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The History Of The Record

A chronicle by Peter K. Burkowitz †

1870 Emil (or Emile) Berliner, born on May 20, 1851, immigrates to the USA together with a friend of the family, Nathan Gotthelf. On arrival he takes an interest in the newly developed telephone technology, creating an improved microphone for this device. The fact that Alexander Graham Bell acquires the patent for it for the sum of 50,000 $ renders Berliner financially independent for the foreseeable future and enables him to open a laboratory. When he returns to Germany for a short period together with his brother Joseph, they found the Joseph Berliner Telephone Co., the first such plant in Europe at that time.
  Emil Berliner, photo by DGG Emil Berliner, photo by DGG
1887 After his return to the USA on September 26, Berliner applies for a patent on his fully operational “gramophone” recording system, based on a method of etching a lateral cut into a zinc disc. He is granted American Patent No. 15232 on November 8, 1887. Prior to this there had been only one other vertical cut-type of record, submitted for patenting on April 24, 1878 by Thomas A. Edison, and granted, as soon as August 6 of the same year (British Patent 1644), but Edison´s simultaneous application for an American patent was rejected on the grounds of “British Priority”. Although the drafts supporting his application anticipate the “gramophone”, Edison could not provide an operational specimen.
  The original Emil Berliner gramophone goes into serial production in 1889, equipped with a horn made of papier-mâché. The original Emil Berliner gramophone goes into serial production in 1889, equipped with a horn made of papier-mâché.
1893 Emil Berliner founds the United States Gramophone Company. Fred Gaisberg (see picture), who is his first record producer, quickly wins world fame.
  Frederick William Gaisberg (1873 - 1951) Frederick William Gaisberg (1873 - 1951)
1895 On October 8, Emil Berliner founds the Berliner Gramophone Company in Philadelphia. This time he invites shareholders to provide an increase in share capital. To further enlarge the contract basis, this company merges with the Victor Talking Machine Co. under Frank Seaman in 1904. It is acquired in 1929 by RCA, creating the label RCA Victor.
1896 Emil Berliner transfers all U.S. rights of sale for fifteen years to the National Gramophone Company, founded by Seaman, but based on the first fully operational spring drive by Eldridge R. Johnson. Seaman´s company also takes the job of producing and delivering all exports, but it soon meets considerable displeasure in the countries involved on account of its exclusively American repertoire.
  • In consequence Berliner commissions two U.K. partners, William Barry Owen and Trevor Williams, to create an international repertoire by founding the UK Gramophone Company, initially meant to be no more than an artist & repertoire centre.
  • In New York and Philadelphia recording studios are established.
  • Hard rubber is replaced by shellac for pressing records.
1898 Berliner´s recording specialists Fred Gaisberg and Joe Sanders establish their first recording studio in Europe in rooms of the Cockburn Hotel, London, Henrietta Street:
  A lady pianist (seated on a pedestal to be at the same height as the horn) in the first Emil Berliner studio in London, Cockburn Hotel, back entrance Maiden Lane A lady pianist (seated on a pedestal to be at the same height as the horn) in the first Emil Berliner studio in London, Cockburn Hotel, back entrance Maiden Lane
  Berliner´s U.S. production partner Frank Seaman is suspicious about of all this activity and stops delivering to Berliner´s distribution network. Berliner calls up an ad-hoc meeting with his closest associates, resulting in the decision to establish an improvised record production plant in the Hannover-based telephone factory of Berliner´s brothers Joseph and Jacob. J. Sanders is sent to Hannover to give a hand. The manoeuver succeeds and invalidates Seaman´s attempts at an embargo. Contrary to all expectations, the initially makeshift production in Hannover flourishes, which induces Berliner to found Deutsche Grammophon GmbH through his brothers Joseph and Jacob (on December 6). It includes a modest amount of record player construction, based on components from the USA. By the outbreak of World War I Berliner´s recording business has already turned into an international market leader.
  Overall view of J. Berliner´s telephone factory, Hannover, Kniestraße Overall view of J. Berliner´s telephone factory, Hannover, Kniestraße
1900 In view of a patenting dispute in the USA Berliner transfers his company headquarters to Canada and founds the Gram-O-Phone Co in the suburb Saint-Henri of Montréal. The “dog tag” is given the logo His Master´s Voice.
  Dog “Nipper” Dog “Nipper”
  • On June 27, Deutsche Grammophon GmbH is transformed into a corporation, founded by Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Orpheus Musikwerke GmbH, Leipzig, and UK Gramophone Company, London, which soon acquires all shares.
  • Because of the change of name in London the production plant in Hannover is temporarily renamed Gramophone & Typewriter GmbH (until 1908).
  • The headquarters of Deutsche Grammophon AG and the record player production are transferred to Markgrafenstraße 76 in the centre of Berlin, including a recording studio with a workshop. Theodore B. Birnbaum, one of the founders of Berliner Gramophone Co. in Philadelphia, is made managing director.
  • Further subsidiaries are established in Russia and Austria.
  • Technically, etching in zinc is replaced by wax cutting. (For the production of the original Berliner had so far used a zinc disc covered by a thin layer of hard fat. During the recording process the pin connected with the membrane of the sound box cuts through this layer down to the metal surface, so that the waveform embossed into the fat layer precisely represents the musical undulations. The zinc disc “inscribed” in this way is submerged in an acidic solution which “bites” a deep, channel-shaped groove into the metal. The copper tools, father, mother and matrix, are made from this original by using well-known galvano-plastic procedures. But the resulting groove surfaces are not smooth enough, which causes considerable noise when the record is played. That is why this method is soon abandoned in favor of the generally accepted one of cutting a v-shaped smooth groove into a massive, circular wax disc by using a polished cutting stylus.)