The Edison Disk Machine

Cylinders peaked in popularity around 1905. After this, discs and disc players, most notably the Victrolas, began to dominate the market. Columbia Records, and Edison competitor, had stopped marketing cylinders in 1912. The Edison Company had been fully devoted to cylinder phonographs, but, concerned with discs' rising popularity, Edison associates began developing their own disc player and discs in secret. Dr. Jonas Aylsworth, chief chemist for Edison, and later after his retirement in 1903, a consultant for the company, took charge of developing a plastic material for the discs. The aim was to produce a superior-sounding disc that would outperform the rivals' shellac records, which were prone to wear and warping. Another difference from competitors' discs was that the vertical-cut method was to be used for the grooves. In this manner, the stylus would bob up and down in the groove, rather than from side to side or laterally. Ten-inch records would run for 5 minutes per side at approximately 80 r.p.m.

Although Edison associates initially worked on the project in secret, when Edison discovered it, he took control of this new project and gave it much of his personal attention.

Aylsworth molded phenol and formaldehyde mixed with wood-flour and a solvent into a heat-resistant disc. This material always remained absolutely plane, which was essential as it formed the core of the disc record. A phenolic resin varnish called Condensite was applied to the core, and then the disc was stamped in the record press. The finished 10" disc weighed ten ounces, heavier than most, partially due to the 1/4" thickness of the record. A diamond point was obtained for the stylus. The Disc Phonograph and the Edison Discs were designed to be an entire system, incompatible with other discs or disc players.

The new Edison Disc Phonograph was shown for the first time publicly at the Fifth Annual Convention for the National Association of Talking Machine Jobbers at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on July 10-13th, 1911. Press reported that the new machine was based on Edison's British 1878 patent in order to deter claims of copyright infringement with Victor or Berliner. The new machine was also mentioned in the Edison Phonograph Monthly in July of 1911, but it was over a year before disc players or discs would be offered for sale.

By the end of 1912, three basic models of the Edison Disc Phonograph had been designed, ranging in price from $150 to $250, and the company salesmen took them around the country. Soon after, the choice of models was extended to feature less expensive players and luxury machines in stylish wood cabinets. Prices for the discs started from $1.15 to $4.25, but later came down to $1.35 to $2.25. The discs were expensive to make because of the complicated chemical processes used for them.

Initial public reaction was not encouraging for several reasons. The Edison cabinets were deemed to be less attractive than the Victrolas, and customers were required to buy Edison discs only for Edison players, since they were not compatible with other players. The laminated surface of the discs also had a tendency to detach from the core material, and surface noise was frequently apparent, which contradicted the aim of perfection that the company was trying to achieve with its recordings. Still, the phonographs and discs were touted as being acoustically better than those of the competitors. In order to bolster claims of superiority, Edison claimed that his records could be played 1,000 times without wear.

Recitals were also conducted to prove the merit of the discs. Edison recording artists would sing along with a disc recording of their voices, daring the audience to be able to tell the difference. In late 1915, Edison began its famous Tone Tests, which featured artists alternating their live performance on a darkened stage with that on the disc in front of large audiences, challenging them to detect a difference. Reaction was positive to these tests, and reinforced the Edison motto that the discs were "re-creations" of performances, not merely recordings of them.

Additional advertising for the Diamond Disc was secured through promotion of the Edison film The Voice of the Violin, made in 1915, which featured a Tone Test by Anna Case. (The Library of Congress copy is incomplete and, unfortunately, is lacking Case's performance.)

On the disc label, sides were indicated by "L" and "R", referring to the left side or the right side when stored vertically. The early disc issues contained the Edison trademark, Edison's image, the title of the selection, and the composer, all pressed into the glossy black surface of the disc using a half-tone electrotype. The early issues did not carry the artists' names, reflecting Edison's policy of not seeking out name acts, but supposedly relying on the quality of the music alone. In 1915, the artists' names began to be added to the labels. In 1921, black paper labels with white Roman type began to be used, and were changed at the end of 1923 to white labels.

