12 Dec 2023

First record factory 125 years ago

It's still spinning - the eventful history of the record

To read this article in German: Erste Schallplattenfabrik vor 125 Jahren - GFU

The invention of the record is closely linked to Emil Berliner (1851 - 1929). Born in Hanover, he went to America in 1870 and invented the record and the gramophone. In 1887, Berliner applied for a patent in Washington for his gramophone with the record in lateral writing. In 1897, he produced a shellac record for the first time. Shellac consists of rock flour, a resin obtained from the excretions of the lacquer scale insect, and carbon black as a colorant. Emil Berliner returned to Hanover in 1898 and became involved in the "Deutsche Grammophon-Gesellschaft", which his brother Joseph had founded.

The world's first record factory

125 years ago, on December 6, 1898, the world's first record factory opened in the northern part of Hanover in Joseph Berliner's telephone factory. Records were produced there for the English parent company "The Grammophone Company", and initially, they included players. Masters recorded and etched on zinc plates in England were turned into copper negatives, which were used to produce up to ten records per hour. The single-sided records had a diameter of five inches (12.5 cm) with a playing time of one minute and 15 seconds. Other versions were seven, ten or twelve inches in diameter and had a playing time of up to three minutes and 50 seconds.

Record sold by the millions

The market success of the vinyl record started from this first record factory. Enrico Caruso, the world-famous tenor, played a key role from 1902 onwards. The record developed into a sound carrier that sold millions of copies. By 1904, 25,000 records were being produced in Hanover every day. At the 1951 Radio Exhibition, the plastic-based record (vinyl) was introduced, replacing shellac as the material for the record in 1958.

This history also laid the foundation for Hanover being awarded the title "UNESCO City of Music" in December 2014. In addition to the first record factory, the first music cassette produced and the first compact disc (CD) pressed on August 17, 1982 in Langenhagen near Hanover are further milestones in the history of sound carriers.

CD replaces the vinyl record

It was also the CD that, after its announcement in 1978, on the one hand overtook the vinyl record and on the other hand brought about the transition to digital technology. The CD was first introduced to the general public at IFA 1981 and in 1989, for the first time, more CDs were sold in the Federal Republic of Germany (21 million CDs in the first half of the year) than long-playing records (19 million).

Stable fan base

After a few low points, the record nevertheless continues to turn heads. Since 2005, around 100,000 record players have been sold in Germany every year. In 2022, there were 122,000 units with an average price of 287 euros (+ 34 percent). In comparison, the average price of a record player in 2015 was still 192 euros, meaning that higher-quality record players are currently in demand. For the current year, the gfu is forecasting sales of 134,000 units (+10.0%) with an average price of EUR 305 (+6.4%).

The good old vinyl record has a stable fan base. According to the German Music Industry Association (BVMI), demand for physical sound carriers remained stable at around 190 million euros from January to June 2023. After a renewed growth spurt of 6.3%, vinyl achieved a market share of 6.0% with around 63 million euros (total turnover of the German music market in the first half of 2023: 1.056 billion euros). For artists, such as the Rolling Stones at the moment, it is even good practice to issue new releases as exclusive vinyl versions.

The appeal of vinyl records

The vinyl record has not lost its appeal. But what is behind it? Better sound or the ceremony of playing it? From a purely technical point of view, there is no evidence of a better sound, because the scanning of the record is associated with noise and crackling, the stereo channels are not nearly as precisely separated as in the digital world of the CD and resonances also influence the frequency response. What remains are hardly explainable, subjective impressions in favor of the vinyl record. However, the haptic appeal of unpacking, placing and playing the large disk is not up for discussion.

"The market for vinyl records and record players is constantly providing positive surprises with its growth. Many people obviously like the decelerated enjoyment of music and the associated anticipation as soon as they unpack the record. Accordingly, in addition to sales, the range of modern record players has also increased again," explains Dr. Sara Warneke, Managing Director of the industry organisation gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH.

Online services displace physical sound carriers

However, as with all technical developments, at some point subsequent developments push the pioneers out of the market. This also applies to the CD, whose unprecedented success as the first digital medium inspired many other developments. These include, for example, digital compression formats such as MP3 and streaming services, which make almost any music and voice offerings available online and everywhere. They also render physical sound and data carriers superfluous.

Sources: "History of consumer electronics", Jochen Wiesinger; www.hannover.de 

Photo: Photo of vinyl record player from Pixabay

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