Berliner’s Gramophone

In 1887 German immigrant Emile Berliner patented the first in a series of inventions that would result in the first commercially successful disc record and a machine to play it: the gramophone. He also created a process to mass-produce multiple copies from a single master recording. Flat discs were longer playing, easier to store, and more durable than cylinders.

Emile Berliner, 1881

Emile Berliner, 1881

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Listening at Home

Until the mass-production of cylinder and disc recordings, the music that most Americans experienced at home was live—hymns or popular tunes played or sung by family members. Records provided widespread access to the works of professional musicians and vocalists, as well as orators and comics. A byproduct of that access was new forms of celebrity culture.

Prototype gramophone Emile Berliner used for the first public demonstration of his machine in Philadelphia, 1888

Experimental celluloid disc recording

Experimental gramophone record made from celluloid, 1888. Emile Berliner eventually settled on a shellac compound for the discs.

View object record

Commercial versions of the gramophone were a hit with the public, who thrilled at the expanding repertoire of popular music and classical celebrity performers available on mass-produced discs.

Phonograph, Berliner Gramophone

Berliner shellac disc recording

Berliner shellac disc recording