By 1916, demand increased for console cabinets to house the disc players. The Edison Company produced a series of period models to compete with those of the Victor Company. The designer for the cabinets was H.D. Newson from the W.A. French Furniture Company of Minneapolis. Named "The Art Models," these cabinets came in English, French, and Italian period styles, as well as Gothic styles. Prices ranged from $1,000 to $6,000. Advertising for these models made it clear that the players themselves were the same as lower-priced models; the inflated cost was for the cabinet.

In 1917 when the U.S. became involved in World War I, the Edison Company created the Army and Navy Model in answer to a request for machines from the United States Army

Depot Quartermaster in New York. The simple, basic machine sold for $60. The Department of War never purchased any, but individual units bought them, some taking them overseas. The Army and Navy Model was discontinued after the war's end.

By 1917, the Disc Phonograph had garnered considerable success in the marketplace. This good fortune continued for almost seven years. In contrast, the cylinder phonograph business declined; by 1925, the remaining cylinder customers had to order directly from the factory. By 1920, Edison was the only disc company not using steel needles or the lateral method of grooves.

By 1924, business began to sour with the advent of competition from radio. Operations were cut back, and experimentation began with long-playing records. These were introduced in October 1926 along with four new console disc phonographs. As a concession to the marketplace, attachments were also offered so that the Edison phonographs could play the laterally-cut records of competitors.

By the latter half of the 20's, the company started to diversify its interests in an attempt to stay viable. Thoughts of moving pictures with sound led the company to develop an Ediscope which featured still pictures with narration. This was envisioned as being appropriate for the children's market, since it could be used for fairy tales and educational nature talks. Work was also begun on the Cine-Music Phonograph, which was conceived to supply musical accompaniment to motion pictures.

Edison entered into the radio business in 1928 by taking over the Aplitdorf-Bethlehem Electrical Company of Newark, a move which allowed him to produce radio-phonographs. The Edison Company further expanded into the field of radio by making programs for radio on long-playing discs. Radio station WAAM of Newark, NJ, agreed to use the new Rayediphonic Reproducing Machine and Radiosonic records in 1929, with the first Radiosonic broadcast being aired on April 4. It appeared that the company had finally found a profitable outlet.

In the summer of 1929, the Edison company gave into the popular trend and introduced the Edison Portable Disc Phonograph with New Edison Needle Records, offering both the Diamond Discs and the new needle records simultaneously.

These changes did not measurably improve business, and on October 21, orders were given to close the Edison disc business, with the company stating that it would focus on the manufacture of its radio-phonographs in the future.

Photo Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division

From Mary Bellis,

         A short historical review about the disk machines history

1857 Leon Scott de Martinville, an Irishman who lived in France, designed the first Phono-Autograph

1871 The italian Antonio Meucci invented the "Talking Telegraph". Due to a dreadfull period of illness and poverty he was unable to pay the amount of 250$ for the patent. After he presented his invention to the Western Union Telegraph Company in 1876, an employee of the Bell Company stole the documents. Western Union later claimed the documents as "lost"!

1876 The German Emil Berliner invented the first Telephon-Microphone in Hannover and sold the patent for 75.000 Dollar to the Bell Company.

1877 The Scottsman Alexander Graham Bell with Thomas Alpha Edison claim to have invented the microphone. Together with the stolen invention of Antonio Meucci, Graham Bell now patents the "Telphone aparatus" in New York

1877 Edison designed the styllus based phonograph using a wax cylinder

1880s Alexander Graham Bell developed a competing version to Edisons Phonograph - using waxed paper or tin foil wrapped around a cardboard.

1887 Emil Berliner invented the Gramophone and the "2-side-Shellac-Disc-Record" as a reproduceable media. The media used by Edison or Bell was unsuitable for a duplication process!

1889 First mass production of handdriven grammophones by Emil Berliners factory in Hannover, Germany

1896 First film with a soundtrack by Lee De Forest. Antonio Meucci - the real inventor of the telephone - died as a poor business man in Staten Island, NY.

