Phonograph cylinder

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Phonograph cylinders were the earliest commercial medium for recording and reproducing sound. Commonly known simply as "records" in their era of greatest popularity (c. 1888–1915), these cylinder shaped objects had an audio recording engraved on the outside surface which could be reproduced when the cylinder was played on a mechanical phonograph. The competing disc-shaped gramophone record system triumphed in the market place to become the dominant commercial audio medium in the 1910s, and commercial mass production of phonograph cylinders ended in 1929.


Early development

The phonograph was invented by Thomas Edison on 18 July 1877 for recording telephone messages, his first test using tin foil wrapped around a hand-cranked cylinder.[1] Tin foil was not a practical recording medium for everyday use and commercial production. Within a few years Edison licensed wax cylinders invented by Charles Sumner Tainter, Alexander Graham Bell, and Chichester Bell, and licensed by Bell's Volta Laboratory.

By the 1880s wax cylinders were mass marketed. These had sound recordings in the grooves on the outside of hollow cylinders of slightly soft wax. These cylinders could easily be removed and replaced on the mandrel of the machine which played them. Early cylinder records would commonly wear out after they were played a few dozen times. The buyer could then use a mechanism which left their surface shaved smooth so new recordings could be made on them. In 1890 Charles Tainter patented the use of hard carnauba wax as a replacement for the common mixture of paraffin and beeswax used on phonograph cylinders.

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