History of Record Players

Updated July 19, 2017

While many people have left their old record players behind as they have moved on to audio tapes, CDs and now MP3s, there are still many fans of the device that prefer the sound of records compared to these other media. Though the record player has been around for over 150 years, it has stayed fairly true to the original design and function as an audio playback device.


The first record players became commercially available in the second half of the nineteenth century. Since then they have developed from the phonograph to crank turntable, and finally into the modern motor-driven turntables that were popular from the 1950s through the 1980s.


The first automated recording device was developed by French inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in 1857. The device could only record audio but not replay it, and therefore was not commercially successful.


Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, which could play back recorded audio, in 1877. He conceived of the idea while working on a device that could replay recorded telegraphed messages.


Turntables became popular after World War II and were first crank-operated, but were later mechanized and powered by a rotating belt or motor drive. Around the same time, records began to be manufactured using vinyl, with the word "vinyl" becoming synonymous with "record."

Fun Fact

Turntable record players allowed the user to vary the speed of the record by flipping a switch. This became a popular function with dance and music teachers, as they could easily slow down music for their students.

Fun Fact

Some popular bands such as Radiohead still release limited vinyl pressings of their new recordings intended for fans who are record player aficionados.

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