Phonograph or is it Gramophone?

There are many names for the record player: phonautograph, phonograph, graphophone, gramophone, record player, turntable, deck... The first four are the original names for original devices, all basically the same with subtle differences. In France and the USA the playback machine was and continues to be called a phonograph. In the UK the same modern record playing device has been known as a gramophone. Since about 1910, the device music lovers have enjoyed is properly known as a gramophone. But really, for roughly a hundred years, phonograph or gramophone are essentially the same device and can be used interchangeably.

Edison envisioned and created a recording and playback device that was all one machine. This was coined the phonograph, and it was able to record as well as playback. Alixander Graham Bell took up the business shortly after and his record / play machine, an “improved” Edison machine, was business specific, thus named graphophone. Gramophone was introduced by Berliner in the 1880’s as a playback only device, designed for entertainment.

1856, the original sound recording machine is attributed to Edouard Leon Scott de Martinville—Scot father, French mother. It used a cylinder with lateral impressions and was named the phonautograph. Apparently the guy sucked at marketing because Edison had to rediscover the principles when developing a better than Bell’s telephone roughly twenty years later.

1877 Edison refines/invents sound reproduction and names the device, or borrows the name from a stenography system, phonograph.

1877, Frenchman Charles Cros, is published describing a method of recording sound; no model was made, not even proof of concept.

1877, Edison files for patent on a grooved disc phonograph (patent No. 200,521).

1878, Alexander Graham Bell enters the phonograph market with his graphophone under the name Volta. Within a few decades, lots of deals and buy outs with Edison, and Columbia rises from the ashes to become the leading entertainment disc producer. By 1900, entertainment is the focus and business and dictation are ignored.

1887, German-American Emile Berliner introduced a disc play-only device which was named the gramophone.

1901, Victor is formed by Eldridge R. Johnson to market Berliner’s gramophone. Johnson aggressively expands the disc catalog and creates market share. Also launches a very effective ad campaign featuring the famous “His Master’s Voice” trademark.

1906, Victor unveils the hornless Victrola gramophone. Victor, Edison, and Columbia establish records as a mass market.

1929, radio takes off, records sells plummet. RCA acquires Victor. And by the end of the year Edison bows out of the entertainment biz.

Alexander Graham Bell entered the race for phonograph market shortly after Edison’s invention of the recording / playback machine named the phonograph. Upon receiving the Volta award from France, and the prize money, Bell and skilled buddy Tainter established the Volta Associates company and set about with both the photophone (yeah, really) and improving on Edison’s phonograph. There aim was on the business and legal field and named their product the graphophone. They did improve things but after years of battling Edison they sold the company, which was eventually purchased and controlled by Edison. Bell and Tainter did some pretty wild stuff, using compressed air as a medium, development and refinement of wax for medium, fluid cutting jets for recording. For sure Bell was an outside the box thinker that contributed a great deal to building the recording and playback industries. 

Posted on August 18, 2013 and filed under Turntable, History, Show All.