If you wanted to listen to music before the 1870s, your only option was to go to a public performance or listen to friends, family or worse still yourself playing or singing. People must have suffered centuries of bad music in this way.
The famous inventor Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, which made the first ever sound recordings on foil cylinders. Edison didn’t foresee a future where people listened to the best music in the world using his invention, he thought it would be used as a dictation machine in offices, which is much less entertaining.
Edison’s foil cylinders were soon replaced by wax ones, and only ten years after his invention the cylinders were replaced by flat discs, invented by Emil Berliner in 1887. These discs were much easier to mass produce than cylinders.
At first they were made from a brittle substance containing shellac, a substance made from beetle poo, but by 1930 the first vinyl plastic discs were sold, which were much more difficult to break and less horrible to think about. The first flat discs were initially used in toys, but by the mid1890s Berliner had set up a gramophone company which sold the discs and the gramophones to play them on.
These plastic discs, known as records, continued to be used until the 1980s, when everyone began to buy CDs instead. They’re still used by DJs and very old-fashioned people.
Thomas Edison famously said, ‘Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration.’ He must have perspired a lot as he filed more than a thousand patents in his lifetime. His voice was the first sound to be recorded on his phonograph. His words were: ‘Mary had a little lamb.’
Riffle through your parents’ record collection and pick out records you don’t think you’ve heard before and review each of the records in turn, making a note of your thoughts. How have they stood the test of time? Listen with an open mind!