Before the invention of the phonograph, music in the home either came from a music box or live performance. The parlor organ and the upright piano became emblems of middle-class domesticity and prosperity, but they were limited by the talent of the home-grown players. With the phonograph, the world’s best performers would play on demand. Opera, novelty, sentimental and patriotic tunes were particular favorites.
For your listening pleasure
Until 1912 when the phonographic disc became the dominant recording medium, and all but Edison’s cylinders were phased out, each could only be played on one machine type. Music lovers wanted more titles and performers to choose from, but they were limited by the type of player that they owned. By 1925 two-sided discs played at 78 Revolutions per Minute (RPMs) was the standard. It remained dominant until after World War II.
Battles between competing technologies continued throughout the 20th century.
A similar scene was played out in the 1970s when cassette tapes replaced 8-track tape.
Thomas Edison & The Phonograph
Of all my inventions, I liked the phonograph best.
– Thomas Edison (1837-1931)
Thomas Alva Edison (1837-1931), known as the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” personified the American spirit of innovation. He perfected the incandescent light bulb, the motion picture camera and held more than 1,000 patents for other marvels of the era. By 1912, when his “Opera Cylinder Phonograph” was introduced, he had already been producing sound recordings and players for 35 years.
By 1896 Edison targeted the home market for recorded music. Much like the rapid evolution of today’s music technology, there was fierce competition for the growing market for home phonographs. Edison’s chief competitors were Columbia and the Victor Phonograph Company. All of them were seeking an inexpensive and durable machine, and a true sound.
In addition to introducing more than a dozen new phonograph models, Edison launched nearly as many companies, many of which went bankrupt, while battling an endless stream of infringement lawsuits.
Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division.
Image in banner above is a composite image of opera singers who recorded on the Victor label in the first decade of the 20th century