1898 Emil Berliner and his brother Jacob found the first Record-Label: "Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft" and procuced the first commercial "Shellac" in his own production facility.

1900 The "Deutsche Grammophon" joines the international stock-market. The Label "His Masters Voice" is found and patented to Emil Berliner . Also this year: the earliest speech via radio waves.

1901 E. Berliner and Eldridge Johnson form the "Victor Talking Machine Company". The first 10"-disc is recorded featuring S.H.Dudley, performing "When Reuben Comes To Town".

1902 Recording debut of the tenor Enrice Caruso!

1903 Charles Parsons patented the world's first amplifier: "The Intensifier". The 12"-shellac-disc is invented, the first UK pressing plant opens and the very first complete opera (Verdi's "Ernani") is recorded onto 40 single-sided discs.

1912 The double-sided shellac-disc-record is introduced.

1913 DECCA introduces the portable gramophone in England.

1920 The first million-seller in the history of the music-industry: "Whispering" by the Mayfair Dance Orchestra. The B-side featured the song: "The Japanese Sand Man".

1922 The first elektro-acoustical recording process takes the place of the mechanical funnel-microphone. "Optical Sound" is introduced for film.

1925 HMV (His Masters Voice), Victor and Columbia undertake their first electrical recordings.

1926 First music-magazine: The Melody Maker

1928 First TV broadcast

1929 Emil Berliner died August, 3rd in Washington, DC, USA. The "Decca Record & Gramophone Co." is formed in the UK.

1931 "EMI" is formed through the merging of "The Gramophone Co." and "Columbia". The basics of "stereophonic recording and reproduction" is patented to Mr. Alan Blumlein. Adolph Rickenbacker invented the electrical guitar together with Bath and Beauchamp.

1932 The legendary "Abbey Road Studios" open its doors for business.

1933 Walter Weber invented the Magnetophone and applied the basics of "bias". Vladimir Poulsen introduced the "Telegraphone-Magnetic-Cylinder-Recording-System" that allowed to re-record over recordings. The terrible sound made a commercial use impossible.

1934 The US engineer Laurens Hammond invented the electrical tonewheel organ.

1937 First commercially marketed tape recorder - the Magnetophon - is introduced to the recording industry by AEG-Telefunken in Germany.

1939 Lale Anderson records "Lily Marlene" and Glen Miller gets "In The Mood". Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, two young Germans from Berlin take the last boat out of Germany before 2nd world war.

1940 The first "charts" of popular music is published by Billboard.

1941 The year "cool" was born! Allfred Lion and Francis Wolff - as jazz enthusiats and lifelong friends - found the most influential jazz-label to date: BLUE NOTE RECORDS. Soon to be joined by the mastermind of sleeve design: Reid Miles and recording pioneer Rudy Van Gelder as sound engineer.

1946 Jack Mullins Ampex-Ltd. starts the commercial production of the magnatic tape as a better recording media.

1948 Leo Fender creates the solid body electric guitar: the Fender "Broadcaster" (renamed 1950 into "Telecaster"). John Barden and Walter Brattain invents the Transistor at Bell Telephone Labs.

1950 First reel-to-reel recorder is sold in the US.

1951 The worlds first mass production of 78-rpm vinyl-singles by "Deutsche Grammophon" in Hannover.

1953 Introduction of vinyl records capable of 40-45 minutes of play (an entire album; both sides). 45 rpm record single took the place of the 78 rpm single.

1955 First international No.1 hit-single: "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley.

1956 Elvis Aaron Presley signes his first record-deal with RCA. Within the next 10 years Reid Miles and Francis Wolff will design more than 500 Blue Note sleeves for jazz-artists as Horace Silver, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Donald Byrds, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock.

1958 Decca launches the first stereo-recording with the slogan: "FFSS - full frequency stereophonic sound"

1960 Motown Records first million-seller: "Shop Around" by The Miracles.

1962 Robert 'Bob Dylan' Zimmermann signes to CBS and releases his debut album.