Week 5 – 78 RPM

The History of the 78

The 78 record was made around 1898 and continued into the late 1950s and playing at a speed around 78 revolutions per minute. The most common material that these records were made of is called shellac. This is a brittle material which uses a shellac resin.(Yale, 2014)


78s have various sizes, however, the most common sizes are a 10inch and a 12 inch diameter. The 10 inch records could hold about three minutes of recordings. The 12 inch record could hold about four to five minutes of recording time.

“Earliest speeds of rotation varied widely, but by 1910 most records were recorded at about 78 to 80 rpm. In 1925, 78.26 rpm was chosen as a standard for motorized phonographs, because it was suitable for most existing records, and was easily achieved using a standard 3600-rpm motor and 46-tooth gear (78.26 = 3600/46). Thus these records became known as 78s (or “seventy-eights”).”(Yale, 2014)


Due to the events of World War II, Shellac was in demand, therefore companies started pressing 78s to vinyl pressings.


Before the 1930’s, 78s were recorded by having the talent sing or talk into a big horn, their own voice was the power  that directly vibrated the recording stylus. Once this was vibrating, the stylus would cut the wax of the master record. These discs are known by audiophiles as “acoustic” recordings.


78 recordings are fascinating. It’s really the first step to all of the other steps that needed to happen in order to make the possibility of portable music. This was one of the first (if not the first) ways in order to record sound directly on to a recording medium.

This is a phenomenal short film from 1946 about 78s. It’s certainly worth the watch.


“The history of 78 RPM recordings.” The history of 78 RPM recordings. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. <http://www.library.yale.edu/cataloging/music/historyof78rpms.htm&gt;.