Berliner Gramophone Record

Emile Berliner, a German immigrant who settled in Washington, D.C., profoundly influenced the direction of early sound-recording technology. In November 1887 he patented the first of a series of inventions that would result in a commercially successful disk record and a machine to play it on--the gramophone.
This rare rubber record is about 7 inches in diameter. It was made in May 1898 and donated to the museum by Berliner himself. According to information inscribed by hand in the center of the disk, it plays a banjo duet of the tune "Narcissus," performed by Joseph Cullen and William Collins.
Part of Berliner's success stemmed from his process that permitted mass-production of sound recordings. In that process, a performer made a master recording, a mold of that master was made, and then, from that mold, multiple disks could be pressed.
In contrast, Berliner's main competition—Edison's phonograph and the Bell-Tainter graphophone—played recordings made on wax cylinders with vertically cut grooves. At first, the only way to make multiple copies of these cylinders was to make multiple originals, but by about 1900 a process for making mass-producing cylinders was devised. In the meantime Berliner's disk recordings, longer playing and more durable than cylinders, won over consumers. Berliner's design for a laterally cut disk record, playing at 78 revolutions per minute, became the industry standard.
Berliner experimented with a variety of materials for records, including glass, celluloid, and hard rubber. He eventually settled on a shellac compound called Duranoid. Other manufacturers adopted the compound as well and continued to make records with it until the late 1940s. In search of a more durable material, Columbia Records introduced the vinyl long-playing 33 rpm disk record and RCA the three-minute 45-rpm disk.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Cullen, Joseph
Collins, William
Berliner, Emile
Physical Description
wax (overall material)
overall - catalog card: 7 in; x 17.78 cm
overall: 1/4 in x 8 1/2 in; x .635 cm x 21.59 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Industry & Manufacturing
Music & Musical Instruments
Popular Entertainment
National Treasures exhibit
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanisms
National Treasures exhibit
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Smart, James. R. Emile Berliner and Nineteenth-Century Disc Recordings
Publication title
Treasures of American History online exhibition
Publication author
National Museum of American History
Publication URL

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