It all started with Thomas Edison. Edison, who was almost deaf, found that a piece of tin-foil wrapped around a cylinder produced a sound. A needle on the inside vibrated and made a groove. Then a needle on the other side could play back what was recorded. It was sort of an “ah” moment as Edison was actually trying to improve his telegraph transmitter.

From then until the 1990s phonographs were the norm for bringing recorded music into the home. Most of us who were into music prior to the advent of tapes and CDs are very familiar with the vinyl records used when we were kids. First the 78s, then the 33 1/3s and 45s. Who didn’t have a small record player to spin those 45s and dream of the future?

Edison invented the first phonograph in 1877. Those first recordings wore out quickly but later recordings were put on cylinders. Even later they were put on discs. The old 78s, made between 1889 and the late 1950s, played at a speed of about 78 revolutions per minute and were made using shellac.

During and after WWII shellac supplies were limited and manufacturers turned to vinyl discs. Earlier recordings were made with the artist singing into a horn which directed the voice to the recording stylus cutting the wax for the master discs, described as acoustical. Electrical recording started in 1925 when the first microphones and amplifiers were used to cut the master record. After that more and more sophisticated methods were used to produce the high fidelity and stereo records we know, making them much more pleasurable to listen to.

Record hops using the old 45s were held weekly when I was in high school, often with Bob Seivers and Jack Underwood as disc jockeys. They would play the most popular 45s, one after another, for a night of dancing and listening. Those old vinyls were susceptible to dust and scratches and could get pretty worn if played very often. And such songs, like “Running Bear” sung by Johnny Preston in 1959, or “El Paso” by Marty Robbins of the same era were played. Then there was “Charlie Brown” by the Coasters, or Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” or “Dream Lover.” Also played were “Sixteen Candles,” by the Crests, and “Lipstick On Your Collar,” and “Who’s Sorry Now?” by Connie Francis. The list could go on and on.

Record album clubs also became popular. You could purchase one record per month at a discounted price. This was when stereos were real pieces of furniture made with attractive wood cabinets and side as well as detached speakers. My husband purchased a large stereo in 1959 with an attractive wood cabinet that played both 45s and 33 1/3 records, compete with a radio. It was a major piece of furniture in our home for many years. Record cabinets, which held the record collection, were also attractive pieces of furniture made with wood.

Finally in later years, due to space issues, it was put upstairs in storage. There, our then teenage sons took out the speakers and put them in the trunk of their cars to make boom boxes. After they left home the speakers finally returned to their rightful place inside the stereo.

Truthfully I was ready to get rid of the whole thing when we moved into our new home, but suddenly it appeared in the basement and has been there ever since, complete with a record collection that still seems to be growing. Record cabinets still hold the 33 1/3s and each is carefully put back into its sleeve after playing and dusted off prior to being put on the player with its diamond needle. If you take care of them they seem to last forever, although they are susceptible to scratching and breaking. Fingerprints and dirt deaden the sound and cause skips in the music, or make the needle get stuck on repeat, but keeping them clean and fingerprint free is not that hard.

Nowadays we can go downstairs and listen to the songs that were so popular during our youth and remember those simpler times. With additional speakers the stereo quality of the records makes it seem we have piped in music to every room in the house. Even our grandchildren enjoy the music and ask for specific records. Now they say vinyl records are making a comeback. Vinyl collectors have argued that the groves on a record yield a better sound and more depth over a CD’s digital code. Many DJs prefer the vinyl as well. So new vinyl records are still being released. I have yet to see many in a store, but will be watching in case we find one to add to our collection.

Edison never knew what an industry he started with his invention.


Jeannine Roediger has lived on a family farm all her life, first as a farmer’s daughter and now as a farmer’s wife. She writes weekly for the Times Bulletin and enjoys gardening, quilting, cooking, bird watching and writing.