When Were Record Players Invented? Record Player History

When Were Record Players Invented? Record Player History

Posted by House of Marley on May 21st 2024

When Thomas Edison put the finishing touches on the phonograph in 1877, he probably didn't think it would fundamentally change how human beings interacted with music. But it did, thanks to the subsequent innovations of Alexander Graham Bell, Emile Berliner, and Peter Carl Goldmark.

What we now call record players peaked in popularity during the mid-20th century and faded with the rise of cassette tapes, compact discs, handheld devices, and streaming platforms. In recent years, however, record players have made a comeback, with companies like House of Marley leading the way in their commitment to high-quality audio products.

When were record players invented, though, and what was the historical context? How did they impact the music industry?

The Early Beginnings

The desire to record and reproduce sound may stem from our innate need for communication and creative expression, but it manifested itself relatively recently—in the late nineteenth century, with the invention of the phonautograph.

The Phonautograph and its Limitations


Scott de Martinville patented the phonautograph in 1857 and joined forces with Rudolph Koenig, a physicist who had an interest in acoustic phenomena. The collaboration did not last long, but Scott de Martinville's obsession with recording the human voice persisted, seemingly without success. He finally got the recognition he deserved in 2008, when a team of researchers managed to play back one of his phonautograph recordings.[1]

Thomas Edison's Phonograph

Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor, but it is said that the phonograph was his favorite creation. Having lost most of his hearing in childhood, Edison was fascinated by sound, and built his first phonograph in 1877. The device recorded sound by capturing sound waves as vibrations onto tin foil cylinders with a needle. It could also play back the recorded sounds.

Edison assumed the phonograph would be used in business, primarily as a device for dictation, and began to sell it in 1878. This would turn out to be a pivotal moment in record player history, as the phonograph ended up playing a key role in popularizing recorded music, which was being sold to the public by the end of  the century.[2]

Advancements and Innovations

Edison's invention laid the foundation for the modern record player, but the advancements and improvements that came soon afterward were almost equally as important. Inventors Alexander Graham Bell and Emile Berliner were instrumental in advancing Edison's initial phonograph concept.

Alexander Graham Bell's Improvements

Alexander Graham Bell became independently wealthy after patenting the first telephone, but soon lost interest in the industry. In 1880, he received the Volta Prize for his outstanding contributions in electrical science. With the goal of helping the deaf, Bell spent his winnings to erect the Volta Laboratory.

At the Volta Laboratory, Bell dedicated himself to studying and improving Edison's phonograph. Together with his cousin Chichester A. Bell and inventor Charles Sumner Tainter, Bell developed and patented the graphophone, a phonograph-inspired device that used wax instead of tin foil. This allowed for better sound quality and lengthier recordings.[1]

Emile Berliner's Gramophone

Edison's phonograph and Bell's graphophone were important milestones in the development of audio technology, but we would not have record players without Emile Berliner, who also worked for Bell and made significant contributions to the development of the telephone.

The German-born inventor was granted a patent for what he called the gramophone in 1887. Unlike the graphophone, the gramophone used flat phonograph discs, or records, rather than cylinders. Across the discs, the needle moved laterally, as opposed to vertically. The first commercially available gramophones soon hit the market—as did gramophone records.[2]

The Golden Age of Record Players

So, when were record players invented? In the late 19th century would be the answer, no matter who you consider to be the real inventor. The golden age of record players, meanwhile, is thought to have started in the 1950s and lasted through the 1970s.

The Rise of Vinyl Records

Peter Carl Goldmark’s invention, the long-playing vinyl record, brought recorded music into millions of homes and profoundly changed our society.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Goldmark immigrated to the United States in 1933. He soon joined CBS Labs, the research and development department of the CBS television network, where he designed a record made of vinyl, rather than shellac. Learn more about the different types of vinyl records in our blog.

Goldmark also made modifications to the phonograph's stylus and tone arm, while changing the rotation speed to 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, setting a new music industry standard. In the ensuing decades, the vinyl record would dominate the market as the most popular format for distributing recorded music.[3]

Stereo Sound and New Formats

Engineer Alan Dower Blumelein invented stereophonic technology in 1931. Stereophonic sound, or stereo sound as we all refer to it today, provided a more immersive listening experience, creating a sense of depth and multi-dimensional sound quality that was not possible with mono-recorded sound.

The first mass-produced stereo LP came out in 1958, announcing a significant shift in the music industry. The proliferation of home audio equipment soon followed, shaping the way we consume music.[4]


The Modern Era and Resurgence

When vinyl records were the primary means of listening to music, record players were ubiquitous. Then came cassette tapes and compact discs and the internet, rendering them far less useful—or at least that's what many once predicted.

The Decline and Resurgence of Vinyl

The transition from analog to digital seemed complete when streaming services started gaining popularity. At the beginning of the century, hardly anyone could imagine vinyl ever coming back, but it has indeed. This revival—dubbed the “vinyl resurgence”—has become a cultural phenomenon.

In fact, vinyl sales account for the vast majority of physical format revenues in the United States. What's more, vinyl sales have been increasing for seventeen consecutive years, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Not only has vinyl resurged, but it’s alive and well.[1]

Learn how to start collecting vinyl records in our blog.

Record Players Today

Today's record players combine the convenience of modern technology with the organic experience of spinning vinyl. The modern-day wireless turntable is more compact and versatile than the record players that were produced in the past, but just as capable of delivering that warm analog sound, be it through portable speakers or headphones.

House of Marley's Dedication to Quality Sound

Invented a century and a half ago, the record player has not been replaced, it has only evolved. Simultaneously analog and digital, it stands as a testament to the timeless spirit of music.

House of Marley embraces modern technology while preserving the essence of sound, offering the best of both worlds. Authentic and legacy-driven, House of Marley is committed to superior quality and sustainability—without unnecessary compromises.


The Fondation Napoleon. THE PHONAUTOGRAPHE. https://www.napoleon.org/en/history-of-the-two-empires/objects/edouard-leon-scott-de-martinvilles-phonautographe/

The Sumter County Museum. The Edison Phonograph. https://www.sumtercountymuseum.org/blog-fromthecollection/the-edison-phonograph 

Encyclopedia Britannica. Alexander Graham Bell. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-Graham-Bell#ref19880

Encyclopedia Britannica. Emil Berliner. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Emil-Berliner 

National Inventors Hall of Fame. Peter C. Goldmark. https://www.invent.org/inductees/peter-c-goldmark

Emastered Blog. Stereophonic Sound: All You Need to Know About It. https://emastered.com/blog/stereophonic-sound

The Recording Industry Association of America. Year-end 2023 RIAA Revenue Statistics. https://www.riaa.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/2023-Year-End-Revenue-Statistics.pdf

[1] The Recording Industry Association of America. Year-end 2023 RIAA Revenue Statistics. https://www.riaa.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/2023-Year-End-Revenue-Statistics.pdf