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A Chronology of Sound Recording Technology, 1845-1950

The following chronology lists some significant events in the development of recorded sound. Included are advances in recording devices, methods and materials.

  • Thomas Alva Edison born in Milan, Ohio.
  • Emile Berliner born in Hanover, Germany.
  • the first documented recording of sound waves made by the phonautograph, invented by Léon Scott de Martinville.
  • the magnetic or reluctance microphone patented by Alexander Graham Bell.
  • Charles Cros deposits a sealed packet with the French Academy of Science, describing a method for recording sound in a spiral groove on a disc using photoengraving.
  • Thomas Edison makes first sketch of the phonograph, conceived of while he was working on the repeating telegraph.
  • an article predicting the various uses of the phonograph appears in the Scientific American.
  • the phonograph uses a brass cylinder covered with tinfoil.
  • both Emile Berliner and Thomas Edison develop a carbon microphone (loose contact transmitter).
  • Edison patents the phonograph in the United States, Great Britain and Canada.
  • a demonstration of the phonograph held at the Governor-General’s residence (Rideau Hall) in Ottawa, Canada.
  • with prize money granted to him by the French Academy of Science, Alexander Graham Bell establishes the Volta Laboratory Association, an electro-acoustic research facility.
  • Chichester Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter develop a machine which improves upon the phonograph, and call the new device a graphophone.
  • the graphophone uses a cylinder made from beeswax or carnuba wax over a cardboard base.
  • Herbert Berliner born.
  • Canadian patent for the graphophone issued.
  • American patents for the graphophone issued.
  • Edison adopts modifications based upon the Bell-Tainter innovations and produces the Improved Phonograph.
  • Berliner receives patent for the gramophone.
  • Berliner debuts the gramophone in Germany.
  • the early gramophone discs were made with a zinc base with a beeswax coating etched with chromic acid.
  • the North American Phonograph Company publishes the first catalogue of records.
  • Louis Glass develops the coin operated phonograph.
  • Berliner begins to stamp gramophone discs in Vulcanite, or hard rubber.
  • Berliner granted Canadian patent for the gramophone.
  • gramophone discs begin to be made of a thermoplastic shellac compound called Durinoid.
  • Valdemar Poulson wins the Grand Prix at the World Exhibition in Paris for the Telegraphon, a magnetic recording device which uses carbon steel piano wire wound on brass spoons or drums.
  • cylinders are now made of celluloid
  • Colin McKenzie of Whitehorse, Yukon receives a patent for a double-sided record. The Victor Talking Machine Co. buys it.
  • Reginald A. Fessenden, a Canadian-born physicist, makes the first radio broadcast of a gramophone record.
  • Columbia issues a double-sided record. Victor takes Columbia to court for patent infringement, but Columbia wins right to make double-sided records.
  • Edison introduces the Amberol cylinder, made of a thermoplastic called Condensite.
  • Edison introduces the Blue Amberol cylinder, made of bright blue nitrocellulose.
  • E.C. Wente of Western Electric perfects the first effective condenser microphone, which becomes the preferred microphone for sound recording.
  • Horace O. Merriman, a Canadian, and Lionel Guest, an Englishman, make the first commercial electrical recording at the funeral of the Unknown Soldier at Westminster Abbey.
  • Joseph Maxfield of Western Electric records a radio broadcast carried over telephone lines.
  • the Compo Co. conducts its first electric recording session.
  • C.W. Rice and E.W. Kellogg perfect the dynamic loudspeaker.
  • Brunswick-Balke-Collender introduce the first all-electric phonograph.
  • Ludwig Blattner Picture Corp. Ltd. of London joins with Kurt Stille's Telegraphie-Patent-Syndicat to produce the Blattnerphone, which magnetically records motion picture sound on steel tape. Widely used to record radio broadcasts.
  • S.B. Sawyer patents the crystal microphone.
  • RCA Victor experiments with a 33 1/3 rpm record with double the groove density in an attempt to increase playing time.
  • Kurt Stille develops a vastly improved magnetic recorder using better steel wire and vacuum tube amplifiers. This machine, called a Textophone, was widely used by the Gestapo during WWII.
  • around this time A.D. Blumelien patents a system for stereo recording on disc, employing a lateral cut for one channel, and a vertical cut for the other.
  • Allgemeine Electricitats-Gesellschaft (AEG) and I.G. Farben demonstrate the Magnetophon K1, which recorded magnetically on cellulose acetate film coated with gamma ferric oxide, developed by Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik (BASF), a division of I.G. Farben.
  • A.H. Reeves invents Pulse Code Modulation (PCM), the basis of digital recording.
  • BASF replaces cellulose acetate tape with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) tape for magnetic recording.
  • Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) begins producing ferric oxide coated tape for magnetic recording.
  • Columbia introduces commercially successful long playing records (LPs) which play at 33 1/3 rpm.
  • use of vinyl as record material becomes universal.
  • RCA Victor introduces the 45 rpm 7-inch single with microgrooves.
  • Claude Shannon establishes the theoretical framework for digital recording in his book, The Mathematical Theory of Communication.