In this post I’ll be talking about the history of vinyl records.
- When production started and ended.
- How they came about and how they work.
- Why they went away (sort of).
- How come they are making a come back.
Plus at the end there is an interesting short video that shows you the process that goes into making a record.
Before Vinyl Records-We had Shellac???
Before we had vinyl records the most common records we had were made of a shellac compound (as in furniture finish) and spun at 78 RPM s (revolutions per minute). Shellac was sort of a rough surface so it was somewhat noisy. The grooves were large ( 4 times larger than grooves on a 33 rpm vinyl record) so a 12 inch 78 rpm record could contain about 5 minutes of sound per side. Somewhat limited, huh?
The first 78 records were 10 inch diameter and could hold about 3 minutes of sound. The 78 records were thick and brittle and would break very easy. Because of the limited play time available on the 78 record a collection of songs or a symphony had to be distributed in sets of several records that were usually sold in albums. The 78 RPM record was invented around 1900 and were obsolete by around 1960.
We could go into more detailed technical stuff on how development of the record and various playing speeds were determined but I won’t bore you with those details. I find them fascinating but they are beyond the scope of this blog. (for now) I did embed a video at the bottom of this post that shows the manufacturing process of making a 78 RPM single in 1946 at the RCA plant.
Here Comes The 33 1/3 Vinyl Record (Or LP For Long Playing)
In 1931 RCA Victor released what they called “Program Transcription” discs (10″) that played at 33 1/3 RPMs and was made of shellac. They did have finer grooves and they required a special needle to play. They also introduced a 12″ disc for “serious” classical music which was pressed in their new vinyl based compound which resulted in a much quieter playing surface.
They could hold up to 15 minutes of music per side. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, was the first 12-inch recording issued. After 1933 few if any Transcriptions were being recorded so RCA Victor discontinued any more development into the long playing record due to this and several other factors.
In 1948 Columbia introduced it’s 33 1/3 RPM record. It was made of vinyl plastic rather than shellac so was much more flexible and less prone to breakage. It also had a smaller groove known as “microgroove” and many or these early records had “Microgroove” written on the label. They came in 10″ and 12″ diameter sizes. Each side could hold over 20 minutes of music.
The new LPs were perfect for classical music because of their extended play length and also collections of 9 or 10 individual pop songs could be put on a single record.
According to the 1949 Columbia catalog their first 12 inch LP was Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E Minor by Nathan Milstein playing violin with the New York Philharmonic. In the late 70s because of the beginning of the compact cassette tapes followed in 1983 by the introduction of the Compact Disc (CD), the popularity of the vinyl LP began to decline. Vinyl LPs did enjoy a bit of a comeback in the early 2010s and the LP is still being produced today.
And Along Comes The 45-Trendy and Very Cool
I like to think 1949 was a very good year. The first reason being, I was born that year, and the second reason was the advent of the 45 RPM 7 inch vinyl single. If a person wanted just a single song instead of a full album then the 45 was the way to go.
They became popular in jukeboxes, which had been using 78s because they were smaller and with 45s cold hold many more songs.
RCA Victor who dropped out of the LP game after the demise of the Program Transcription disc came roaring back in 1949. At the beginning, with the finer groove, RCA made “Extended Play” (EP) 45s which could have 2 or 3 songs on each side but shortly on they gave way to becoming the replacement to the 78s for singles and that is where the 45 became extremely popular.
I remember you could get small carrying cases where you would store your 45s. If you were going to a party or a friends house you could grab your little case of 45s and have music to share with your friends. You can still find these cases today at yard/estate sales or in thrift stores.
If you are into flipping stuff on Ebay these cases are fast movers in the resale market. I’ve picked them up at thrift stores for a couple bucks and can sell rather quickly on Ebay for $20 or more depending on the style.
They used to make record players that only played 45 rpm records that were very portable like a small suitcase and had a built in speaker. You could stack 10 or so 45s on the spindle and after one completed playing the next one on the stack would drop onto the turntable and begin to play. Sort of the old fashion “playlist” as you could put your favorite songs in the order you wanted them to play and then go dance and not have to stop to go put on the next song.
There is so much more concerning the history of vinyl records available to read. The information can get quite detailed and technical so it is really beyond the scope of this post. Perhaps sometime down the road I may go a little more in depth but that is for another day. If you are interested you can google “history of vinyl records” and come up with lots of information. In this post I have attempted to give just a brief summary. Records have been made in speeds other than 45, 33, and 78 and have come in various other sizes as well but for various reasons they did not last long.
If you have a few minutes watch the video below to see how a 78 RPM single was made in 1946 from start to finished product at the RCA plant. It is quite interesting.
Please feel free to leave some comments, I’d love to discuss records with anyone.
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