Sep 26, 1887

Music from a tin: Emil Berliner and the gramophone

Museum for Communication Nuremberg, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication

In 1887, Emil Berliner (1851–1921) invented the gramophone, the mechanical predecessor to the electric record player. Later, with the shellac record, he developed a medium that allowed music recordings to be mass produced. As a smart businessman, the German-American knew how to market his patents and founded one of the first major record labels.

Emil Berliner (1851-1921) is the inventor of the gramophone and the shellac record.

The German-American's first significant invention, however, was the carbon microphone, which he developed at the same time as Hughes and Edison.

He sold his patent in 1877 to Alexander G. Bell in a lucrative deal, who used it as a component of the Bell telephone. The sale made Berliner financially independent, and as a result, he was able to found his own research laboratory.

The pioneer: Emil Berliner's audio experiments were inspired by the innovative inventions of Thomas Alva Edison (1847–1931).

„Mary Had a Little Lamb“, Tonaufzeichnung Phonograph, gesprochen von Thomas Alva Edison, 1927, © Public Domain

First sound recordings:
In 1877, Thomas A. Edison managed to successfully record sounds acoustically-mechanically, and to store and reproduce them with the tin foil phonograph.

The recording medium is the cylinder covered with tin foil. If it is rotated and one speaks into the funnel, the sound is recorded in the vertical recording process.

Berliner's inventions: In 1887, Emil Berliner obtained the US patent for the gramophone and the associated record. The mechanical predecessor to the electric record player was born.

A major improvement to his speech device, which was filed for patent in 1887, was the zinc record. Unlike the Edison cylinder, the sound track here is created using the lateral recording process on the recording medium.

The early gramophone had a horn made of papier-mâché, which is firmly connected to the tonearm and the sound box. The hand crank is used to set the record in motion, which produces the sound.

Emil Berliner singt „Auld Lang Syne“, Tonaufnahme Grammophon, 1890, © Public Domain

The finished product: The shellac record, with which a music recording could be infinitely reproduced, was available from 1896. The gramophone was also improved technically and had a spring motor as a drive.

The label: Emil Berliner co-founded the record company "Deutsche Grammophon AG" in 1898. He secured the trademark "His Master's Voice" and the dog "Nipper" as an advertising motif in 1900.

"Voice Mail": In 1907, Emil Berliner sent a record as a "spoken letter." A few years later, anyone could send such a record with their own voice message by post.

„An meine lieben Eltern“, Sprechbrief von Marion Lüddeckens, Berlin, 22.12.1938, Deutsche Photomaton Gesellschaft, © Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation
The gramophone era
In the first decade of the 20th century, large horn gramophones were considered modern. Later, trends changed and the horns disappeared inside the machines. Some gramophones were completely built into furniture such as cabinets, chests, or tables. Thanks to the portable suitcase gramophone that came along in the music-loving 1920s, it was possible to listen to music everywhere.

The flower horn: At the Leipzig Spring Fair of 1906, the big flower horn was the sensation of the season in terms of gramophone design, often painted in bold colors.

The guesthouse coin-operated gramophone: The automatic mechanism of the communal music player is set in motion, usually with a 10 Pfennig coin, and the music of the shellac records fills the room.

The hidden horn: From the 1910s, general aesthetic trends changed and the gramophone horns disappeared inside the musical machines.

"Ultraphone reflects the tone!" This is the slogan for this gramophone, which simulates surround sound. The pseudo-stereo sound is provided by 2 pickups, sound boxes, and sound outlets.

The gramophone cabinet: The gramophone, including its horn, is completely built into a piece of furniture. In addition, there is extra storage space for accessories, such as records and gramophone needles.

The electric motor: The music player's motor and electric lights work thanks to a mains connection. Hidden under a lampshade, the gramophone cannot be seen.

The portable gramophone: The suitcase gramophone is practical to transport. It works entirely without power with a spring motor and was popular from the 1920s until the 1950s.

The electrification of the phono-object…
... began in Germany in connection with the distribution of radios in the 1920s. More and more households were now connected to the electricity grid.

New sound quality: The electric recording technique involving a microphone and amplifier revolutionized the record business in 1925–26 through an immense extension of the frequency range of sound recordings.

Live recording on flexi disc: In the early days of radio, speech was mainly broadcast live. If you wanted to broadcast something later or multiple times, you could use flexi discs as a flexible storage medium.

"Rock on bones" (рок на костях) is a colloquial term for the black market, illegal music recordings on X-ray film in the Soviet Union in the 1950s to 1960s.

The legacy of Berliner – vinyl as a lifestyle: Today we mainly store and consume music digitally. Gramophone and record players are already displayed in museums. Nevertheless, the vinyl record is currently experiencing a revival. Music lovers appreciate the look, the feel and longevity of the analogue recording medium.

The ritual of playing the record makes listening to music a fascinating event – as it did back then when Emil Berliner played the first shellac record on the gramophone more than 100 years ago.

Museum for Communication Nuremberg, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
Credits: Story

Music from a tin: Emil Berliner and the gramophone

A virtual exhibition by the Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation.

Curator: Helene Weidner

All objects from the collection of the Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation.

www.museumsstiftung.de

Quellen:
Gauß, Stefan: Nadel, Rille, Trichter. Kulturgeschichte des Phonographen und des Grammophons in Deutschland (1900-1940), Böhlau Verlag, Köln, Weimar, Wien 2009

Große, Günter: Von der Edisonwalze zur Stereoplatte, Lied der Zeit Musikverlag, Berlin 1989

Haffner, Herbert: „His Master’s Voice“ Die Geschichte der Schallplatte, Parthas Verlag, Berlin 2011

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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