current audio discs vacillated as inventors and manufacturers experimented with audio recording. Read on to learn more about the fascinating historical trajectory that produced the first vinyl records and ultimately led to the vinyl revival of today!

Earlier Invention

Édouard-Léon Scott and the Phonautograph

In 1857, a Frenchman named Édouard-Léon Scott became the first person to record sound in a visual format. He did so by inventing a machine called the phonautograph which could create lines from the wavelengths and frequencies. To do so, he used a vibrating pen which drew the lines on paper discs.

Thomas Edison and the Phonograph

The first machine capable of playing back recorded sounds was the phonograph, created by none other than Thomas Edison in 1877. The design featured tinfoil, which Edison put over a grooved metal cylinder. In response to a sound, a stylus would vibrate and puncture the tinfoil. The sound would be played back when the tinfoil rotated.

Emile Berliner and the Gramaphone

In 1889, an American inventor born in Germany named Emile Berliner invented a machine that could play flat discs that were basically the same shape as our current vinyl records. He called the machine the gramophone, and people mostly viewed it as a toy or novelty due to the poor sound quality. That situation changed when Berliner began to work with Eldridge R. Johnson and the Victor Talking Machine Company. Johnson worked to improve the sound quality and make the device more useful.

How We Got to Vinyl

Earlier Materials

World War II

Music Recording

How Did the Standard Size of the Vinyl Record Evolve?

Terminology Explained

How Size and Rotation Speed Were Determined

After the Vinyl Record: Cassettes and CDs

Vinyl records dominated the market until 1988, when people began buying more CDs. The CD, which was developed by Phillips in 1974, was the predecessor of the digitalized way we enjoy music today. The cassette tape (created by Phillips in 1962) also rivaled the vinyl record. It was smaller, more portable, and easier to rewind or fast forward.

What Is the Vinyl Revival?

Things Come Back Around

Indie Rock and Nostalgia

Record Store Day

How Can You Enjoy Vinyl Records?

Visit a Record Store Near You

Get Your Hands on a Real Record Player

What Features to Look for in a Record Player

What Features Do New Record Players Have?

From Invention to Present Day—A History of Superb Sound

Vinyl Record Player

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

So, let's review. When were vinyl records invented? The answer is that we started developing the technologies that let to their invention in the 1800's with the phonautograph, the phonograph, and the gramophone. While some vinyl records were used in the early 20th century, 1948 is an important year because it saw the release of the 12” Long Play (LP) 33 1/3 rpm microgroove record, which is basically the same record we use today.

Featured Image: Photo by Luana De Marco on Unsplash


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