is a list of information we have gathered from a variety of sources on some of the major analog reel to reel tape recorder and related equipment manufacturers. While we have strived to provide the best information available to us, there will be corrections and additions. We include personal stories about the companies when they are provided to us. We always invite input on corrections and updates. Thank you!
View calendar which lists company creation dates associated with world and recording history
Thomas Alva Edison
2/11/1847 – 10/18/1931
The Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park, 37 Christie Street, Edison, NJ 08820
Thomas Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, and grew up in Port Huron, Michigan.
Edison is the fourth most prolific inventor in history, holding 1,093 US patents in his name, as well as many patents in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. His first patent was for the electric vote recorder, (U.S. Patent 90,646) which was granted on June 1, 1869.
Edison became a telegraph operator after he saved three-year-old Jimmie MacKenzie from being struck by a runaway train. Jimmie's father, station agent J.U. MacKenzie of Mount Clemens, Michigan, was so grateful that he trained Edison as a telegraph operator.
The phonograph was developed as a result of Thomas Edison's work on two other inventions, the telegraph and the telephone.
In 1877, Edison was working on a machine that would transcribe telegraphic messages through indentations on paper tape, which could later be sent over the telegraph repeatedly. This development led Edison to speculate that a telephone message could also be recorded in a similar fashion. He experimented with a diaphragm which had an embossing point and was held against rapidly-moving paraffin paper. The speaking vibrations made indentations in the paper.
Edison later changed the paper to a metal cylinder with tin foil wrapped around it (replica right & video at bottom of page). The machine had two diaphragm-and-needle units, one for recording, and one for playback. When one would speak into a mouthpiece, the sound vibrations would be indented onto the cylinder by the recording needle in a vertical (or hill and dale) groove pattern.
Edison gave a sketch of the machine to his mechanic, John Kruesi, to build, which Kruesi supposedly did within 30 hours. Edison immediately tested the machine by speaking the nursery rhyme into the mouthpiece, "Mary had a little lamb." To his amazement, the machine played his words back to him.
Edison took his new invention to the offices of Scientific American in New York City and showed it to staff there. As the December 22, 1877, issue reported, "Mr. Thomas A. Edison recently came into this office, placed a little machine on our desk, turned a crank, and the machine inquired as to our health, asked how we liked the phonograph, informed us that it was very well, and bid us a cordial good night." Interest was great, and the invention was reported in several New York newspapers, and later in other American newspapers and magazines.
The Edison Speaking Phonograph Company was established on January 24, 1878, to exploit the new machine by exhibiting it. Edison received $10,000 for the manufacturing and sales rights and 20% of the profits. As a novelty, the machine was an instant success, but was difficult to operate except by experts, and the tin foil would last for only a few playings.
A process for mass-producing duplicate wax cylinders was put into effect in 1901. The cylinders were molded, rather than engraved by a stylus, and a harder wax was used. The process was referred to as Gold Moulded, because of a gold vapor given off by gold electrodes used in the process.
Sub-masters were created from the gold master, and the cylinders were made from these molds. From a single mold, 120 to 150 cylinders could be produced every day. The new wax used was black in color, and the cylinders were initially called New High Speed Hard Wax Moulded Records until the name was changed to Gold Moulded.
By mid-1904, the savings in mass duplication was reflected in the price for cylinders which had been lowered to 35 cents each. Beveled ends were made on the cylinders to accommodate titles.
In terms of playing time, the 2-minute wax cylinder could not compete well against competitors' discs, which could offer up to four minutes. In response, the Amberol Record was presented in November 1908, which had finer grooves than the two-minute cylinders, and thus, could last as long as 4 minutes.
Although Edison began experimenting on the phonograph using wax coated paper as a recording medium, his phonograph recorded sound onto a tinfoil sheet phonograph cylinder.
Alexander Graham Bell's Volta Laboratory made several improvements in the 1880s, including the use of wax-coated cardboard cylinders, and a cutting stylus that moved from side to side in a "zig zag" pattern across the record.
Then at the turn of the century, Emile Berliner initiated the transition from phonograph cylinders to gramophone records: flat, double-sided discs with a spiral groove running from the periphery to near the center.
In American English, "phonograph", properly specific to machines made by Edison, was sometimes used in a generic sense as early as the 1890s to include cylinder-playing machines made by others, but it was then considered strictly incorrect to apply it to the upstart Gramophone, a very different machine which played
"Talking machine" was the comprehensive generic term, but in the early 20th Century the general public was increasingly applying the word "phonograph" indiscriminately to both cylinder and disc machines and to the records they played.
By the time of the First World War, the mass advertising and popularity of the Victor Talking Machine Company's Victrolas (a line of disc-playing machines characterized by their concealed horns) was leading to widespread generic use of the word "victrola" for any machine that played discs, which were however still called "phonograph records" or simply "records", almost never "victrola records".
After electronic disc-playing machines started appearing on the market during the second half of the 1920s, usually sharing the same cabinet with a radio receiver, the term "record player" was increasingly favored by users when referring to the device.
The brand name Gramophone was not used in the USA after 1901, and the word fell out of use there, though it has survived in its nickname form, Grammy, as the title of the Grammy Awards. The Grammy trophy itself is a small rendering of a gramophone, resembling a Victor disc machine with a taper arm.
Edison devices in the Reel2ReelTexas.com vintage recording collection
Edison Cylinder Player (gift from Chris to Martin Theophilus) Edison Cylinder (Standard) 1904 $20. Cylinders were $.25 each.
These cylinders are brand new. The box of unused cylinders was purchased from the Ford Museum.
Ediphone Cylinder Recorder - 1920 Dictating machine, 'Edison Ediphone', wax, Thomas A. Edison Inc., USA, 1920-1930.
Edison Photos We appreciate all photos sent to our museum. We hope to successfully preserve the sound recording history. If we have not credited a photo, we do not know its origin if it was not taken by the contributor. Please let us know if a photo on our site belongs to you and is not credited. We will be happy to give you credit, or remove it if you so choose.
Centennial of Sound Recording Donated by Peter Halferty
Centennial of Sound Recording cancelled philatelic collectibles - cover of db magazine showing Edison stamp
Cylinder Recording Session
On August 13th, Chris and Martin, two of MOMSR's Board of Directors, were treated to a tour of Jim Cartwright's Immortal Performances, Inc.'scollection of vintage acoustical devices. We had not asked to shoot any video in advance, however when we arrived and saw what Jim has, he gave permission to video our visit with Martin's iPhone. At some point it would be fun to re-shoot seriously. The collection is incredible!
PLEASE NOTE: The Jim Cartwright collection is not associated with the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording
On February 11, 2015 Jim Cartwright held his annual party celebrating Thomas Edison's birthday (168th) by recording a group of Austin musicians on a cylinder recorder. Jim allowed Chris & Martin to videotape portions of the party for the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording