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Fremont County Museum System

Edison Phonograph

Many readers no doubt remember that just over a decade ago, the Blu-Ray standard engaged in a bitter Battle Royale against the HD-DVD standard for the right to bring 1080 glorious lines of video resolution into our living rooms. Older readers might remember regretting the purchase of a Sony Betamax machine instead of a VHS machine. When technology for in-home entertainment experiences a rapid advance, you can almost bet that a format war is forthcoming.


This Edison Model 205 was built in 1918, and provided endless hours of entertainment to the inhabitants of a Lysite area ranch house. But what makes this particular type of phonograph unique is that it was involved in two format wars. When Thomas Edison patented the phonograph in 1877, it did not use a flat disc, but a thin piece of metal wrapped around a cylinder. Early cylinder machines were both recording and playback machines, and intended to be used mostly for dictation. Within a short period of time, wax cylinders replaced foil, which made it far easier to align the grooves and change recordings. Soon, pre-recorded musical performances became widely available for purchase.


Shortly thereafter, the Edison phonograph was involved in its first format war. Thomas Edison understood that recording on a flat disc was possible, but believed that a cylinder was better because the velocity of the recording medium stays constant relative to the needle. On a disc with a constant RPM, the outside grooves move much more quickly than the grooves toward the middle, which could result in varying sound quality. Early disc-based records released in the mid-late 1890s did indeed sound worse than cylinder recordings, but by the early 1900s, sound quality had improved to the point that it was roughly on par with cylinder recordings.


Though disc machines could not record audio, discs had the advantage of being much cheaper to manufacture. By the 1910s, the first phonograph format war had been won, and Edison’s company had given up on the cylinder format for pre-recorded content.


Instead of adopting an existing format for its disc based audio, Edison developed the Diamond Disc standard to compete with Victor Talking Machine’s disc standard. The largest difference was that Victor records had grooves cut side to side, but Edison record’s grooves were cut vertically so the needle moved up and down instead. Competing record players also used disposable steel needles, but the Diamond Disc used a permanent diamond stylus. In this second great format war, no clear winner ever emerged. Adapters were created that could enable machines to playback other recordings. Eventually new vinyl formats emerged that replaced these older shellac discs. The newer technology offered higher fidelity sound and longer playback time. It dominated music sales for decades, and has even seen a resurgence in recent years.


Next up for the Fremont County Museums

 

March 7, 7pm at the Dubois Museum, “Early Dubois Residents with Steve Banks”

           Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series


March 9, 2pm at the Riverton Museum, “Hide Painting”

           Children’s Exploration Series


March 14, 6:30pm at the Riverton Museum “Carol L. Deering: Havoc & Solace Poems from the

Inland West” Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series


April 11, 7pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Lander in 1919”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum need your financial support. In the current economic environment the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last three and half years. Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.