The history of vinyl records is a very important chapter of music history. Keep reading to learn how vinyl records have changed over time!
Vinyl records have undergone many changes over the years, but no matter how they have evolved over time, records have always been a vital part of music history. Would you believe there’s even a National Vinyl Record Day dedicated to celebrating this great invention?
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What Is A Vinyl Record?
A vinyl record is a type of material used to store recorded sound. It is a flat disc with microgrooves running around the top (and often also the bottom) of the record. These microgrooves contain the music.
When a record is placed on a record player, it begins spinning, and a needle (also known as a stylus) is lowered into the grooves of the record. The needle sits in the grooves and follows them around the record, playing the sound contained in the grooves.
The sound stored on records is most often music, though sometimes audio books, comedy shows and other various spoken word formats are pressed onto vinyl.
Vinyl records are also called records, or vinyl. One thing that I have found to be a pet peeve of many serious record collectors is the use of the incorrect word “vinyls”. Vinyl is both the singular and plural term for vinyl records!
Shellac vs Vinyl Records
Vinyl records are called “vinyl” records because of their material composition. Records today are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), hence the nickname vinyl.
Polyvinyl chloride can be many different colors, which is why you might see some colored vinyl in your record collecting adventures!
The earliest records invented were made from shellac, so these would technically just be records, and not vinyl records. However, those shellac records are not made anymore.
Records started being pressed more frequently on vinyl partly due to less available shellac for record production during World War II. Shellac records eventually stopped being made around 1960.
The older shellac records (also called 78s) were much more brittle and heavier than the newer vinyl records.
Vinyl records are more prone to warping and scratches than shellac records (because they’re more lightweight), but are still thought of as a better record material because they have less audio feedback.
What are the Different Types of Records
Records come in various sizes. The most common sizes of records are 12″, 10″ and 7″ records. Most albums are recorded on 12 inch records, and most singles are recorded on 7 inch records.
Records are also made with different rpms or revolutions per minute. The rpm is the the speed at which a vinyl spins. The most common record speeds are 331⁄3 rpm, 45 rpm and 78 rpm.
You can usually tell what speed your record is spinning by looking at the record label. Most records will have the rpm printed on the label.
If it doesn’t say on the label, a good rule of thumb is that most 12″ records play at 331⁄3 rpm, most 7″ records play at 45 rpm, and most 10″ records play at 78 rpm.
Record players made today often have multiple rpm settings. You will be able to tell instantly when you lower the needle onto the record if it’s not playing at the proper speed. It will sound distorted. All you have to do is change the speed, and try again!
History of Vinyl Records
Vinyl records play an important part in the history of music. Let’s look at timeline of events that make up the history of vinyl records.
- 1857 – Léon Scott patented the Phonautograph invented by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. The Phonautograph was a device that could record sound and make a printout of the sound waves but could not play music.
- 1877 – Thomas Edison invented the Phonograph which could record AND play sound.
- 1887 – Emile Berliner patented the Gramophone which played a flat lateral cut phonograph disc.
- 1894 – 7 inch records were created
- 1901 – 10 inch records were created
- 1903 – 12 inch records were created
- 1925 – The standard record recording speed was 78 rpm.
- 1931 – The first long-playing record, pressed on flexible plastic discs, introduced by RCA Victor (it was widely regarded as a failure).
- 1948 – Columbia Record Company introduced the first 12 inch LP 331⁄3 rpm microgroove record album.
- 1949 – RCA Victor introduced a 7 inch 45 rpm record with a hole in the center.
- 1950s – 1960s – Shellac 78 rpm records stopped being produced in favor of vinyl records.
- 1962 – The first cassette tape was invented by Phillips.
- 1982 – CDs (compact discs) became available to the public.
Fun Facts About Vinyl Records
Brush up on your knowledge of vinyl records with these fun facts. Some may surprise you!
- There is a national day devoted to vinyl records called National Vinyl Record Day. It falls annually on August 12th.
- The term “like a broken record” doesn’t actually refer to a broken record, it refers to a scratched record. When a record has a scratch, the needle can become stuck in that scratch, and play the same thing over and over, which is the true meaning of the phrase “like a broken record”.
- 12 inch records hold more music than 10 inch or 7 inch records, making them the most popular size for records today.
- Records come in many colors! The PVC or polyvinyl chloride used to make records can be dyed any color, so you can find records in all colors of the rainbow. There are even multi-colored and marbled records!
- In addition to colored records there are also picture discs, which are records with an image completely covering the playable space on a record.
- Record aficionados often agree that colored records and picture discs produce an inferior sound quality. I suggest taking a listen for yourself!
Why Do We Celebrate National Vinyl Record Day?
Vinyl records are such a popular topic (both historically and today) that they even have their own National Day! August 12th is National Vinyl Record Day and there are lots of reasons to celebrate it!
Take a trip back in time to celebrate the history of vinyl records. To learn how records have evolved over the ages, head to Always The Holidays! 🎧 🤩 🎙 Click To Tweet
Is food your thing? Each day of the month has a food or drink associated with it, too. You’ll find all the August Food Holidays here.
More Historical Trivia Posts
Be sure to also check out these posts to learn more historical fun facts!
- Color TV Day – Learn how we first came to view television in color instead of black and white.
- National VCR Day – Fine out more about the device that we used to record our memories.
- National Landline Telephone Day – Discover more about the phone that preceded our popular cell phones.
- History of the Bikini – Learn all about the scandal surrounding this two-piece swim suit, and it’s historical significance.
- National Old Stuff Day – For those who love all things old fashioned, this day will appeal to you!
- Irish coffee origin – Did you know, Irish coffee wouldn’t exist without flying boats, a humorous chef, & bad weather?
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About the author
Since graduating from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Jess Speake has been living and working in Los Angeles, CA. She is a freelance writer, specializing in content related to fashion, food and drink and film industry topics. Find out more about Jess here.
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